With Leafs as a draw, Bay Area Canadians eye tech opportunities back home

Mar 20, 2017 • by Craig Daniels

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SAN JOSE, Calif.

Kevin Cornell is CEO and founder of the tech firm Voosh, based in Santa Cruz, Calif. He’s from Dunnville, Ont., and he’s lived in Silicon Valley for 17 years, carving out a good life for his wife and family.

But the time has come, he says, to pack up and head back to Canada. The reason?

“Trump,” he said Tuesday night at the SAP Center, shortly before the host San Jose Sharks took on Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It’s as straightforward as that. It’s [U.S. President Donald] Trump. His values aren’t our values.”

Cornell and his wife were among 120 Canadians who gathered prior to the National Hockey League game to explore opportunities north of the border at a networking event for tech expats sponsored by GoNorthCanada.ca.

GoNorthCanada.ca is a collaborative initiative of organizations from across Canada that is focused on sharing the momentum of Canadian tech, and wooing expats back to their home and native land.

“We want to lay out the case that the time is right for those who have a tech resume burnished in the Valley to bring their talents home,” said Heather Galt, Vice-President of Talent Initiatives at Communitech and one of GoNorthCanada.ca’s co-ordinators. “There’s enormous opportunity in Canada.”

And what better place to attract Canadians than at a hockey game featuring the Maple Leafs?

Tuesday’s off-ice event featured an all-star lineup of Canadian companies, firms like Hootsuite, based in Vancouver, GM Canada, which has an innovation lab at Communitech, Christie Digital, which has a robust operation in Waterloo Region, and Thalmic Labs, a fast-growing Waterloo Region-based startup that makes wearable tech, as well as a certain U.S.-based tech company with a strong footprint in Canada — hello, Google.

All were preaching the gospel of opportunity north of the border for tech workers and tech companies. They found an eager audience, none among them more interested than Cornell.

“I’m ready to retire, but I’m not ready to stop working,” Cornell explained. “We intend to set up in [Waterloo Region], hopefully by the summer, and start a company. I won’t do it in [California].

“We miss normalcy.”

But politics isn’t the only reason bringing Cornell home. He has family in Canada. He and his wife miss what he described as the country’s inherent civility and tolerance, its access to affordable health care. “And the talent is there,” said Cornell.

Voosh’s application evaluates the workload of a server or PC, then matches the workload to the available assets — memory, cpu, disk, network. It makes adjustments to the manufacturer’s supplied settings for better performance.

“It’s very much like how modern cars are tuned,” explained Cornell, who is now looking for a place to set up sales, development, support and accounting operations.

“Hence the interest in returning to Canada,” he said.

Others in attendance, like Vancouver product engineer Yow-Hann Lee, came to the event eager to test the waters and explore offerings from across various Canadian regions.

Lee was the Director of Engineering at DAQRI, which makes augmented reality devices for industrial environments. He’s thinking of moving home and starting a company, but isn’t certain where to set up. He’s leaning to Victoria, but considering Waterloo, as well.

“I’ve got kids who are 4 and 6,” Lee said. “The tech scene in Canada is much more mature than when I left. I went to the U.S. in 2006, in Seattle at first, and then moved to the Bay Area in 2011.

“It’s a very different lifestyle in Canada and I’m ready for a return.”

That’s music to the ears of Erin Rogers, a recruiter at Hootsuite, which makes a platform for managing social media.

“We’ve realized that there’s a huge level of talent that has come [to the Valley] and achieved some really great things for their organizations,” said Rogers. “For us, it’s really hard to find that same level of talent in Canada. There are a lot of Canadians down here who have acquired knowledge and we’re looking at enticing them back to do amazing things.

“So this event is about connecting with great talent. I think meeting them in person, talking to them about all the great things we’re doing, is more valuable and a better connection than trying to reach out through, say, LinkedIn.

“This is high-level value. It’s great exposure.”

Jeff Crang, a system test engineer from Toronto, was at the event and eagerly listening to pitches from various companies. He’s been in the Valley since 1987, but is being drawn back by friends and family.

“I’ve spent half my life in each country,” he said. “but my roots are calling. Family gets smaller and smaller over time.

“I’m a dual national, but I’m Canadian at heart, if you know what I mean. If someone [asked me] where would I choose to live, there’s no question I’d come back to Canada.

“Broadly speaking the culture is similar in Canada and the U.S., but it comes down to very different values on some level.

“So I came here to listen and learn.”

Other Canadian organizations who were represented GoNorthCanada.ca event included: executive search firm Artemis Canada, the BC Tech Association and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service.

GoNorthCanada is planning a similar networking event for Canadians in the Valley in April.

By Craig Daniels
Published: Mar 20, 2017