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Startup community blooms in Atlantic Canada

Startup community blooms in Atlantic Canada

Posted by PanamericanWorld on June 20, 2016

Nova Scotia's tribe of startups is growing, but appears to be broadening in scope beyond strictly IT companies.

A comprehensive report on Atlantic Canada’s startup scene, published by business intelligence provider Entrevestor, offers insights into Nova Scotia’s current cohort of new companies.

Entrevestor’s Startup East report, released earlier this quarter, showed the region’s total number of startups increased by 90 to a total of 355 new companies. That's a jump of 24 per cent compared with 2014’s total.

Of that total, 188 companies were based in Nova Scotia, 94 in New Brunswick, 37 Newfoundland and 36 in P.E.I.

The report defines a startup as a locally-owned company developing a proprietary technology-based product for a global market. According to the report, a startup can’t be a service company, must have at least one founder living in Atlantic Canada and must be diligently progressing.

With 128 in total, Halifax is home to more than one-third of the 355 startups. In addition, the city accounted for approximately one-third of the 90 startups that launched in 2015.

However, the 18 new IT companies that sprouted up in Halifax last year amounted to only 54 per cent of the city’s new companies, confirming commentators’ claims of a deceleration in the formation of Halifax tech startups.

On the other hand there were 10 new life science companies formed in Halifax during 2015, companies like Covina BioMedical, founded by Dalhousie University researchers Caitlin Pierlot and Brett Dickey. (See profile, this section.)

Meanwhile, the report showed the buzzing startup community in Cape Breton continued to launch new companies without losing many to attrition. Even though a high proportion of its companies are pre-revenue and have not received equity investments, relatively few teams have left the arena. Some 10 new companies formed in Cape Breton during 2015, all in IT.

Entrevestor founder Peter Moreira, who also has a column in the Chronicle Herald, says Cape Breton is on the rise.

"In terms of company formation in Nova Scotia, what was especially noticeable last year was the growth of new companies in the Sydney area. The tech community in Cape Breton is energetic and enthusiastic. In 2016 we're starting to see them attract investment and generate revenue."



Startup veteran Hatem Nassrat sits on the board at Digital Nova Scotia and is chief technology officer at growing Nova Scotia startup LeadSift.

How would you rate the current health of Nova Scotia's startup scene?

Eight out of ten.

What excites you about the scene right now?

The volume of new companies and ideas, along with startups’ apparent ability to raise funding – even though we were hearing about venture capital being harder to acquire.

What worries you?

An emphasis on technology over product development. People not working closely with early customers and not iterating over learnings. An inability to attract talent due to geography – less and less of an issue as Halifax’s startup scene grows. Lack of sales expertise can be a significant barrier.

Where will Nova Scotia’s startup scene be in a decade?

I see more and more startups choosing Halifax as their launching point.

Where is the smart money?

The area that requires disruption is energy. We need startups that successfully utilize and profit from renewable energy sources. There are many failed ideas out there, but that shouldn't deter new startups from solving these big problems. The two most recent success stories in this field would have to be Tesla and SolarCity. There is a lot to learn from these stories.


Co-founder of Mariner Partners, iMagicTV, Q1 Labs, Brovada Technologies, Radian6, Shift Energy and Cirrus9.

Rate the health of Nova Scotia’s startup scene.

Across the region, I’d say seven out of ten. I’m quite bullish on it. The level of founder interest in the ICT space. Founders drive startups, not government or capital.

Any clouds on the horizon?

Is there enough capital to get promising companies into a good position? Typically, lack of capital in years three to five can be a problem. It’s a lot easier to begin a startup and get it going than it is to grow it to scale, to a minimum of $10 million and all the way up to $100 million – to keep venture capital interested.


President and CEO, Innovacorp

How would you rate the current health of Nova Scotia's startup scene?

Benchmarked globally, I’d give Nova Scotia six (with) a brisk trajectory to eight. There’s the momentum of startup creation. There are the startups with highly sophisticated and globally disruptive technologies like Metamaterial Technologies, QRA, ABK Biomedical, Spring Loaded Technology, CarbonCure Technologies and Ubique Networks to name but a few. There’s our great asset mix of universities, community colleges, the ocean economy, medical research and a foreign student base. There’s our emerging ecosystem infrastructure including COVE, Volta Labs, Sydney’s Innovation Hub and Innovacorp incubation. And, finally, I award that rating because of emerging support groups and organizations such as Propel ICT, Launch Dal, sandboxes and Innovacorp acceleration programs and competitions.

What worries you?

The biggest risk I see is cultural. We need to infuse a sense of urgency in tackling the socio-economic and demographic challenges outlined in the Ivany Report. Increased productivity through innovation is the only true solution and the startup scene can make a significant contribution here.

Where you do you feel Nova Scotia's startup scene will be in 10 years?

Nova Scotia will have evolved into a startup destination.


Professor in Entrepreneurship and Venture Development, Saint Mary’s University

What excites you about the scene right now?

All elements of the entrepreneurial ecosystem are very engaged right now. The universities, the governments, support organizations, grass roots organizations, the professionals. And now the mature organizations are recognizing their role which the Atlantic Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Project has been advocating for almost two years.

Two of the region’s largest mature firms have approached me to find out what they can do. What worries you?

We need to keep our sights on the immigration issues and the so-called improvements in the system. Immigration Canada is broken from what I hear.

(Also) Atlantic Canada’s tech sector represents two per cent of our provincial employment whereas Quebec and Ontario are better than six per cent, and B.C. and Alberta are almost five per cent. We need to improve that number.

We can do that by improving our Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine (STEM) knowledge base, encouraging the adoption and use of high tech equipment, doing more research and development and also more highly-engineered tech products.

Where you do you feel Nova Scotia's startup scene will be in 10 years?

It’s not going to happen out of Nova Scotia alone.

It’s hard to talk about Nova Scotia. It’s too small. The whole province is not even as big as a Toronto borough. We are adopting a more regional approach.

All of the great entrepreneurial ecosystems of the world have had a very outward facing international approach which we are currently cultivating. We need to excel as a region.

We are focusing on an ecosystem approach – not an isolated island approach – and it is working. Initiatives that were taking place here in Halifax are now unfolding in Corner Brook, and in New Brunswick.

I got a call today from someone in St. John’s, looking to join an initiative we are leading.

Your hottest startup pick?

I’m really excited about Lux because it has a novel and yet previously tested approach and it has a mature seasoned executive who is a former money man. They are starting their search for funds in Toronto, indicative of their confidence.

Swell Advantage is an application of an existing ICT solution to a very wealthy and endowed market that could find a nice niche. Swept Technologies is dealing software in an industry that hasn’t changed in decades. And EyeRead.

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