Brain power

Posted on January 04, 2017 | Atlantic Business Magazine | 0 Comments

Edmundston, a city of 17,000 people nestled in the province’s northwest, near the Quebec and Maine borders, proves that knowledge industries can grow in rural areas.

“While a pulp mill still stands proudly downtown, Edmundston’s economy has greatly diversified over the past 20 years,” explains Mayor Cyrille Simard.

He points to a modern Université de Moncton campus and a newly constructed New Brunswick Community College. Both are near the francophone high school, sports pavilion, and a new $21-million community amphitheatre, which is under construction. “This entire area, with its institutions and sports, cultural and community facilities, is called Edupôle,” Simard says proudly.

The city also boasts the Northern Hardwoods Research Institute, which is the result of an innovative partnership between the private forest sector, governments, and Université de Moncton. Edmundston is also home to The Hive, a government-funded incubator program for New Brunswick immigrants and new entrepreneurs. The Hive is already producing new businesses.

The result is a city punching above its weight in the knowledge sector. “In today´s ever-changing world, the knowledge industry has become a key factor for sustainable economic development and competitive advantage,” Simard says. “We can no longer rely on natural resources to grow our economy. A shift toward a knowledge economy is a road to better sustainable economic growth, prosperity and a better quality of life.”

Another important chapter in that story involves the province’s valuable and growing bioscience sector. The number of bioscience companies in New Brunswick has tripled in the last decade, and the industry has seen $100 million invested in major projects since 2012.
Central to that growth is BioNB, a not-for-profit organization that supports the commercialization of bioscience. BioNB’s team of science and business professionals help entrepreneurs turn scientific technology into business opportunities, in industries such as forestry, agriculture, aquaculture, marine, life sciences, and medical technology.

BioNB’s Virtual Incubator Program, for example, helps evaluate an entrepreneur’s technology, management, market, and financial readiness. That assessment is used to create a program for moving the entrepreneur to commercial success.

“Given the province’s history in traditional industries like forestry, agriculture and fisheries, we have unique physical and research assets that set us apart,” explains Meaghan Seagrave, BioNB’s executive director. She points to the 14 federal, provincial and private bio-based research institutes located in the province. “Multi-national companies looking at setting up shop in the province can benefit from immediate access to phenomenal research and development expertise at any one of these institutes or facilities,” she adds.

“We have all the pieces of the puzzle: an abundance of natural resources, the R&D talent to support research initiatives and a pipeline of talent coming from our academic institutions.”

Education is at the heart of any strong knowledge sector. With its world-class universities and education programs, New Brunswick is no exception. Central in that education landscape is the University of New Brunswick, the oldest English-language university in Canada.
At UNB’s faculty of business administration in Fredericton, a variety of programs (including four different MBA programs) are helping to train and prepare the next generation of skilled entrepreneurs, managers, and business leaders.

Many programs offer experiential learning, where students learn by working with businesses and non-profits. For example, there’s a year-long course where students interested in finance manage the Student Investment Fund, a real pension fund on loan from Vestcor Corp. And the students have done exceedingly well: the fund started at $1 million and is now worth $8.5 million.

In the entrepreneurship concentration, students can take part in the Venture Assessment course. The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation teaches this innovative course, allowing students to work side-by-side with NBIF staff to assess ventures for possible investment. “Most of the entrepreneurship courses teach people how to recognize ideas, analyze markets, write business plans, pitch to investors, but this course teaches them to see ventures and opportunities from the perspective of investors,” explains Duncan McCormick, a second year MBA student who is also a leader in the Activator program. He will be taking the Venture Assessment course next term.

The Activator Program pairs entrepreneurship students with entrepreneurs or inventors. The students lead the business from idea to launch as they take a series of entrepreneurship courses. At least one business is launched in the program every year, and those companies have raised millions of dollars in equity financing and generated millions in sales.

“The core component of UNB’s business programs provide students with a ‘toolkit’ that they can use to launch businesses, create opportunities for themselves and others, or make existing businesses thrive in the face of changing trends and different challenges,” McCormick adds. “That approach has made UNB a leader in innovative business education.”

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