In an attempt to change thinking and practices throughout the civil service, the New Brunswick government has named veteran tech entrepreneur David Alston as its first chief entrepreneur-in-residence.
In taking on the volunteer job, the Fredericton resident will be responsible for working with all government departments to bring in entrepreneurial thinking to help the departments solve problems.
Alston, a serial entrepreneur whose latest job is an advisory position as chief innovation officer with the Washington- and Fredericton-based startup Introhive, has been moving toward this government role for several years. He has been working with the government on several projects and says he has found a surprising enthusiasm among government executives for new ways of doing things.
“I wouldn’t accept this role if I knew there wasn’t an open door to accept it at every level,” Alston said in a phone interview on Sunday. “I literally sometimes think, ‘Wow, I’m sitting down chatting with people about ideas and they’re getting it.’ I’ve seen far more openness to this type of thinking than I’ve found people being closed-minded to it.”
In a statement Sunday, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said Alston will operate within the cabinet office to provide leadership to drive innovative practices across government departments, resulting in greater efficiency and economic growth. The goal eventually will be to have entrepreneurs-in-residence in each department.
“Making government more innovative and efficient is essential to advancing New Brunswickers’ priorities of economic growth, education and health care,” said Gallant, who is also minister responsible for innovation. “By appointing David as chief entrepreneur-in-residence, we are harnessing his experience and know-how to foster innovation, inside and outside of government.”
The goal isn’t about developing businesses within government. Rather, the goal is to bring “entrepreneurial thinking” to government processes. In other words, when government has a problem, it looks at all means of solving it, from new technology to market-based solutions, and then tests it before implementing it.
Gallant said Alston will work with all departments to solve social issues, drive economic development, improve access to services and reduce the cost of delivering services.
Alston is uniquely qualified for the position. He was previously the chief marketing officer of Radian6, then joined Salesforce.com when the tech giant bought Radian6 for $326 million in 2011. In recent years, he has campaigned for a modernization of New Brunswick’s society and economy. He believes the exodus of young people could be reversed by digitizing government services and nurturing startups, especially ethical businesses.
He was the driving force behind Brilliant Labs, the program that encourages coding lessons in public schools in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
In October 2015, the government announced it would work with the IT association TechImpact to develop North America’s first digital government. Alston said it takes years to transform a government, and he believes the change in attitude is changing across the New Brunswick.
“Any time you introduce something new, you have to take some time and peel back the layers of the onion,” he said. “We’re early on . . . but we’re on the path to do it.”