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Lead to Win: Canadian business innovation project has lessons for EU stakeholders, SMEs

Dr Tony Bailetti

Crises breed opportunities that can lead to economic recovery and job regrowth. This is the lesson learnt from the Lead to Win (LTW) project, which was initiated in Canada and now aims to serve as a best practice for the EU. LTW has at its core the creation of knowledge jobs in hard-hit economies.

LTW is an engine that supports technology entrepreneurs grow revenue and create knowledge jobs in a region. Each venture in LTW works to create six or more jobs three years after venture inception. The LTW engine is a business ecosystem that cost effectively applies state-of-art knowledge on technology entrepreneurship and economic development to create knowledge jobs in a region. Currently LTW’s successful implementation in Ottawa involves 70 SMEs.

‘It has to be the community that takes responsibility for the creation of such jobs. It’s a process that involves everyone, this is not a one-sector show,’ argues Dr Tony Bailetti, Director of Carleton University's Technology Innovation Management programme who is the driving force behind the project. He emphasises that LTW could be successfully replicated in various EU countries as a tool to combat rising unemployment and to contain the economic recession. The key element is to motivate the community to come together and support an engine that creates knowledge jobs. Dr Bailetti stresses that ‘together organisations can do something that no one organisation can do on its own, and in Europe this would work very well. It will be a community challenge as opposed to a government-led project. The project is transparent, open and innovative.’

Creating an innovation eco-system for SMEs in the EU

On 12 June, Dr Bailetti intends to convey his experience and knowledge to the EU as a panel member for the discussion on ‘The Ideal Innovation Eco-system for Globally Competitive SMEs to Grow,’ at the EUROSME 2013 conference in Dublin. He will provide European policy-makers and businesses with insights on how to design an ecosystem that takes SMEs to the next level through creative participation and job creation. The main argument is centred around directing all efforts towards transforming the entire ecosystem in a way that every company within it is a ‘born-global-company’, namely, a venture that is global from inception. Based on Dr Bailetti’s experience, the difference between successful companies and those that have died is that the former became global very early on. He will highlight the unique challenge of creating an ecosystem in Europe that goes beyond a concept, one which will be further improved or developed, and where all stakeholders would be ‘born-global’.

The concept for LTW was first conceived in Ottawa in 2002 at a time when the region’s two major high-tech players began to drastically slash their workforces. The project assisted axed workers to become technology entrepreneurs. The graduates of the first cohort of LTW launched companies that created 300 knowledge jobs in a four year period. Given the radical changes undergone by the economy and the diverse profiles of the laid-off workers, LTW was relaunched as an ecosystem in late 2008.

‘In 2008 we needed to deploy the project in a much smarter way. We built on the 2002 experience with technology entrepreneurs and went worldwide looking for models to be able to create a machine that could generate knowledge jobs in the region,’ underlines Dr Bailetti, who is also an Associate Professor in the Eric Sprott School of Business and the Department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University.

What in 2002 was a course and supporting mechanism to raise money to create new businesses, in 2009 became a job-growth engine in the SME sector. The idea behind this scheme was to support companies by providing technology entrepreneurship. In return, these companies would pledge to generate six jobs each within three years. Dr Bailetti explains that LTW became an open-source project which produced technology businesses instead of code. Its success is no small feat, considering that the jobs were created for SMEs in a business landscape where big companies traditionally thrived.

The real innovation of the project was the development of a process to organise the services delivered to technology entrepreneurs via a multi-sided platform. In this way, even small companies have the same support that new ventures have in big companies. Entrepreneurs, instead of working independently, were now able to immediately create a network that can be used later on to launch and grow their businesses.

LTW was designed for sustainability; there’s no end date in sight. The eco-system is characterised by multiple logics that allow robustness in the entire system. There is not one source, but many sources of funding, thus offering independence and obstructing the creation of bottlenecks in the funding process. ‘We have different elements and each element has to be funded on its own,’ says Dr Bailetti. ‘Every component is self-funded, it must be before it goes into the system.’

LTW was originally structured so as to generate knowledge jobs for displaced knowledge workers. Today, its implementation scale is larger and the requirements it has to respond to are different. The next challenge now lies with creating jobs in non-knowledge sectors. Dr Bailetti is confident this can be achieved as he considers the most important outcome from the implementation of LTW in Canada: ‘The lesson that I have engraved in my head was that it’s an opportunity to take the entire community to the next level.’

Register now for the SME conference under the Irish EU presidency in Dublin on 11-12 June.