Springboard Atlantic


Lost your password?

Cape Breton Startups On Display

The summit is the annual conference of the organization responsible for economic development on the island. The morning discussions highlighted Balsillie’s purchase and restoration of the Keltic Lodge (where the summit was held) and the international attention the island received as a potential refuge if Trump becomes president. And Hutcheson, the former Canada AM broadcaster, delivered a keynote highlighting his love of Cape Breton.

But in the afternoon, the startups took the stage and demonstrated the vibrancy and potential of high-growth technology companies on Cape Breton. I briefly outlined the metrics of the startup community, but the stars with the startup founders and the groups that are developing the ecosystem on the island.

“Investments in the startup ecosystem are investments in the future of our community,” said Ardelle Reynolds, the co-founder of the Navigate Startup House. “It’s about looking not just to the companies in front of us but the companies that will be formed later down the road.”

The island’s startup community, which is concentrated in Sydney, is a young group, most of the companies are three years old or young. Many are pre-revenue. The thing that always strikes me about the tech community in the Sydney area is the energy of the group, and how much their founders can do with a little capital.

The husband-and-wife team of Mark and Danielle Patterson (who we’ll profile more fully next week) showed how they helped to fund their product-based company Docmaster with little capital: they began a tech consultancy, Devantec, which made more than $100,000 in its first month, and used that capital to build up their business.

The innovative spirit in Cape Breton extends beyond effort to build new products. Like the Pattersons, the community on the island looks for new ways to get things done.

A case in point: Louisbourg Seafoods is a traditional seafood company, but its staff wanted to work with the tech community to find better ways of doing things. So held the Sea++ competition, which awarded a cash prize to an innovator that could improve its operations.

“A lot of people see out industry as old and not very innovative, but we do do innovative things,” executive Adam Mugridge told the conference. “We recognize that there’s a tech sector and it’s young and it’s growing. We wanted to work with the sector and see if we could improve things.”

Another example of innovative thinking is the Verschuren Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University, which was originally established to help with the remediation of closed coal mines and the Sydney Tar Ponds. When those programs finished, it needed other things to work on. CEO Andrew Swanson said it has since provided consulting work for environmental projects with 80 organizations around the world, and employing 146 people at different times in the past six years.

One message that resonated through the discussion is that the growth of the startup community is a long-term strategy that will help with economic growth in the coming decades.

“It’s really about planting seeds,” said D. Darren MacDonald, the head of the Island Sandbox, a startup nurturing facility operated by CBU and the Nova Scotia Community College. “We know the average age of a startup founder is about 40, so we’re working with students and building for something that’s coming down the road.”

Cape Breton native Annette Verschuren, the former head of Home Depot in Canada and Asia, added that the young entrepreneurs would determine Cape Breton’s direction in coming years. “The future of this island does not depend on government policy. It depends on the strength and the will of the people here.”