Venn’s story started almost 14 years ago, or of course Tech South East’s story as we were known back then.
At the time, I was the Director of Innovation Policy at ACOA and had been immersed in innovation-based economic development and ecosystems for a number of years. I was also starting my 2nd term on City Council, and, as Chair of the Economic Affairs Committee, found myself in a position to investigate this opportunity. In the fall of 2004, I was attending an innovation conference in Toronto, and one of the speakers – Laura Kilcrease – was a VC from Austin, Texas. She told us about how she and a group of industry leaders had come together to develop a strategy to grow and support the tech industry in Austin. And as we know today, that turned out pretty well.
One of the things that resonated for me was the fact that their approach recognized that the success formula of any one region is not necessarily portable to another, that any successful strategy has to reflect who you are as a region. The process they went through made complete sense to me and so I proposed to the Mayor at the time that we undertake a similar exercise here in Moncton.
There were a number of tech success stories in our region, and some exceptional tech industry leaders and founders. Industry champions like Jon Manship, Bob Rybak, Michelle Carinci, Steve Palmer, and key visionaries from our post-secondary institutions and government. These were the people that needed to be around the table and they all responded enthusiastically to the invitation. In the following months, the group undertook some work to understand the assets we had to work with and some of the challenges associated with growing our tech industry.
That same year, I stumbled across – by pure fluke – an organization called IC2 Institute at the University of Texas in Austin. The institute was established by Teledyne’s George Kozmetsky, one of the leaders of the Austin group, as a legacy to their success. IC2 was working with communities and regions around the world, helping them find their path to success. They seemed a natural partner and resource for our group to reach out to.
I went to Austin in the fall of 2005 to meet their team to share our story and ambitions with them. We subsequently invited them to Moncton to meet our group and see first-hand some of the companies and facilities in our ecosystem. And in March 2006 we started a 9-month engagement with IC2 to develop a report as well as recommendations to accelerate innovation-based growth in our region. It was a remarkable learning process for all of us. When their final report was prepared, it included a recommendation to identify a benchmark community with sufficiently similar circumstances that we could learn from. After considering a number of options, we decided on Oulu in Northern Finland.
In early 2007, members of our group travelled to Finland for an ecosystem tour in Oulu. One of the most striking impressions we came away with was how everyone we met, from all stakeholder groups, were on the same page when it came to their innovation strategy, the development of their ecosystem and the incredible success they were having in growing the tech economy. At the heart of this shared vision and strategy was an entity to coordinate innovation strategies and services for their companies. All the key players – industry, government, academia – had a stake in that organization called Oulu Innovation (now a part of Business Oulu). That model in turn provided much of the template for the one we developed here at home – a member and partner based, locally focused intermediary. And in 2009, Tech South East was born, officially opening our doors for business in January of 2010.
- Doug Robertson, CEO & President of Venn Innovation