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Does Atlantic Canada have a blueprint for rural revival in the submit-pandemic era?

Does Atlantic Canada have a blueprint for rural revival in the submit-pandemic era?

Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo

Matthew Carpenter-Arévalo is a former Google and Twitter manager and latest CEO of Céntrico Digital, a Latin American-based digital agency.

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When Mike Morrison left his place of start of Fredericton, Original Brunswick, for Calgary, Alberta, he assumed he’d never saunter back aside from to seek advice from.

Morrison was following a neatly-trodden path of Atlantic Canadians heading west to find work rom which few returned. During the mid-aughts, Alberta was booming thanks to the excessive heed of oil. To Morrison, migrating west appeared an easy preference. “If I stayed, my alternate choices had been to be a supply teacher or work in a call center.”

When he arrived in Alberta, Morrison labored three jobs. During his free time, he started a blog to reveal his chums back dwelling about his life out west, and also to indicate TV displays. Slowly, Mike’s Bloggity Blog became one in every of Canada’s premier entertainment sites, and Morrison found himself with a local newspaper column as neatly as regular tv and radio appearances. He then started Social West, a Calgary-based digital marketing convention that, before long, expanded to 3 cities. His identification and public persona had been intertwined with his adopted metropolis.

“For a whereas, I may probably reveal folk that I was being paid to be a professional Calgarian.” Then, in 2021, Morrison left Calgary for Halifax, Nova Scotia, back east.

Morrison and his partner are part of a wave of skilled teenagers reversing Canada’s natural latest of internal migration. In doing so, they’re participating in an financial revival that may change the destiny of the unhappy Atlantic area.

When they return, teenagers worship Morrison are finding that Atlantic Canadians have quietly built a sturdy startup ecosystem that has resulted in a dozen acquisitions to companies worship IBM and Salesforce, the sum of which likely surpasses $5 billion in cash and stock.

The Atlantic Canada narrative may present a blueprint for other rural regions looking to take advantage of the decentralizing impact of COVID-19 to swap resource-based economies for the data economy.

Whereas you’ve never opinion of Atlantic Canada before, you’re no longer alone. Indeed, many Canadians focus on with Toronto as “east”’ regardless of there being 1,900 miles between Drake and The Weeknd’s place of start and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, the easternmost point of Canada and North America. The four provinces that make up Atlantic Canada (Original Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador) are easy to miss for their remoteness. Identified within Canada for its sleepy seaside towns, kitchen parties, pains-making purple-headed orphans and lobster galore, Atlantic Canada has had a tough few decades.

After the collapse of the cod fishing industry in the 1990s adopted by the migration of shipbuilding to Asia, Atlantic Canada defined itself as the have-no longer area of America’s rational northern neighbor. Regardless of booming from the war years onward because of the its abundant natural resources, since the ’90s Atlantic Canada has watched its teenagers migrate west to the oil fields of Alberta for blue-collar work and to Toronto and Montreal for white-collar work.

Rapidly, the area’s hard-luck narrative caught. Stephen Harper, the nation’s top minister from 2006 to 2015, famously quipped that the area suffered from “a tradition of defeatism.” The narrative of the death of the coastal area became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Then, during the pandemic, the narrative drastically changed. In September 2020, Halifax-based fitness data management company Kinduct was acquired by mCube. In November 2020, Newfoundland-based Verafin was acquired by Nasdaq for $2.75 billion in cash. In January 2021, Prince Edward Island-based ScreenScape Networks was acquired by Spectrio for an undisclosed price, then Halifax-based storytelling platform Wattpad was acquired by Naver in a deal rate $600 million. Atlantic Canada had four major tech acquisitions in a 5-month duration.

Outsiders had been greatly surprised by the surprising upsurge in exits, but momentum had been building for a whereas. Business author Gordon Pitts pinpoints 2011 as the game-changing year for the Atlantic startup scene. In his guide “Unicorn in the Woods: How East Coast Geeks and Dreamers are Changing the Game,” Pitts recounts how in March 2011 Salesforce purchased Original Brunswick-based social media monitoring company Radian6 for approximately $300 million. Then, in November of the same year, IBM purchased another Original Brunswick-based startup, cybersecurity company Q1 labs, for a reported $600 million. If anyone regarded as the Radian6 acquisition a one-off chance match, the subsequent success of Q1 labs demonstrated there was a there there.

Under normal circumstances, one may examine the founders of Radian6 and Q1 labs to disappear into the suburbs of Cambridge or Marin Nation, but that never happened. Rather than uproot their newly acquired companies, both Salesforce and IBM opened engineering places of work in Fredericton. Verafin would appear to be following swimsuit: in the press release announcing the acquisition, Nasdaq dedicated to keeping the company’s headquarters in Newfoundland, investing in the local college and contributing to the relate of the local ecosystem.

As soon as lone rangers, Q1 Labs and Radian6 are now surrounded by thriving copycats in a self-sustaining ecosystem. According to Peter Moreira, founding father of Entrevestor, a publication that has tracked the Atlantic Canadian startup scene since 2011, the ecosystem has attracted over a billion dollars in investment spread among 700 companies, creating more than 6,000 direct jobs. About 100 companies are created every year in fields as various as life sciences, cleantech and ocean tech.

VC firms have taken eye: notable investors in Atlantic Canadian startups include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund supported by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Indeed, what’s remarkable about the string of contemporary exits is their diversity across industries and their inside-baseball inclinations, spanning everything from fraudulent credit card transactions to fitness data and video skills.

Sandy Bird is one in every of the protagonists of the Atlantic Canada tech-driven financial revival. Sandy co-founded Q1 Labs and then, after the acquisition, became the CTO of IBM’s security division. In 2017, Bird and the former CEO of Q1 Labs founded a novel cybersecurity company, this one centered on public clouds, called Sonrai Security, which has since raised nearly $40 million in endeavor capital. Bird takes great pride in having lived his total life within a 30-minute radius and showing the world that his prior exit was no longer a one-off match.

According to Bird, IBM was happy to retain an engineering division in Original Brunswick because the quality of the engineers is excessive and employee attrition, one in every of the obstacles for any fast-growing company operating in the competitive labor market of the San Francisco Bay Area, is low. Atlantic Canada is a place the place the idea of the “company man/woman” is composed alive and thriving.

Bird neatly-known that “thanks to our excessive retention, we’re able to form a company tradition that makes up for any of the disadvantages of a smaller labor market.” Bird also pointed out that the Atlantic time zones are ideal, enabling efficient communications with Europe as neatly as the relaxation of North America.

Bird is also apt about the area’s shortcomings. For example, airline connections to Atlantic Canada can be tricky. Getting to places worship Denver can take a day and multiple connections. Sonrai Security, for example, has its core engineering team in Fredericton whereas sales and marketing are in Original York, with regional salespeople spread out around North America.

In terms of starting a company, the local ecosystem can present those first tests to fetch a company up and running, but relate from Sequence B onward requires tapping into U.S. endeavor capital. Another challenge is hiring fast ample to satisfy the demands of a thriving tech company. Though companies worship his can recruit recent graduates and exiled Atlantic Canadians eager to near back, Bird talked about that Q1 Labs opened a parallel engineering office in Belfast, Ireland, to scale-up hiring.

So what is the playbook for other rural regions hoping to repeat the Atlantic Canada mannequin of generating tech jobs? Speaking to insiders, all cite the low-value of living and excessive quality of life as enabling startups to both attract and retain talent. 2nd, a welcoming attitude toward immigration helps. Even before COVID-19, Canada cheekily took advantage of anxiety around U.S. immigration policies to launch a startup visa program to attract entrepreneurs and H1-B visa holders away from the United States, and many cite that program as acting as a strategic advantage for the coastal provinces.

Atlantic Canada’s recent success is owed in part to proactive government. After years of failed top-down financial relate initiatives, both the provincial and the federal governments have found formulas to kickstart novel companies via grants as neatly as repayable and non-repayable non-dilutive funding.

Entrepreneurs cite IRAP, the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, as key to obtaining funds that subsidize wages for staff and contractors. Another federal government agency, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), awards funding between CA$500,000 and CA$3 million (roughly $400,000 USD to $2.4 million USD) via its Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF). Each of the four provincial governments has its bear incentive programs, which include grants and wage subsidies as neatly as incentives for private investors.

Regardless of these government programs, local entrepreneurs stress that the area’s modest success is primarily driven by the private sector. Each province tends to have a godfather/cheerleader who has championed local startups via investment, advice and connections. Notable also is the accessibility of the success tales of the area’s protagonists. In a place the place ostentatious displays of wealth are avoided, profitable founders are easy to fetch a purchase of and happy to present advice, contacts and in some cases capital. Also notable is the area’s combine of 16 public-private universities that obtain graduates with varied ability sets across STEM and humanities programs.

Even with these advances, obstacles abound, and it remains to be viewed whether politicians and policy-makers can match entrepreneurs with audacious initiatives. Whereas international locations worship Ireland and Estonia have rewritten their corporate tax codes to encourage tech companies to scrape up in their beforehand disadvantaged jurisdictions, Atlantic Canada continues to have tax rates above neighboring provinces and U.S. states. Past innovation hubs have relied on physical proximity in assert to form networks of human and social capital. Atlantic Canada as a area spans 500,000 square kilometers (193,256 square miles), grand of which is hard to fetch to and poorly linked to the relaxation of the world.

Having done the hard work of providing the area with a novel narrative, and a newfound sense of self-perception, many entrepreneurs hope to finally transition away from a declining resource-based financial mannequin. They want to create a world the place ambitious Atlantic Canadians don’t have to consume from staying shut to dwelling and pursuing exciting careers.

There are reasons to be hopeful: With every exit, future entrepreneurs are supplied the success tales that, worship supernovas, explode and act as the base material for novel ventures. With every VC investment, the area’s community of startups builds the social capital that can enable the next round of funding. With every innovation, the area’s breadth of data deepens via newfound skills.

And with Atlantic Canada’s traditional migratory patterns seeming to reverse themselves as staff return to scrutinize a lower value of living and better quality of life in small towns with coastal views, the pool of talent has handiest increased.

In the submit-COVID world, talent can saunter anywhere, proving that constant proximity is no longer a prerequisite to building excessive-performing companies. To replicate the Atlantic Canada mannequin, nevertheless, rural areas will have to present more than a lower value of living, as housing prices snappily catch as much as demand.

Atlantic Canada’s modest success can be summarized as the outcomes of fomenting a highly collaborative ecosystem that includes companies, universities, investors and government to be certain that that the human capital, social capital and financial capital are available to propel novel companies forward. Simplest by building an ecosystem can we create financial models the place instead of talent chasing alternative, alternative chases talent.

Does Atlantic Canada have a blueprint for rural revival in the submit-pandemic era?