Among the many positive headlines, facts and figures about Halifax contained in the latest edition of the Halifax Index is a particular statistic that caught my attention.
New research by the Halifax Partnership has revealed that the majority of funds raised by startup companies in Halifax over the last five years went to health care and life sciences companies – some US$64 million (C$84.4 million) in fact.
The report said: “Health care and life sciences companies have shown the strongest growth over the last five years in both value and number of funding rounds.”
While it’s not surprising that health care and life science startups are enjoying such success, being by their very nature forward-looking companies at the forefront of innovation, the significant amount of investment in this one sector is particularly noteworthy.
To put the figure into perspective, it’s US$11 million more than the amount invested in the second placed sector – energy, cleantech and natural resources – and four times more than the amount invested business and finance startups.
The company I run, Sona Nanotech Inc., is one of the life sciences startups to have benefitted from substantial investment during this period thanks to a private placement last year that raised C$2 million.
And, as a business that relocated to Halifax specifically to take advantage of all the Nova Scotian capital has to offer, we are uniquely placed to add some context to the findings.
Halifax is the hub of Nova Scotia’s booming life sciences sector, and for any life sciences startup it is the place to be, containing all the necessary infrastructure, support and academic links that a growing young business requires.
When it comes to support, BioNova, the life sciences body for Nova Scotia, is second to none.
BioNova aims to advance life sciences in the province and accelerate the commercialization success of its businesses and organizations by building relationships and by creating networking and educational opportunities.
Additionally, it offers programs that allow life sciences SMEs to apply for project funding or work with collaborators. As a member Sona Nanotech has made vital connections in the sector both inside and outside the province.
Then there’s Innovacorp, Nova Scotia's early stage venture capital organization, which is based in Halifax and includes life sciences among its target industries.
Innovacorp offers entrepreneurs access to world-class incubation facilities, expert advice and other support to help accelerate their companies.
When Sona was on the hunt for a new home in Halifax, Innovacorp had everything we were looking for, which is why we set up our laboratory facilities at the Technology Innovation Centre in Dartmouth (recently renamed The Bays at Innovacorp). We now have an excellent base from which to grow our business.
Halifax is also served by three academic centres of excellence for health care and life sciences; Dalhousie University, one of Canada’s leading research universities and one of the world’s best when it comes to scientific research, St Mary’s University, with its national leading program in chemistry, and the QEII Health Sciences Centre, the largest teaching hospital and adult academic health sciences centre in Atlantic Canada.
As well as the professional connections Sona is building with these institutions, the company has personal links with two of them. One of Sona’s founders, Dr. Gerard Marangoni, is a Dalhousie alumni, having completed his PhD there in 1992, and our business development manager, Anindita Gupta, completed her master’s degree in technology entrepreneurship and innovation at St Mary’s.
So, when all these factors are taken into account it should come as no surprise that life sciences startups in Halifax have been so successful in gaining investment in recent years. Sona Nanotech is proud to call Halifax our home, and to be part of the city and wider region’s thriving life sciences startup community.
Sona's pioneering work was recently recognized by the Startup Canada Awards when we won the Innovation Award for the Atlantic Canada region - the only Nova Scotian business to win at the awards. With the ongoing backing of the city’s fantastic support network, we look forward to continuing to grow and innovate with the sector and to put Halifax on the map as the leading life sciences hub of Atlantic Canada.
Darren Rowles is CEO and president of Sona Nanotech Inc.