Breaking down procurement barriers was the focus of a visit from Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, to the Communitech Hub on Wednesday.

“We’re mindful of the challenges of small and medium-sized enterprises, enterprises from under-represented communities, leaders, and entrepreneurs,” Duclos said. “This is an opportunity for dialogue, an important one.”

Joined by representatives of Procurement Assistance Canada (PAC), Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, and Kitchener South-Hespeler MP Valerie Bradford, Duclos toured the hub before meeting with founders to discuss how to make the procurement process easier for startups.

PAC was created as part of Public Services and Procurement Canada to support smaller businesses as they bid on federal contracting opportunities by finding out what stops them from submitting bids, advising government buyers and policy-makers on the concerns of smaller businesses, and suggesting ways to make processes better so it’s easier for smaller businesses to compete for contracts.

By bridging the gap between procurement opportunities and homegrown talent, Communitech empowers startups to thrive on a national scale while facilitating the government’s search and need for cutting-edge solutions. This collaborative effort was highlighted during the minister’s visit as an opportunity to continue to propel the growth of local startups and enrich government operations with innovative approaches, paving the way toward sustainable economic development and technological advancement.

Some Canadian businesses, however, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), have been vocal about government procurement processes. Some founders said they have found it easier to penetrate international markets than to secure contracts domestically.

Cultural disparities in risk-taking and investment attitudes between Canada and the U.S. also surfaced as a challenge. Duclos welcomed this honest feedback from founders at a roundtable discussion.

“I feel procurement has a role in that to make [the procurement landscape] more optimistic,” said Jason Cassidy, Founder and CEO of Shinydocs, a Waterloo-based company that helps customers organize, search and leverage the vast amounts of digital information most organizations generate and accumulate on a regular basis.

Founders also shared feedback around the importance of timeliness in the procurement process, so they can continue to plan and pursue other investment opportunities.

Collaborative efforts, such as Communitech’s partnership with the Coordinated Accessible National (CAN) Health Network, are underway to expedite the growth of startups, streamline procurement pathways and promote innovation in health-care facilities. Initiatives like the Building Ontario Business Initiative Act (BOBI) further strengthen SME access to procurement opportunities, helping them sell more goods and services, create jobs, and recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calls to level the playing field for smaller enterprises in investment competitions resonated strongly, as well. As of December 2022, nearly 98 per cent of the 1.22 million employer businesses in Canada were small businesses, and SMEs accounted for more than 48 per cent of the value added to the country’s output.

Government representatives highlighted their commitment to continue to work towards building an efficient procurement ecosystem, essential for promoting the development and growing use of Canadian tech.