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By the bootstraps

More Nova Scotians are realizing that building their own businesses could be the key to economic security

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Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Angela Mombourquette is a Halifax writer and editor. In 2012, she was awarded the George Cadogan Outstanding Columnist prize from the Canadian Community Newspapers Association. @angmombo

Here’s what I’ve been grappling with: How does a lifelong left-leaning liberal-type reconcile with becoming a card-carrying capitalist? (The capitalists haven’t given me my card yet, but I’m working on it.)

To almost-quote Bill Clinton’s man, James Carville: It’s the economy, stupid.

The Ivany Report has raised the alarm about Nova Scotia’s demographic crisis, and we know that it refers, in part, to the need to create a cultural shift in Nova Scotia away from our historic dependence on large (read: government) institutions for jobs. One of the things it suggests is that we need to begin to collectively believe in the economic potential of independent businesses and the people behind them.

Do I hear your eyes rolling? Many people do seem to be suffering from a bit of Ivany ennui. And I have to admit, Now or Never—An Urgent Call to Action for Nova Scotians has not been, up to this point, my kind of light reading, given that it tends to talk a lot about economic realities and government policies and labour force development and such. I’m more of a Modern Dog and Bon Appetit reader, really.

But there are a few things driving my new interest in provincial economic development. One is that I am now a student, working on a master’s degree in journalism and, yes, I was reading the report because it had some bearing on my schoolwork.

However, the main thing driving my interest is that I’m in the process of creating, as part of my degree, a business—hopefully, when all is said and done, a rewarding, money-making, people-employing business. And that sort of thing is just what the report’s authors are tremendously excited about. Given that I’m a budding entrepreneur, that’s what I am tremendously excited about as well.

What I am seeing with my newfound business-focused capitalist perspective is a lot of evidence that the cultural shift Ray Ivany and his colleagues were calling for is already underway. The proof is in the growing numbers of organizations, events, competitions, consultants, incubators, startup weekends and, especially, academic programs that are cropping up all over Halifax to help entrepreneurs get going in business.

I’m not suggesting that the roots of this shift lie in the Ivany report, but I’m thinking that there’s cause for optimism because this particular ball—ambitious, gifted and creative Nova Scotians seeking out success without the security—may already be rolling.

Brian Lowe has been playing the entrepreneurship game for many years, going back to the mid-1980s (in his words, “before it was fashionable”). He agrees that he is seeing a shift toward a more entrepreneurial mindset in Nova Scotia. “I think we’ve seen a serious increase in the interest in entrepreneurship in the last two years with the launch of the sandbox initiatives at the universities,” he says.

Lowe is co-founder of the First Angel Network (an association designed to help entrepreneurs get financial assistance from so-called “angel” investors) and who is also Entrepreneur in Residence at the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship at Dalhousie University. The sandboxes Lowe refers to are collaborative spaces or “creative playgrounds” where entrepreneurs can meet and share ideas with like-minded creators, advisors, mentors and investors.

Lowe says the increased focus on entrepreneurship in the academic world has been driving the real-world trend. “Entrepreneurship and innovation are
quite hot, and we are seeing a greater number of startup companies as a result of students showing a greater interest in entrepreneurship.”

The numbers would seem to bear this out. The people behind Entrevestor (writers Peter and Carol Moreira, whose company serves “as a portal to unite and inform the investment community in Atlantic Canada”) recently surveyed startups in Atlantic Canada, narrowly defined as “locally owned businesses with proprietary technology developing a scalable product.” They discovered that close to half of those new companies launched in the last two years. A recent Entrevestor report also says that 38 per cent of the startups in the region “have benefited directly from the presence of Atlantic Canadian universities throughout their development.”

So it’s not just my biased perception that entrepreneurship is on the rise. In terms of what that means for the province’s future: “I think it’s extremely important,” says Lowe. “We’ve got some very exciting companies coming out of the region. I’m excited about our future. And I’m excited for entrepreneurship here in Nova Scotia.”

Perhaps the Ivany report’s plea has come at just the right time for Nova Scotians. Clearly it’s dawned on a lot of us at about the same time. It’s time to step up and make this “economic future” stuff happen for ourselves, even if it means opening our minds to a bunch of crazy new capitalist ideas.

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