LOUD AND CLEAR by Denzil Doyle

We have a shortage of Canadian companies that would make good strategic partners for firms when they reach the stage when they could become multinational companies.

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Watch for the opportunities if government wants to help
From SCAN's Print Edition

It is now becoming increasingly clear that massive government intervention into the so-called free market economies of the world is going to be the order of the day for years to come. While it will bring with it some challenges (e.g. additional bureaucracy) it will also bring some opportunities.
For the Canadian high-tech industry, we have an opportunity to re-introduce a program that was probably the best one we have ever had. It was called the unsolicited proposal (USP) program and was in place during the period from about 1970 to about 1995. As the name implies, it allowed companies to come forward to the federal government with project proposals that typically involved the delivery of a new product, service, or process. The target customer was often a government science-based department or agency, but a third party was often involved.

It is probably no coincidence that it was during that period that Canada’s space program was evolving. An example of a firm that made wide use of the program was Canadian Astronautics Ltd. It developed some very innovative antenna technology that found its way into such applications as cellular telephony and satellite tracking systems. Although the company was acquired by EMS Technologies of Atlanta in the mid-nineties, the technology lived on and EMS is now one of the most exciting companies on the Ottawa scene. It is definitely one of our best corporate citizens.

Another USP project involved the development of the very early mobile data communications technology by Mobile Data International, a spinoff from MDA in Vancouver. Again, it was acquired by a U.S. firm but many of the key people went on to make Vancouver the hotbed of wireless technology that it is today.
There are many theories as to why the USP program was discontinued. One was that the government scientists who were the customers for such technology found themselves becoming contract administrators and they also found that the funding for such projects was coming out of their budgets. On the positive side, many of the scientists learned a lot about how high-tech companies operated. In fact, some of them “went over the wall” and started their own companies.

We hear a great deal these days from government policy makers about the need for greater government/industry co-operation. If they had been around in the heyday of the USP program they would have seen such co-operation at its best. What the above two examples do illustrate is that we have a shortage of Canadian companies that would make good strategic partners for those firms when they do reach the stage when they could become multinational companies.

The federal government should give priority to a review of the USP program. Who knows, it might just be the spark that is needed to re-ignite the country’s high-tech industry. While it had its disadvantages, they were more than outweighed by its advantages. It is certainly a good alternative to some of the so-called infrastructure programs that are being talked about.

Guru in one guise, angel in another, Denzil Doyle is chairman of Doyletech, 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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