Things to think about for Atlantic Canada when building a better ecosystem

Atlantic Canada has a vibrant but small ecosystem of entrepreneurs that have supported one another for generations. With multiple examples of families that, in the previous century, built businesses that employed large numbers of people constantly re-investing into the region and supporting the next generation of business leaders. Not just family members.

These families may appear slow to invest in the next generation of businesses, largely tech, but I don’t believe that is a fair assessment.

We must be realistic in Atlantic Canada about the volume of innovative global companies that can be created and what the results will be from the few that get into a growth stage. There simply is not the volume of companies, yet, that can support growth like being witnessed in other parts of the country.

I have no doubt that if you take 20 companies founded in Atlantic Canada they will outperform 20 founded at the same time from anywhere else if they are all given access to the same resources.

But we need more to start and start in a way that gives them a better chance at finding success. Developing programs like the Creative Destruction Lab are a start but there is some heavy lifting required

The three main areas that need work:

  • Pipeline development: More people need to get a high quality introduction to creating companies from those that have done it.
  • Company refinement: Qualifying more founders early and giving them some time and space to grow/learn is essential.
  • Sense of urgency: Atlantic Canada is seen as ‘laid back’ compared to Toronto and everyone likes to take a lot of time to talk things through. Founders need to focus on getting things done and working on ways to shorten timelines in positive ways.

From a program development standpoint I believe that means there is a lot of work to do. The above translates into the following:

  • More activity through more events targeting students and young people looking for more challenging opportunities. The higher education institutions have a big role to play but the ecosystem must provide students with the context.
  • High quality and focused “programs” that enable founders and expand their networks globally. This includes leveraging other networks in other cities similar to how Waterloo has with Y-Combinator.
  • Start doing things and adjust as you go. If you commit to a path you find a way to make it work. There is no perfect, no engineered path to success.

The numbers required to have a meaningful impact are a lot higher than where we are now. If we want to see 10 new companies at a series A level here in Halifax there likely needs to be 200 net new companies founded and at a level they are really trying to move. To get 200 companies started (by start that means a project that has a customer) in any given year, my guess is that we need at least 2000 people in the Volta Community network with at least 200 people being added every year.

I think it is possible but right now we have just 600 people in the network, 15 companies working in their own space inside our space, and probably 30–50 new starts a year. The good news is that the community we do have is growing and expanding it’s reach. It is a solid base to grow on.