Bilal Khan, Founding CEO of OneEleven Innovation Hub, spends a lot of time thinking about Canada’s move from a resource-based economy to an ideas economy: how the rules have changed and the actions needed to foster innovation.
“I believe innovation economies are rooted specifically in innovation ecosystems,” says Khan. “If you don’t build those ecosystems effectively with the right ingredients, the right people, the right stakeholders, then none of it works.”
To get there, Khan believes there is a need to push past lofty ideas and interesting thought experiments when discussing public policy. It’s not enough to talk about where to go, because an actual action plan is needed.
“What I became passionate about was around taking public policy and this idea of, how do we transition to the new economy, and predicate that in the physical?” says Khan. “How do we specifically build an institution or an organization? A set of networks and relationships that actually help our economy evolve?”
One ingredient that is critical is basic science and research. The freedom to chase ideas and knowledge without any particular commercial interest in mind, sometimes over decades, is what drives the big innovations that can transform industries and create jobs.
“Research and basic sciences is the infrastructure to commercialization, without which there’s no chance and there’s no opportunity for us to be able to build commercial opportunities or businesses on top of that science,” says Khan.
When an entrepreneur finds a way to build on that work with a commercial product and a strong business model, that creates jobs and wealth, all while taking homegrown ideas and making a global impact.
“When we think of artificial intelligence, for example, we’re talking about decades of investments that we’ve made as a region that really never paid off, until now! And geez, wow, we’ve now become a world player in one of the most disruptive, most meaningful economic opportunities of our generation,” says Khan.
Indeed, the Canadian government poured three decades of resources into artificial intelligence with marginal returns for much of that time. But Canada is now a leader because it’s where much of the pioneering work was done.
Laying down that theoretical groundwork finally paid off once computing power finally caught up.
“We made decades of investments in our academic institutions and our researchers and our scientists, and gave them the freedom to be able to go after basic research and basic science at its core. Without which, I don’t believe you can even have the opportunity that we’re sitting at today,” says Khan.
That opportunity for wealth and growth have emerged from decades of work, but by nurturing the seeds of innovation, Canada is now harvesting the rewards as a hub for development and commercialization in artificial intelligence. The hope is that the legacy of investment in this type of innovation ecosystem continues to keep our economy growing.