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EPISODE # 34 & 35 Honouring Innovation - The InnovateNB Celebration



TechTalks 34 and 35 - blog

The First InnovateNB Celebration is Coming Soon!

There is so much happening in New Brunswick’s innovation ecosystem, we are overdue for an event to gather, share stories, learn, honour successes, and plan for the future. 

On Nov. 22, the inaugural InnovateNB Celebration will present a diverse, one-day program in Saint John. The lineup includes an industry trade show, recruitment showcase, job fair, talks on digital innovation, and investor sessions. It all culminates that evening in the first InnovateNB awards show. 

On episode 34 of the TechTalks podcast, host Cathy Simpson chats with two other organizers about what’s happening in their organizations and communities and get more details about the InnovateNB Celebrations

Convenors & catalysts

Cathy kicked off the conversation with Adrienne Oldford, Executive Director of The McKenna Institute at UNB, which celebrated its first anniversary in September after a whirlwind year of accelerating digital talent and ideas, all in support of economic development. 

“We're very much working to be a convener and a catalyst for good ideas,” Adrienne says. The Institute is outward-looking, working with a number of partners, including in post-secondary education, industry, government and the non-profit sector to drive digital acceleration. 

Heather Libby, Vice President & Board Liaison of Envision Saint John, Cathy’s other guest on the show, echoed Adrienne’s comments about being a convenor and catalyst of growth. Her organization is another relative newcomer. Less than two years old, it has seen a number of successes in the city, from the “afterglow” of hosting and winning the Memorial Cup, to recording the fastest period of growth in recent history, and recently welcoming its three-millionth cruise passenger. 

“We're really focused on attracting people, visitors, business and investment,” Heather says. “All of those things are interconnected.” 

Honored to host

Saint John is the first host city for the InnovateNB Celebration, and Heather sees a lot of alignment between the new event and her organization’s strategic priorities of growth readiness, talent recruitment, entrepreneurship and innovation, and business growth. 

“We are actively marketing and selling major trade shows and events for the city,” she says, “so it makes perfect sense for us to be partnering to host it here.”

It’s also a prime opportunity to showcase the Port City, and for delegates to experience Greater Saint John, which is thriving. 

In future years, the InnovateNB Celebration will rotate to different cities in New Brunswick. 

“It is truly a provincial event,” Heather says. 

‘A game changer’

When Adrienne was approached about the McKenna Institute getting involved as an InnovateNB organizer, she didn’t hesitate.  

“We talk about how innovation and digital transformation can continue to be a game-changer for New Brunswick,” she says. “So it was so easy to say, ‘Yes, let's be involved and play a really engaged role in this work.’”

The McKenna Institute will lead roundtable sessions on a variety of themes, from how to get involved in the province’s innovation ecosystem, accelerating digital health, closing the digital skills gaps, digital adoption for small and medium business, and more. 

“We thought it would be really helpful to bring different perspectives together around particular topics,” she says. 

They anticipate groups of 30 to 50 people working together throughout the session, with the hope that a small subgroup will be willing to keep working on ideas into the future. 

“It really is a session to roll up your sleeves and say, ‘Okay, this is something that I can really get behind and I want to be involved in taking action,’” Adrienne says. 

Open to all

Another important programming element is a trade show and employment fair. 

Heather wants everyone to know it is free and is open to all, from high school and university students to job-seekers and anyone else who is curious about the innovation opportunities in our province.  

“We tried to eliminate any barriers,” Heather says. “And I think it's going to have a really nice representation of all kinds of different organizations, sectors, lines of business and types of innovation.”

She hopes to see strong turnout by young people learning what's possible in New Brunswick. 

“It's actually all happening here,” she says. “Exposing youth to career opportunities

is probably one of the most exciting things that can come out of this.” 

Along with the chance to cross-pollinate, make connections and to be inspired, “I think there's going to be a lot of learning, as well,” Adrienne says. 

But, ultimately, it’s a celebration.

“We're just going to be grinning ear to ear about all the goodness that's happening.”

Next up in our InnovateNB Celebration two-part series, Cathy chats with leaders of the two other presenting organizations:  Kathry Lockhart, CEO of Propel, and Jeff White, CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation.

For more information or to get your tickets for the InnovateNB Celebration, click here.  

Here's a peek at some of the highlights from this episode:

>>[02:12]: Adrienne shares some highlights from the McKenna Institute’s first year. 

>>[06:01]: Heather talks about all the good things happening in Saint John. 

>>[12:55]: Our guests talk about the power of collaboration in our province and innovation ecosystem. 

>>[16:40]: Adrienne tells us about the interactive roundtable discussions the Institute will host.  

>>[21:00]: Heather describes the inclusive, accessible trade show and job fair. 

>>[23:47]: Cathy and her guests talk about the need for a broader understanding of innovation. 

>>[30:33]: We talk about how the event will inspire, educate, cross-pollinate and, of course, celebrate! 

Meet the Investors at the InnovateNB Celebration

Investment is a crucial driver of innovation, and attracting more capital for Atlantic Canadian companies is a top priority so they can scale, hire, export and thrive.   

That’s why the inaugural InnovateNB Celebration, taking place in Saint John on Nov. 22, includes Meet the Investors, an event giving startups and businesses, as well as other stakeholders, insights into what investors are looking for and where they might turn for help. 

The session is part of a lively one-day program that includes an industry trade show, job fair, and innovation roundtables, all culminating in the first InnovateNB awards show. 

On Episode 35 of the TechTalks podcast, host Cathy Simpson chats with CEOs of the two New Brunswick-based innovation organizations behind the Meet the Investor to get details on the session and talk about investment in our region.

Record growth, investment 

Cathy started things off by asking her guests about what’s happening in their organizations. 

Kathryn Lockhart, CEO of Propel, Atlantic Canada’s leading online accelerator for tech startups, shared some exciting figures. Last year, Propel supported over 90 companies, a figure it’s on track to beat with over 60 companies at this fiscal year’s six-month mark. A third of those 60 are in New Brunswick, and over half–57%–have new Canadians on their teams. 

“We're really pleased with the diversity of the companies that we're working with right now and the really cool global problems that they're solving,” Kathryn says. A big focus at Propel is helping their companies prepare for going to market and raising capital. 

Over at the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF), which invests in early-stage technology research and new companies with growth potential, CEO Jeff White is also reporting a banner year, including a record $92 million of private-sector investment into NBIF companies and projects in the last year.  

“It's a demonstration of the capabilities and capacities within our companies and institutes that are solving real-world problems that have relevance across the globe,” he says. “It's an exciting time to be an investor.”

Talent and capital are crucial

Next up, Cathy turned the conversation to two of the biggest challenges innovation entrepreneurs face: sourcing talent and capital.

Kathryn says the recession buzz has founders wondering how they’ll raise capital in an economic downturn. And with so much capital going towards salaries for talent, the two are inextricably linked. She stays in regular contact with investors across the region and beyond to understand their constantly evolving needs. 

Before delving into details about Meet the Investor, Jeff took us back to basics, explaining why investment is such a hot topic in startups. 

The reason? Banks won’t typically touch these companies. So it’s up to private investors to buy shares in promising new companies. 

About the event

For Meet the Investors, Jeff and Kathryn wanted to give entrepreneurs, businesses, policymakers and the public the information they need to understand the current investment environment. 

“So it's a bit of an education on what's available and what's changing,” Jeff says. 

They’ve assembled a panel of experts from the region and beyond to share their perspectives, including the CEO of Tribe Network out of Halifax, which has a venture capital fund specifically for BIPOC founders, and a representative from Sandpiper Ventures, a fund for female-founded companies. 

There will also be Series A investors,  who come in at a later stage in a company’s development and are not typically based in our region. Kathryn will be there, too, to talk about accelerators and other programs to help founders source capital to build well-funded, scaling companies. 

For her, the event is an exciting chance to spotlight those up-and-coming companies that contribute so much to our province and our region. 

“The companies and the founders that we get to see every single day, they're ambitious, they're educated, they're driven, they are solving global problems,” she says. “It's a privilege to share that.”

Hatching baby unicorns

The discussion kept returning to Unicorn in the Woods, Gordon Pitts’s book charting the rise of New Brunswick’s innovation ecosystem, and his analysis of how two huge tech exits–Radian6 and Q1 Labs–happened here. 

A unicorn, in startup circles, is a company valued at $1 billion or more. While Verafin, the Newfoundland-based financial tech company, sold to Nasdaq for a jaw-dropping $2.75 billion (US) it became the region’s first unicorn. 

Naturally, there’s an appetite to find the next one. 

“But when we talked to founders about it, and asked them, 'Are you driven to build a unicorn?’ they were quite intimidated by it,” Kathryn says. So they level-set for our earlier stage ecosystem, looking to build more “baby unicorns,” companies valued between $50-100 million. 

That resonated. 

“The founders were actually coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘I think I can be a baby unicorn,’” she says. “This is just a first step to building up this ecosystem to have stronger exits at the unicorn level.”

Here's a peek at some of the highlights from this episode:

>>[02:07]: Kathryn shares some highlights from Propel’s last year. 

>>[06:03]: Jeff on record investment and what’s next for NBIF. 

>>[09:55]: Our guests reflect on the challenges NB founders and companies face. 

>>[17:29]: Kathryn talks about the linked ecosystem that’s needed to support innovation. 

>>[24:25]: Jeff on how capital and talent flow to great ideas.

>>[26:29]: Kathryn explains “baby unicorns.” 

>>[30:54]: Jeff on the incredible digital transformation that’s underway. 

Did you miss the first episode in our InnovateNB Celebration two-part series? You won’t want to miss Cathy’s chat with leaders of two other presenting organizations: Adrienne O’Pray, Executive Director of The McKenna Institute at UNB, and Heather Libby at Envision Saint John.  

For more information or to get your tickets for the InnovateNB Celebration, click here.  


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