A few months ago, I had the opportunity to be part of the team looking at the new vision for Fredericton’s economic development. The overwhelming consensus was that local stakeholders wanted the city to be “the start-up capital of Atlantic Canada”. The fledgling IT industry and the examples of Radian6 and Q1 Labs inspired people to determine this grand vision.
Operationalizing this vision is harder. Planet Hatch is a great step forward. Karina’s group over at the Pond Deshpande Centre is another important asset as are the supporting assets such as the NBIF.
But the success of the IT sector – and its start-ups – is fundamentally a people issue.
This morning I was reading the Economist and came across a wonderful brand statement for San Francisco. The journalist wrote that San Francisco “has a shortage of taxis but a surfeit of geeks looking for problems to solve”.
Wouldn’t that be an excellent brand statement for Fredericton? A surfeit of geeks looking for problems to solve.
That is partly a workforce training issue -but only partly – as a huge number of those geeks moved to San Francisco – making it a recruitment issue as well for Fredericton.
It is also partly a cultural issue – do our start-ups aspire to problem solving through technology? When then run through Odell Park are they looking for problems to solve? When then sit in the pubs are they having animated discussions about applying technology to solve problems?
It’s also a leadership issue. Government should see itself – a la Service NB – as a thought leader in applying technology to public services and leveraging local expertise to make that happen. Our big businesses – such as NB Power/Siemens – should be also taking a leadership position in this area.
And it is an access to capital issue. Some pretty zany ideas get funded in support of that San Francisco “surfeit of geeks”. We need more risk capital to flow in the Capital City.
And Fredericton’s bounty of post-secondary educational institutions also need to take a leadership position.
In the end, Fredericton could view its vision to be “the start-up capital of Atlantic Canada” as a slogan to be displayed in colour on brochures or it could view it as an aspirational vision where in 10 years someone is writing about Fredericton’s surfeit of geeks.