NBIF dinner observations

I attending the NBIF R3 dinner last night where three of NB’s top researchers were honoured.  It was a nice event – good conversation, interesting room dynamics.

A couple of observations.

First, in the slightly weird category, the audience gave the keynote speaker a standing ovation.  I have attended dozens of similar events over the years and the crowds in New Brunswick almost always seem to give the speaker a standing ovation.  I find this strange.  It’s almost as if we pay respect or fealty to an notabale outsider who deigns to visit here.  By contrast, I have attended probably close to 30 conferences/trade shows outside New Brunswick and I have never been in a room where there was a standing ovation at the end of the keynote session – with the exception of Bill Clinton.

But just to entrench this in the weird category, I almost always take in a movie when visiting the states and I would estimate that about half the time people get up and clap at the end of the movie.  Which is mroe strange?  You decide.

It was interesting that the three researchers that were honoured were involved in aquaculture-related research.  I have talked about the need to align research to economic development in a more deliberate fashion and this is a good example.  I think we need to have targeted clusters and build around them a wide variety of economic activity such as research to enhance the value proposition.   A successful cluster will tend to have a mix of national/international firms, smaller local firms, a developed supply chain, targeted government support for R&D, etc., universities/colleges churning out graduates with specific skills, professors and researchers engaged in the sector, a strong industry association, newsletters/media, etc.

I had a long converation with a colleague and we talked about eLearning.  The government spent probably close to 15 years trying to foster an eLearning cluster and there are only a small handful of firms here today.  Most – probably 80% or more of the startups are dead.  We have chatted about that here before but I think one of the problems was we never spent much time thinking about what was the real value proposition for that sector to grow in New Brunswick?  We were pushing ‘slightly cheaper’ as the USP but that obviously wasn’t enough.

They initial presentation showed three examples of products that were patented in New Brunswick – the hot/cold faucet, the snow blower and scuba gear (I think).   All in the 1800s.   Not a single example of a patent from the 20th century.  Interesting.

There seems to be a lot of hype and excitment in the room and I am happy to see it.  I am a huge fan of R&D and it continues to bug me that NB is at the bottom of the pack in Canada.  I remember when the NBIF was set up, the former Premier said it would be a catalyst for bringing New Brunswick from last to fourth among the provinces for R&D spending.  Seven years on we are still last but there has been encouraging growth in recent years.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to NBIF dinner observations

  1. mikel says:

    That IS weird. I don’t go to movies much, but who exactly is the person clapping for? Of course this is a weird culture anyway, remember the stereotype of the african american who actually TALKS to the characters on screen! Don’t know if its true or not, but its weird-but harmless at least.

    As for NBIF, its odd they would give awards to three researchers in aquaculture, I went to their website and there is at least SOME interesting research there-Radian6 has new software for social media, Atlantic Hydrogen-The Carbon Saver company, and medical research amongst others.

    In more interesting news, its only taken about a DECADE to start research in biogas from farms. Vermont has had a system for that long, so it really doesn’t take research, but funding to DO it. Apparantly, even now in the 21st century, McCains potato skins are still trucked to the landfill-hows THAT for progress.

    That’s a problem with media that I’d add to Richard’s ‘lack of research’, and thats that media RARELY talks about policies going on in other parts of the world. It will talk about violence and maybe mention an election, but thats about it. In this case, it may partly be OUR fault, but we’re not media. I suppose since I’ve talked about it for so long I could have sent some information to farmers-until now I just never thought of it. Problem is, right NOW, the government will say to every one else “sorry, we’re funding research right now and helping out THIS company” to every other farmer that wants to do it.

    As for aquaculture, this points to a main problem-the specifics. Here, not only is there no critical commentary, but the public isn’t even aware that they are funding research to ‘introduce new species of fish to fish farming’. There are already considerable scandals associated with that industry, from monopoly ownership and political nepotism, to the recent lobster kill from a chemical which is SUPPOSED to be illegal for use in canadian fish farms. Part of the research is also to develop ‘sterile fish’, sort of like a ‘terminator gene’ scandal in the prairies.

    Virtually NONE of this ever gets mentioned in the media, again we can go back to Richards complaint. There is quite a bit of talk that Irving has pretty close connections to Cooke Aquaculture, so the lack of critical commentary shouldn’t be so surprising.

  2. You are absolutely correct that the government and its departments never spent any time examining or trying to understand the value proposition for elearning. For example, several companies with very weak business models were propped-up with government assistance. Growth was measured by number of jobs, many of which required only basic skills that in the end were outsourced to the next cheapest labour market. As your keynote, Guy Kawasaki, wrote in How to Kick Silicon Valley’s Butt:

    “Don’t focus on “creating jobs.” When a region adds the second bottom line of creating jobs, things get whacky. Such a goal perverts the objective of a startup because the primary, perhaps the sole, goal of a startup is to kick ass. If it also has to create jobs for the sake of creating jobs, then you defocus it. The thinking should be: “If this company kicks ass, then it will survive and grow. If it survives and grows then it will create jobs.” So let startups focus on kicking ass and the jobs will come naturally-or not.”

  3. I like that Kawasaki quote.

  4. I believe I used that quote for a report I did for the NB Govt 😉

  5. Tim Coates says:

    Clapping at the end of a movie is definitely more weird. We clap for someone to show appreciation. At least the keynote is in the room. For a movie who is receiving the appreciation, to other audience members for surviving the pre-movie commercials?

    Great quote, thanks or sharing Harold.

  6. > I have talked about the need to align research to economic development in a more deliberate fashion…

    I hear this statement a lot, and what it usually means is: get researchers to research things businesses want.

    The problem is, this is a terrible way to do research. This is because the businesses haven’t done the research, and hence, what they want is based on very narrow considerations. Short turn, high payoff, and if it’s someone else’s money, big risk.

    Research targeted to specific economic objectives doesn’t work (or, more accurately, I have never seen evidence that it works, and research-related economic development has never, in my experience, proceeded in this way).

    Now I agree with the proposition that we should “align research to economic development in a more deliberate fashion.”

    But what *I* mean by this is that we should develop a strong research capacity, and then build economic development around the spin-offs that research produces.

    Next…

    > The government spent probably close to 15 years trying to foster an eLearning cluster and there are only a small handful of firms here today.

    No.

    The government spent about 7 years trying to foster an e-learning cluster and then about 8 years ignoring it, which is why there is only a handful of e-learning companies today.

    In the Lord years, particularly, research in e-learning was scaled back. Support, like TeleEducation new Brunswick, was disbanded. The presumption and the model was that the e-learning companies would lead the research. No model of building on spin-off work was developed at all.

    More recently that has begun to change a bit and we’re seeing some rebound, but it’s pretty difficult to make up for so much lost momentum.

    > A successful cluster will tend to have a mix of national/international firms, smaller local firms, a developed supply chain, targeted government support for R&D, etc., universities/colleges churning out graduates with specific skills, professors and researchers engaged in the sector, a strong industry association, newsletters/media, etc.

    Why “targeted government support for R&D”?

    Why not “targeted support for large / small firms based on local R&D strengths?”

    Again – you can’t just turn around and tell researchers “go out and do some targeted research for me”. Research mostly doesn’t work like that. Research tells you, first of all, whether something is even worth researching – something proponents of targeted research completely skip over.

  7. mikel says:

    The problem there is the “..they will create jobs naturally…or not”. Its the ‘or not’ thats the problem. IF they are going to ‘kick ass’ then they won’t need government money, end of story. IF my company is going to make me a multi millionaire, but ONLY me, then why should society be helping to fund it?

Comments are closed.