From Arlene: The Canadian Dream - Use It Or Lose It

From Arlene: The Canadian Dream - Use It Or Lose It

From Arlene | Posted by - November 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

In a recent Wall Street Journal article Canada was assessed and ranked, along with 188 other countries against a variety of criteria on how hard or easy it was to do business in that country.

I read the article with great interest. I was of course very curious how Canada was doing against other countries around the globe. I expected to see some rather average and even dismal numbers because a common refrain I hear from many entrepreneurs is that it's too difficult in Canada to start and build a business. High taxes, lack of community support, credit and financing availability are always cited as big ugly barriers to success.

But I want to declare, as I have said before, that I never have really understood these issues. Sure it's hard. Doing anything great takes hard work and faces many obstacles. However, my belief has been, and will continue to be, that we have it pretty darn good. What has happened to us? Has our social system led us to become so complacent and frankly entitled that we don't strive for more? We live in a nation that I fear is at risk of losing its business balls. I believe the reason we don't succeed more is not because of the environment in which we live but rather due to the lack of urgency and deep dedication we have as a people to build and support homegrown business. Just like the kid who has money put in front of him and never has to learn how to earn it himself, have we become entitled?

We live in the richest nation in the world. Our natural resources have created a wealth for us as citizens that helps to ensure we have water, shelter, food. Maslow would tell us that all we need is love - and, yes, we are a loving Country! Perhaps that's why we aren't more aggressive - it's all we lack in the circle of what is needed to survive. But survival is about the long-term. And yes, I certainly cede there are too many homeless and people who are in real need here. But in this instance, I am speaking on the whole about our business community.

Now before you yell at me please let me explain. When you read the accompanying graph you will see that, relatively speaking, we are doing very, very well. Starting a business? We rank the WORLD. Ease of doing business? #19. Ease of obtaining credit? #28. Out of 189 Countires. And yes,of course we should be seeking to ensure we are in the top ten in the world against these measures. But come on. When you put those numbers in perspective against the competing nations, I think we are set up largely for success. So why aren't we enjoying more of that success on the global stage? Why are Canadian businesses not breaking through in droves?

Why are we not being more innovative, more supportive and vocal about supporting entrepreneurs - and, in a nutshell, simply more proud of enterprises that are Canadian grown and conducting business from here? We often read about the American Dream.The American Dream was founded on the belief that when people worked hard they were rewarded with the fruits of their labor - not simply wealth - but a roof over their heads, food on their tables, believing anything was possible. All from a burning fire in their belly to be more. Why is there not a Canadian Dream that inspires us to the same degree?

I realize I am asking many questions here. I am also asking entrepreneurs to stand up and stand out. To be unafraid - in fact, to be a little less stereotypically Canadian, and a little more proud and earnest about what you are building. We have so much to be proud of - so many intelligent, innovative and curious people doing incredible things - and yet leaving to go elsewhere to build their dreams. My hypothesis isn't that it's too hard here - no, it's because we simply stand at the door and wave goodbye and wish them luck. Sure we feel badly they are going but we somehow forgive and understand it as if it's to be expected. I mean sure, why not - other countries will help them be so much more. And yes, true, we may miss them when they're gone but, hey, we know we will be okay. I say no. Instead of sending them off, we should be holding ticker tape parades in their honour. We have few true obstacles to overcome. Except, perhaps, the biggest obstacle that faces any nation - ourselves.

You can read the article here as well as see the rankings.

Would love your feedback.

Tags: barriers, canadian dream, innovation, pride, success, world ranking, blog, arlene dickinson

November 6, 2013 at 3:16 pm
Arlene, I do not know in general about why citizens find it hard to start a business in Canada, but I will share with you from my own experience (a newcomer experience).

For newcomers who want to settle, learn and share their talents to build this great nation it is no easy task. I first came to Canada in 2006 as international student. Now I am a permanent resident after 8 years.
Some of the obstacles for people with creative minds and a "will do" attitude is as follow:
- Banks give a hard time to give loans for someone that is not yet citizen but a permanent resident.
- Enormous amount of money was spent on my studies, rent, food and life when I was international student; all withdrawn from my CANADIAN bank account. I even invested in TFSA and others (Though am not well established financially). However still, the bank (where I put all my money) didn't give me a credit card unless they froze some cash in my bank account, and the credit card limit is extremely low. The reason was because I was an international student. Now I am a permanent resident, but still until now they do not unfreeze it because I do not have a "job". I tell them I am founding my own business (which is for now a web app), and this is a job no? for them only 9-5 is a job. So there is a huge blocking on potentials. We all know that a decent credit card could help for self funding, Mr Brett Wilson talks about credit cards in some of his "GoodBusy" podcasts.
- If one is to self finance, he needs either funding or a permanent job. Finding a permanent job is no easy task in some cities, one of which is Montreal since it is very saturated. Before I got my permanent residency I was not allowed to work outside QC. It took 2 years to get my residency from time of applying. Meanwhile I was having very good job offers from other CANADIAN states; that pay very well (which help me fund my project) but I was not allowed to take them. So Processing times that take years and very restrictive rules, kills the energy of a lot of talented people. Some leave, others like ME stay and persist because they truly love Canada and that is now their Number one and only Country.
- Comparing Canada to the US, it is known the US is a bigger market but still... I always get offers from the US, always get calls from companies there, entrepreneurs..etc.. The US seems more energetic and this is something that I think you are right about what you said "We live in the richest nation in the world. Our natural resources have created a wealth for us as citizens that helps to ensure we have water, shelter, food. Maslow would tell us that all we need is love - and, yes, we are a loving Country! Perhaps that's why we aren't more aggressive - it's all we lack in the circle of what is needed to survive"

In brief, CANADA has a hugeee potential but the extreme restrictive rules in a lot of fields make things like entrepreneurship be put on hold for a long time.
Christian Walker
November 6, 2013 at 3:18 pm
Are we believing in and living up to our own hype about being self-effacing, unobtrusive, overly polite, apologetic and nice? Maybe. As far as I'm concerned we can be some of those things and still be assertive, aggressive, full of fortitude, and proud.

I'm proud, and lucky, to be Canadian. I've travelled extensively through Europe and Asia, and the reception I received has been overwhelmingly positive. Yeah, those people in the Oslo bar knew I was Canadian because I said "please" when I asked for a beer and an ashtray. So what? That doesn't mean that I can't fight my corner with the client the next day.

There's nothing wrong with being humble and polite. But when you need to, you need to show you've got "big brass ones" and maybe even be a little cock-sure of yourself. Just make sure that you can back up your behaviour and attitude with knowledge and results or risk being labelled a fool.

As for keeping our talent at home ... I'm all for it, but I believe, despite the WSJ article and accompanying stats, that we (as a country) need to do more to make Canada the location of choice for Canadians. At the very least Canadians need to be aware of what's available to them if they choose to stay.
Christian Walker
November 6, 2013 at 3:36 pm
@ Chad - Your challenges aren't that tough to overcome, assuming you have people you can trust who are either Canadian citizens or have established credit worthiness. Get one of them to be your partner and "front" your business. Make sure the agreement and corporate docs are ironclad. Buy them out when you can. You could also think about taking on a partner that has an interest in your business and wants to genuinely participate with you.
November 6, 2013 at 3:45 pm
@Christian Walker thanks for the tips! makes sense and I tried that. Finding the right partner for the right business needs patience and good analysis, but I'll keep searching:) cheers
Mark Burdon
November 6, 2013 at 4:54 pm
Chad I don't know what part of the country you are in however try looking up Noah Redler in Montreal if you are still there. Noah is the Startup Canada Community Leader for the Montreal area. Also have you talked to Fundica in Montreal? They are in the business of helping startups finance their business. is their Web site and they have been a partner of Startup Canada since its inception

This is an article on Pivot Magazine on how other countries around the world make entrepreneurism mandatory.

There's actually been quite a bit of startup/entrepreneur activity in Montreal this past year.Not sure what your industry/focus is however connecting with the right people for strategic partnerships can often be better than giving up equity through crowdsourcing.or going on the Den (kidding Arlene).

Connecting with other Startups at a coworking space like Notman House in Montreal might help as well.

As far as why Canada is ranked thirteenth or fourteenth on the Innovation rankings by the Conference Board of Canada, I think a big part is the size of our market relative to our neighbours to the south, and the number of acquisitions of Canadian Startups that get to a certain size. There are many government and not-for-profit organizations that offer coaching/resources for entrepreneurs however many of these groups either overlap, aren't active enough in the community for people to be able to find them, or people find it too difficult to find information about programs like IRAP.

Accelerators and regional innovation centres are helping many startups however except for volunteer organizations like Startup Canada, if you go to a bank and get turned down for a loan (Industry Canada has partnership programs with banks, but you wouldn't know it) some organizations don't offer you any advice where to go next. Community Hackerspaces and Coworking spaces are incubators in themselves, often are the most innovative places to develop new products. AssentWorks in Winnipeg is a great example of industry sponsorship of a Public-Private partnership that stimulate innovation.

Mark Burdon
November 6, 2013 at 5:02 pm
This Techvibes article might be of interest to the women entrepreneurs out there as well.!
Dawn Severenuk
November 6, 2013 at 5:07 pm
I thought about writing a post about this back on Canada Day, because I survived trying to start a business in a European country, but was continually shocked and disillusioned by the amount of money and paperwork that it takes to do so. More shocking than this is the European attitude towards entrepreneurship, especially in Mediterranean countries: there, anyone who's interested in starting a business not only faces institutional obstacles, but family obstacles as well. (WIRED UK ran an excellent magazine a couple of years ago about how Europeans could stand to take a more Americanized approach to risk -- if it fails, well, what are you planning to do next? -- rather than trying to dissuade people from taking risks and starting businesses. Long story short, I think we underestimate just how easy it is to get 'er done in Canada, compared to other nations.
November 7, 2013 at 10:33 am
To see the smile of your customers, their pride, after I completed their backyard project; either a shed, a deck, a fence,etc, is most rewarding, even more rewarding than making money.I had customers invited me for birthday parties, BBQ's, with the news of their new born,get together with their friends and even share the loss of a love one,it's special. (Normoe, the Backyard Guy).(It's not just about $, Kevin O,lol).
Joe Wasylyk
November 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm
Arlene, first of all congratulations on your new You Inc website. I'm just guessing now but I think what happens here on this site has a high potential to shake-up what's happening in Canada regarding the topic of entrepreneurship for everyone. I believe that the Government of Canada is basically focusing on the Young (18-34 yrs. old) Entrepreneur. The major reason I think is that this demographic has a high unemployment rate and is having a lot of problems find a full-time job that is meaningful. In essence this group might be forced to startup a new business just to survive. This group probably has a high learning curve and if they try only to find the next 'big thing' the majority will be very challenged.

On the other hand, there is the 50+ demographic. Many of these people have maturity, wisdom, education, skills, contacts and resources. You would think that this group would be the best qualified to learn entrepreneurship and implement innovative ideas. Recently, I asked a local micro-business trainer if we could set up a program for the potential 50+ Entrepreneur. He said, "No,...Too Old". And, I though about this. It can't be for the reason that older entrepreneurs don't have the right traits. It's the other way around i.e. they have most of the good traits however; the government has decided that they prefer to help and subsidize the Younger entrepreneur. Will this situation change? I was shocked when last week the Government of Canada announced that they were going to give an estimated $5 million in grants to help women entrepreneurs. So what does this mean? Does the Government feel sorry that many women live alone or they might be a single parent; OR is it that they have the business take on a lot of risk and make it as an entrepreneur or small business owner?

November 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm
@Mark Burdon thanks a lot for the tips, I will surely check these out. Am still in Montreal for now, but might move to Calgary or Toronto when I get the chance.
Jillian Bowman
December 2, 2013 at 10:36 am
Arlene, this post jumped out at me like a battle cry. I AM CANADIAN and I AM AN INNOVATIVE, CREATIVE AND KICK ASS STRATEGIST and I have been fired from almost every job I have ever had... why? I ruffle too many feathers by challenging the norms, I just can't seem to follow the process, heck i was even let go once because I "have too much initiative"... As a marketing strategist with 20 years of brand building under my belt I can say without a doubt that the entrepreneurial spirit is very near extinction in this country. Let's face it, very few entrepreneurs start out as one. Almost everyone starts out working at a company. This is great, learn as much as you can on someone else's dime/time then go out on your own. The problem is that all the required entrepreneurial traits are beaten out of people within the first 6 months of employment. If companies fostered and celebrated innovation, creativity and initiative we just might save some of these young enterprising leaders. Sure there is a risk that the company will lose a great employee to the land of StartUps, but just imagine the impact that person could have on the company before they leave. New products or applications for old products discovered, new and efficient business practices developed, new employee task forces created, the possibilities are endless. Wouldn't it be better to instill this spirit in all employees? Only a small percentage of people will actually make the move out on their own, most will happily take the security of a pay cheque and employee morale will skyrocket because everyone will feel a sense of ownership in the company. If we celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit in major corporations we just might stand a chance at getting out of our own way long enough to keep leaders in Canada and benefit from our own efforts. - Jillian Bowman, Chief Instigator at Hijix Strategies (dot) ca
@Chad - Have you heard of the CYBF (Canadian Youth Business Foundation)? They will provide seed money for your start up (as long as you have a business plan for a viable idea). Its worthwhile checking out their website. The loan also comes with a business mentor who works with you on a voluntary basis for 2 years. You can ask for a mentor who specializes in the area in which you need help. Also recommend a book by Dr. Sean Wise called "Hot or Not" which helps you determine whether your business idea will fly or fail and what you need to do to approach potential investors. Good Luck
Jo-Ann Vacing Dibblee
December 6, 2013 at 8:21 pm
Well I do agree we need to stand up and stand out. For over eight years I worked with entrepreneurs in various capacities. From start ups to those who had been in business for 35 plus years. I created events and brought in speakers on a variety of topics. From A-Z and these are some of the things I noticed.

1. We brought in an expert/speaker from another area who had the the same level or even less experience as the local expert the expert who traveled here (to Calgary) was perceived more valuable. Result is, the local expert is not only perceived as less valuable but is traveling to get business which results in further costs to do business.

2. We are as you mention, a loving nation but we are also as a nation that is passive in supporting local businesses. For the Mom and Pop shops this can be devastating. The wait and support attitude does not yield healthy cash flow.

3. Social media has I believe help both of the above but only if business owners are engaged and engaging by creating conversation.

4. Many business in (my opinion) lack understanding that social responsibility is a must in order to play in this economy and engage their customers.

After years of being in the connecting and transacting industry I recently launched my personal memoir (Frock Off: Living Undisguised) and I believe the success we are seeing is largely due in part to practicing what I have preached the last eight years.

As a Canadians I am a proud business owner who is committed to other Canadian business owners.

Thanks for opportunity to share.

Jo Dibblee
Toby's Tree Service
December 10, 2013 at 3:10 am
It might have something to do with the school curriculum and motives. I remember when I was in high school, the teachers and guidance counselors would really push for the kids to get into trades. It was either trades or university... and thats it. We are taught from a young age to finish school and get a job. There isn't any time, funding or willingness for our schools to work with students and show them the endless opportunities of creating opportunity! That's why it's so intimidating for young would-be-entrepreneurs to take that risk, to take the first step into independence. Maybe if students were given the chance to home in on the skills and develop an entrepreneurial attitude, along with the knowledge that is necessary for start-ups to make the right choices in order for the business move to the next level and beyond.
Just a thought..
Mark Burdon
December 28, 2013 at 2:01 pm
Great choice for blog of the year! Happy 2014 everyone and look forward to where YouInc is going in 2014!
Nicky Middleton
March 14, 2014 at 7:35 pm
As an new 47 year old female green entrepreneur who is Canadian and not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dirty, yes there are plenty of grant opportunities and startup info - if you know how to navigate the websites and ask the right questions. There are programs to help pay for a percentage of staff wages, there are grants to help innovative ideas and even crowd funding has become legal (with rewards) in most of Canada. Could it be that there is so much available that we become overwhelmed with applications, paperwork and back down because we aren't sure we qualify or it's worth the effort? There are so many incubators and startup support groups that finding the right alignment is tough. And what if your innovation is so new that it doesn't "fit" into any of the requirements for grants and loans - which is often the case for government funded programs? It can be daunting for a new entrepreneur, but if you have an awesome idea - you bear down and keep pushing. Yep it's out there - you just need to be pretty darn diligent and on top of things to do it. And let's face it, many entrepreneurs are more creative than they are organized!
Shari Blanchard
November 22, 2014 at 2:20 am
Great article! Thanks!
I am on my way to living my Canadian Dream right here in the humble town of London Ontario where I was born. Moved all the way out west, thinking that is where I will start a business. Then moved back and now having started up a new venture a couple of years ago!
Mark Morin
March 13, 2017 at 7:52 pm
Regrettably, because our IP's were so disruptive.. way before their time, Canada discovered too late, and the US , ...well although they received with doors blown ''open wide '' rather chose to ''all too temptingly'' on a business platform, '' entitlement-mindedly'' take what they evidently felt little guy looser Canadian guy offered them in the first place ...
Featured Members
Billy Hennessey
RoyalPak & Oxford Beach
Barbara Lustgarten-Evoy
With Barbara Enterprises
See All   ► Recent Activity Recent Activity
Dustin Boehm joined YouInc
parth solanki joined YouInc
Home Appliances Plus joined YouInc
shagunsweet joined YouInc
teenachris35 joined YouInc
bruceshogans joined YouInc
saqibkhan joined YouInc
Insight Health Apps joined YouInc