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The Atlantic Canada Startup Ecosystem

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“There’s never been a better time to be a start-up in Atlantic Canada”.  That according to Doug Robertson CEO of Venn Innovation in Moncton, New Brunswick.  Venn -  a globally recognized accelerator is a part of a growing group of Atlantic-based organizations committed to creating successful entrepreneurs and companies in the region.

Robertson’s position is not a unique one.  In fact it’s the current sentiment from many in the start-up ecosystem across Atlantic Canada

As Canada celebrates its 150th we tend to reflect on the past to determine its impact on the future.  Without a doubt, Atlantic Canada boasts a long and storied history of innovation.  The key opening can, the hot and cold water faucet, the thermal window pane, the pipeless furnace, and of course the snowblower.  Perhaps that’s where the start-up ecosystem started.  Innovation driven by necessity and the determination of a region to help itself forward. 

The modern-day start-up ecosystem, however, was a little later starting.  In fact, just  20 years ago there were only 2 centres focused on entrepreneurial start-ups emerging from research within the university (the TME program at UNB and Genesis at Memorial).  In the last 10 years however, the ecosystem has flourished.  Today the start-up network across Atlantic Canada boasts over 30 organizations in the sandbox, garage, incubator and accelerator space.

There is a network of support that has been strategically created by government, academia and industry that is allowing entrepreneurship and the commercialization of ideas across our region.

There’s also some unique characteristics that position Atlantic Canada differently than other start up regions across North America.

Atlantic Canada boasts a collaborative model that has been truly embraced by the start-up ecosystem.  This model not only celebrates working together but also failing together in terms of the learnings generated.  It then takes those learnings to help propel the next start-up idea.

Energia Ventures is the newest accelerator in Atlantic Canada.  Executive Director Edwin Rodriguez says the difference between the start-up ecosystem in Atlantic Canada and in other places he’s done business is the lack of Darwinian culture.  “While there are many other successful start-up environments across North America, for every success there are numerous roadkill.  In Atlantic Canada we are not driven by survival of the fittest but rather a culture of hands on, higher quality support that has created a higher success ratio for our start-ups in Atlantic Canada.”

As well, while Atlantic Canada may be short on seed investment it makes up for it with other types of programs and support networks (like Springboard Atlantic) that have been driven by industry in partnership with government and post-secondary institutions.  These allow the start-ups in this region the ability to compete on a global level. 

Springboard Atlantic CEO Chris Mathis says that “in some respect, Springboard’s greatest success is the planting of the seed that has changed the culture and sparked a belief that entrepreneurship, stemming from the commercialization of research and ideas, is the basis for a sustainable region moving forward.”

Finally, other trends are playing in Atlantic Canada’s favour.  Global connectivity means you can successfully run a business from really any corner of the world – especially a place as beautiful as Atlantic Canada. And the housing boom in major urban centres has ensured our younger entrepreneurs won’t be able to afford suitable housing any time soon – so again why not consider Atlantic Canada where your housing dollar gets you more.

In the end, Atlantic Canada’s emergence onto the global start-up scene may be later coming, but it’s an innovation renaissance that is as unique as the region itself and one that promises to continue moving the region and its players forward one success story at a time.