World renowned MaRS Discovery District guides Canadian tech startups — helping them reach new heights and exist cohesively with large organizations on a global scale.

Mediaplanet: The convergence of new technologies — the rise of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and analytics capabilities — have increased the connectivity of the world and redefined consumer experiences. With Canadian companies on the front lines of these new technologies, what makes Canada a promising market for commercial innovation?

Sue McGill: Today’s consumers are looking inward, enhancing and optimizing their brains and bodies, erasing the boundaries between fact and fiction, the physical and the digital, and man and machine. Canada is poised to be a leader in this new era of innovation, harnessing AI and machine learning to transform consumer experiences. With our world-leading technical talent, diverse population, and globally recognized research and science, Canada is one of the best places in the world to build a leading, globally competitive 21st century business.  

MP: How does MaRS help entrepreneurs take their ideas to local and global markets?

SM: MaRS helps entrepreneurs accelerate their startups by providing expert advice, market intelligence and access to capital, as well as connections to talent and customers. MaRS also works with corporate partners and other innovation hubs across the province and around the world to bring together partners who might not otherwise connect.

MP: What are some of the most common challenges faced by startups when trying to develop their ideas into a business?

SM: Early-stage startups are good at getting to product-market fit, but they struggle when they reach the next step: the need to scale. Focus is an absolute necessity, and startups need to sharpen their peripheral vision and set aside time for big-picture thinking. Some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century are global — such as climate change, inequality, and sustainable health care systems — and require entrepreneurs to think bigger and more ambitiously.

MP: Finance and commerce startups are predicted to disrupt the financial, banking, and retail industries in ways we would have never expected. But the financial and retail industries have responded with their own spinouts offering flexible and agile customer services. Can startups, large institutions, and corporates happily coexist in the Canadian economy?

SM: Consumers, especially millennials, are at the forefront of embracing digital and mobile solutions across all aspects of their lives. The combination of AI and biometric data is rapidly transforming finance and commerce. Traditional banks still yield significant influence across the industry, and enjoy broad relationships with their customers, but emerging financial technology (fintech) and commerce companies are challenging these entities to innovate faster and deliver more seamless consumer experiences — both online and offline.

In the early days of the fintech revolution, tension ran high between these two groups. But today we’re starting to see a global, more open culture of collaboration emerge. The ecosystem is complex, and technology disruption is outpacing our understanding of it. Partnering will play a critical role in creating a sustainable competitive advantage for both incumbents and new entrants.  In the “platform economy,” where it’s easier to share and scale innovation, incumbents are integrating next generation products and services into their existing platforms, and in return new entrants are taking advantage of the reach, scale, and trusted reputation of big banks. Consumers will benefit with new digital services and experiences.