Barely a two-hour flight from San Francisco, Vancouver is often dubbed as Silicon Valley North — attracting tech and entrepreneurial talent from around the world.
But with local governments across Canada, including in Ontario and Quebec, moving quickly to embrace the sharing economy, Vancouver and B.C. risk being left behind.
We are still the only province in Canada that continues to ban ride-sharing. And just the other week, Quebec announced a ground-breaking tax deal with lead home-sharing platform Airbnb.
As a director at Futurpreneur Canada, I mentor and support young entrepreneurs across B.C.
It’s an unfortunate fact that many young entrepreneurs face issues with finance in the early stages of building their business. They ask themselves: “How am I going to pay rent while working on solving this problem and creating jobs? How am I going to take advantage of that next business development opportunity in another city while keeping my travel costs down?”
For many of the young entrepreneurs I work with, sharing economy platforms offer a great solution to supplement their income and even help with seed money.
With the cost of living going up in cities like Vancouver, platforms like Airbnb provide a way to earn supplemental income while young entrepreneurs are getting their ventures off the ground.
Let me walk you through the following scenario:
Maggie is a twenty-something Vancouver entrepreneur. She studied at UBC for her undergrad degree in engineering. She went on to get an MBA at Stanford. But Maggie has been listing the spare bedroom in her condo on Airbnb for nearly a year, ironically, to put food on the table and pay the bills because her new startup requires every dollar of investment she can round up.
Guests have often been other young entrepreneurs coming into town from across Canada. Some are even from across the water on the Sunshine Coast, where there is a growing community of millennials trying to balance affordability and connectedness to the city in order to pursue business opportunities.
If B.C.’s cities restrict this new sharing economy and the affordability solutions it brings for young Vancouverites, I know innovators like Maggie will continue to leave. They will go to other places that embrace innovation and they’ll take their ideas and newly created jobs with them.
That would be a huge loss for B.C. Local elected officials need to signal their commitment to keeping tech in their community, so these entrepreneurs can continue to contribute meaningfully to the local economy. We need a platform for entrepreneurship and innovation in every municipality in this province, whether it’s on the Sunshine Coast, in Vancouver, or up in Prince George.
At Futurpreneur Canada, we’re always finding ways to help small businesses and entrepreneurs go global, no matter where their home base is located. New technologies are letting today’s mobile millennials work and do business from anywhere, and we help them do that.
For example, through our ThriveNorth program, we help support startups in northwest B.C. who would not otherwise have the same support or access to opportunities as urban startups. Many of them support the tourism sector in their local communities, and are becoming the pillars of the local economy.
And for many of these northern entrepreneurs, travel isn’t a nice-to-have option — it’s an expensive necessity to launch and grow their business. So, they choose home-sharing and ride-sharing options when they travel to keep costs down — often staying and riding with other entrepreneurs in the communities they’re visiting.
The federal government has placed a significant emphasis on building innovation superclusters across Canada. I’m seeing on a regular basis how home sharing is allowing these young entrepreneurs to meet, network and build community, providing the perfect ingredients for innovation to happen.
Economies are rapidly changing. Governments need to enable entrepreneurship and be forward-thinking. It’s not a time to be paralyzed by fear, rather it’s a time to come together and solve some of the major problems economies are encountering.
The world is going to be collaborative, open, and mobile for young Canadians. It would be a great shame for Canada to lose out on their talent and contribution. Innovation can, and must, be enabled with policies that allow for young entrepreneurs to thrive.
Paulina Cameron is the director for British Columbia and Yukon at Futurpreneur Canada, a national non-proﬁt organization that provides ﬁnancing, mentoring and support tools to aspiring business owners aged 18-39.