UNB President Eddy Campbell’s opinion piece, “Building a Better New Brunswick” appeared in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014.
Let’s develop a culture of innovation
New Brunswick Telegraph Journal
Sat Sep 20 2014
Byline: Eddy Campbell Commentary
Many important conversations are taking place about New Brunswick’s economic future, and for good reason. We are at a crossroads, facing difficult decisions.
Today, when we discuss economic development, the focus often shifts to the need to improve our economic productivity through innovation. There seems to be a consensus that New Brunswick’s gains will exist where innovation and entrepreneurship intersect.
Innovation is not a new theme in New Brunswick’s economy. Our history has been built on innovation, persistence, and adaptability. We need to build on this, to forge a reputation across the continent and beyond as a place where pioneering discoveries are not only born, but flourish.
Just a few short years ago, the tech world was abuzz about two New Brunswick startups: Radian6 and Q1 Labs – two phenomenally successful companies born at the University of New Brunswick that spun off $1 billion in wealth when they were acquired, respectively, by Salesforce and IBM.
More recently, the Quebec firm B-Temia chose New Brunswick as a place to open the world’s first dermoskeletics lab. Dermoskeletics is truly leading-edge design – wearable robotics to help people with mobility problems move. In funding researchers at UNB, this lab is pursuing technology that can sense how the user is about to move in order to assist in the best ways possible to restore mobility.
With so many options, why did this company chose this province? Because the University of New Brunswick is home to world-class biomedical researchers and kinesiologists – people who are true pioneers in their fields. These are exceptional people who propel progress.
And while UNB is an incubator of innovation – more than 70 per cent of all publicly funded research in the province takes place here – there are many other strong players in this space, including our fellow institutions of higher learning, the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, the Atlantic Cancer Research Institute and an increasing number of start-up incubators.
The University of New Brunswick was honoured last spring to be selected as the most-entrepreneurial post-secondary institution in Canada, ahead of contenders such as Ryerson and the University of Waterloo. UNB earned this recognition, but it wasn’t quick, or easy.
Some 15 years ago, UNB made a deliberate choice to integrate aspects of innovation and entrepreneurship into our educational experience and then methodically built on that foundation. Today, UNB hosts a number of institutes that lead the nation, if not the world, in what they do: the Dr. J. Herbert Smith Centre for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship, the Pond-Deshpande Centre and the Wallace McCain Institute are a few examples.
We strive to encourage this entrepreneurial mindset by fostering a culture among students in which launching a business is acknowledged as a good career choice, creating opportunities for themselves and others is a noble pursuit, and calculated risk is acceptable in the pursuit of reward.
Despite some notable success, New Brunswick has a long way to go. Private-sector research commitments remain low. Start-up companies still struggle to find venture capital. When it comes to investing in universities – critical infrastructure for innovation – or in research and development, our province perennially falls well below the national average.
We must do better.
Building a province capable of excelling at innovation on a global stage is not just a financial issue. We must do more to attract professionals and entrepreneurs from other parts of the world here.
We are blessed with a beautiful province of hard-working, welcoming people. Let’s tear down the barriers keeping others from joining us. We need public attitudes and public policies that move us in the right direction.
When we think of economic development in New Brunswick, we seem to fall back on a description of growing or declining sectors. We pay attention to the endless ebb and flow of activity, as though New Brunswick simply drifts on these currents of change. As a society, we need to focus on the economic promise inherent in research and innovation. Leadership in this area can help us to chart our own economic future, across all sectors.
Characteristic New Brunswick modesty will keep us focused on what we need to do next, step by step, to build a better future for our province. But perhaps we can balance that sense of humility with a sense of confidence that is also rooted in our history – the confidence to recognize our potential, and what we can accomplish together when we commit to innovation.
Eddy Campbell is President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of New Brunswick. This commentary is part of a series authored by community leaders around the province entitled A Better New Brunswick.