Tag Archives: New Brunswick Innovation Foundation

Turn the clock forward in New Brunswick

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Just as surely as light follows darkness, spring follows winter with the eternal promise of warmer, sweeter days ahead. Time marches forward tonight, as we gladly sacrifice one hour of sleep for an extra one of sunshine.

Would that everything in New Brunswick operated according to such progressive principles. Would our budgets suddenly balance? Would our young people instantly find rewarding and remunerative careers? Would our old people never again worry from the threat of imminent penury? Could we snap our fingers and make it all better?

Of course, we tend to talk ourselves into the states of mind we variously inhabit over the course of many generations. If we choose to see ourselves as feckless losers, chances are we’ll find a way to fulfill that particular prophesy. Happily, the reverse is also true.

Nowhere does this seem more eminently clear than in New Brunswick’s innovation sector. Commenting about bad economic news tends to be my stock in trade. But every so often, even I like to stray from my customary song sheet and warble about some of the good things this province is doing.

Things like the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation where you will rarely see a grim face or a downcast glance. This organization describes itself as “an independent, not-for-profit corporation that invests in new growth-oriented companies and applied research activities. With over $62 million invested, plus $348 million leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 86 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003. All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Its target industries comprise information and communications technology, energy and the environment, biosciences, aerospace and defence, biosciences, value-added food, value-added wood, and education and training. This institutional creature appears to have gotten the memo: If we want to build an innovative society, then we must. . .well, innovate.

A survey of 1,200 CEOs from around the world, conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers not long ago, found that innovation “now outstrips all other means of expansion, including moving into new markets, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures and other alliances. In all, 78 per cent of CEOs surveyed believe innovation will generate ‘significant’ new revenue and cost reduction opportunities. . .But it is highest for those where technology is changing customer expectations. In both the pharmaceutical and entertainment and media sectors, for example, more than 40 per cent of CEOs believe their greatest opportunities for growth come from spawning new products and services.”

That’s certainly the case for many of the NBIF’s beneficiaries. One example serves the point. According to the organization, “Fredericton startup company Eigen Innovations got an international boost (in December), placing third in the Cisco Systems’ Global Innovation Grand Challenge at the Internet Of Things World Forum in Dubai. Eigen was the only Canadian company to make it to the final six, and as the third place winner (received) a $25,000 cash prize plus business opportunities with the network solutions giant.”

Of course, marks of innovation need not garner international recognition to be relevant to New Brunswick’s broader economy. Those businesses (and people) who innovate quietly, regularly and reliably in this province hold the keys to the economy’s future. They are worth celebrating and emulating, especially during the long winters of our fiscal and social discontent.

Now, as light follows darkness and spring follows winter with the eternal promise of warmer, sweeter days ahead, they are steadily, progressively turning all our clocks forward.

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Innovation in NB is alive and well

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Daily journalism can be a truly Oz-like experience for those who travel down the yellow-brick road only to pull back the curtain and find utterly confused, old codgers pulling the levers that keep our steam-punked imaginations firing on contradictory versions of reality.

A case in point emerged recently in the pages of Canada’s self-anointed national newspaper, the Globe and Mail. On the one hand, noted columnist Barrie McKenna insisted that the nation’s innovation agenda is a complete disaster; on the other, labour economist Jim Stanford declared that value-added manufactured exports (which rely on innovation) from here are enjoying a late-season renaissance.

Says Mr. McKenna: “Every two years, the federally appointed Science, Technology and Innovation Council issues a status report on how Canada is doing in the global innovation race. The council has now produced four such reports, the latest released this fall. And each time, it’s the same distressing finding: Canada’s business sector is not stepping up to the plate. Companies are investing less now in research and development than they were in 2007, and every year they’re falling further behind the countries that lead the world in generating great ideas and economic growth.”

Then, there’s this from Mr. Stanford in his own Globe commentary: “There is growing evidence that the national economy is starting to pivot away from its past over-reliance on the extraction and export of raw natural resources. Instead, Canada’s high-technology industrial base is starting to flex its muscles once again. And the first place this economic reorientation is becoming visible is in recent data on international trade.”

He continues: “Statistics Canada defines five broad categories of ‘value-added’ merchandise exports – industries that rely primarily on technology, productivity and skilled labour, instead of just the availability of natural resources. These sectors include industrial machinery, electrical and electronic products, motor vehicles and parts, consumer goods, and aircraft and other transportation equipment. These technology-intensive products typically command premium prices on global markets, in contrast to depressed commodity prices.”

Of course, these pundits are both right and wrong in their own special ways, and the only question reading both of them raises is: Whose version of the world do you want to believe?

If I were forced to choose between the doom and gloom of Mr. McKenna and the hope and sun of Mr. Stanford, I would, with no reluctance at all, select door No. 2. Here’s why.

One of the very few economic bright spots in New Brunswick these days is home grown innovation. Given the province’s fiscal woes and perennial lack of financial resources, that seems like a paradox worthy of economic pundits. Nevertheless, it appears to be durable.

The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation reported last month, for example, that Eigen Innovations, a Fredericton-based start-up “got an international boost placing third in the Cisco Systems’ Global Innovation Grand Challenge at the Internet Of Things World Forum in Dubai. Eigen was the only Canadian company to make it to the final six, and as the third place winner will receive a $25,000 cash prize plus business opportunities with the network solutions giant.”

The company’s main product “tells operators and engineers the where, when and how processes or product quality is starting to degrade within highly complex manufacturing systems. . . .After a series of elimination rounds, Eigen made it onto the list of 15 semi-finalists, announced in October 2015.”

Sadly, daily journalism too often fails to capture the stories of these jewels of hope and opportunity. We’d do better to pull back the curtain and discover the utterly brilliant among us.

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