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Op Ed: CBU Research Team Seeks To Help Cape Breton Entrepreneurs Be More Successful

So many entrepreneurs work endless hours, often on their own, with only cursory help from family and friends.  They experience so many failures, so many “turn downs” and so much disappointment. They spend endless hours searching for information that never seems to materialize.

It’s a process that could be streamlined if only there were a better understanding of what information was out there and how they could access it with the least amount of resistance. This information is contained in a region’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

I am part of a trio of researchers at Cape Breton University that is seeking to help entrepreneurs on the island be more successful. In order to support business start-up and growth in Cape Breton, we first need to identify and map Cape Breton’s “entrepreneurial ecosystem.” An entrepreneurial ecosystem refers to the elements – individuals, organizations or institutions – outside the individual entrepreneur that offer valuable information, advice, connections, mentorship, financing and other forms of essential support to increase the chances of successfully starting or growing a new business.

Our Cape Breton University research team includes Dr. Stephanie Gilbert, assistant professor of organizational management; Dr. Kevin McKague, assistant professor of entrepreneurship; and myself. I am associate professor of entrepreneurship and we are all base at the Shannon School of Business.

This research is part of a larger Atlantic Canada-wide project funded by ACOA that has been championed by Dr. Ellen Farrell (formerly of Sydney) at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. Building on similar research to understand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Silicon Valley, California, Dr. Farrell has pioneered efforts to apply these research techniques in Atlantic Canada.

In addition to Cape Breton University, our regional research partners include Saint Mary’s University, Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, the University of Prince Edward Island, and the University of New Brunswick.

My colleague, Dr. Gilbert, notes that, “The research seeks to identify where entrepreneurs currently go for various types of support services, and how valuable they perceived these services to be.”

With this information, we can better understand how knowledge and help for entrepreneurs flows in our region and will allow us to make recommendations for improvements in the entrepreneurial community. The findings of our research have the potential to lead us to a detailed and deeper understanding of the nature and extent of the entrepreneurial support ecosystem in Cape Breton and ways that it can continually be improved. We can also compare and contrast our situation in Cape Breton with those in other Atlantic provinces to further increase our understanding.

Dr. McKague, who teaches social entrepreneurship at Cape Breton University’s MBA program in community economic development, notes that, “A unique contribution that Cape Breton is contributing to the broader research consortium is actively including social enterprises in the list of organizations that we are surveying.”

Nova Scotia’s Social Enterprise Strategy Framework defines a social enterprise as “A business or organization operated for the purpose of addressing social, economic or environmental challenges.” CBU has worked with Tanya Andrews, Nicole Lucas-Richardson and the rest of the social enterprise sector team of the Cape Breton Partnership Prosperity Framework to identify organizations in Cape Breton that have a mission to actively pursue the achievement of social and environmental as well as economic goals. Our goal is to reach as many entrepreneurs as possible. To date we have identified over 360 businesses that might qualify as being run by an “entrepreneur.”

A great deal of additional work has been accomplished in identifying small and medium-sized businesses and social enterprises on Cape Breton Island by our research assistant, Jill MacPherson. We have contacted such agencies as InovaCorp, the Cape Breton Partnership, ACOA, Business Nova Scotia and Entrevestor in an effort to compile this list. To date we have identified over 560 businesses that might qualify as being run by an “entrepreneur” and if you are on that list you may receive an email invitation to complete a short survey from us in the upcoming weeks.