I-3 Shows Spread of Tech Boom
There’s been a subtle change on the podium of Innovacorp’s I-3 competition, and it’s a change for the better.
The provincial innovation agency released on Monday the regional winners and runners-up of the biennial competition, which aims to find the top new knowledge-based companies in the province. And what leaps out is that the winning company in each of the five zones is more steeped in proprietary technology than in previous years and is farther down the entrepreneurial path than past winners.
What’s significant is that the benefits of the innovation boom are spreading throughout the province, and it’s showing up in the I-3 competition.
Development of new technology usually takes place in urban settings because it requires a lot of different skills and therefore benefits from a big population. But the level of sophistication of these companies demonstrates that research and development is benefiting the economies outside the two largest urban areas.
“If you’re building a technology or a company to be world-class, then it doesn’t really matter where your location is,” said Jim Fitt, a principal of Extrify, winner of the northern Nova Scotia region. “As long as companies think like that, they can reach world markets. And we’re starting to see more companies think like that.”
Consider the five regional winners: Extrify of New Glasgow; CelluFuel Inc., of Brooklyn; Fenol Farm Inc., of Mount Uniacke; Spring Loaded Technologies of Halifax; and Heimdall Networks of Sydney.
Two of the companies are involved in information and communications technology, and one each is in medical devices, life sciences and clean tech.
I’ve interviewed or sat in on presentations by all these companies, and all are developing businesses out of proprietary technology. They are well into the development of their products, and combined they have raised well over $2 million in equity financing, possibly more than $3 million.
All five will receive $100,000 for winning their zone.
And if you look at the silver medallists, you find comparable levels of sophistication, though some may be at earlier stages than the winners. These include such tech startups as Delicious Brains — which, let’s face it, deserves an award for its name alone — and Breton SmarTek.
The 10 companies recognized by I-3 demonstrate strong relationships with the province’s universities, which now account for the lion’s share of its R&D. The two Halifax winners, Spring Loaded and Atlantic Motors, both developed from programs at Dalhousie University.
And again there are signs in I-3 of commercialization at other universities throughout the province. Fenol Farm is the brainchild of Acadia University chemistry prof Sherri McFarland. And a few companies that made the semi-finals, such as SONA NanoTech (St. Francis Xavier) and Treventis (Dalhousie), have links to universities.
Steadily, the province’s universities are playing a more active role in spinning out young companies. Entrepreneurship programs are expanding rapidly, meaning the benefits will be spread through more communities.
The next stage of the I-3 competition is the naming of the overall and sectoral winners on Feb.12. A team from Halifax has won the last two competitions.
That might happen again, but you don’t get the feeling the Halifax entries are head and shoulders above the others. The competition is as wide open geographically as it’s ever been.
Here’s the list of the winners and runners-up in each region:
Winners in each zone are:
Zone 1 (Cumberland, Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties)
1st Place: Extrify – Jim Fitt, Peter Bennett (New Glasgow)
2nd Place: Pearl and Daisy Natural Soap Company Inc. - Rebecca Taylor (Debert)
Zone 2 (Lunenburg, Queens, Shelburne and Yarmouth counties)
1st Place: CelluFuel Inc. – Chris Hooper, Tor Suther, Ed McKay, Veselin Milosevic (Brooklyn)
2nd Place: QNova Precision Battery Evaluation Inc. – Chris Burns, David Stevens, Tim Hatchard (Hebbville)
Zone 3 (Digby, Annapolis, Kings and Hants counties)
1st Place: Fenol Farm Inc. – Sherri McFarland (Mount Uniacke)
2nd Place: Delicious Brains Inc. – Brad Touesnard (Milford Station)
Zone 4 (Halifax Regional Municipality)
1st Place: Spring Loaded Technology – Chris Cowper-Smith, Shea Kewin, Bob Garrish (Halifax)
2nd Place: Atlantic Motor Labs Inc. – Braden Murphy (Halifax)
Zone 5 (Victoria, Cape Breton, Inverness and Richmond counties)
1st Place: Heimdall Networks – Jim DeLeskie (Sydney)
2nd Place: Breton SmarTek – Ian McVicar, Ken Grisham, Stephanie Timmer (Sydney)