Speech: Growing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Halifax and Beyond

Halifax Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Speakers Series
May 24, 2018

Good afternoon. Bienvenue. Pjila'si.

We acknowledge our presence today in the traditional lands of Mi’kmaqi, the ancestral lands of the Mi’kmaw nation. This territory is covered by the “Treaties of Peace and Friendship” which Mi’kmaq and Maliseet peoples first signed with the British crown in 1725.

For the Mi’kmaw people, this place known as Chebucto was important for trade and commerce, as it is today.

Every one of us in the room has a role to play in building Nova Scotia’s future.

You may devote your time to growing a business that will contribute to our economy by creating new jobs. You may be a leader in government focused on making our communities stronger. You may be involved in mentoring the next generation of business leaders. 

But all of us are part of developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem for Nova Scotia. So,

How do we encourage start-ups?

How can we increase the flow of venture capital to this region?

What are the competencies and experiences that will equip our graduates to be valuable contributors to the global economy?

How can we address business challenges for the betterment of people here in Nova Scotia and around the world?

We’ve been asking these questions and working with others across the province to tackle these challenges together. And it’s paying off.

The mayor is headed to Toronto in two weeks to talk about the emerging Innovation District here in Halifax. The Premier recently brought university presidents together to talk about how to advance Nova Scotia’s innovation agenda. Halifax is a city on the move, with a vibrancy and optimism that you feel nearly everywhere you go.

 At Saint Mary’s, we’ve been developing and mentoring entrepreneurs for decades, fostering creativity, innovation, and resilience. We see ourselves as one node in an international network of entrepreneurial capacity building.

 At Saint Mary’s we’re known as doers. We’ve always been known as doers. In fact our Latin motto “Age quod agis” is translated as “do what you are doing”. And we are doing more than ever—bringing people here, supercharging them with an entrepreneurial mindset and sending them out into the world to create change.

When you come on to our campus, you feel it – and I invite you to come to our campus and come often – there is a lot happening and we aren’t stopping or even slowing down. Hire a Saint Mary’s student or graduate and you’ll feel it.

Today I’d like to share three key attributes that we believe characterize the entrepreneurial ecosystem: Global Outlook, Innovation, and Leadership.

Global Outlook

To grow our economy, we need more people. One of the valuable roles that universities play is to bring people here. We know that learning from other cultures fosters an intellectual curiosity that transcends borders and encourages a global perspective. Young people from around the world are an energizing presence and valuable contributors to our economy.

This is why 30% of Saint Mary’s learners are international students, but 100% of our students are prepared to work and lead in a global economy.


Innovation is about looking to do things in new and different ways, ways that add value to an existing product or service model. In order to be successful, one needs to understand the business of an innovative product or service. In that sense, innovation is less about invention, and more about disrupting traditional business models.

We see the entrepreneurial mindset as a competitive advantage for our students and for our province. We have long believed in embracing change that has impact, finding solutions that benefit society and the economy, whether that’s developing in-water, holographic microscopes that enhance research and discovery at 4Deep, revolutionizing the janitorial services industry with Swept Technologies, or boosting child literacy at Squiggle Park.

 This competitive advantage will be amplified in our Entrepreneurship, Discovery and Innovation Hub. This facility will bring together students and professors from all our faculties connecting them to entrepreneurs, businesses, and the external community and driving an accelerated innovation agenda for Nova Scotia. This is why the Province of Nova Scotia has made an $11M investment to help make this happen.


The internationally renowned Sobey School of Business remains dedicated to having impact with purpose, from developing new businesses to shaping policy that advances the prosperity of the region. The School annually contributes over $329 million to the economy of Nova Scotia. In the past five years alone, more than 75 start-up businesses have been launched. The School has also established nearly 50 partnerships with regional companies and organizations, partnerships which include innovative internship programs to create job-ready graduates.

Our professors are also shedding light on what it takes to enhance entrepreneurship. One of our groundbreaking researchers, Dr. Ellen Farrell, here in the audience today, mapped the networks of the Atlantic entrepreneurial ecosystem. One of the key insights from her research confirmed what many of us already feel about this place: Nova Scotia has a high level of connectivity – even higher than in larger cities like Toronto, it turns out. This is great news—connectivity is arguably one of the most important elements of a thriving entrepreneurial environment, and it is one of our strengths.

The research indicated we can still improve our connectivity by increasing the interaction between more established companies and newer ones. This is an excellent next step—to intentionally lever our connections in ways that continue building momentum. So simple and powerful and an opportunity for all of us. 

I told you that we’ve been developing and mentoring entrepreneurs for decades. The evidence? Our alumni and students who are business founders, owners and community leaders in the arts, business, science and engineering.

When we recently launched the new Saint Mary’s Entrepreneurship Centre, we celebrated the entrepreneurial success of 12 prominent alumni, all of whom personify the three attributes that we’ve been talking about today: Global Outlook, Innovation and Leadership.

Every one of us here today has a role to play in building a vibrant and prosperous future in Nova Scotia.

Ask yourself, how can I participate? What can I do?

If you’re not sure, on your table you’ll find a list of things that Dr. Farrell and her team at Saint Mary’s uncovered during her ecosystem mapping research. Many of the things on that list are easy for you and your companies to do and they will make a tremendous difference in the entrepreneurial ecosystem that we’re building together here in Nova Scotia.

I challenge each of you to pick something off this list and do it in the next 30 days. 

Together we can continue to build on the momentum we’re seeing. And I look forward to seeing where we go together as a community and a province in the years ahead.

Thank you very much.

Related links:
Growing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem: Saint Mary’s shines a light on alumni entrepreneurs