Propelling New Brunswick ingenuity for the AI wave

Jeff White headshot

Jeff White


New Brunswickers, like others around the world, have experienced three waves of innovation over the last five decades. 

First, the PC revolution put a computer in every office and many homes. Then the Internet revolutionized the sharing of information. A third wave of mobile, wireless technology allowed us to put all the advantages of PCs and the Internet in our pockets. 

Notably, New Brunswick’s forward thinking on broadband gave us an edge during the Internet revolution – an edge that endures today. It endures because it allows us to export made-in-New Brunswick innovation anywhere in the world. 

And it serves us very well now as the fourth wave of artificial intelligence rolls in. With generative AI, society is enabling machines to make informed decisions which are going to bolster the productivity of the economy and generate solutions that can improve society. 

I’m convinced that New Brunswick can find niche areas within the sprawling field of opportunity in AI and become global leaders in those areas.  

Why do I believe that?  

I believe it because we have world-class entrepreneurs who have built – and are building – AI-enabled companies in our province today.  

I believe it because we have top-flight researchers working at our colleges and universities and inside our tech firms. They are leading scientific inquiry and innovation – not only in AI but in related fields such as cybersecurity, advanced computing, data analysis and the Internet of Things. 

I believe it because we have a strong entrepreneurial spirit and ecosystem that is driving people to commercialize their ideas and create new companies – and opportunities for New Brunswickers. 

Global potential  

And we have endeavours like the McKenna Institute at the University of New Brunswick and the recently announced Research Chair in Artificial Intelligence in Health at the Université de Moncton, which are helping researchers and businesses explore the potential of this technological revolution for our province. 

AI commercialization projects are well underway in New Brunswick. Applications such as sorting lobsters by sex and size, improving crop yields, quality assurance in parts manufacturing, improving productivity on beverage bottling lines, creating the next generation of electric motors and helping stroke victims communicate. 

These technological solutions are being successfully marketed in New Brunswick and around the world.  

Expanded mandate 

At the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF), we’re privileged to be in a position to help people propel their innovative ideas onto the global stage.  

Since 2003, NBIF has invested more than $175 million into startup businesses and applied research in New Brunswick. These foundational investments have attracted an $825 million of additional investment, giving New Brunswick innovators $1 billion to take their ideas further.  

Today, NBIF is investing in and supporting a portfolio of more than 60 technology companies. Those companies have attracted more than $700 million in outside investment to New Brunswick.  

Together, these companies are driving increased economic activity in the province with an annual GDP impact of more than $110 million. That’s an impact that’s up 86 per cent since 2017. 

And together these companies employ more than 700 people, with plenty of growth potential ahead of them yet. 

We’ve been able to build our proven track record of creating jobs, diversifying economic opportunities and attracting capital because of the steadfast support of the Government of New Brunswick over the last 20 years and we’re grateful for that. 

And we’re grateful for the confidence government has placed in us. Most recently, it made a strategic decision that broadens our impact in fostering the growth of tech firms. 

On April 1, our mandate expands to include the strategic direction and distribution of provincial funding to business accelerators and incubators – crucial strategic partners in the commercialization engine. 

This means we will be in a position to propel success right from the idea stage on up as we continue our mission to help innovators make the leap from strictly local concerns to globally competitive businesses headquartered in New Brunswick. 

Centre of the action  

With rapidly emerging technologies such as AI and cybersecurity redefining how the world does business, there has never been a better time to develop innovative solutions with global appeal. NBIF helps put New Brunswick businesses right in the centre of the action, by embracing the world’s challenges as opportunities. 

Consider Radian 6 and Q1 Labs – two of New Brunswick’s great commercial technology successes. 

These tech startups developed into highly competitive global businesses with support and investment from NBIF and others, collectively generating approximately $1 billion in value for its investors and employees.  

With that impressive influx of capital, the founders and employees of these highly successful ventures have gone on to build more new businesses, create jobs and reinvest in the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs.   

And let’s not overlook the other social good they have created – from corporate reinvestment in public universities to innovative efforts to address the housing crisis by building affordable neighbourhoods. 

Transformative tech  

The lesson seems clear: Creating export-ready tech companies and attracting outside investment is a win for New Brunswick entrepreneurs, a win for the economy and a win for the community. So let’s jump to the forefront of the fourth wave of transformative tech, and empower New Brunswick businesses to become global leaders in AI. 

Innovative New Brunswick businesses already have the advantage of: 

  • State-of-the-art broadband infrastructure, which functions as a limitless, frictionless distribution network for making digital services available to the world; 
  • Effective and accountable public institutions, such as NBIF, with a mandate to support applied innovation and leverage new investment from external sources;  
  • A global reputation for technological advancement, which is opening doors to partnership and investment in the world’s largest emerging markets; and 
  • A record of delivering the strongest return on investment of any startup ecosystem in Canada. 

NBIF can’t do it all. But by putting the right investment capital at the right times in the hands of the right entrepreneurs and innovators, we can help New Brunswick create world-leading digital technologies and globally competitive brands. 

We don’t need to ride the fourth wave. We can be the momentum driving it forward. 

This originally was published in the Telegraph-Journal. Jeff White, CEO of NBIF was the guest columnist for the McKenna Institute.   

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