It’s normal at Co.Labs to have visitors walk through its doors. Often this list includes the best and brightest tech leaders in Sask, founders working to start their company, and even members of the public attending one of our community events. But it’s not everyday that we have a Member of Parliament join us in conversation.
Recently, Co.Labs was thrilled to host an in house roundtable with the Honourable Daniel Vandal and a select group of Sask tech leaders to discuss the opportunities – and some of the obstacles – facing the province’s tech industry today.
The Honourable Dan Vandal
Minister Dan Vandal has proudly represented Winnipeg’s Saint Boniface – Saint Vital riding since 2015. Prior to assuming office, Minister Vandal worked as a social worker, served five terms as a Winnipeg City Councillor, and acted as Deputy Mayor of Winnipeg – during which he proved his commitment to urban renewal and to improving resources for Indigenous families.
Currently, Minister Vandal’s is responsible for three extensive portfolios: Northern Affairs, the Canada Northern Economic Development Agency, and recently, Prairies Economic Development Canada. In each of these portfolios, Minister Vandal has dedicated time and effort to promote opportunities for entrepreneurs and economic growth.
The Sask Tech Advantage
Naturally, the leading conversation at the roundtable revolved around the opportunities in Saskatchewan tech. Minister Vandal praised the grit and determination that has long characterized Saskatchewan entrepreneurs as they do what they do best – gettin’ the job done.
The consensus was clear, the Saskatchewan Advantage shows itself in a number of ways, from retaining talent in the workforce, to the great talent produced from post-secondary institutions, to the low-costs of starting and maintaining companies, to proprietary innovations in Ag-Tech, and beyond.
But the members of the roundtable noted that it's not all sunshine and wheatfields for those in Sask tech.
The group identified that attracting new talent is a standout obstacle facing tech leaders and startups right now. The shortage of tech workers is a cross-country challenge, largely due to the difficulties in bringing in talent from abroad to fill this demand. Bureaucratic processes are stalling the immigration of new talent and hindering many tech companies' abilities to scale and grow to meet their needs.
As it stands, tech companies that are looking to hire as many as 300 new workers today are struggling, because the immigration process can take up to a year to complete for a single worker to enter the country.
Support from A Gov(ernment)
Despite these challenges, the roundtable noted that leaders in tech aren’t alone – government support has been a major help along the way.
Provincially, the Saskatchewan Technology Startup Incentive has assisted innovative tech startups receive necessary early stage funding. Minister Vandal also praised Innovation Saskatchewan for doing a great job in directing the support from the provincial government.
Roundtable members also acknowledged the strong support from the federal government, through initiatives like the Industrial Research Assistance Program and Scientific Research and Experimental Tax Incentive, which have provided new and innovative tech startups with the tools they need to get off the ground.
However, members of the roundtable agreed that few initiatives were more fundamental to startups than Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD). It was recently announced that Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) is evolving into two new agencies: PrariesCan, representing the Prairie provinces, and PacifiCan, representing B.C.
The roundtable expressed their appreciation of WD, and that they are eager to see the ways PrairiesCan will continue strengthening communities and economies in the West.
Co.Labs would like to give a hearty thank you to Minister Vandal for the insightful discussion, and for his ongoing commitment to growing local and regional economies.
During his trip to the Bridge City, Minister Vandal announced that the federal government is providing $1.5 million in funding to support Canada’s agri-food sector. Part of the Global Agri-Food Advancement Partnership, the funding will assist Ag-Tech startups by providing facilities, training programs, mentorship, and more.