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.