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Last year, I signed up for a wonderfully ambitious initiative spearheaded by our Governor General, His Excellency David Johnston. I was invited to join a Group of Seven who will serve as catalysts to rolling out David Johnson’s vision of a Smart and Caring Nation built by a set of Smart and Caring Communities, ultimately aimed to be a major national initiative to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, or sesquicentennial, in 2017.

I was very much honoured to be asked and, although it is a dauntingly large not to mention a somewhat unspecified, goal, as a proud Canadian who knows first hand David Johnston’s unique ability to lead and motivate, I quickly agreed to this call. I’ll share more about this initiative in order to seek your input. Since no small group can be representative of our huge and diverse nation, it is important the we engage in much dialogue from Canadians of all ages and demographic profile, in order to achieve maximum impact and relevance.

As a way to start that conversation, I’d like to share some of my perspectives on Smart and Caring 2017.

David Johnston’s Smart and Caring Vision:

This whole project starts with a great foundation in our Governor General’s Smart and Caring vision for Canada. And here is why his singular leadership is so critical to this initiative.

David Johnston has a long track record of motivation. Back in 2006, as President of Unviersity of Waterloo, he challenged the already ambitious and successful business, community and government leaders in Waterloo Region to reach even higher. Issued in November 2006, his Ten Goals to Make Waterloo Region Canada’s Knowledge Capital are a blueprint that inspired and motivated real change and continue to have an impact today.

Similarly, on 1 October 2010 at his installation speech as Governor General in the Senate Chambers in Ottawa, David Johnston laid out his vision for nation building in Canada, challenging us to build  a Smart and Caring Nation:

“We are a Smart and Caring Nation.
A nation where all Canadians can grow their talents to the maximum.
A nation where all Canadians can succeed and contribute.
But there is much work to be done to fully achieve our vision of a Smart and Caring Nation. I believe it is essentialTo support families and children,
To reinforce learning and innovation, and
To encourage philanthropy and volunteerism.” 

To build on that vision as we near the sesquicentennial of Canada as a country in 2017, His Excellency has challenged Community Foundations of Canada and the growing network of 191 grass roots Community Foundations across our country. He wants them to lead a groundswell movement, in each and every community and nationally, for Smart and Caring 2017.

Canada – A History of Evolutionary Nation Building:

With that vision as inspiration, and as a passionately proud Canadian, here is my perspective on Canada as a nation. We were not formed by revolution, as is the case in many other countries like the USA or France. True to our character, our particular style of nation-hood opted instead for  evolution at a slow almost glacial pace. You might almost say that Canada pioneered nation building by committee. Specifically, a series of  meetings commencing with the Charlottetown Conference, 150 years ago in 1864, led  to Confederation on 1 July 1867.

I would argue that, as a nation, we were more defined by what we were not – ie. no tea parties or revolutions to overthrow a king. Instead, via peaceful change we enjoyed a tabula rasa upon which to architect a unique nation in those lands north of the growing United States of America. The process was slow. We remained essentially a colony with large parts of the country feeling more British than Canadian for many years. Consider how long it took us to have a non-British Governor General (Vincent Massey, 1952), our own flag (1965, replacing the Union Jack) or our own constitution (repatriated from Westminster in 1982).

Until the late 20th century, innumerable British colonial vestiges remained. Many people argue that Canadian heroism and sacrifices for the motherland in World War I, just 100 years ago, started the modern trend of a strengthening Canadian identity both internally and as a nation on the global stage.

Gof7 WAG 2013-06-06 19.57.00Shortly after WWI, an influential group of painters, the original Group of Seven artists, created a truly Canadian vision of our country through direct contact with nature and our awe-inspiring landscape. Their work was notably distinct from the prevailing British styles of Turner, Constable and later British or European artistic styles.

Canada’s Centennial in 1967 marked a major inflection point for Canada. We had come through two world wars with a strong sense of national identity, supported by the burgeoning post war economy. Canada proudly led on the world stage with the likes UN Peacekeeping, Expo ’67 in Montréal and the uber cool federalist Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Set right in the middle of the swinging 1960′s, our centennial celebrations in 1967 were a wonderful time to be alive. Besides Expo ’67 and the quaint historical “centennial” costumes people wore, today we are left with innumerable Centennial arenas, parkways, libraries, etc. These major investments in infrastructure are present with us today. I recall that time with pride and fondness.

CFC Smart and Caring Project:

Because the 21st Century seems so different than the previous, what kind of movement should honour Canada’s 150th birthday. It is a complex question, but I believe that if we can mobilize almost all communities across Canada into activities and projects inspired by the “Smart and Caring” mantra, like a national pot luck dinner we would effectively crowdsource some of national, and even, international significance.

Once again, we have a unique opportunity to make positive changes while setting a positive example for the world.

It is important to understand that, because each and every community is unique, communities must have the freedom to launch initiatives that directly suits their unique needs.  Nonetheless, with diverse initiatives considered collectively, I believe that, taken as a whole we can shape and inspire the Canada of the future.  We have so many advantages and the time is right to embark of nation building for the 21st century.

I would further hope that we would see collective action and partnership, both at the community level and national level, to increase the impact and effectiveness of the Smart and Caring 2017 initiatives. We must speak to and be meaningful to all Canadians:

  • young and old
  • recent immigrants or multi-generational Canadians
  • from east to west to the most northern reaches
  • Aboriginal, English, French or any other heritage

Because no group, no matter how large, can be sufficiently inclusive, that is why it is absolutely imperative that we, who have been honoured to help make this happen, hear from as many Canadians as possible.

Please weigh in here with comments or find other ways to get involved. And, I hope to provide more updates and opportunities to engage, participate, shape and drive Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations - Smart and Caring 2017.
Please start by sharing your thoughts on what Smart and Caring 2017  means to you.

A J Casson – The White Village



Credit: CTV News London

As we enter 2014, well into the 21st Century, one lesson for me from the year just past was that Canada seems to be hobbled with 19th century infrastructure. Let me explain.

During 2013, my home in Ontario was subject to not one, but two, different ice storms – in April and December. Both brought down large chunks of trees and both caused multi-day electrical power outages. In decades, this is the first time I can recall losing power for more than 1 day. To have this occur twice, with a combined 8 days of power outage, in a single year is even more striking.

After the first ice storm in April, I recall discussing this with a European colleague who was surprised by the very notion of a power outage. From a European perspective, he suggested the last power outage, of any length, that he could recall was 30 years ago. This started me thinking about why the difference.

In Canada, we have always prided ourselves on being one of the world’s richest countries, with modern infrastructure. However, much of our infrastructure was built for a different time and need. Much of it is really a testament to truly inventive Victorian design. It was indeed wonderful but no longer makes sense in the 21st Century. So, why indeed do we still have most of our electrical power lines above-ground on poles, while the rest of the (rich) world generally buries them? Why do our railways still rely on switches that freeze in winter and need to be operated by workers with propane torches? Why is a city like Toronto paralyzed by a major rainstorm?

Our homes, utilities, drainage and much more was built for a world predating our current period of rapid climate change. Surprisingly there remain in this world Luddites, who bizarrely continue to deny the fact of climate change. While we still have much to learn, on-the-ground results are here for all to see.

I gained significant insight into these issues when as a Director of Gore Mutual Insurance Company, a leading property insurer, I attended an enlightening presentation by the poignantly named Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR). This industry-funded organization is a world leader, collaborating globally in research and advocacy around the causes and solutions for large scale insurance losses, known in industry jargon as a Catastrophe or even a Cat.

ICLR gathers data and works with many academic researchers to increase both understanding and awareness of what causes insurance losses. The data shows that the last ten years have seen huge increases in the number of severity of large scale losses, particularly from damaging wind, water and ice events, which are all significantly driven by climate change.

For example, with increased wind events (typically tornadoes in this area of Ontario), a call for more homes to be built with windows structurally rated to withstand 200 mph wind events makes sense.

Furthermore, climate change means that rainfall in 1 hour can equal what used to occur over 24 hours or more, with flash floods ensuing. In such an environment, instead of our historic practice of getting rid of water as quickly as possible, it is better to slow it down and buffer the potential for flash flooding.

For me, the power outages are a metaphor for how we in Canadian society need to look at our infrastructure with a sense of long term vision. We really need to invest to upgrade utilities, transportation and drainage for the needs of the 21st century. This in no way takes away from the heroic efforts of Hydro workers over the holiday season. I’m simply surprised that attention has never been focused on the root cause and long term prevention.

In an era of political infighting and embarrassing city Mayors, I’m wondering where the leadership necessary to achieve this will come from?

“Toronto Flooding” (Credit: National Post)



Almost four and a half years ago, I penned what some called the obituary of Blackberry (see “How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm”). My intentions in writing that missive were, in fact, quite the opposite.  Back in 2008, a year after the first iPhone, Blackberry didn’t appear to be heeding the threat of major market disruption, let alone making a response. I thought that writing such a post might incite some action. Sadly, while I got loads of reaction from all over the world, the one missing piece was that this was singularly not registering inside the “Faraday Cage” of RIM headquarters at Philip and Columbia in Waterloo.

For many years, to continuously hone my expertise as an investor and participant in the next generation mobile ecosystem at VERDEXUS, I have maintained a “production” device and a “testing” device which allows me to sample the greatest number of new applications and platforms in my daily business and personal life. At the time of the 2008 blog, I switched from Blackberry as production device and iPhone as testing device. At that time, I promoted iPhone to production and introduced an early Android device into the testing status.

The four and one-half years since then, representing four to five mobile device generations at the rapid pace in which these are deployed, has seen a lot of innovation and change in the mobile universe. The first production version of Android occurred one month after the aforementioned post. Today,  over nine releases later, Android 4.2, known as Jelly Bean, is a mature and polished mobile platform.

Mobile user experience has, as it were, come up from the Farm and we are now definitely in Paree. It’s hard to imagine how things could get much better, yet an even more exciting future in mobile will undoubtedly unfold. The pace of change has been almost mind boggling, with Android appearing to move almost twice as fast as iOS, the more proprietary Apple platform running iPhone and iPad.

As a young platform, Android has long shown promise. Being an open source operating system primarily developed by Google, but customized by various device manufacturers, not to mention the ever-meddling carriers, has been both a blessing and a curse. Initially, Android seemed “rougher around the edges” and more techie in feel than the uber-polished and legendary iPhone experience, which is produced end to end by Apple.

Conversely, the limitations of the Apple closed ecosystem approach are starting overtake the advantages. There are numerous examples. If you simply want to plug in your device via USB and load music and other files, Android shines by bypassing the need to go through iTunes. While iTunes has its advantages, many of us simply want more control over our cross-device media file deployments. Another even more telling example is the recent debacle in which Apple turfed the tried and true Google Maps application in favour of a badly implemented and incomplete version of their own. This is but a single example of where Apple’s legendary quest for control is wearing thin.

While giving more control to mobile application developers has its challenges, it is clear that no one company, no matter how sainted, can determine, let alone sully serve, the desires and needs of the entire mobile universe.

It is a combination of this clear advantage, coupled with the incredible progress inAndroid and its handset manufacturers, that has led me to promote my newest device to production and render the formerly top-billed iPhone second tier status of my test device.

For me that device is the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which with its 5.5″ screen is sometimes dubbed a “phablet” (ie. a combination of  phone and tablet). Essentially a super-sized Galaxy S3, this phone is nimble, fast in computational processing and with speedy network connectivity. I first saw Europeans use it a few months ago, a cool and capable device, but perhaps an acquired taste for some


Perhaps it is simply my poor vision, but the large screen size is versatile and a joy to work with for all sorts of browsing, content and documents. The S Pen styluseven for those who don’t want to do handwriting or line drawings, transforms the mobile browsing experience by removing the navigation problems on many sites with menus which are small on mobile screens. Samsung has even developed an SDK around the S Pen which could create a whole new application ecosystem, assuming this next generation stylus gains sufficient market traction.

Is my recent promotion of Android to top device spot the end of my quest for mobile perfection? Absolutely not! In fact, only one week ago, I personally promised my colleague Alec Saunders, the ubitquitous and transformational new VP of Developer Relations for Research In Motion, that I will definitely  give the new Blackberry BB10 devices a serious try. And, not just because “Devs, Blackberrry Is Going to Keep on Loving You”. I truly do like much of what I’m hearing about their capabilities.

Stay tuned – the mobile world is a fascinating and ever changing one.

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Tech Terroir

by Randall on October 29, 2012 · 0 comments

Source: BeenDoonSoLong.com

In the world of wine, the concept of terroir describes a centuries long process in which the climate, soil, grape varieties and dedicated vintners, symbiotically develop a unique “sense of place” for a wine region. A favourite of mine, the garrulous  and quintessential Californian vintner, Randall Grahm, while trying to establish the old World notion of terroir in California postulates that it is a long term proposition and can take centuries to develop.

As both a wine lover and serial tech entrepreneur, I firmly believe that building a tech cluster is similarly a very long term process. Ironically, the epicentre of tech clusters is in California. The Silicon Valley, which got its start in the 1950s remains the major cluster worldwide as “… no other place as yet has the Valley’s scale and resilience.”

Although I started my tech startup career in the US, it was in the Canada’s leading tech cluster of Waterloo where I built major companies and was one person who got that cluster started. Like Silicon Valley’s origins in Stanford University, the Waterloo cluster was initially fuelled by University of Waterloo. Over time, a combination of executive and programming talent, capital and professional services capabilites led to the current state of almost 1000 technology companies. By contrast to Silicon Valley, Waterloo is a must younger cluster, having started just over 25 years ago compared to the 60 years of Silicon Valley. It continues to mature around some key ingredients such as global strategic marketing capabilities and sufficient capital to fund on a globally competitive basis.  Experienced people may well be the most important ingredient in a cluster’s maturation.

Further, I feel that all who have been fortunate to build wealth and experience in business, owe an obligation to “pay it forward” to the next generation. My own contributions include significant startup mentoring, Board and strategic roles in organizations like Communitech and Innovation Guelph, and for the last 3 years a Board role and chairing Selection Committee for the Golden Triangle AngelNet (GTAN). In just 3 years, GTAN has grown to about 150 paid accredited investor members who bring a wealth of experience to the 25 funding transactions to date. And, it goes without saying, that many of those financings might not have happened without GTAN having emerged to fill a significant funding gap as VC’s became largely extinct. Acting as a superangel to syndicate angel network deals is a tremendously labour intensive exercise, but one that I and others believe will pay off in the long term economic prosperity of our region.

I firmly believe knowledge-based companies to be the key ingredient of our future economic prosperity, so such company-building competence is mission critical for our region, province, country and globally. As globalization occurs, we see more and more regions clambering to reap the riches of the innovative, tech startup world.

To that end, at Verdexus, we have always taken a transatlantic perspective, primarily to have a more global window on building companies that can achieve world leadership in their chosen businesses. Over the years, I’ve worked with startups across the United States and Europe in the dominant clusters such as Boston, Chicago, Silicon Valley, London, Munich, Berlin, Stockholm and more. To round out my experience, over the last few years, I’ve sampled some key emerging regions by volunteering as an expert judge in places as diverse as Brussels area, Warsaw and Torino. A week ago, I had the opportunity to judge startups associated with the European Space Agency in Toulouse France as well as in Istanbul, Turkey. The latter Istanbul venue, EU Venture Forum was jointly sponsored by EUREKA (the pan-European research and development funding and coordination organization) and Europe Unlimited from Brussels. Collectively, these more than a dozen regional events ultimately feed into a pan-European venture prize in Berlin in December.

It has been very instructive to visit various clusters. This grassroots view, from the perspective of startups, reveals much in common globally but also a few surprises. Based solely on interacting with local startups, on a global perspective, it is clear that culture and experience vary greatly across various Euroopean regions. For example, I was pleasantly surprised that Warsaw had some of the smartest and most sophisticated business startups I’d seen anywhere. And, remember, they are pitching in English which is not their native language. Conversely, the cluster around Torino appeared to have a long way to go before its startups would begin to measure up globally.

Pitching in Istanbul

Similarly, the startups I saw in Istanbul were impressive. Some companies, following a model also common to the emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, were essentially cloning an existing business model into the 80 million strong Turkish market. More significantly  others were clearly building globally strong technology startups. One pleasant surprise was that, of the eight companies that I coached the day before the forum, three had women CEOs. This was a surprise for Turkey,  but sadly women-led companies remain all to rare in Canada

The calibre of engineering and basic technology talent was very impressive. That said, it was also clear that the level of support ecosystem around these startups is very limited – at least compared to what we see here in North America. One direct challenge was that in Europe companies appear to receive generous R&D funding which seems to encourage more of an engineering mentality than a market-driven one. In essence, projects stay too long as “science projects” and the culture and skills to get projects to market seem to suffer as a result. Although this is a generalization, there are many exceptions.

In the area of capital, the meltdown in Venture Capital A Round investments is about 3-4 years behind what already occurred in Canada. One particularly European challenge is that more and more of the VC funds have moved their offices and focus from regional markets to London, meaning that companies in the regions often have less direct access to capital. Conversely, the growing role of Angel Networks and Superangels to fill the gap is still in its infancy in Europe. I suspect that will change over the next two or three years. Venture funders like to either be close (1 hour travel) to their portfolio companies or, at the very least, to have a local investor who can “provide adult supervision”. Increasingly, experienced serial entrepreneurs will be called on to fill that key local role as Angels and Superangels. It is clear that the notion of Tim Draper going to Estonia and finding Skype is definitely the exception rather than the rule.

And that takes me right back to the notion of “tech terroir”. As global innovation increases, and people around the world vie to build ever stronger tech startup ecosystems, it is the dedicates entrepreneurs in the sector who magically nurture these maturing ecosystems. As one of the entrepreneurs that I coached mentioned, she wants to:

“make innovation easier in Turkey and to make life easier for enterprenours”

So, in addition to building a great global business, she also takes time to help move the needle of her local ecosystem forward. It’s a very encouraging sign that continues to inspire me as I engage with the new globalized world of tech startups.


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{Book Review}: The Innovator’s Dilemma

September 2, 2012
Book: The Innovator's DIlemma
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The Bun Reunion “AfterMath”

August 17, 2012

After welcoming people to the 050th Reunion of the ‘Bun and other 1970′s computing at University of Waterloo in mid-August 2012, I’ve gathered together a photo album, the brief presentation from the Gala and the many comments received outside of the earlier blog post.

Before the Gala, almost 100 photos were gathered which have grown to almost 250 contributed by various attendees.

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Business Strategy

Have Lean Startups Helped Us Scale Larger Technology Companies?

August 4, 2012

Building larger technology companies is critical for our future economic well being, yet somehow we seem to pay more attention to the seed and startup phase. This post and a subsequent missive, Wisdom from Recent Waterloo Technology Acquisitions, aim to analyze some recipes for building technology businesses to scale first from the perspective of recent companies and then specifically through the lens of local acquisitions.

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{Book Review}: The Idea Factory

August 3, 2012
Book: The Idea Factory The idea factory by Jon Gernter

Published by Penguin Press WorldCat • LibraryThing • Google Books • BookFinder

A marvellous exploration of a research and innovation powerhouse that, even viewed from this age of innovation, surprisingly anticipated many approaches we think of as modern breakthroughs.

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The ‘Bun Reunion – Celebrating the 1970′s Roots of the Digital Age

July 16, 2012

If you are in any way connected to this story, see link to event invitation at end of this post.

In August 1972, just before the start of fall classes, a new arrival was causing a stir in the Math & Computer building at University of Waterloo – a brand new Honeywell 6050 mainframe size computer running GCOS (General Comprehensive Operating

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{Book Review}: How Will You Measure Your Life?

July 1, 2012
How Will You Measure Your Life? How Will You Measure Your Life by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth

Published by HarperCollins WorldCat • LibraryThing • Google Books • BookFinder

 I’ve always had the luxury to work in jobs in which I’ve had great passion for the core mission. I’ve come to realize how rare that is. And, with the twenty-first century making career and personal choices an

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