A city councillor in Saint John has put forth a motion for the city to create an early adopter program that could help budding businesses find and land government contracts.

Councillor Greg Norton presented this motion to council early February. He says the program would create a mutually beneficial relationship between the city and its innovative entrepreneurs.

“The city has problems that could be solved by virtue of an early adopter program,” said Norton in an interview. “We can support those that are trying to build the economy. They need that marriage . . .  [and to] cut through the bureaucracy quicker than traditional pathways.”

Entrepreneurs often fill out lengthy proposals and wait for long periods of time that sometimes can lead nowhere, he said. The current process is clunky and takes a lot of time.

To help his fellow councillors understand just how an early adopter program could help entrepreneurs, Norton teamed up with James Stewart, the CEO of EhEye. Stewart’s company applies artificial intelligence and data analytics to video surveillance.

“Having worked for a municipality, I can say that it is tough to innovate from within,” said Stewart. “There are just too many competing priorities and very little tolerance for failure. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, struggle daily to find meaningful problems to innovate on. Creating a formal program to provide a line of sight to these problems, and allowing outside innovation to occur, will bring powerful, creative solutions and jobs to the region.”

Norton also reached out to Mark Breen, the Senior Economic Development Officer with Enterprise Saint John. The two will make a presentation before council on the impact of municipal early adopter programs on March 26.

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“By partnering with municipalities, innovators have the opportunity to use their technology to work on civic problems and refine their technology and gain valuable insight,” said Breen.

“This will help them commercialize their technology and scale up for a global marketplace. The municipality also gains multiple benefits. It gets access to cutting-edge technology to solve significant problems at a fraction of what an off-the-shelf solution may cost. The municipality also demonstrates that it is open and supportive of startups. This enhances the attractiveness of the entire region.”

A quick example of how local innovation can solve municipal problems is the regional spread of HotSpot Parking’s pay-by-phone parking and transit solution. The Fredericton company's product, which allows people to pay for parking with their phone, was first adopted by its local government and has since spread across the Maritimes. 

Norton is now working on getting all of council on the same page about the motion and gathering support within the community. He says he’d ideally like to see a fully developed program pitch ready in the next six months and has already received some support from his fellow councillors.  

“Some of the problems that cities [have], like snow removal, parks and recreation, those things we have a good grapple on," said Norton. "But the things that can create a more people-happy city, I think an early adopter program will help.”