The Technology Councils of North America – or TECNA, as it’s more generally known – is an umbrella organization for more than 50 regional, independent tech associations from across North America, including eight from Canada. Its membership includes technology trade associations, accelerators and incubators – Communitech among them – and exists to facilitate the sharing of best practices among members and to provide those organizations with a unified voice able to lobby and advise governments north and south of the border on policy and planning as it relates to technology.

In short, TECNA exists to help the organizations that help tech companies. It’s the voice for more than 22,000 companies, from small one- and two-person startups to  the biggest tech companies on the planet, names like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft.

More than 100 TECNA members are in Waterloo Region today to kick off the organization’s three-day summer conference at Communitech. Steve Currie, Communitech’s Vice-President of Strategy, will deliver the conference keynote speech on Day 2.

We caught up Monday with TECNA Chairman Skip Newberry to find out more about the organization, its work and the plans for this week’s conference.


Q – What is TECNA? Can you explain in your own words its work and why it matters?

A – TECNA was formed as a grassroots network of regional, independent tech associations across the U.S. and Canada. It exists as an organization to facilitate the sharing of best practices across different regions among these technology associations.

TECNA is focused on economic development related to the tech industry. It looks at strengthening companies through talent development, access to capital and [government] regulation. All of these represent inputs to growth.

As you’re thinking about what can benefit companies that are tech, from the moment they start out at seed and concept stage to scale up, to growth, and then on up to enterprise, you look for those things as an association where you can add some value collectively.

Q – Where do TECNA’s strengths lie?

A – If you look at the number of technology companies that are collectively represented by [our] 50-plus associations, it’s over 20,000 [companies], so it’s one of the largest tech networks in the world.

There’s power to that grassroots nature. There’s power in terms of advocacy and policy issues, being able to have a voice that is that large and influential and to mobilize influencers at the local level. It’s important for federal advocacy, whether in Canada or the United States.

Q – Can you describe some of your work?

A – It really varies. There are certain tech associations that are part of TECNA that are very focused on policy and advocacy and lobbying. TECNA, as an organization, does some of that. There’s definitely some focus there on policy initiatives.

[But] the main focus of TECNA is really still the best-practices sharing. What we’ve done in the last three to four years is add more sophistication and resources and capability as it relates to policy and what I call this TECNA as a distribution network model. It’s this idea of taking successful programs in one place or another and scaling them nationally and across the U.S. and Canada.

Our focus has been to date on things like workforce initiatives, so we’ve had a lot of opportunity to look at apprenticeship programs and models and internships.

Q – Is there a focus to your work of late?

A – One of the things we’re looking at is the focus on later-stage companies and growth-stage companies. There seemed to be, in most markets, a lot of support and resources for early-stage seed and concept companies. Accelerators. Incubators. All kinds of stuff.

But there doesn’t seem to be much focus on later-stage startups and growth-stage companies. What you’d call scale-ups.

If you look at the economic data, that’s potentially where the greatest impact is for most regions, most economies. It’s where most of the net-new job growth occurs.

So the economic impact to an economy or a region is great if we’re able to figure out how to better support those types of companies. And for many of the TECNA members, that’s their bread and butter and has been for a long time.

Q – That certainly sounds like some of the work that Communitech does …

A – Communitech has been a best-practice [member] as far as I can tell for the last five years I’ve been involved in TECNA. A lot of Communitech’s peers around the U.S. and Canada really look to it as a model.

Having spent some time exploring Waterloo Region and meeting with a lot of companies here, it’s clear that there is a lot to be excited about and Communitech has consistently come up in those conversations with a variety of different companies. Its importance has been underscored.

Part of why I find TECNA to be valuable for our association in Oregon and southwest Washington is we’re always looking for trends and positioning ourselves for trends. Communitech is one I’ve really enjoyed getting to know because they seem to be working on some cool stuff pretty consistently year over year.

Q – Can you talk about the conference, what its purpose is and what it will offer your members?

A – Each summer conference goes to a different region. Part of that is to highlight not only that particular association and its work, but how it fits into the broader ecosystem in the region. This is an opportune time for all of us to see what Communitech is all about on a first-hand basis.

The summer conference is one of the largest events we do each year because it’s cross-functional.

This usually involves multiple team members from each of the regions. It’s everything from the future of events and marketing to the folks working on workforce and talent development initiatives, policy initiatives, people who are running the associations.

[There’s] a lot of opportunities to get to know the local association and its different stakeholders. We bring in national and international presenters who talk about the opportunities and challenges that we see in the different regions.

One [topic] that intersects with talent development is the future of tech and automation. What does that mean for the future of a workforce, or the sharing economy and the future of the workforce?