How to make Nova Scotia kick ass, a Hub take

Part two: The Missing Link

We need more start-ups and, in the larger scheme of things, it does not matter whether they are goods producers, service sector firms, or creative sector enterprises. And their size doesn’t matter or whether they are conventional private businesses, or cooperatives or social enterprise. We just need them to grow, employ more people and participate in out-of-province trade.
— Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians, The Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy, February 2014

The actions we take toward the One Nova Scotia priority of Energizing Entrepreneurship and Innovation have an extraordinary amount of potential to create positive change for our economy and our community.

In our Hub Halifax start-up and in being with people on their enterprising journeys over the past six years, we have encountered a well intentioned but fragmented field of actors working to support entrepreneurship in Nova Scotia.

Nova Scotia is investing a significant amount of money in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, with funds provided to organizations like CEED, CBDCs, Innovacorp, Halifax Partnership, NSBI, and, more recently, the Volta expansion and university sandboxes.

Are these government investments adding up to more than the sum of their parts, building an ecosystem in service to entrepreneurs and not organizations?

If government invests strategically with a vision for the future in mind, the return on investment will be greater and more diverse. The Nova Scotia economy would grow in new and exciting ways that are currently difficult to imagine.

Entrepreneurs need support that’s easy to find, timely to access and flexible at different stages of a business’ development.

There are a variety of organizations who aim to provide that support, and we–including the Hub Halifax–each have something important to bring to the table in service to entrepreneurs.

If we want to see real growth in numbers of entrepreneurs and truly encourage their success, we need to change how we behave as a collective.

We need to work together. We need to think about support, expansion and collaboration between industries, and situate the resources in a logical and intuitive way. Otherwise, the process of starting a business will remain confusing and startups will be less likely to succeed.

Our collective imagination is limitless, and the possibilities expand when we imagine together. The collective body of entrepreneur support organizations in this province can and should begin to imagine the future we want--and that future will inevitably be bolder and better if we work toward it as a coherent whole.

Right now, we see increasing levels of collaboration between partners concerned with enabling technology start-ups. Volta is poised to become the ‘Communitech of the East Coast’ and university sandboxes such as Cape Breton University’s UIT Startup Immersion, are connecting to this vision.

The technology industry holds a great deal of promise for this province’s economy. But we still need more support for startups in a variety of industries. We need to give all kinds of  entrepreneurs opportunity to develop their ideas and grow their businesses, especially those whose ventures will also produce a social return.

Expanding the Vision

“Love it or leave it, one thing is for sure: technology-enabled social entrepreneurship is here to stay. Get ready to join the movement.”
– Selene Biffi, social entrepreneur and innovator, The Guardian, January 29th, 2015.

What would happen if we expanded that vision--not only to extend to a wider variety of industries, but also to value and support social purpose business?

There is a rich variety of talent and vision among the people of Nova Scotia. There is also a great deal of passion to make this province a better place to live. If we could combine those two strengths with entrepreneurship, we would be well on the way to the healthy economy the Ivany report insists is possible.

As Shorefast Foundation founder and rural economic development visionary Zita Cobb said at the Dalhousie Planning Conference, we should be dreaming of a future in which every business is a social business.

Fogo Island, for example, is pioneering a movement in Economic Nutrition.

“We are… excited about the potential this practice holds, not only for our business, but for others around the world looking to build a new economic system that offers a better balance between the return on economic capital and the health of diminishing sacred capital (natural, cultural, social, human, and physical capital).”
Fogo Island Shop website

Indeed, the Ivany report encourages all kinds of entrepreneurship.

Further, the Ivany report didn’t hit on all of the possible avenues for growth in this province - and given its focus on innovation, it wouldn’t have wanted to!

As Paul Bennett wrote in the Chronicle Herald:

"Social enterprises are so new that they did not figure that prominently in the Ivany Commission’s research summary. Even though the report flagged the need for promoting “a culture of entrepreneurship,” it tended to take a narrow view of entrepreneurship as something to be taught in the P-12 schools or the community college system." 
– Paul W. Bennett, The Chronicle Herald, November 12, 2014

Many of the startups and small businesses that have used the Hub space over the years have been social enterprises. There have been artists, community arts organizations, designers, small and nimble non-profits devoted to issues like active transportation, sustainability, democracy, mental health, the welfare of students …. and the list goes on.

Many of these companies are still operating in Nova Scotia, fostering economic growth and enriching the lives of the people who live and work in Nova Scotia.

Their businesses and business models are incredibly diverse. When they were first starting up, or trying to grow, they were uncertain about the risks they were taking and how to succeed. At the Hub Halifax, they found both the tools of a physical office space and a wealth of expertise, advice, support and encouragement. We’ve seen firsthand that a shared workspace is the perfect environment for success.

With regard to supporting fellow entrepreneurs, it doesn’t matter what kind of businesses those entrepreneurs are running. Their knowledge is transferable to other industries, and their passion extends well beyond their own niches. When people come together in a shared space, innovative ideas ensue: by the coffeepot, across a shared desk, over the email list and through the many networking opportunities such a space offers.

And a shared workspace offers so much more than space.

If we want to be bold, if we want to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation and risk-taking, there’s no better tool than a shared workspace like the Hub. In a spirit of togetherness and hive-like energy, it supports, nourishes and helps to expand the variety of enterprises we seek to grow in Nova Scotia

Moving Forward Together

The fields of social finance, social enterprise and the mash ups with tech and venture capital are exploding. Our friends in the south at Impact Hub San Francisco run a profitable conference called SOCAP: Social Capital Markets, which “is dedicated to accelerating a new global market at the intersection of money and meaning.”

Where do money and meaning intersect here in Nova Scotia? We can most effectively find that intersection–and make it grow and work for our economy–with a diverse group of entrepreneurs working towards a shared vision. Economies are healthier and more resilient when they’re diverse. Therefore, a diverse range of start-ups are more capable, because of their diversity, of having real, long-term impact in creating healthy, well-rounded economies and communities.

We propose reframing the One NS priority of Energizing Entrepreneurship and Innovation. As a community and as a province, we need to ask ourselves:

How do we attract more people from different fields and backgrounds to start and build enterprises?

How can we build an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is easy to navigate, flexible, and meaningfully collaborative, in order to support startups’ development and inevitable change?

We need to connect entrepreneurs with one another and turn entrepreneurship into an experience that is desirable to more people. If we do that, we will also see the province succeeding with other OneNS goals, like Adapting to a Changing Demographic and Rebuilding our Trading Economy: Going Global.

With the right support systems and collaboration, we can make that happen. Our challenge is to start singing from the same songbook. 

The many significant achievements of community economic development and social enterprise groups across the province are indicative of what can be done when leaders in different sectors put their heads together to change attitudes and build a better future from the ground up.
— Now or Never: An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians, The Report of the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy, February 2014

In our next blog post, Part 3, we will share our ideas for how to bring the entrepreneurial ecosystem together towards a common vision and sustained collaboration, and how our vision for an Impact Hub Network in Nova Scotia could serve that field. This is based on our knowledge of the ecosystem, our understanding the needs of entrepreneurs and working with people to prototype urban and rural models that will energise our economy and empower our community.