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An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik on Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/07/15


Dr. Sarah Lubik is the Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She discusses: innovation, science, and economics; and the innovation and entrepreneurship agenda of Canada.

Keywords: Canada, entrepreneurship, innovation, Sarah Lubik, science, SFU, technology.

An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik on Innovation, Science, and Economic Development: Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & InnovationConcentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Part Four)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, there’s an article in 2016, where the first sentence described you as “one of Canada’s 10 Innovation Leaders who will help form the nation’s Innovation Agenda.” (SFU News, 2016). I’m referencing with respect to that time stamp.

This is being spearheaded by Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. What is your particular role? What is the overall vision? How will this Innovation Agenda be implemented?

Dr. Sarah Lubik: Lot of good questions. Navdeep Bains and his ministry are spearheading the formation and implementation of Canada’s Inclusive Innovation Agenda. This was started in collaboration with the Ministers of Science, and Small Business

Ten leaders were picked from across the country as people who could help, gather, activate, and excite Canadians across the country about innovation and to gather grassroots and bottom-up ideas for what the Innovation Agenda should look like.

One of the things that is important to understand, that I’m glad our government understands, is that you cannot top-down command innovation, at least that I’ve seen. Passion drives innovation and entrepreneurship, if you try to create an innovation strategy nationally without getting buy-in from people in the country, you will end up with a great deal of shelf ware. Recommendations and reports that will be difficult to do anything about in practice.

What you need is to find out what do people actually want to do and what do they see as the challenges and how might you get around those challenges, and when you set that big vision, how will people across the country see themselves in it?

So, our job was to bring together these members of the community across the country and host roundtables and events with experts, one of the other reasons they asked the innovation leaders rather than run it through the government was because they also wanted to get the perspective of people who were not the usual suspects,

That they wouldn’t necessarily have thought of or had access to.

The outside perspectives also led to more outside perspectives. One of the other innovation leaders from back East went down to the States and to learn what we could learn from them. Back to my trend of being opportunistic, I was going over to Cambridge, England to be at an R&D management conference with some European leaders around innovation.

So, I enlisted a roundtable there to talk about what we learned from places around the world and what would be their advice for Canada, given what they’d seen work, and not work, elsewhere.

One of the other things that we did was bring together a number of different communities.

That’s why it can be so helpful to have a university’s backing when you’re doing innovation. SFU actually hosted a sold-out event of 170 people at the Center for Dialogue, partnering with the Center for Dialogue and Public Square at SFU, but also the early stage incubator Venture Connection, RADIUS Futurepreneur, the Beach Association a more. The whole point of this was to get as many different communities as possible. We set the scene, and asked “How do we create a more entrepreneurial and socially innovative society?”

It was a friendly conversation with the public as well as leaders from the First Nations Community and from Social Innovation Community and a Tech Community -To get the public and the experts talking across communities.

What we found from having that event was actually a lot of the challenges these communities of people were facing where the same, and that we could learn a lot for each other.

With regard to wanting people to be more entrepreneurial, no matter what community you came from, people were concerned about things like if you want too entrepreneurial, will there be security for you, what will the rewards be?  Can our national systems be better set up to take care of innovators and entrepreneurs?

If you have come up with a great idea or a great initiative, whether you’re social or tech, do we know how to scale them effectively in Canada? How can we support that? Then how can we create and maintain talents?

We have many fantastic international students with entrepreneurial hopes but then if they come up with a venture they want to take forward, how can they do that if they can only stay if they work for someone else’s company?

How do we bring in leaders? Because again, we’re a small country. The people who have grown 100 million dollar companies in Canada are few and far between us.

The thought process was that if we can bring in more of them, more people can learn at the feet of giants.

A big take away from that event was that these communities have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other. We need to make sure that in the Canadian Innovation Agenda, we were speaking to a diverse range of people and that the Canadian entrepreneurial community has a lot of communities within it.

These findings were delivered to the ministries to help inform Canada’s next steps around innovation.

There was also a website where Canadians were asked to tweet or submit their ideas for a more innovative is Canada. What can we do to use innovation to make the lives of Canadians better?

There are so many excellent pieces of feedback including “focus on problems that matter to the world”. The innovation leaders have also been invited Ottawa and other ventures to talk to different leaders and communities.

What did we learn? What did we hear? What would our advice be? We came back with more interesting perspectives like from a woman who said, “How do we make innovation as Canadian as hockey? Everyone gets that here. Most Canadians get their first pair of skates or have their first hockey lesson, what’s the innovation equivalent?”

Can we answer that question? I thought that was brilliant. With my own experience of bringing those different communities together, one of the pieces of feedback that I thought was important to give way that is an opportunity for Canada to build its own brand of innovation.

Are we in place that solves problems that matter to Canada and the world? That comes back to your question on why would people stay. That’s also important to say, “What does Canada mean when it says that it’s going to be an innovative nation?”

That we are collaborators and peacekeepers, whether you like that or not; it’s the reputation we have internationally.  There’s a reason why we usually travel pretty happily with a Canadian flag on our back.

So, building on what’s already established as this friendly, collaborative, intelligent country, can we be the place you come to solve problems that matter to Canada and the world? So, those are the pieces of feedback I gave.

Regardless of what innovation leader talked to who and where, coming back to where you and I started, entrepreneurial talent came to the forefront. The culture and the mindset of it.

The culture and the mindset that comes with being entrepreneurial, whether it’s your need to start your own company or being an agent of innovation – being that person that finds a way to make sustainable economic and social value from innovation.

With that definition, you can be an entrepreneur whether you’re in a big company or government or a small company or non-profit.  So, right across the board, no matter what sector you’re in.

When I met different officials, they asked great questions around, “How can we either help or boost with the systems we already have, the resources we already have?”  One of the things that makes me happy is to look at the government and seeing them actively try to strengthen our system of innovation and spurring innovation through investment in talent.

But also, are there systems that need to change?’ Yes, there are.

2. Jacobsen: Where is an area where Canada is a complete whole in its innovation and entrepreneurship agenda? And what are we not succeeding in where you need to get on because it’s one of the major future industries that Canada with its current talent pool could capitalize on?

Lubik: So, I have to unpack that question because with the current talent pool that might be one of the challenges of making sure that those translational skills we talked about at the beginning, that ability to speak across disciplines to deeply understand probable outcomes, etc., haven’t been part of traditional curriculum In particular, it’s important to not to confuse technology talent with entrepreneurial talent. It’s easy to talk about innovation and think we need to learn tech, and we do, but we need entrepreneurs from every sector and background.

We have good schools; we graduate smart people. But are their skills and mindset necessarily the skills and mindset you need for innovation when you look at Canada’s performance on international indexes? We don’t do nearly as well as you’d think. In particular, we don’t rank highly on the commercialization of the world-class research we have, because we do rank pretty highly on global research rankings.

However, on getting that research out into the world, we do poorly. So, we have to get better translating it into a useful application, then into companies or ventures. Hence the commercialization program I mentioned earlier.

This is a place where that talent creation is going to be so critical. It’s also where systems are going to be important because one of the things that is not been happening is what I’ve seen in my own research, and looking in other countries, has been people taking bets on innovation in the earlier, less risky stages.

So, waiting until you get to the point where venture capitalists or at least angel investors can invest and say, “We’re going to put all our money there.” The problem with that, going back to what we originally talked about, is that innovation happens on a continuum and in a social system.

So, if you haven’t built that talent that understands translation and understands how to work in teams and how to actually take those great ideas forward, then none of that moves any farther forward. A lot of that great work and research is going to go nowhere because you don’t have the talent to create those big visions and take them forward. That means pouring investments onto a few good ideas that got through, which is not what we should be doing.

If you look at how innovation usually works, you want a lot of tries. Few people are successful on the first go. So, you want people who have been serial entrepreneurs before they’ve been out of school or people who have tried and learned.

Then by the time you get to that later stage, there should be more to choose from. So, one of the keys of how we could do right with this – one of the things Canada could do – if we looked at innovation as a system, as a continuum, and make sure that investment is going in all the different stages.

You need quality and quantity is the beginning, those people who can be serial entrepreneurs or serial innovators, who have taken shots and created teams.

They’ve dealt with ambiguity, who have connections into the ecosystem, who have connections into all the resources that they need and then you’re going to get a bigger quantity of saleable businesses and of high growth and high impact businesses etc.

That will help take the Innovation Agenda forward and help, I hope.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: July 15, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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