The startup ecosystem in the region’s largest city got a boost Thursday with the launch of two initiatives overseen by the Halifax Partnership – the Halifax Innovation Outpost and the Halifax Innovation District.

Located at Volta, the Halifax Innovation Outpost is a new office whose mission is to nurture innovation that can improve the lives of Haligonians and help the city’s innovators work with the municipal government.

The Innovation District, which has been in the works for a couple of years, is a designation for about five square kilometres running from the campuses of Dalhousie and St. Mary’s universities, through Volta and stretching to the Centre for Ocean Ventures and Entrepreneurship in Dartmouth. Its mission is to take advantage of the dense grouping of innovators based in the area and help them interact to enhance the capacity for new ideas and ventures.

“The goal is to create cohesion among the many organizations that are dedicated to increasing the fertility of our entrepreneurship ecosystem within those five square kilometres,” said Miriam Zitner, the Halifax Partnership Vice-President in charge of the Innovation District. 

Volta, the startup hub in downtown Halifax, houses a group of corporate innovation outposts, which are offices where corporations or other organizations can station teams to work on innovative projects. The kernel of the strategy is to locate a remote team outside corporate headquarters and within a community of innovators so they can come up with new products and services.

Groups like Atlantic Lotto Corp., Accenture and the Province of Nova Scotia have set up outposts in Volta, and now the Halifax Innovation Outpost is the latest addition.

Operated jointly by Halifax Regional Municipality and the Halifax Partnership, the Halifax outpost will be led by Karl Allen-Muncey, former lead of the Digital Kitchener Innovation Lab in Kitchener, Ont., and the Innovation Outpost for Postmedia, Canada’s largest media company.

Zitner said the new Innovation Outpost will initially focus on three things: first, executing a data transparency project with HRM that tracks and reports on council's commitment to open up the municipality's data; second, to promote social innovations, including using technology to help implement the city’s poverty-reduction strategy; and third, to “make the city a living lab.”

The third component will include finding ways that the municipal government can act as an early adopter for startups in the city. As examples, Zitner said the nautical coating being developed by Graphite Innovation and Technologies could be tested on the city’s ferries, or the city could work with B-Line, which uses data to find solutions for transportation problems.

“Civic innovation is a necessity, not a luxury,” said Mayor Mike Savage in a statement. “This lab is an opportunity to find answers to longstanding challenges, to deploy agile thinking and new technologies in pursuit of a more livable city, and to make a statement that historic Halifax is stepping decisively into the future.”

The Halifax Partnership is also overseeing the Innovation District with support from the provincial government. The aim is to increase access to innovation spaces and resources and create stronger ties between academia, corporations, risk capital, government and entrepreneurs. 

The Partnership describes the Innovation District as a concentrated area where entrepreneurs, companies and organizations are collaborating to generate and accelerate new ideas. It is home to five universities and colleges, several incubators and innovation labs, and more than 2,000 companies. 

Zitner said the goal will be to increase links between the groups so they can share lessons learned and increase the number and success of viable high-growth companies in the city.


Disclosure: The Halifax Partnership and Volta are clients of Entrevestor.