Learning from PropelICT

If you didn’t get a chance to read my recent column in the TJ on PropelICT, here it is:

In 1972, the crooner Jim Croce warned “you don’t tug on Superman’s cape; you don’t spit into the wind; you don’t pull the mask off the ol’ Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with slim. These days I think we need to rework this song to warn against messing around with Trevor MacAusland, the Executive Director of PropelICT.

Trevor is a no nonsense guy who is not afraid to ruffle feathers but he is singularly focused on his mission of bringing high potential entrepreneurs to an investor-ready position.

MacAusland’s creation, Launch36, which is described as “the east coast’s most disruptive startup accelerator, got a big boost this week when the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) announced that that it will be providing $150,000 in convertible notes to all worthy startups that graduate from the Launch36 program.

The BDC has already committed $150,000 each to two recent graduates of Launch36, RUMAnalytics and AnalyzeRE.

Launch36 was founded last year to accelerate growth in 36 startups from across the Maritime Provinces in 36 months through peer and mentor-based coaching. Expanding access to venture capital will make the program more attractive to startups and strengthen the Launch26 value proposition.

In an era of mostly failed economic development policies, Launch36 could prove to be a huge exception.

PropelICT represents an important example of how we can foster high potential economic development in this region. The initiative is backed by some of the most important leaders in the Maritime Province’s information technology (IT) industry. They put their time and money into the program because they see value to them in the investment.

In addition, in MacAusland, PropelICT has a passionate and entrepreneurial leader who wants to build something of real value.

Imagine if we took a similar approach to economic development across all potential growth sectors of the economy? If we had guys like MacAusland out beating the bushes looking for potential entrepreneurs and fostering investment in manufacturing, life sciences and export-based services industries?

I know there are weaknesses to this concept. It’s easy to get our heads around IT startups. We have examples here and abroad of how this approach can be successful.

But we need to take what works and use the learning for other economic development opportunities. Why reinvent the wheel?
Why not have a PropelICT for immigrant entrepreneurs? We need to position New Brunswick not only as a good place for entrepreneurs from Minto and Meductic but also for those from Mumbai and Moscow. I know that is a bit pie-in-the-sky but 44 percent of all technology firm startups in Silicon Valley were founded by immigrants. In New Brunswick it is virtually zero. I know we can improve on that number.

To put it another way, New Brunswick should become an excellent place for startups regardless of where the founder comes from. From MassChallenge in Boston to Start-up Chile in South America the most successful startup initiatives are those that attract entrepreneurs from far and wide.

New Brunswick needs to find sources of new economic growth. The current path is unsustainable. We can sit back and hope for the best or we can do things in a more deliberate way to foster more entrepreneurship and investment.

We need to be offer a world class environment for startups – not just in the IT sector. Then we need to promote this to the world.

PropelICT gives us a great place to start.

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2 Responses to Learning from PropelICT

  1. There’s a good response to this posted by Jerry Tian:

    “with Silicon Valley already a powerhouse, brining foreign entrepreneurs to Canada is not the solution to create the next Silicon Valley. Again, it’s like copying Facebook features to compete with Facebook. It’s superficial, and it’s missing the point.”

    The problem is our continued reliance on traditional industries (like forestry) which encourage a ‘sell off quick’ form of thinking:

    “To really build a billion dollar company, it takes tremendous multi-decade commitment. And that’s the biggest missing piece in Canada. Too many Canadian investors get rich off natural resources. So, they naturally have a tendency to sell off the hen that lays the golden eggs. Nobody understands how to build the hen. Too many people have near-term thinking.”

    This sort of thinking is *especially* prevalent in New Brunswick. It’s why productivity in our forestry industry is so low, why our forests themselves are nearly depleted, why the first are gone from the sea, and why we have built little of sustainable value. The people in charge of the economy make their money by thinking short term and selling quick.

    (Tian’s post: http://blog.contentdj.com/2013/07/20/why-canada-has-no-big-tech-companies/ )

  2. Good points Stephen but I should point out that while our Accelerator program is a 36 month experiment, our organization’s goal is a long term view (20 years minimum). Unlike traditional accelerator programs, we don’t force the entrepreneur to go for a quick exit. The founders set their own objectives and we mentor and coach them to reach their goals. Overwhelmingly the majority of our entrepreneurs want to build long-term sustainable businesses.

    On your point of “next Silicon Valley”. I get rather irritated when I hear people use this as their pitch to build an ecosystem in their region. There’s only one Silicon Valley just like there’s only one Babe Ruth, Mozart, Sidney Crosby…. We need to define where we want to get to and build the ecosystem that works within our environment. We aren’t aspiring to be the Silicon Valley of the East Coast, we aspire to be THE EAST COAST whatever that evolves to be.

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