Innovation is one of the key enablers of competitiveness, particularly in relatively high-wage countries like Canada. The NBITC sees the promotion and pursuit of an innovation agenda as one of the principal strategies for New Brunswick’s economic prosperity.
No one disagrees that innovation is good, so how do we go about getting more of it?
A larger pool of innovative thinkers will generate more ideas than a smaller one, so we start by increasing the supply of people skilled in the sciences and ICT. Understanding why students are “opting out”, then introducing programs to help students, educators, and parents better appreciate the potential of careers in science and ICT would help, as would incentives for residents and non-residents to pursue related degrees in New Brunswick. Keeping those bright, young, people in New Brunswick when they graduate may be easier than convincing them to return, targeting thought-leaders to re-locate to New Brunswick, and focussed partnerships for collaboration and exchange of labour with cities in India, China, or Poland are also worth exploring.
While not our only source of innovation, R&D is a major one, and more of it will help close the gap with global leaders like the United States and Finland. Heavy support of early stage, R&D intensive, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and more business attraction efforts focussed on research intensive companies like RIM, will pay dividends, as will finding ways to ensure the commercialization and retention of ideas flowing from those investments. R&D tax credits should at least match the best currently out there, and more partnerships like the Center for Advanced Studies – Atlantic, a UNB/ACOA/IBM joint research venture, should be pursued.
To capitalize on our larger pool of innovative ideas, we need to improve our match-making between the researchers and the entrepreneurs. Part of the solution is a means to facilitate dialogue and information sharing, part is making students and researchers more entrepreneurially savvy, and part is the private sector reaching out. When the entrepreneurial spark does ignite, extensive coaching and mentoring to the start-up will increase its chances of succeeding, which is precisely what PropelICT is trying to do with its Accelerator program. More favourable tax treatment for venture capital and exempting start-ups from taxation would also make it easier for more companies to get started.
Innovation doesn’t only occur in the lab or a start-up, so let’s find ways to increase the level of innovation in business, government, and other organizations. An “Innovation Tax Credit” aimed at incenting businesses in the province to invest in technology, processes, marketing methods, or business practices that would improve their productivity or performance is a start. Exploring the concept of government as a model user would help as well. Finally, changing government procurement practices to better promote the creation of innovative intellectual property is another possible step.