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NOWNS: Attracting The Best, Brightest

Academic institutions, diversity, new technology keys for economic success

Halifax is well positioned to leverage diversity and innovation for economic growth, says a senior official with Canada’s largest bank.

“The academic centres are terrific,” says John Stackhouse, senior vice-president, office of the CEO at RBC.

The former editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail helps bank leadership and bank clients connect with opportunities from disruption.

“The world has no shortage of challenges,” he says.

For example, Stackhouse says the evolution of technology and shift in demographics is creating serious changes for society.

He says collaboration with academic institutions to commercialize new technology, encourage immigration and focus on accessing global markets are keys to economic success today.

“It positions Canada well for the next number of years,” Stackhouse says.

Diversity and academic institutions bring new ideas and resources that foster innovation, he adds.

Stackhouse started a series called #RBCDisruptors where he examines different angles to emerging trends in-depth, focusing particularly on innovation and technology.

“Mobile provides an enormous opportunity to tap into a global market no matter where you are,” he says.

The themes of his series are ones he’s recently explored with special guests from around the country.

“We are seeing some amazing opportunities come out of universities,” Stackhouse says.

He encourages Nova Scotia to exploit its universities, livable communities, co-op programs and access to global markets and innovative entrepreneurs.

“We continue to have this opportunity to attract the best and the brightest,” Stackhouse says.

A Statistics Canada report earlier this year showed Nova Scotia’s population at its highest point ever thanks to a growth spurt of 1,460 in the first three months of 2016. The province’s population rose 4,918 from April 1, 2015 to 947,284 of April 1, 2016.

The report says the population experienced its largest quarterly increase from Jan. 1 to April 1 since 1985.

“Diversity is important for innovation,” Stackhouse says.

The 2014 Ivany Report calls on Nova Scotia to improve immigration, add to the number of businesses, increase the number of businesses exporting and do a better job of commercializing university research.

“The Springboard network in Nova Scotia has worked hard to generate outcomes from the ongoing R&D activities at the institutions,” says Chris Mathis, president and CEO of Springboard Atlantic.

“Within the last two years there have been more than 2,000 industry-academic contracts, agreements and awards where our institutions are collaborating with industry, supporting new and improved products and services and helping with their competitiveness.”

Mathis points to many examples ranging from the sucess of Halifax-based QRA Corp. to the collaboration with Tesla.

“At Springboard, we have funds to support the commercialization process of ideas coming out of the institutions, to provide mentoring, support and knowhow thanks to the resources and the network in the region,” he says.

But Mathis admits there are some challenges.

“Our small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are very small and don’t have the capacity to develop new ideas, even if the expansion of markets with new and improved products will be good for the business,” he says.

For him, the goal is clear.

“Ultimately, progressing the literacy of the private sector, faculty and students on assessing and commercializing early stage ideas is really a key need we see going forward, one that starts with understanding better what value there is in intellectual property in all forms,” he says. “This kind of learning will lead to the goals set out by the Ivany Report being achieved and even exceeded. Through this change, the research and industry collaborations to lead to more SMEs exporting their products and services globally, with unique value propositions and competitive offerings.”