Vancouver’s Idea Labs is designed to match Canadian tech startups with China’s hunger for new technology

October 31, 2016 Financial Post

By: Tony Wanless

A young Canadian-Chinese company that concentrates on technology transfer is using a unique business model to match Canadian entrepreneurial startups with the ever-growing hunger in China for new technology.

Since 2013, Vancouver’s Istuary Innovations has married Chinese and Canadian investment with Canadian technology expertise to create an innovation lab in Vancouver and Zenchen, China. It has also started a venture capital operation that invests in promising young North American companies that want to globalize quickly.

Recently, it created “idea labs” in Vancouver, Toronto, Waterloo, Ont., and has plans to open another in Montreal. The labs and a new “Innovation Centre” in Vancouver will work to create new technology to feed a growing demand in China, which is trying to move beyond an industrial economy.

Ethan Sun, founder and president of Istuary, and an engineer who worked with the early tech giant Nortel, said his new company has grown to more than 300 employees in Canada and 180 in the U.S. (1,300 staff globally) by focusing on innovation instead of manufacturing.

“It is a completely different technology world today,” Sun insists. “Big companies like Nortel had one system, and when things changed, they couldn’t compete. So Nortel had to let one of the best teams in technology drift away.

“Today things are going faster and faster and when that happens a company can’t rely on simple management — that’s a leftover from the industrial age. Now you have to create, and so need a system that innovates instead of simply making things.”

Sun points to his company as an example of how small technology operations can grow rapidly. Since it was founded, Istuary has expanded by partnering with innovators, entrepreneurs, technical talent and experts in North America. Among other things, it has created idea labs, fostered investment in early-stage companies through a venture arm, and held pitch competitions.

Sun realized that Canada is a good place to form such a platform because the expertise is here and the labour force is more stable, he explained. Also, he insisted, innovation today requires collaboration — a “platform, or ecosystem” of small entrepreneurial companies is his description — because the old methods had a high failure rate. Also, today, every innovator must think immediately of a market as global, he said.

For example, China, which grew rapidly by manufacturing for the world, is now moving into a more advanced technology-focused economy but lacks the small-company innovation expertise and systems common in Canada. It’s only natural the two countries should get together, Sun said.

“China is growing very fast but a lot of investment money that came from there to here could only invest in real estate,” he explained. “Now, it wants it to flow to technology because it recognizes that’s where the need is. Still, it needs leadership. That’s why we wanted to create the innovation centre.”

In this “smart age,” Canada has a good foundation, said Sun, but needs to make innovation sustainable, which is why he formed his company to marry Chinese need and money with Canadian requirements for outlets and partnerships with much larger economies.

Sun is echoing a report from the Asia-Pacific foundation that was released in January of this year. The report, “Building Blocks for a Canada-Asia strategy,” said many Asian businesses and governments are looking for opportunities to learn from other countries such as Canada how to establish healthy innovation ecosystems and how to catalyze entrepreneurship. They are also interested in collaborative partnerships where expertise from different countries can be brought together.” These opportunities will continue to grow because most of the world’s economic growth is now in Asia, the report said.

Chinese demand is high, so Canada must take advantage of the opportunity to trade in technology with China now, Sun said. The need is acute so many Asian nations are increasing their development of technology, which will account for much of the world’s trade in future.

“Anyone who does not do this kind of innovation will be left behind,” Sun insisted. “Canada has to be in the forefront. It is a true nation of innovation but it is lacking in the ability to connect to global markets.”

Read the full article here: http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/fp-startups/vancouvers-idea-labs-is-designed-to-match-canadian-tech-startups-with-chinas-hunger-for-new-technology?__lsa=bebd-36e3