Kristic, Kanwar and Maghanoy on a panel
Left to right: Sasha Krstic, Satish Kanwar and Jason Maghanoy participating in Mastercard’s Innovator-in-Residence panel. Photo: George Pimentel

How innovation and inclusion can help Canada reach its economic potential: A conversation with Satish Kanwar

“It’s essential we enable more Canadian entrepreneurs to take risks and drive change in order to fuel Canada’s position on the global stage”

June 7, 2024

Satish Kanwar’s entrepreneurial journey has taken him from starting design firm Jet Cooper in 2009, to playing a vital role in growing Ottawa-based e-commerce firm Shopify Inc. into a global e-commerce giant. Today, he is following his passion for positive change as co-founder of Good Future, a family office committed to social impact and entrepreneurship.

In this conversation with Mastercard, Canada president Sasha Krstic, Kanwar shares his unique insights on Canada’s innovation potential and how to achieve it. The first in a four-part series in partnership with Maclean’s, Mastercard’s Innovator-in-Residence program features BIPOC entrepreneurs and leaders paving the way for a prosperous future for all Canadians in the fields of innovation, entrepreneurship, culture, activism and education.

Satish Kanwar, co-founder of Good Future, speaking at Mastercard’s Innovator-in-Residence panel.George Pimentel

Driving Canada’s prosperity through innovation

The backdrop of global economic uncertainty and the perception among Canadians regarding national prosperity—or the lack thereof—underscores the critical role of innovation in shaping a more advanced and prosperous future.

Sasha Krstic: Recent Mastercard research found that 65 per cent of Canadians believe new technologies will make Canada more prosperous. How does fuelling Canada’s position on the global stage make Canada more prosperous?

Satish Kanwar: It’s essential we enable more Canadian entrepreneurs to take risks and drive change in order to fuel Canada’s position on the global stage. It’s the vision, resilience and creativity of entrepreneurs that will unlock our full potential, and with it the right policies and governance to carry us forward.

Krstic: How important are partnerships in advancing technological innovations?

Kanwar: They are vital to advancing the commercialization and distribution of innovation. At Shopify, we achieved scale by bringing our commerce technologies to global platforms like Apple, Meta and Google, creating shared value with more speed and agility.

Krstic: Mastercard research underscores the optimism Canadians hold toward innovation as a key to future prosperity. How do your current projects contribute to a national vision for innovation?

Kanwar: Mission and vision are important parts of fueling optimism and spurring investment in local innovation. Arati Sharma and I started Good Future with exactly that in mind: to support founders with new ideas and the perseverance to see them through to a positive-sum impact on the world. The goal is to help Canadian founders win. We’ve seen our approach succeed through our partnership with Betakit and becoming ambassadors for Tech+Biz4SickKids.

Diversity and inclusion

The varying degrees of perceived personal prosperity among different demographic groups in Canada highlight the necessity for intentional inclusivity.

Krstic: According to Mastercard research, nearly three-quarters of Canadians believe diversity, equity and inclusion are crucial to achieving an ideal vision for Canada. How has inclusion guided the development of your teams, and what impacts have you noticed?

Kanwar: Our diverse talent is a real advantage for Canada, but one key challenge is that our talent isn’t activated. In building [design firm] Jet Cooper and over many years growing Shopify, we bet on high-potential people and supported them with the onboarding and experience needed to capture untapped value in this market. When we can do that across the entire ecosystem—and keep talent from migrating out of Canada—we will have even more power within our home court advantage: a talent pool filled with cultural richness and a variety of ideas.

Krstic: What is your view of diversity in the tech sector?

Kanwar: It is a continuing effort and an opportunity for impact. One area that needs significant attention is funding for women and underrepresented founders. At Good Future, we’ve committed our investment strategies to empower early-stage, underrepresented founders. They typically don’t have access to institutional or generational advantages, and we work hard to help them close the gap.

In addition to funding, we put a lot of energy into building community and storytelling about the people, companies and opportunities in Canadian tech, which we believe helps nurture the conviction in others that they can be part of pushing Canada forward.

Building trust

When it comes to technology and innovation, trust is paramount. It forms the backbone of digital engagement, ensuring consumers feel secure in their online transactions and interactions.

Krstic: Trust is undoubtedly a crucial component of consumer confidence. How have you built trust in your past and present projects?

Kanwar: In my experience, it has always been best practice to treat users and customers with respect for the trust they have placed back in you, and to communicate plainly and with painless escalation paths to support them. Honesty, clarity, and simplicity are always the best policy.

Krstic: Canadians generally trust their financial institutions. Mastercard research shows more than two-thirds of Canadians view the country’s payment systems as secure and reliable. How do you see trust playing into your work and into Canada’s future prosperity?

Kanwar: Canada has a culture of strong trust and loyalty, maintained by stable institutions. That’s an advantage, but it is also our greatest risk if it creates barriers to accelerating new technologies and bringing innovations to market—like open banking—that are globally proven to benefit consumers.

On a personal level, some say trust must be earned, but I believe it should be granted. My approach has always been to give full trust early on to the people I work with. Usually, it is reciprocated and creates optimal conditions for success. That comes, however, with the very real expectation of follow-through. Trust should never be taken for granted.

Krstic: As a closing thought, what does Canada’s future prosperity mean to you?

Kanwar: I believe that continuing to invest in and celebrate entrepreneurship is the path forward for a more prosperous Canada. We need to reawaken the entrepreneurial spirit in the country at all levels—which requires us to make Canada the best place in the world to be an entrepreneur—and to build towards a positive-sum, shared vision for a better Canada. This sentiment is more important than ever as we face more shared challenges as a country than separate ones today.

The Innovator-in-Residence program in partnership with Maclean’s reflects a broader commitment from Mastercard to re-define and drive prosperity in Canada by powering economies and empowering people. Through cutting-edge technologies, offerings and solutions, Mastercard aims to foster an innovative, secure and inclusive digital economy.

The Mastercard survey was fielded in the first quarter of 2024. Response data are derived from a representative sample of the Canadian population (N = 1,000) that includes an oversample of small business owners (N= 200). The margin of error for commensurate nationally representative survey responses is ± 3% at the 95% confidence interval. Results shown are weighted using age and gender demographic indicators from the 2021 Canadian Census.