Coming home to Canada, Owning the Podium for innovation
Snow and solitude make for great thinking time — Albinson to take on the role of CEO at Communitech on May 17, 2021
I am thrilled to announce that I will be taking on the role of CEO of Communitech as of May 17th, 2021. It is both a responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to support Canada’s founders and innovators, and I’d like to share some of the thoughts and conversations that are bringing me back home to Canada.
Last December, we were enjoying a beautiful Canadian winter in Frontenac County while nervously sheltering in place from the global pandemic. We were grateful to be safe at the cottage and together. We spent a lot of that time out walking in the snow, not seeing another person for weeks. Keeping me company was John Stackhouse’s awesome book Planet Canada — a book that reminded me of Canadians’ potential to lead innovation globally. Since co-founding the C100, it reinforced just how far Canada’s tech scene had come over the last decade, and I grew frustrated that a global pandemic had stopped everything in its tracks.
I hadn’t felt that way since being in Salt Lake City for the 2002 Winter Olympics with my dad; the celebratory feeling of pride in Canada winning the women’s (best hockey game I have ever seen live) and men’s gold medals, and the emptiness of what could have/should have happened in Canadian skip Kevin Martin’s loss to Norway in the gold medal curling game. It was that feeling of winning seven gold medals, but knowing the Winter Games were “ours” and that we could have done better.
My dad was a professor of sports psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. and co-author of The Mental Game Plan. He was a coach for Canadian Olympians from the Munich Games in ’72 until Los Angeles in ’84. Growing up, the ideas of goal setting, visualizing global success, and Canadian excellence were always topics of conversation. But I didn’t really “get it” until 1993, when I was standing in a Kanata marsh, near Ottawa, with Terry Matthews, imagining twin 10-story buildings that would be full of Newbridge Networks engineers in 18 months. That’s when it clicked for me — Canada has everything it takes to be the best in the world; we just have to commit to doing it.
In the years between 2002 and the 2010 Vancouver Games, we saw even more proof of that in the world of athletics. The ambition, vision, and focused resources that Team Canada put together in their Own The Podium program led directly to a remarkable result: the most gold medals at a single Winter Olympics, and one of the most successful host nation performances in Olympic history.
All the same ingredients exist for Canada to own the podium again — but this time, in the world of technology and innovation
Two years ago, I wrote a post about Canada’s potential to lead the world’s innovation economy. Over the last decade, the Canadian community has come together to support our founders in a dramatic way, leading to global leaders like Shopify, Verafin, and Lightspeed bursting onto the global stage. The C100’s recent impact study reported that Canadian founders led 30 percent ($162 billion worth) of global tech IPOs in 2019. Right behind them, founders leading companies like ApplyBoard, Hopper, InstaCart, and Dapper Labs are poised to become globally dominant players. Canada has also developed some of the most impactful foundational technologies of our generation, leading in sectors like artificial intelligence in ways that will dramatically change every major world industry, from agriculture and automotive to finance and retail.
It feels like all the ingredients for success are there, but something is still holding us back. In my snowy walks this past winter, I reached out to the people involved with the work that led to the success of the Vancouver Games, and I was struck by two things. First, that the movement was led by the athletes themselves — echoing how Canadian tech founders today are taking on the mantle of global leadership and becoming increasingly sophisticated about their goals. The second was how the Own The Podium program was intentionally driven by data applied at scale — specifically, the visionary efforts of Cathy Priestner and her team. The similarities are clear to me between Cathy’s meticulous planning and the work of Orna Berry’s Start-Up Nation plan for Israel and India 2020’s Modi-nomics program. Canada has the raw potential, and it knows how to craft a vision. We just have to decide to go for it.
The conversations that followed this spring with friends, founders, and colleagues like Lauren Lake, Jim de Wilde, Dave Caputo, Laura Buhler, Neil Desai, Bill Currie, James Meddings, Martin Basiri, Terry Matthews, Andrew D’Souza, Rana Sarkar, Luis Robles, Omar Dhalla, Alan Shepard, Saroop Bharwani, Sarah Prevette, Michael Scissons, Scott Bonham, Kevin Lynch, John Ruffolo — and, most impactfully, Iain Klugman — put me on a path out of the snow, towards the mission of supporting Canadian founders as the next CEO of Communitech.
I’ve always deeply admired Communitech and its work to support Canadian firms and the Canadian tech ecosystem. Over the last decade, we have been partners on many projects to make it easier for Canadian founders to achieve success. Founded by founders, the culture and people of Communitech make it a truly unique place. There is no question that Communitech and Waterloo Region are the cornerstone of the Canadian innovation community and the perfect place to create a new Own The Podium plan — one tailored to support Canada becoming the dominant player in global innovation. As we come out of COVID-19 and the ensuing economic crisis, driving productivity growth and technology adoption are going to be essential to Canada’s recovery. I’m so excited to return home to help both Communitech and Canada drive an economic resurgence rooted in innovation.
I am thrilled to take on the role of CEO at Communitech and look forward to learning from and listening to our Canadian founders and all who want to help them to Own The Podium! Please reach out to me with your thoughts. It’ll be a massive task that will mean all of us working together, but collaboration is in Communitech’s DNA — and by working together, we can support Canadian founders in their drive to dominate global innovation.