What will it take?
Posted on November 8th, 2011 by karensd

November 1, Stratford’s Avonova group hosted a panel discussing “Doing Tech in Stratford: Why or Why not?” The guest panelists spoke to the merits and challenges of establishing a technology business or career in Stratford, Ontario versus other centres like Kitchener-Waterloo, London or Toronto.

Our panelists were:

  • Gary Wreford, VP, Central Processing Technology, Scotiabank, heads the bank’s worldwide IT services from Stratford.
  • Tim Ellis, Chief Operating Officer of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, a world-renowned, award-winning centre for cultivation of technology entrepreneurship, and
  • Jason Clarke, a Web and Social Media Content Creator (videographer) for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and recent émigré from London, Ontario where he founded the Short Film Showcase.

Moderated by yours truly, our panelists brought their very diverse perspectives to the conversation, yet overwhelmingly they agreed on the following most salient points:

Strengths:

  • Strength of our brand: Stratford’s brand is very strong and evokes awareness of creativity, culture and arts. This distinguishes the city from other centres (i.e. K-W is noted for being a high tech hub and London is noted for its impact on the Life Sciences).
  • Creative & Content: Stratford is in a unique position to highlight its talent base and its ability to generate world-renowned content. We should focus on what makes us different from other centres and not try to duplicate what’s going on elsewhere.
  • University of Waterloo Stratford Campus and the Stratford Institute: the presence of these two institutions fares incredibly well for Stratford, bringing a global focus to our city and shoring up our image as a world-class city where anything is possible.
  • Relationships: Stratford’s champions range from our Governor-General, corporate leaders (OpenText, RIM), and provincial and federal political representatives. Those relationships are not only based on goodwill, but on well versed strategic planning and investment in ideas that will put us on the global stage in yet another realm.
  • History: We have a history of being innovative; the Stratford Shakespeare Festival started in a tent…and grew. The same is expected of our push to be considered one of Canada’s premier digital media hubs for innovation and entrepreneurialism.
  • Leadership: Our municipal leadership is responsible for putting Stratford in the enviable position that it is in currently. Our ability to present smart leadership to our closest communities and the world at large will continue to bring opportunities to the city.
  • Our Digital Renaissance and Infrastructure: We have the technology in place to support new businesses; that’s the easy part. Pushing forward on our bid for the world’s most Intelligent Community continues to put Stratford on the global map and reinforces our commitment to the ideals of what constitutes an intelligent city.

Opportunities:

  • Attracting and Keeping Talent: Stratford needs to find a way to keep the 25-35 year old demographic here, rather than watching the brain drain to our larger centres. Providing life experiences (“there’s nothing to do”) and social outlets is paramount here.
  • Ambassadors: “Stratford is a friendly town, but it’s hard to make a friend.” Finding ways to connect new residents to the city life and enable social connections is essential to ensuring that new residents don’t feel ostracized and isolated.
  • Incubator Centre: creation of an Incubator Centre will support entrepreneurs, instill loyalty and set the foundation for future innovation and business opportunities that stay here in Stratford.

Many of our audience members shared their stories as to why they chose Stratford and what has kept them here, growing their businesses and establishing family roots here. The clear message from last night was that our success will come from looking at the city experience holistically. Providing support and opportunities for businesses directly related to technology, as well as providing outlets for socializing and community engagement will take a concerted effort. Achieving this state will come from the collaborative effort of all parts of our city, and not just city leaders.

Our sincerest thanks to Gary, Tim and Jason, for sharing their perspectives and ideas with our audience.

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