The opportunity for entrepreneurship in Ontario

Today marks the release of a new working paper that discusses the opportunities for entrepreneurial activity in the province of Ontario. Researcher Scott Pennington at the Martin Prosperity Institute wanted to bring new dimensions to how this activity is examined both geographically as well as through the lens of occupational profiles. In support of the project Ontario in the Creative Age, Pennington creates a novel Entrepreneurship Index that shows several interesting insights for Ontario (read the paper).

Here are some highlights:

  1. When we seek to assess entrepreneurial opportunity (i.e., not just the rate of activity but the opportunity for growth and higher returns) a more varied geography is revealed. In high-technology and information and culture (sector groupings in which creativity-oriented workers tend to predominate) opportunity tends to be concentrated in the GTA (Toronto, Hamilton, and to a lesser extent, Oshawa), and other regions with substantial institutional assets (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa and, surprisingly, Guelph.) These are the workers – doing novel, knowledge-intensive work – that we tend to think of first when we consider entrepreneurship.
  2. But entrepreneurial opportunity also exists among other skills groups as well. For routine-service workers, there are a large number of sectors in which earning potential is greater for those who choose to work for themselves rather than in a conventional firm setting. These workers, as well as routine-physical workers that provide a locally-oriented service (whether it be storefront retail, opening a restaurant, repair services or construction) tend to find their greatest opportunity in large, affluent regional markets (again, Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton) but also fast growing parts of the province such as Barrie and Peterborough.
  3. The key take away from this paper for provincial policy makers is that, although province-wide strategies and funding programs are critical resources, much of the challenge in strengthening entrepreneurial opportunity must be addressed at the regional level. Local jurisdictions and regional institutions must be active in promoting and supporting the work of emergent businesses, for it is this type of economic activity, not simply business attraction, that will lead to a sustainable economic advantage. I suggest that one model, the Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Regional Innovation Network program should be reformed to be more inclusive of other innovative sectors and regions, and be more effective as a network between regions as well as within. I also suggest that a similar model could be employed for providing region-specific networking and mentorship services to entrepreneurs, irrespective of sector orientation, particularly in manufacturing – a Regional Entrepreneurship Network, so to speak.

Read the paper and let me know what you think.