Jenelle Sobey believes that Atlantic Canadians can innovate their way to a more competitive and sustainable future. That’s why the social innovation expert has accepted the role of Managing Partner with Halifax web design and invention firm, Norex.
Fredericton-born Sobey’s previous roles include acting as Social Innovation Manager at the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, where she led the development of Canada’s second Social Enterprise Accelerator.
Social enterprises are ventures that meet a social, economic or environmental need.
“I’ve always been passionate about the social enterprise model because it produces real solutions to real problems,” said Sobey in an interview from Norex’s Gottingen Street offices.
“Social enterprises stand at the intersection between the private and non-profit sectors in that they use private sector methodologies to address problems that have been the traditional purview of the non-profit sector.”
The call to consider working with Norex came from the company’s senior partner Julia Rivard Dexter.
Sobey (who is not one of the Sobey grocery family) was surprised to hear from Norex and initially assumed the call was about her new startup. That venture, Good.Better is a cloud-based platform that helps organizations calculate the social return on investments.
Perhaps Sobey should not have been surprised to hear from Norex. She has an impressive reputation and is an active community volunteer.
After joining the New Brunswick Business Council, she helped coordinate the province’s first Economic Summit, Future NB. She has worked as an independent economic development consultant, and been recognized as a leading New Brunswick and regional leader.
“I was aware of Norex’s reputation as a world-class web design firm,” Sobey said of the initial phone call. “But, what really made me want to join the Norex team were the innovation projects.”
Innovation is so valued at Norex that team members are encouraged to dedicate 20 per cent of their time to an innovation project of their choosing, Sobey said.
The fruit of one such innovation project is Eyeread, which uses a camera to track the eye movements of reading children. By tracking the eyes, the software can detect which words trouble each child.
Eyeread is run by former Norex Managing Partner Leah Skerry. Sobey said Eyeread will be tested this summer at Halifax Learning’s SpellRead summer camp, as well as at schools in Halifax and the U.S in the fall.
Norex has also created Pursu.it, a crowdfunding site for elite amateur athletes in Canada and the U.S. Pursu.it was launched in 2012 by Skerry, a former gymnast, Rivard Dexter, a former Olympic kayaker, and David Sharpe, an Olympic swimmer.
To date, Pursu.it has assisted 45 athletes in raising almost half a million dollars, and helped eight of those athletes compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics.
“When Norex team members get the chance to work on something they’re passionate about, this elevates their creativity and makes innovation possible,” said Sobey.
“Then, if it seems like an idea will add value, either by improving internal efficiencies, by solving a client problem, or by becoming a new stand-alone product, Norex will build it.”
With the addition of Sobey, Norex now has three women in leading management positions. The fast-growing company has almost doubled its staff in the last year to a total of 18.
Sobey’s degrees include an MA in Political Science from the University of New Brunswick and a Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo.
She said she has always felt motivated to solve complex problems.
“We need to build a healthy, competitive region here in Atlantic Canada, and I believe that technology is the answer,” she said.
“At Norex, we have the talent and capacity to go after complex problems and build products that will make an impact.”