A few years back, the National Research Council announced that two Atlantic Canadian companies would receive five years of funding from its Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Program, or CAIP.

One was Propel ICT, the high-profile tech accelerator, and the other was the PEI BioAlliance, which launched a life sciences incubation program called Emergence.

Emergence — which received $3.8 million from CAIP and matching funds from other sources — has grown more quietly than Propel but it is still producing some impressive growth metrics, especially outside of P.E.I.

Some 15 per cent of the startups are based in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. A further 21 per cent are located in the rest of Canada, and 15 per cent are based outside Canada (and are interested in moving at least part of their operations to Canada).

In an interview last week, director Martin Yuill stressed that Emergence is neither a place where startups can occupy office space, nor a short-term program. The goal is to support companies across a broad geographic area over several years, in part because biotech companies take time to get to market.

“Emergence is a multi-year, virtual bioscience incubation program,” said Yuill, a dapper South African native who has also worked in Kelowna, B.C., and Peterborough, Ont. “Unlike a lot of the accelerator programs, we are not cohort-based. . . . We stay with them from the idea stage through to success.”

Because there are no set programs for the participants, Yuill said, what Emergence offers its companies is a customized program that suits their needs.

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For example, Emergence works with its group of mentors, first to identify the areas in which each company needs mentorship, and then to try to find a leading expert in the field to help the company.

The incubator also offers Specialist Services Projects, in which it will fund as much as 65 per cent of the cost of bringing in specialists to help a company with a specific project.

The group strives to help startups find funding, first by making sure they’re investment-ready and then by introducing them to potential investors. And it helps to provide services like market research and connections with professional service providers.

The program only got going three years ago and two-thirds of its members are early-stage companies, but already Yuill said there have been quantifiable results. In the 12 months to March 31, Emergence companies received $48.5 million in follow-on equity financing and filed 22 patents.

Now Yuill and the BioAlliance are looking at the long-term sustainability of the program. The CAIP funding expires in March 2019 and there is a question about whether the program will be renewed or whether other programs will step in to fund accelerators and incubators. In any case, Yuill said, life sciences companies take longer than a few years to get their products to market and there is a need for a long-term program.

“This program needs longer than three years,” he said. “Knowledge economy companies are location-agnostic, so there’s no reason to my mind why Atlantic Canada shouldn’t be able to punch above its weight in growing a bioscience sector.”