The Premier announced (re-announced?) the government’s innovation strategy – which will be anchored by a new Research and Innovation Council co-chaired by a good pick – Geoff Flood from T4G. I am a bit confused by the mandate of this new intiative. Is it to foster more research? Promote innovation or foster more new tech-based start-ups? My confusion stems from the ambigious language around the effort.
Of course I have no problem with R&D spending. Read the thousand blog posts on that subject here. I have no problem with innovation as a theme. I am very interested in how we stimulated tech-based start-ups. In fact, I am dramatically more interested in that latter pathway to economic dvelopment than I was five years ago.
But if the government wants more tech-based start-ups why not just be more blunt about it and set up a Tech-Based Start-Up Council? That would likely look and feel a whole lot different than a Research and Innovation Counci.
The Atlantic Innovation Fund was set up to stimulate more research among mostly SMEs in Atlantic Canada. It is a worthy initiative and has done good work but it hasn’t led to a massive new crop of tech-based start-ups. That wasn’t its mandate.
My only point here is one of seeking clarity. Government officials seem to be conflating terms such as ‘research’ and ”innovation’ with ‘start-ups’. While there can be a causal link between them, they are essentially three separate terms.
And then it all comes back to priorities. Is the priority to stimulate economic growth? If so, the focus should be on how do we foster more private sector investment in the province. I am not sure R&D as a primary focus is the best pathway to stimulate a lot of new private sector investment.
Of course economic development has a lot of moving parts. We need a strategy to firm up the potential of natural resources, energy and other areas of opportunity. Some of those were pointed to in the Premier’s address last night.
A pure R&D focus is a longer term play. If you talk with folks at ACOA about the AIF they will say it’s benefits have yet to be played out on the regional economy.
In the shorter term we need to foster private sector investment. We need to turn over every rock. Target and Walmart should be encouraged to put regional distribution centres in Moncton. Plans to reverse the LNG facility in Saint John should be underway. If SWN is getting cold feet about shale gas, we should be out talking to ExxonMobil or some other credible player. We should be convincing our many call centres to migrate into social media from their New Brunswick operations. We need a plan to foster more tech-based startups. I favour bringing them in from India, Poland and other emerging markets where there are numerous tech entrepreneurs hankering to get into the North American market.