One of the interesting aspects of Invest Atlantic and MentorCamp in September was the prominent role played by tech experts from Arkansas of all places.

There’s no obvious link between our home in the North Atlantic and the landlocked southern state that produced Bill Clinton, Sam Walton and Levon Helm. But one similarity is the state is developing innovative businesses, and two of its representatives were delighted to come to Halifax to share ideas and experiences.

April Seggebruch, VP Finance & Operations of Merchant View LLC, of Fayetteville, and Jeff Amerine, Technology Licensing Officer, Adjunct Faculty, Entrepreneurship, at the University of Arkansas, were impressed by the companies and ecosystem they found here. MentorCamp Founder Permjot Valia, who is a Goodwill Ambassador for the State, invited them to MentorCamp and Invest Atlantic, and Amerine spoke at BioPort as well.

Both were flattering about what they saw here, especially about the support that entrepreneurs receive from government. “Atlantic Canada has all of the needed ingredients to breed a flourishing start-up ecosystem,’’ said Seggebruch. “The ideas, ambitious founders, strong support network, heavy institutional involvement, capital and the desire.  Now it's time to just do it.”

The fascinating thing is Arkansas has a comparable population and GDP to Atlantic Canada, yet the economies are remarkably different. The Razorback state is more densely populated and has a far stronger corporate presence. It has one state government compared with our four provincial governments. A trip from one end of Arkansas to the other is 300 miles, where it’s 700 miles as the crow flies from Fredericton to St. John’s. Arkansas’ startup community relies more heavily on its academic institutions.  Here’s a comparison of the two:

     Arkansas Atlantic Canada
Population  2.94M                                   2.33M 
GDP $106B                                     $99B
GDP Per Capita                                                 $36,054 $42,489
Largest University                                            U of Arkansas Dalhousie U
  (24,600 Students) (17,300 Students)
Largest City Little Rock                           Halifax
   (Pop. 709,000)   (Pop. 390,000)
Largest Public Company                           Wal-Mart                             Empire Co.
   (Rev $422B)     (Rev $16.3B)

The point is that the two jurisdictions are pretty similar, except Arkansas’ largest city and company are far larger than ours, which should generate entrepreneurship.  Yet they were impressed with what saw here.

They also are seasoned enough to recognize what needs to be done here, and left me with some diplomatic advice.

Amerine, for example, encouraged Atlantic Canadians to do more to foster an exchange of ideas – or beyond that to build on ideas so that they develop into great companies.

``I think continuing to build the opportunities for the IDEA community to get together frequently around programs, places, events, and networking is key to maintaining momentum,” he said.  “Continuing to drag the universities into the mix so that there is an agility and creativity from institutions that aligns with the pace of the startup world is also key.”

As she stated above,  Seggebruch said entrepreneurs simply have to roll up their sleeves, disregard naysayers and begin to build up their businesses. “If an activity, partnership, hire, marketing program or conversation puts your company in a position to hit your growth target, do it,” she said. 

One area they agree on is that the region must continue to develop links with other parts of the world, like Arkansas, South Africa, the U.K. and Silicon Valley. They advise that we continue to import ideas, best practice and capital, and, as Seggebruch says, export problems and needs.

“Atlantic Canada has all the right ingredients,” said Amerine.  “Now the startup evangelists in the region like [GoInstant CEO] Jevon MacDonald need to continue to stand on the tallest building around whenever they get a chance to remind everyone that great ventures are possible in Atlantic Canada and the usual suspects in Silicon Valley and elsewhere will pay attention.”