LOUD AND CLEAR by Denzil Doyle

An unusually high proportion of current immigrants seem to be well educated and are determined to become entrepreneurs. There can be no doubt that there is the equivalent of a Terry Matthews among them..

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Let’s recognize role models among immigrant winners
From SCAN's Print Edition

Although there are no known statistics on the subject, there is plenty of evidence that immigrants accounted for a very large percentage of the Canadian high-tech companies that were launched during the last sixty years. In the Ottawa area, it was two Polish immigrants who launched Computing Devices of Canada in 1948 and it was a Hungarian immigrant who launched its first spinoff (Nash and Harrison). It was a Russian immigrant who launched its second spinoff (EDA Electronics) and a British immigrant who launched Leigh Instruments in 1960. The names Terry Matthews, Michael Cowpland, Dick Foss, Des Cunningham, and Colin Patterson are synonymous with high-tech startups. They were all British immigrants who started high-tech companies that became very successful.

In Vancouver it was an immigrant who started Glenayre Electronics, a company that gave the area a strong base in wireless communications that played a heavy role in spawning the many wireless companies that exist there today.

It raises the question: “Will the current generation of immigrants have a similar impact on high-tech activity?” A glance at the business plans that were presented at the fourth annual Wes Nicol business plan competition that was recently held in Ottawa (see article Page 1) suggests that they might .The entrants were students from universities across Canada and the majority of them were obviously recent immigrants. However, in this case they were immigrants from Asia rather than from the UK or continental Europe.

The same observation applies to nearly every entrepreneurial event that I have attended lately. An unusually high proportion of current immigrants seem to be well educated and are determined to become entrepreneurs. There can be no doubt that there is the equivalent of a Terry Matthews among them. However, many of them face even greater obstacles than Matthews and Cowpland did when they launched Mitel in the early seventies. Some of them are still learning one or more of our official languages and they are not coupled into the networks of people who can give them advice and guidance.

Such people present a tremendous opportunity for economic development in this region ─ in fact, in many regions across the country. For example, there is the opportunity to work with our immigration authorities to identify such people as soon as they reach our shores and maybe even before they leave their own shores. However, a recent article in the Ottawa Sun (Greg Weston, May 13th. 2008) suggests that we have a long way to go in this regard. It states: “Among the 925,000 people currently standing in the immigration queue, the feds apparently have no clue who has what skills, needed or otherwise.”

If I were the economic development officer of an area attempting to build a high-tech cluster, I would get to know as much as possible about the people in that queue and give them whatever help they need to become entrepreneurs. It turns out that such help is not that much different from what Matthews and his compatriots needed a generation ago. Terry often tells the story about how difficult it was to raise money from the local Welch Society –“the stingiest lot of people on the face of the earth” is how he described them. Nonetheless, he used them to help build a network.
One of the things that might be done even at this late date is to have an event that would recognize the achievements of the earlier waves of immigrants. Maybe invite some of the recent immigrants to mingle with them. A wall plaque in some prominent location like City Hall might also be a good idea. Role models are important in the high-tech industry; such recognition could pay back in spades.

Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is a member of the Order of Canada, a professional engineer, founder and former CEO of Digital Equipment Corp. in Canada, company director, mentor, consultant, investor and author of the best-selling ‘Making Technology Happen’. He can be reached at ddoyle@doyletechcorp.com.

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