At Startupfest 2022, people clad in Startup Atlantic shirts, hats, and pins were everywhere.
Launched by a network of accelerators, incubators, and investors from across Atlantic Canada’s innovation ecosystem, the Startup Atlantic brand made its debut at Startupfest with a delegation of over 50 people.
“We are one big family but now we’ve all got married under one last name.”
Startup Atlantic is a new, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA)-funded initiative. The brand brings the four Atlantic Canadian provinces—Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia—together under one roof.
Kathryn Lockhart, CEO of the Saint John, New Brunswick-based tech accelerator Propel, is one of the people who hopes to build Startup Atlantic into the region’s “new overarching brand” in the hopes of attracting more entrepreneurs, talent, and investors to Atlantic Canada.
“We wanted to open up our world to the rest of the country and uniting under a single brand has been the best way to do that,” Lockhart told BetaKit in an interview. “We are one big family but now we’ve all got married under one last name.”
According to Entrevestor, last year, Atlantic Canadian companies raised over $638 million in funding, and saw a record of 12 exits during what was a particularly strong period for growth-stage firms.
At the same time, things have been a bit tougher for early-stage startups in the region, as the competitive tech talent market and high-cost of skilled labour has negatively impacted entrepreneurs’ ability to get firms off the ground.
The Entrevestor report found that the growth of new companies in the region decelerated for the second year in a row, at 4.5 percent compared to six percent in 2020—the lowest growth rate on record since Entrevestor began producing this annual report nine years ago.
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Despite these conditions, the region’s future appears to be bright. Over the last couple of years, Atlantic Canada has played home to startup success stories like Verafin and up-and-coming tech firms like Introhive, Sonrai, CoLab Software, and Milk Moovement.
Since the pandemic-driven shift to remote work, Lockhart says Atlantic Canada has also benefitted from an uptick in new arrivals looking to make a change in their personal life while maintaining their careers or businesses. In addition to drawing more new people and companies to the region, Startup Atlantic hopes to help retain more of the talent from the region’s postsecondary schools by connecting them to more opportunities.
Easy Platter founder Mandhir Singh came to Nova Scotia as an international student. After graduating, Singh spent some time living in Montréal before moving back to Halifax to build Easy Platter, a direct-to-consumer meal service that provides recipes and the cooking through its network of chefs.
Singh, who described the Atlantic Canadian startup ecosystem as “really, really supportive,” told BetaKit that his decision to move back was motivated by a few factors, from the amount of government grant funding available to early-stage companies, to the more affordable real estate, culture, and connectedness of the region’s innovation hubs and postsecondary institutions.
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Startup Atlantic replaces the previously launched AC Startups platform, which aggregated jobs and other Atlantic Canadian ecosystem information. The Startup Atlantic brand has been spearheaded by a group that includes the likes of Volta, Propel, Ignite, Planet Hatch, Dal IdeaHub, Venn Innovation, ConnexionWorks, Genesis, Creative Destruction Lab, Energia, Innovacorp, Sandpiper Ventures, and Startup Zone.
“We are four separate provinces, but we don’t pay attention to the borders,” said Lockhart. “The connectedness is so key in our region. And we wanted to make sure that we could present it as one strong voice on the national stage.”
For those located outside of Atlantic Canada, getting in touch with the right people or the organizations through existing means can be a bit difficult given the amount of different innovation hubs, postsecondary institutions, and provinces that the region houses.
“If you are looking at Atlantic Canada from outside of the region, you may have some relationships, but it might be a little bit fractured,” said Lockhart.
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On the talent front, the Startup Atlantic website offers a centralized job board that outlines work opportunities in the region. The site also aims to serve as “a single entry point for investors” by listing startups that are currently raising capital in one place.
On the company side of the equation, the Startup Atlantic provides a searchable database that lists investors, incubators, accelerators, and mentors in Atlantic Canada.
Lockhart credits the ACOA’s backing, in part, for the group’s formation. “They’ve really taken this progressive step forward and recognized that our single Atlantic voice is stronger,” she said, adding that while the Atlantic Canadian provinces have been supportive so far, the ACOA has taken the lead.
Following Startupfest, Lockhart and Startup Atlantic’s other leaders plan to measure the impact of the new brand, which she described as “a refined economic engine for Atlantic Canada,” and hopes to see grow into something permanent as more people and organizations join the fold.
“We have great ambitions,” said Lockhart. “I think what we’re seeing here at Startupfest is the tip of the iceberg.”
Feature image courtesy Tara Wickwire.