Navigating an Innovation + Entrepreneurship Ecosystem with a Compass

Andrew Do
Annalise Huynh

By Andrew Do and Annalise Huynh
June 13, 2016

Consider four different people:

  • A researcher conducting basic research on quantum computing
  • A college professor teaching her students
  • An entrepreneur working out of an incubator
  • A public servant working in economic development policy

What do they have in common? If you asked them individually, they might not be able to tell you how they‘re linked together, but they each contribute to supporting innovation + entrepreneurship.

Taking on an ecosystem approach, we can begin to see how these seemingly unrelated actors are part of a larger whole. That means not just looking at the individual actors, but how they interact with one another, and how these interactions contribute to the overall behaviours of the ecosystem.

This is apparent in the Government of Canada’s commitment to push forward an Innovation Agenda. In the most recent 2016 Federal Budget, there is small budget commitment along the lines of “Strengthening Innovation Networks and Clusters.” It identifies the need to close “information gaps and coordination challenges” that are preventing “these linkages [between actors] from being developed to their full potential, impacting the strength of innovation ecosystems.”

The question is: how we can begin to see the whole of Canada’s innovation + entrepreneurship ecosystem? We started with Nesta’s UK Innovation Policy Toolkit. Given the Brookfield Institute’s mission to make Canada the best place to be an innovator or entrepreneur, it made sense that we should understand the system that we’re trying to influence.

Not a map, but a compass.

We talked to a lot of people; policymakers and researchers working in the ecosystem at different levels, and entrepreneurs who were curious to understand the system. In putting this resource together, we want to give some attention to the prevalent questions around the Canadian ecosystem. At this stage, it’s not yet a map or a comprehensive list. Rather, it’s a way to organize and navigate the existing ecosystem, much like a compass helps you navigate a map.

What’s next?

Our framework isn’t by any means comprehensive. It will need to be refined as we learn more and compile feedback. But this isn’t not the kind of work that we can or should do on our own. We need you to tell us what you think we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and raise flags wherever you find space that isn’t covered in our taxonomy.

This is the way we see Canada’s innovation + entrepreneurship ecosystem. For you as the user: does the ecosystem look different from where you’re working? Does this compass answer any of your questions? Does it raise any?

Read A Compass to Canada’s Innovation + Entrepreneurship Ecosystem and let us know at

For media enquiries, please contact Coralie D’Souza, Director of Communications, Events + Community Relations at the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

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Comments 2

  1. I really enjoyed your article, and working for the UK Science and Innovation Network, was thrilled to see your starting point to have been Nesta UK’s Innovation Policy Toolkit! The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem that you developed is very informative and helpful for navigating the system in place here in Canada. It brought to my attention some key players that I was previously unaware of! However, your final question had me thinking (does the ecosystem look different from where I’m working)… as Science, Innovation and Public Policy Officer for the British Consulate-General in Toronto, I didn’t really see any international presence in your compass. In an increasingly globalized world – a world in which global partnerships lead to huge advances in innovation – global influences are certainly relevant. My current role would sit within Ecosystem governance, under Government Innovation + Entrepreneurship Policy Bodies, perhaps as a standalone representing bi-lateral science/innovation diplomats from around the globe. Similarly, there are many international organizations that could be represented in the compass, without having to name all of them, perhaps a standalone to ensure they are mentioned? I’d be happy to chat further with your research team about the role of a science/innovation diplomat in the local landscape 🙂

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful response. We’re glad you enjoyed reading this resource – hopefully as much as we enjoyed the Innovation Policy Toolkit that Nesta put together! It was a very useful starting point as outsiders to the UK innovation + entrepreneurship ecosystem and we wanted our resource to be useful as well as a starting point. We’re thrilled that you found that it helpful for discovering some key Canadian players.

      Your point on an international presence in the compass is well taken – the kinds of actors that play that role is something we would like to make a deeper dive on. In fact, something that caught our eye was how Nesta’s Innovation Policy Toolkit was communicated as “a prototype resource for an emerging set of practices” on Tradecraft for Innovation Diplomats. Insofar as we included an international presence, for this first iteration we limited it to actors that represent Canada such as Export Development Canada or the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. We tried to include international offices of provinces where applicable. Interestingly, we categorized them as Market Access + Promotion Agencies under the broader category of Innovation + Entrepreneurship Supports, given their frontline role in directly helping entrepreneurs gain access to markets abroad. They’re particularly critical to the ecosystem given Canada’s relatively small domestic market size.

      We’re definitely considering adding more organizations and new categories in future iterations of the compass. When we were building the taxonomy, we tried to be careful about making a framework that could stand later additions. This is something that we’d definitely like to learn more about your perspective! Please reach out to either myself and Annalise and we can discuss further 🙂

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