NEXT Co-chair Anthony Lacavera ​on why Canadian businesses need to think big

Oct 17, 2017

An old headline in The Economist—”Canada, go for the bronze!”—perfectly sums up the problem with Canadian business culture: lack of confidence.

Living next door to the world’s biggest braggart, Canadians learn early that American-style self-promotion is obnoxious. We value decorum and, like good junior partners, wait to be noticed (and get inordinately excited when a Canadian actor, singer, or athlete attracts Americans’ attention and receives their seal of approval, as though it’s worth more than ours). We haven’t come up with an effective Canadian way to sell ourselves, so, at least in the business arena, we often sell ourselves short.

“Kids at Harvard and Yale aren’t necessarily any smarter than kids at Queen’s or McGill,” says Reza Satchu, founding partner of Alignvest Capital Management and of Next 36, which provides intensive training for talented undergraduates with entrepreneurial aspirations. But, he continues, there’s an aspiration gap, and Canadians are on the wrong side of it. “American kids don’t just aspire to write a book. They aspire to win the Pulitzer Prize.” Next 36 co-founder Ajay Agrawal, an economist at the University of Toronto, agrees. According to Agrawal, “If you ask top engineering students in Toronto what their ambition is, they’ll say something like, ‘I’m going to lead the artificial intelligence group at Google.’ The same students at mit will say, ‘I’m going to start the next Google.’”

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