Canada's technology sector is thriving, even though large segments of it may be flying under the radar screen, says a national group promoting the industry.
World-class companies such as Nortel, Research in Motion (RIM) and Cognos have put Canada on the map, but they're only one part of a growing industry, officials say.
"It's fair to say because of globalization, we're now under intense competition," says John Reid, president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA).
"But because of our strong educational system and some of our flagships, we're actually in the position to take some of our fair share of the global market for high-tech goods and services."
|Photo courtesy of Micralyne Inc.|
|A Micralyne employee, using a clean-room suit, works in the facility that produces MEMS-based components.|
And there are new kids on the block.
Reid says a whole range of companies have the potential to become the next Cognos or RIM - and some of them will be front and centre later this month when the 21st annual CATAAlliance Innovation Awards take place in Ottawa.
The June 20 gala event at the Chateau Laurier Hotel will feature companies and individuals from across Canada competing in seven categories, ranging from outstanding product achievement to public sector leadership in advanced technology.
"From a company's point of view and the individual who wins, it increases the visibility of the profile and brand of the company they're with. In terms of marketing and business growth, it's very positive," says Reid.
"Also, we work with their media and marketing departments so as many people (as possible) in their sphere of excellence are aware. It's a great way to get the message to the investment community, their customers and (publicized through) the media."
For Edmonton-based Micralyne, a finalist in the outstanding product achievement category (nanotechnology), the publicity is welcome.
Micralyne has been around since 1982 - it started as a not-for-profit research institute at the University of Alberta before becoming a private company in 1998, and has a global customer base.
But company officials say not everyone knows about the operation, which specializes in development and manufacturing of MEMS-based (micro-electro mechanical systems) components.
"In many cases they (customers) find us, through awards like this or articles in newspapers or magazines," says Bruce Alton, Micralyne's vice-president of marketing and business development.
Alton says a win at the event would also help the company deal with one of the challenges facing many Canadian technology companies: Location.
"We are a global company in the sense that we sell around the world," says Alton. "Relatively speaking, we're isolated here, so we have to travel to our customers.
"We have no customers in Alberta and very few in Canada, so the geographic distance from customers is a challenge. We're not in the middle of the action in Silicon Valley or Boston or other locations."
Micralyne is being aided by an emerging nanotechnology cluster in Edmonton. But where there are no clusters, there are other ways for Canadian technology firms to get on the map.
An initiative in the United States, where the Canadian consulate in Minneapolis, Minn., lent a helping hand, is one example.
"This region is a hotbed for some of the most promising technology developments around the world," says Kim Butler, Canada's consul general in Minneapolis.
"There's strong interest in Minnesota for medical-device technologies, as well as advanced manufacturing, especially related to agricultural research and machinery. As part of our work, we continue to look for ways to build on that interest and expand it to include additional opportunities for Canadian companies."
Working in partnership with U.S.-based technology giant 3M and CATA, the consulate developed a strategic and focused approach to identify leading Canadian technologies that fit 3M's future needs.
"As a result of our work with 3M and CATA, 3M is now considering nearly 90 proposals from Canadian academic, business and government research organizations to potentially co-develop future technologies," says Butler.
"This could lead to collaboration and partnership between 3M and Canadian clients in Canada and worldwide, which is a win-win for everyone involved," he adds. "We're pleased that, through this process, we could help showcase what Canada has to offer and match it to the needs of businesses in the Minneapolis region."
Meanwhile, Reid says Canadian technology companies are no different than their global competitors. They need to attract and retain talent in a market that is unlimited by borders, access growth capital, and stay ahead of the curve to make sure the competition's technology doesn't outpace their own. "Yes, there's competition. But there's also collaboration," he adds.
"In some cases, to grow your business you license with or work with others, and that allows you to grow faster. In some cases, it may be home-grown, in other cases you look at the world and bring in expertise from elsewhere, creating a different structure than in the past. It's not a zero-sum game."
Reid predicts Canada will maintain excellence in its traditional technology strengths, such as telecom.
"Telecom is still a key strength," he says. "Now, if you talk about telecom, you want to talk about people building the content, the products communicated through your telecom expertise. Other pockets of strength would be aerospace, wireless communications, nanotechnology and advanced security.
"I think we've established a base of success in multiple sectors and in some of these sectors we have world-class flagship companies. But to get to the next level of success, there will have to be a significant investment and commitment by both the public and private sector to get our share of the global knowledge-based pie."
(Laura Severs can be reached at email@example.com)