Listening to the lively discussion last week during Dose of the Valley conference in San Francisco, February 21-22 sponsored by the Canadian Consulate-San Francisco and Export Development Canada (EDC), where impressive Canadian entrepreneurs cross-fertilized with Bay Area life sciences professionals, I wondered about some of the comparisons drawn between Canadian companies and their neighbors to the south.
It was generally accepted by many in the audience that Canadian companies are often ‘under the radar’, meaning not highly visible compared to similar ventures located in the US. This may lead to more challenges in securing funding compared to US-based firms.
At the same time, it was widely acknowledged that the degree of innovation is high in Canada – Canada (humbly) boasts world renowned academic institutions and medical centers – and the technologies on display during this ‘life sciences bootcamp’ further reinforced this culture of innovation.
So why then do companies up North struggle for greater visibility? One common refrain that came up during the discussion was lack of talent. Here in the Bay Area, we have a rich marketplace for skilled veterans in the life sciences, and place significant value on recruiting talent with experience from premiere biotech organizations such as Genentech and Amgen, or the many smaller companies acquired following their success developing products. Canada has a deep pool of highly educated scientists and business professionals, but unlike the US does not have the same stable of mid-to-large size companies to serve as important training grounds for the talent desired by small companies to help lead them into the future.
Does all a company’s key talent need to be co-located in one office? Many companies these days, including start-ups, operate in a matrixed structure out of multiple offices based in Canada, US and beyond. This can be an advantage not only to attract talent, but also to provide proximity to key customers, suppliers, collaborators and investors. Alternatively, in today’s global environment, key positions can be successfully filled by individuals who work remotely with inexpensive video communications and collaboration software to optimize efficiency.
Anyone working in life sciences here in the Bay Area knows that Canadians are everywhere. I would suspect many of these Canucks would be interested in ‘going home’ for the right opportunities. Even native US biotech veterans are often willing to relocate for roles that provide career growth and competitive compensation.
So to all the Canadian companies seeking top talent, go ahead and spread the call South of the Border as well!