Building the start-up brand in Fredericton: Seeking the surfeit of problem solving geeks

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.

2 thoughts on “Building the start-up brand in Fredericton: Seeking the surfeit of problem solving geeks

  1. After the smartphone triggered startup boom that started five years ago, every city wants to be the next “startup hub”. However, the mobile and web technology gold rush is winding down as people are going after markets that are starting to be saturated. There seems to be an oversupply of “me too” accelerators and incubators that don’t aim to create the atmosphere for the next wave of businesses but are trying to copy the old (yes five years is old in technology), y-combinator type successes.

    Where were these accelerators four years ago when it was time to do this? Where were governments when the sector was booming and there were real obstacles for Canadians, when stores selling digital goods were becoming available on everyone’s phones in Canada but Canadians weren’t even allowed to sell products in these stores?

    Google, prevented me from selling apps on their platform for a full year, giving my competitors a year of head start. My products were ready to deploy, I was spending tons of time trying to find out how to access the markets. Out of desperation I reached out to Canadian Competition Bureau. They were of no help so I went down the path of trying to set up a shell corporation in the US. I was discussing partnerships with some friends living in the US when Google finally opened their market to Canadians on their own. But not before I had lost a year of sales and wasted a ton of time trying to figure out how I could sell my product.

    We should get ready for the next boom by making sure these types of situations don’t happen again. The software business is fast paced and margins disappear quickly with new competition and new technologies. You need to be able to access a global market instantly or else miss the window of opportunity.

    Is more risk capital really the missing piece? With the advent of cloud computing, technology is a business that requires very little capital. I have leading edge Google or Amazon powered servers running in the cloud for less than 10 to 30$ a month. That and my personal computer for development is enough to test the markets until an idea gets a significant amount of traction.

    We have smart technologists in New-Brunswick, more money and more hand-holding or mentoring is only going to help a little. What we need is to make sure that when new opportunities and new markets become available because of new technologies in the future, local entrepreneurs will have access to them at the same time or even before other players.

    Most of the time new developments are built on top of the previous wave of new technology. Why for example, do we have in Canada: crippled Netflix, crippled Amazon, crippled Youtube, no Hulu, no Spotify, no google music etc. In order to build on top of the leading edge, we need access to the leading edge!

  2. Interesting comment, but from what I can understand virtually ALL of the problems you identify can NOT be resolved by government. They have no power over Google, netflix,youtube or hulu-those are policies made in the US. And I’m not sure what you mean that the ‘goldrush’ for apps is ‘winding down’. What statistics do you have for that? Worldwide its very clear that the world is going mobile, and I’ve seen no evidence of ‘winding down’ but only of increasing. Its true almost EVERY city talks about being an ‘accelerator’, and its true about the costs-a regular house can easily handle the costs for startups, so building a large building does seem ‘out of date’.

    In this case it seems clear that its all about training. Most kids have zero idea how they can program apps, even though its dirt easy as compared to even five years ago. If you take a look at the world it seems obvious that there are ideas for apps that are almost unlimited, yet when I look for new brunswick apps, even something as basic as trail maps don’t seem to be readily available-even the ski doo apps are only available for iphone.

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