The MaRS saga – which has one arm of the Ontario government repaying MaRS’s loan from another arm of the same government on a gleaming but mostly empty office tower – is a cautionary tale of how not to do innovation policy. Top-down attempts to create “innovation hubs” almost never work, especially if they’re based on trying to copy one-off successes elsewhere.
That hasn’t stopped countless governments from trying. MaRS joins a long list of similarly disappointing efforts across the globe. Duke University technology expert Vivek Wadhwa, who has studied hundreds of such hubs, concludes: “Political leaders long ago held press conferences to claim credit for advancing science and technology, management consultants earned hefty fees and real-estate barons reaped fortunes. Taxpayers were left holding the bag.”