The innovation champion: Inside Navdeep Bains’s efforts to grow Canada’s economy, one unicorn at a time

    Illustration by John Hemminger

    How will Navdeep Bains know if he’s done a good job as federal minister of innovation, science, and economic development? “Ten Shopifys wouldn’t be so bad,” Bains tells an audience of tech executives in an Ottawa hotel ballroom in October.

    It would be no small feat. Shopify, just across the Rideau Canal from that stage, is the rare Canadian innovation breakout success, a globally-competitive, publicly-traded company with hundreds of millions in revenue and a 10-figure market cap.

    The Liberals didn’t get elected on a promise to create 10 Shopifys. In fact, their platform had relatively little to say about technology and innovation. But since taking office, a growing number of entrepreneurs, executives and experts have been vying for the government to help with all manner of challenges—including improving access to capital and talent, making it easier to do business and yes, supporting scaling companies in the pursuit of more Shopifys. And it’s Bains they look to as the agent of change.

    Industry leaders say that over the last three years, this government has listened to their concerns about money, skills and policy barriers, and made innovation a priority. Bains has been at the forefront of that change. “He’s become just a huge champion of tech and Canadian companies,” says Iain Klugman, CEO of Kitchener, Ont.-based Communitech, which houses startups and innovation labs for big firms.

    The Logic spoke with more than two dozen entrepreneurs, business executives, experts, friends and colleagues to get a sense of how Canada’s innovation minister is faring after three years on the job. What they reveal is a man with a sense of mission and purpose, but constrained by a government that simply can’t change fast enough. Even if the minister does everything in his power to support Canada’s innovation economy, it may not be enough for Canadian companies to truly compete in the global innovation race.

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