Malcolm Fraser, left, appears on stage with Anna Manley, Mo Abdolell and Marciel Gaier.

Malcolm Fraser, left, appears on stage with Anna Manley, Mo Abdolell and Marciel Gaier.

Malcolm Fraser revealed a rather audacious goal last Thursday: the CEO of Innovacorp wants the Atlantic Canadian startup ecosystem to be one of the 10 best in the world.

Speaking to 800 members of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce at their annual dinner, Fraser said the pieces are in place to move into the top 10, and asked the broader business community to help out by working with high-growth companies.

He cited several high-growth companies that Innovacorp – the provincial Crown corporation responsible for venture capital and innovation – has invested in or is working with. Some of these companies are doubling revenue or better each year, and Fraser sounded a call to action for traditional businesses to work with them to benefit the economy.

“We can light this thing on fire,” said Fraser, who sold his company Mode in 2016 and took the helm at Innovacorp a year ago. “We can get to the goal of making Atlantic Canada one of the top 10 startup ecosystems in the world.”

Assessing and ranking ecosystems is a complicated matter, but Fraser said there are five key components to a startup ecosystem, and all are in place to support startups in this region.

  • Government – Governments in the region have initiated a range of programs that are supporting startups, and government provides infrastructure, like the new COVE ocean R&D facility in Dartmouth.
  • Academic Institutions – Across the region, universities and colleges are developing entrepreneurship programs, such as Launch Dal at Dalhousie University and St. Mary’s University’s Master of Technology, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program.
  • Funding – The funding by venture capital investors and others has increased dramatically in the past few years, surpassing $100 million for the first time last year.
  • Private Sector – Fraser didn’t say so but this is the weak portion of the Atlantic Canadian ecosystem, just because it’s such a small component of the economy. Instead, Fraser cited the example of McCain Foods and Emera for the work they’re doing with startups.

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The final component in the ecosystem is the entrepreneurs themselves – and here Fraser was bursting with examples, most of them companies that Innovacorp has invested in. For example, he said social media monitoring company Dash Hudson quadrupled its revenue in 2017 and is on track to double it this year. Proposify, which helps businesses submit proposals, and Vineview, which analyses data to help vineyards detect diseases, are both growing rapidly as well.

Fraser was also joined on stage by the heads of three younger companies: Mo Abdolell of Densitas of Halifax; Anna Manley of Advocate Cognitive Technologies Inc. of Sydney; and Marciel Gaier of Halifax-based Graphite Innovation and Technologies. They said they could benefit from support from the business community, mainly asking for investment, mentorship and early adoption of their products.

After the speech, Fraser said the assessment of how our ecosystem stacks up against others should be based on the metrics established by the California group Startup Genome. It ranks startup communities around the world based on their funding, exits, talent, and corporate involvement. Though Atlantic Canada isn’t even mentioned in the Startup Genome 2018 report on global startup ecosystems, Fraser said Canada’s East Coast is moving in the right direction.

“We are one of the top ecosystems in Canada and clearly there’s tremendous momentum and potential here,” said Fraser in an email. “For example, we’re already punching above our weight when it comes to venture capital activity. In [the first quarter] of this year, Halifax was ahead of Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge for amount of venture capital invested.”

Disclosure:  Innovacorp is a client of Entrevestor.

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