After attending business dinners in Halifax and Fredericton last week, it’s becoming apparent that two themes are developing in the evolution of the regional start-up community.
First, the tech crowd is going to become a pillar of the overall business community. This is already the case in New Brunswick, but it will quickly become a developing trend in Nova Scotia and, I believe, in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Second, the start-up community is eager to join the debate on improving the business climate in the region, and the topic it wants to focus on is Primary to Grade 12 education.
In the last week, Jevon MacDonald, the co-founder of GoInstant, addressed the Halifax Chamber of Commerce’s spring dinner. And the KIRA Awards, which recognize the knowledge industry in New Brunswick, were presented for the 15th time at a glitzy affair in Fredericton.
What struck me about those events was that both united the tech community with the mainstream business community.
You could tell that that the ICT segment in New Brunswick has been an essential part of the broader business family for several years. Premier David Alward, who recently appointed an advisory committee on innovation, attended the dinner and listened to each speech, including several messages directed at him.
Such a relationship is newer in Nova Scotia and the other provinces. It’s difficult pick out a specific quote to illustrate the point, but the aura of the Halifax event was one of introduction. MacDonald explained the vast potential of the local digital economy, and the chamber seemed to be taking on board the spectacular things happening in its own backyard.
The start-up community is becoming more integrated with the business community. The start-up community is coming together like never before in St. John’s, and Digital Nova Scotia has its first full-time CEO, Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia. Gerry Pond is one of the cornerstones of 4front Atlantic. Soon, businesspeople from start-ups or former start-ups will be moving into key posts in business groups and helping shape the economic debate in the region.
The message bubbling up from the base of the tech community is that each province must modernize its teaching of computer science to produce the talent needed to compete in the global economy. MacDonald’s speech dwelt on the need for better education for high school students in Nova Scotia, saying he was appalled that only in Grade 12 is programming offered as an optional course.
A similar message was presented in New Brunswick. Several winners of the KIRA Awards called for better computer science education. David Alston, an exec at IntroHive, which won the Most Promising Start-Up Award, called on Alward to expose all high school students to even two weeks of mandatory computer science training, hoping it will spark an interest in the field.
Alston and MacDonald both stated that their lives changed when teachers placed them in front of computers and let them discover for themselves what the devices could do.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a command coming down from a centralized organization demanding that every nerd call for more computer science courses. This is a groundswell of concern from the grassroots of the tech industry that educators across the region are depriving children of the knowledge needed for the modern workplace.
This shortage is now being met outside of schools with groups such as CompCamp and Ladies Learning Code, but the time has come for education departments and school boards to go through the arduous task of improving P–12 technical education. And the process will be arduous, because it will require the co-operation of education departments, school boards, teachers’ unions, and multiple levels of government.
We should get used to hearing these demands. The tech community is determined to force this one through.