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Growing tech in Manitoba

Manitobans think nothing of investing in technology to improve their personal lives but it’s a different story when they get to work.

Multiple research reports have shown that the keystone province is consistently at the bottom of the pack in Canada when it comes to corporate investment in software and hardware, says Kelly Fournel, CEO of Tech Manitoba, which represents more than 200 companies in the province.

It’s odd considering virtually everybody has the latest communications gadgetry in their pockets. Fournel says it’s about time everybody realizes that technology permeates every sector.

If entrepreneurs and decision-makers think it’s expensive to invest in technology, just wait until they see the costs of not investing in it, she says.

“It’s an over-reliance on old technology and very manual processes and not freeing up employees to do the value-added work. We will be a time capsule in terms of how we operate and how we live,” she says.

Fournel understands that business people need to be risk-averse to some degree but trying to eliminate risk entirely from their operations will, quite simply, hasten the end of their operations.

“By not adopting technology, you’re putting your company at a greater risk of tripping and falling because you can’t meet expectations for productivity or efficiencies of scale,” she says.

“I want Manitoba companies to be successful and that means making a bigger play in investing in software and equipment.”

Fournel lays part of the blame at the feet of the provincial government because neither technology nor innovation are part of any ministerial portfolio.

“It would be great to know somebody is accountable for driving innovation in the province, setting the direction and making it a visible priority,” she says.

In an effort to better understand what motivates people to embrace change, Tech Manitoba partnered with Value Graphics, a Vancouver-based research firm, on a recent study. One of their key findings was executives wanted change to be mapped out for them and all of the potential risks identified in advance.

“They want to take the risk out of innovation and adopting technology. That’s not how a lot of pure innovation operates. You start with something that’s ambiguous and build on that,” she says.

Marshall Ring, CEO of Manitoba Technology Accelerator, a Winnipeg-based business incubator, has faith in the local business community and believes the sector is on the cusp of greatness. In fact, he doesn’t think people will recognize the province in five years.

“I’ve never seen the level of enthusiasm as high about starting a tech company as it is in Manitoba right now. I’ve never seen the quality of concepts as high or as many people skilled at being able to execute on their plans as there are right now,” he says.

The tailwinds will come from innovation, management capacity and capital. Ring says Manitoba has always been “rich” in innovation but the latter two ingredients haven’t kept pace. That, however, is about to change.

“It’s not that we don’t have great thinkers and ideas,” he says. “We’ve lacked the ability to go to operations and execution.”

Funding will be coming down the pipe through the province’s newly-minted Venture Capital Fund while there is now a “founders class” of locally-based entrepreneurs who have the necessary skills to build and grow companies.

Fournel understands that the vast majority of Manitoba firms—96 per cent, in fact—are small businesses and often don’t have the time, expertise or resources to invest in technology. She’s putting out the call to the province’s giants—Canada Life, Bell MTS, IGM Financial and bus manufacturer NFI Group—to lend a hand to their smaller brethren.

“Wouldn’t it be great for our large companies to be receptive to working with small business owners who need that first big win with a contract from a customer to really get them going?” she says.

So, what does Ring think Winnipeg will look like in late 2027 and early 2028?

“There will be a plurality of cultures, there will be a vibrancy in downtown and there will be more expensive vehicles on our streets. And there will be a swagger to Winnipeg that’s going to be contagious,” he says.

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