MHO the elephant in the room, with the room being the province of Ontario, is that there are some significant systemic issues and levels of dysfunction within the current innovation ecosystem. The issues are much broader and deeper than any single support organization. The first order of business for Ontario’s NEW government should be to launch a full scale, independent, unbiased review of the province’s innovation ecosystem with the far reaching goal of how to restructure the innovation ecosystem and build from the bottoms up.

Here are some key metrics and indicators for the Ontario economy:

1)      Ontario is officially a “have not” province.
2)      The unemployment rate in Ontario (7.4%) is greater than the Canadian average (6.9%).
3)      Ontario has the second highest Debt to GDP ratio in Canada at 37.4%.

Innovation surveys conducted in Ontario suffer from political interference and are often funded by the same stakeholders that have a vested and biased interest in the report outcome. Therefore, the reports often paint a rosier picture than actually exists. I speak from experience here, as we have had at least two instances related to these “innovation stakeholder surveys” where there has been little transparency and a high level of opacity.

The Ontario “Innovation Agenda” is in need of significant and substantial change. The current model of economic development in Ontario is an innovation oligopoly based on a network of top down funded organizations that are largely closed and proprietary.  We need to move to a more modern, results oriented, open, free market, demand driven and bottoms up model of innovation where there is “no wrong door”.

Recent events at MaRS Discovery District are indicators of the dysfunction I mentioned above. According to Startup Genome 73% of startup founders earn less than $50k per year, many much less and often no salary at all early on. However, according to a recent article in the Toronto Sun the CEO of MaRS had a $100,000 pay increase that brought total salary to well over $500,000. The pay increase alone is more than double even a well-paid early stage founder’s total annual salary. Allegedly, the salary increase occurred one month before a provincial salary freeze at a time when most people in the province are tightening their belts.

MaRS Discovery District in Toronto also had some significant, questionable financial issues splash across the news. Mark McQueen has a great post on the topic: “No Surprise in MaRS Scandal“.

The Board of Directors of MaRS issued this statement in response to the scandal. The Board of Directors has a fiduciary duty to oversee MaRS Discovery District ethics, integrity and they are the highest authorities in the organization. I would like to understand the rationale for approving the excessive compensation packages referred to in the Toronto Sun article. I would also like to have a much better understanding of the details related to: “working with our partners to bridge short-term financial needs and bring additional capital into the Phase 2 project.” Why all the secrecy around the deal? This seems like more innovation opacity.

Getting Ontario back to being the economic engine of Canada and firing on all cylinders starts with “confronting the brutal facts” by conducting an independent, unbiased assessment of the provincial innovation ecosystem and then restructuring to be more bottoms up and accountable to entrepreneurs and innovators.

– Ian Graham