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N.S. Offers Sandboxes For Adults

Canada’s ocean playground is inviting people with big ideas to come play in the sandbox.

Nova Scotia now has four provincial sandboxes — places where students, academics and business people can get creative, explore and experiment with new ideas that could help the economy grow.
They are:

•Island Sandbox: Cape Breton University and NSCC Marconi campus;
•Community Sandbox: Saint Mary’s University, NSCAD University and Mount Saint Vincent University;

•Nova Scotia Agriculture Sandbox: Dalhousie University’s agriculture campus, Acadia University and Perennia Innovation Centre; and

•ICT Sandbox: Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s, NSCAD and Volta Labs.

“The institutions that we have in this province are an asset to this province, one that we need to maximize and stop talking about them as if they’re a liability,” Premier Stephen McNeil said at a news conference held Wednesday at Pier 21 in Halifax to announce the program.
“They are centres of economic growth if we just actually work together and capitalize on them.”

Ideas often start at the post-secondary level, but the sandboxes will offer access to services, resources and expertise to push these ideas further, said Dale Keefe, dean of research and graduate studies at Cape Breton University.
“There’s lots of great ideas (out) there and people just don’t know how to take it from that idea stage to something where it’s actually a business, where they can actually do something with it,” he said.

“So this is where the sandbox comes in. It gives them that sort of safe environment to start out and branch out on that idea and try and develop it … and go off and become successful businesses.”
The Island Sandbox will bring together local companies, such as Louisbourg Seafoods, and students to develop business ideas around clean technology, he said. The group will also take its services on the road to reach out to others across Cape Breton.

The Island group also sees international students in the area as “a big opportunity for us.”
“Close to a third of our student population are international students,” Keefe said. “Those are young, energetic individuals (and) a lot of them want to stay in the area but the opportunities are not there. So we’re giving them an avenue that if they … have a great idea, they want to create their own company, they want to create business, then we’re going to be there to help them, support them to stay so that they can help build the local economy.”

Jevon MacDonald is co-founder of Volta Labs, a startup house in Halifax to help budding technology entrepreneurs foster their ideas, generate funding and get into business.
The 14 companies at Volta, which now has about 40 employees, have raised about $15 million since it opened last year, he said. New business ideas generated by the ICT Sandbox would benefit Volta, universities, businesses, those entrepreneurs and the community.

“Most of the startups that are coming into Volta, over half are started by or employing graduates from post-secondary institutions in Nova Scotia,” MacDonald said. “It’s clear to us that feeding the private sector with this talent is incredibly important.
“What we want to do is be a part of this movement around going into universities, going into the colleges, going into the schools and really helping bring resources to the students.”

About 150 people attended Wednesday’s announcement, including Eva Cook, president of the Nova Scotia 4-H Council.
The agriculture-based program has about 2,600 members from nine to 21 years old, Cook said.

“A lot of the young people that are in 4-H, through the projects and skills they learn, often do start their own businesses so we’re hoping this might be something that will work nicely with 4-H … to broaden that horizon.”
Julie Oliver, executive director of Le Conseil de developpement economique de la Nouvelle-Ecosse, said she is interested in seeing what services will be available to people who want to commercialize their ideas.

“We help people in expanding and creating businesses, but what about the initial idea, how does that get off the ground, that’s what I’m interested in,” she said.
There are about 35,000 francophones in Nova Scotia and many of the people she works with are in natural or primary resources and are looking to expand their markets.

“The potential is unbelievable, so I think that there could be a lot of possibilities if there was some kind of resource put in place to help those people put to work their innovative ideas,” she said.

The province will provide each group with $150,000 per year for up to three years. After that time, they are expected to sustain themselves.