Tag Archives: Ben Champoux

Starting up our start-up dreams


When tech entrepreneurs hunt for locations in which to launch their enterprises, they typically follow a checklist. It goes a little like this:

Does a community offer a “business-friendly environment” (low cost, high technology infrastructure, state-of-the-art telecommunications networks, regulatory simplicity)?

Does it provide convenient, engaging and diverse educational, cultural and recreational opportunities (after all, these folks are motivated by the lure of the near-mythical “work-life” balance)?

Most of all, perhaps, does it labour hard to become a magnet for venture capital investors?

In most significant ways, Moncton scores high on the scale.

Business-friendly environment? Check.

Extra-curricular amenities? Check.

Private venture? Well. . .we’ll get back to you on that.

According to Shane Dingman, The Globe and Mail’s technology reporter, in a piece he wrote for that newspaper earlier this year, “The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association’s annual funding report (shows) the total venture dollars invested declined in 2014 to around $1.9-billion on 379 deals, compared with 2013’s $2-billion on 452 deals. The average dollar amount per deal, however, rose from $4.4-million in 2013 to $5-million.

“That’s still a far cry from the more than $48-billion (U.S.) in venture capital that accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP estimates was invested in U.S. companies in 2014. But observers are confident that gap will shrink.

The Globe compiled 21 examples of the largest venture funding announcements in Canadian technology over the last 18 months.”

Among other things, he reports, “The list reveals a growing number of big-dollar deals among medium-sized startups – a change for a sector that has historically focused on mostly seed, or early-stage financing. Those 21 companies collected more than $784-million (the massive $100-million funding of Ottawa’s fast growing e-commerce provider Shopify in December, 2013, and the $60-million raised by Vancouver social media dashboard maker Hootsuite in September, 2013, make up a significant chunk of that total).”

Moncton, with all of its economic and social advantages, stands to gain, but only when its tech buzz truly catalyzes a critical mass of venture investors from across Canada and around the world.

Again, the advantages here are clear, according to the City’s tale of the tape: “In 2014, KMPG ranked Moncton as the lowest cost location for business in Canada; Moncton is known as the hub of the Maritimes with more than 1.3 million people living within a 2.5-hour drive; with a 9.7 per cent population growth between 2006 and 2011, Moncton is the fastest growing Canadian urban centre East of Saskatoon and the fifth-fastest growing CMA in Canada; Moncton (has) added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce since 1990; home sales in 2011 reached the fourth-highest level in history – there were twice as many houses sold in 2011 than a decade ago; with an average price of $166,476 in 2013, Moncton remains one of the most affordable housing markets in Canada; total value of building permits issued in 2011 reached $184 million, the second highest level in history; retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2011, 17 per cent higher than the Canadian Cities’ average.”

Now, if we could only make that message viral around the nation, the continent and the world. Certainly, we are trying. But, as Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the tri-city area’s economic development agency, might say: Try harder.

Silicon Valley was once an orange grove; today, it’s a corridor of multi-billion-dollar venture investments in technology start-ups that have, in the past 25 years, changed the world.

Not for nothing, this New Brunswick jurisdiction enjoys the highest per capita income on the East Coast.

Moncton, what are you waiting for?

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Moncton resurgo redux

When a community can afford to announce well in advance that it’s about to make a major jobs announcement, then something must be going splendidly well in the local economy.

So it was last week when news of BMM Testlabs’ employment initiative for the Moncton area somehow just slipped out. The official unveiling won’t occur until this Thursday at the Capitol Theatre. Still social media continues to buzz with anticipation.

Moncton Councillor Dawn Arnold officially made the initiative the worst kept secret in the city when she posted to Facebook last week, “There will be the largest job creation announcement that has ever been made in the Greater Moncton are. The event will be streamed ‘live’ to generate international media coverage and visibility, as this announcement will have very positive ripple effects around the world. Most of these new jobs are high-end positions that will be filled by people coming from outside the region.”

Her post garnered 31 mostly positive comments by last Friday, including this one: “Anything that brings high salaried people here will create more jobs in every other sector. Can’t wait to hear what it is.”

And this one: “High end jobs in Moncton means more spending here in the city, from clothing to gym memberships to restaurant customers, furniture to cars and houses and so on. Even if the ‘spenders’ are coming from away, it can generate spin-offs for the people who do live here.”

Naturally, some will complain about the “come-from-away” aspect of this development, but that would miss the point. Whatever jobs are created here will, de facto, employ local people – newcomers, for sure – but now local, all the same. The economic impact would be just as significant as if existing residents were landing the positions.

And, while I don’t want to spoil the surprise, my sources tell me the impact will be significant, indeed.

As Brunswick News reported last week, the Las Vegas-headquartered BMM – a private gaming certification lab – is making the third announcement of this type this week in as many years. “In August 2013, the company expanded from three to 27 employees in the province, then in February 2014 it announced it would create up to 173 full-time positions over four years at its office in Dieppe.”

Certainly, Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the economic development agency for the tri-city area, couldn’t be happier. “The last 25 years we’ve continued to brand greater Moncton as the hub of the Maritimes,” he told this newspaper. “The next 25 years we want to brand Greater Moncton the hub between North America and the European Union.”

These are bold words, indeed. But do they conjure a picture that is actually beyond the realm of possibility?

Consider how far this community has come over the decades – from down on its heels to the top of the municipal, economic food chain in New Brunswick. It is, and has been for a while, the fastest-growing urban area in the province. It has become a virtual centre of excellence for IT and software development. Its bilingual and highly skilled and educated workforce have been a certain draw for businesses from around the continent.

The reason is, quite frankly, that community and business leaders here understand what it takes to create the momentum to change the status quo from stagnation to growth.

To be sure, Metro Moncton is not the only city in the Maritimes that knows how to do this. But, it’s probably the only one that does this before breakfast, during lunch and after supper.

The results speak splendidly for themselves.

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Becoming who we must be


The general rap about New Brunswick is that it is a minor principality of Canada, possessing neither the breathtaking vistas of Cape Breton nor the urban sophistication of Halifax nor even the vital, village atmosphere of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As for comparisons with Prince Edward Island, “fuggedaboutit”, as the New Yorkers say. That province has received so much federal money since God created the East Coast, there’s just no point in competing with it for tourists or, as the case may be, aerospace money.

Still, there are a few things demonstrably good about the “picture province”.

We are, for example, good with potatoes. In the early 1950s, a couple of middle-class brothers from Florenceville invented a way to harvest, process, and sell frozen French fries. Within a couple of decades, Wallace and Harrison McCain had conquered the world for these tasty treats. Today, their descendants operate a $5-billion a year conglomerate, employing nearly 25,000 people on six continents. Not so bad for a boring stopover, a la New Brunswick, en route to somewhere more, we shall say, exotic.

We are also good at oil and gas refining, having mastered the craft through the diligent efforts of the Irving family in Saint John. In fact, that outfit in New Brunswick’s “Port City” is among the most sophisticated in the world. Recently, the company announced that it would, according to a CBC report, “spend $200-million and employ up to 3,000 workers over 60 days to upgrade existing processing units at the New Brunswick plant. The Saint John facility is Canada’s largest refinery.”

Beyond this, we’re preternaturally good at making technological infrastructure and producing entrepreneurial options to traditional resource industries. We are, and have been an early-stage incubator (mostly for Information Communications applications) for innovations that have been exported and implemented across North America and around the world.

Lamentably, what we have not always been good at is blowing up the silos that separate us from the rest of this country and, in fact, from ourselves – the ones that keep the rural north and the urban south apart; the ones that cultivate differences between the three, major urban centers of Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton; the ones that persist between First Nations and non-aboriginals; and (surprise, surprise) the ones between Anglophones and Francophones in the nation’s only, officially bilingual province.

Maybe the worst thing we do is to make a meal of systemic mistrust of our own political representatives and public institutions. Our inability to get together to solve our joint economic and social problems has been our biggest problem – the only intractable hurdle that has held us back for 100 years or more.

Still, New Brunswick has produced some of the smartest men and women in the global room. Many have actually understood their responsibilities to the their fellows; they have decided not to break the world they helped build.

One of them is Donald Savoie of the University of Moncton. Another is David Campbell, chief economist of New Brunswick.

Still others include: Louis Leger, Mario Theriault, Ben Champoux, Nancy Mathis, Aldea Landry, and Brian Murphy.

All have spent their productive lives pondering the productive question about this province, about their communities: How do we come together?

How do we blow up the silos that separate us and render us vulnerable to those who continue to retail the general rap about New Brunswick?

The questions are crucial. The answers are vital

Unless we know how to become, how will be ever know what we must be?

How do we become who we must be?

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