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Atlantic Canada Scores High In Report On Global Startup Ecosystems

Halifax skyline. (Image: iStock)

Atlantic Canada’s startup ecosystem is getting global recognition in Startup Genome‘s 2019 Startup Ecosystem Report.

The widely-read report on global startup ecosystems is put out every year and is based on data from over one million companies across 150 cities. The region was signed up by Halifax-based Innovacorp, which submitted data to have considered for the report.

Image: Startup Genome 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report

The report ranked Atlantic Canada number four in the world for communities in the “activation phase,” which is a category for startup ecosystems that are relatively young and small.

Startup Genome characterizes ecosystems in this phase as those with limited startup experience (founder know-how, experienced investors, advisors and mentors, and community behaviors that support startup success) and have 1,000 or fewer startups.

Western Denmark; Belgrade and Novi Sad; and Taipei City took first, second and third place on the list.

“It certainly points to some key successes in areas such as life sciences and value for money for startups to be here,” says Malcolm Fraser, president and CEO of Innovacorp, in an interview with Huddle.

“We’ve been hearing from companies for a long time that Atlantic Canada is a great place to start a company. The access to resources and the collaborative nature of the community really makes it a great place to try and start something. It’s nice to see that some of those things are reflected in the report.”

Atlantic Canada was also highlighted as an “ecosystem to watch” in the Life Sciences sector among cities like Boston, Calgary and Silicon Valley.

“I think it speaks to the value that we have. You can look life sciences and see the research that happens in this region, the level of commercialization success that we’ve had, the number of skilled employees and managers in that sector here build up,” says Fraser. “They get to have all the success that you’d want to have to attract entrepreneurs here and help them grow from here directly.

Seeing the region listed alongside major players like Boston and Silicon Valley may raise some eyebrows. But Fraser says that though those bigger city centres may have more capital, Atlantic Canada’s ecosystem is richer in other ways.

“You can get caught up in the volume of capital available in Silicon Valley. Are we ever going to get to that volume? Probably not. But are we a better place to start a company? Yes, for sure,” he says. “I think we need to look at this and remind ourselves that we have something unique and successful here and it’s a good way to help grow our economy overall and a great way to attract people to come here and build successful companies.”

Image: Startup Genome 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report

The report also listed Atlantic Canada as having the most early-stage startup funding per startup in the Activation Phase category. Fraser credits this to more re-investment, angel investors and capital coming in from outside the region over the past couple years.

“We’ve demonstrated the success that causes re-investment, so now that’s created the draw for capital resources to invest in the region to say ‘great, companies can be successful here, let’s fund some more and make some money doing it,’ ” says Fraser.

The report does highlight some strong positives of Atlantic Canada’s ecosystem, but it doesn’t show the full picture. Since Innovacorp is Nova Scotia-based, much of the data they submitted to Startup Genome is Nova Scotia centric.

Jeff White, CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF),  says this year’s report is a great start, but if New Brunswick data was thrown into the mix, Atlantic Canada’s ecosystem analysis would be a little broader

“New Brunswick would probably be rated higher on software and other technology-related expertise. We would have more software companies, more traditional computing or networking specialization in New Brunswick than you would see in Halifax,” says White.

“Then again, when you link back to where that all comes from, [The University of New Brunswick] has been heavily focused on engineering and computer science. Dalhousie [University] and those have it, but that’s not the lead part of their ecosystem. The lead part of their ecosystem is the life sciences sector.”

He says he hopes to register NBIF to join the Startup Genome Network for next year’s report to see how it impacts the overall picture of the region.

“We’ll get involved,” said White. “I’d like to see what happens when we put it in there.”

For those based in the region, it’s easy to think of each province’s startup ecosystem separately. But White says it’s important to recognize how the provinces feed each other

“I don’t think we in our region always break it down further, no one wants to talk about Atlantic Canada really. They’ll say the word, but we’re not really talking about that. It’s about what’s in New Brunswick, what’s in Nova Scotia and what’s in Newfoundland,” says White. “But the successful companies that emerge, whether it’s life science, marine tech, and even IT, they start to use assets across all the region.”

Having that Atlantic Canada-wide view is also important if the region truly wants to compete globally, says Fraser.

“We’re [relatively] small as a region, especially when you look at the cities that we are compared with. Just from a population standpoint, we’re barely there,” he says. “That’s why when we look at creating a great startup ecosystem, we have to look at this as a regional challenge, not a Nova Scotia or Halifax or Moncton challenge.

“We’re all in here as a team. We can attract companies here to start and build and be successful, and that is the fastest way for us to make a big impact on our GDP as a whole. So let’s do it.”