NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Re: Post-Secondary Education Sandbox Pilot Program
& Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. David Wilton
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Maureen MacDonald
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
[Mr. David Wilton was replaced by Mr. Brendan Maguire]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Department of Labour and Advanced Education
Mr. Duff Montgomerie
Ms. Ava Czapalay
Senior Executive Director, Higher Education
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, JANUARY 28, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please. I’d like to call the meeting to order. Thank you all for being so promptly here on time and agreeing to start a couple of minutes early. We all have busy lives, and it’s great to get a jump on the morning.
My name is Keith Irving; I’m the MLA for Kings South and the Chair of the Human Resources Committee, which is meeting today to review three appointments to one of the agencies, boards, and commissions. We will also be receiving a presentation from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education on the Post-Secondary Education Sandbox Pilot Program.
I’d like to begin by having folks introduce themselves and go around the table. I do want to note for the committee’s benefit that we have regrets from Ms. MacDonald today.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Just a reminder: washrooms and coffee are just outside to my left here, I think everyone knows where those are. A reminder to turn your phones to vibrate. Again, in case of emergency, you’ll exit through the Granville Street entrance and proceed to Grand Parade square.
Let’s begin. Our first item is the presentation from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. I would ask our delegates to introduce themselves and proceed with their presentation.
MR. DUFF MONTGOMERIE: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I’m Duff Montgomerie, Deputy Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. With me today is Ava Czapalay, the Senior Executive Director of Higher Education with our department.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Please proceed.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Great, thank you. We really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you today and talk about sandboxes. The agenda, as you see, is fairly straightforward.
One of the things I just want to indicate to the committee is the little known fact that Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in Canada where the university presidents and the presidents of the community colleges meet together on a regular basis to discuss challenges that we face as a province and they face as universities and how we can do things better together knowing that they are competitors. You will see that principle outlined in these sandboxes.
I hope you will be as excited about sandboxes as I am because when I first came to the department, I asked Ava, “What’s a sandbox? Please help me out here.”
What we learned is Ryerson University was one of the first to pioneer the sandbox concept. Dr. Sheldon Levy, who was president at the time, is actually now the deputy minister in Ontario. Ava and I spent quite a bit of time with him. Our team went up and visited Ryerson to see how their model worked. In the United States, it’s MIT. The leader of the MIT project, we brought to Nova Scotia to share with us. From that, we took a Nova Scotia approach.
What Dr. Levy indicated to us and what MIT indicated to us is the advantage you have with 10 universities that are working together. It is such an advantage when you’re in a small province of under one million people and you’re trying to maximize opportunities with young people.
There was a major Innovation Summit held in this province and that became the bottom-line catalyst that encouraged the government to move forward in a more aggressive way and the three-year sandbox pilot grew from that summit. Sandboxes are at what they call the pre-incubator level and we’ll get into that in a few minutes and they are absolutely focused on entrepreneurship, business, and social enterprise.
The One Nova Scotia report and the coalition’s response also underscored the importance of entrepreneurship and the sandbox pilot is part of Nova Scotia’s innovation ecosystem. The program got started in March 2014 and a consultant was hired to coordinate and manage the sandbox program and initial work, including developing an accountability framework, a project charter, an assessment tool, and regular reporting.
Group ATN was the consultant hired to coordinate and manage the program. We’ve kept them on contract to do, I think, a bi-yearly evaluation of all the seven sandboxes. The other neat thing is the sandbox people meet on a regular basis with each other, so they are always communicating with each other and working together to try to maximize their opportunities, so things really got off to a positive start.
These are the sandboxes that are presently active in Nova Scotia. There are six of them, as you can see. The ShiftKey Labs is focused on information and communication technology, or ICT. It is located at Dalhousie University, and as you can see there, it’s in partnership with Mount Saint Vincent, Saint Mary’s, NSCAD, Nova Scotia Community College, and the Volta start-up house. You already can see the synergies between the various universities. SparkZone is located at Saint Mary’s University, and is focused on business and social enterprise and has the universities’ and the community college linkage that you can see there.
Cultiv8 is about agricultural innovation, and there’s some really amazing stuff going on in this particular sandbox around the future of agriculture in this province. It’s a partnership between Dalhousie and Acadia and, again, the Nova Scotia Community College. You see the community college is a constant in here. Not many people realize how active and engaged the community college is on the research side, particularly on doing innovative things and trying to keep up with entrepreneurial trends. They are an incredibly nimble organization.
The Island Sandbox in Cape Breton is focused on clean technology and social enterprise, and it’s a joint effort between Cape Breton University and the Nova Scotia Community College. Launch Box has a business focus and is a partnership between Acadia, where it is located, and Dalhousie. Ava and I visited Launch Box this summer and you walk in and you see right away the wine industry, you see ocean technology, you see analytics, and you see Innovacorp actually has an office in the facility. The most exciting thing is in the last year Acadia interacted with over 1,000 businesses in the Valley to help support them to move forward in various areas.
Finally the IDEA Sandbox at Dalhousie is a maker space that offers support for engineering and design students. You’ll find it on the Dalhousie campus and NSCAD is a key partner. Minister Regan and the Premier actually visited this one.
You have this wonderful dynamic of these bright, individualist kind of young people from NSCAD - the creators, if you will - working with engineers, the pragmatists, and putting those two together and you have this wonderful synergy of the engineer who is trying to design a surfboard, if I remember correctly, that could be one of the top models in the world, having the NSCAD students help him with the design and esthetics of what that would look like.
Then you get them together and all of a sudden, well how do I market this? Or how do I do a business approach, which the NSCAD kids, that’s not in their wheelhouse. So they get that kind of experience and help working with kids from other universities. If I get a little passionate about this stuff - it’s pretty amazing when you walk in on these things and see these young people just really working hard.
They collaborate together on initiatives and events. You’ve probably heard about some of these events and they execute them province-wide. They help the students move between the sandboxes. They also work together and meet monthly. They collaborate on these events and initiatives, like Start-up Weekend. They hold province-wide events like Education Day at the Big Data for Productivity Congress. Something you’ve probably heard about is the infamous provincial hackathons where they get young people in a room and just watch them hack away if you can. They help transition students from one sandbox to another, if needed.
I’ve been in different departments - Health Promotion and Protection, Natural Resources - and I’m sitting in Labour and Advanced Education, and I’m looking at $150,000 a year for a sandbox, and what we’re getting out of it, and it blows me away. That’s the best use of tax dollars of any program I’ve been involved with. It’s just amazing what that generates.
It’s a unique model. It’s inter-institutional. Some of the common features include an educational or curricular component, business, accounting, entrepreneurship, and legal skills are all key in those sandboxes. Those young people are getting exposed to those types of opportunities while they focus on what they’re trying to create or start as a business, knowing that they have those kinds of supports there.
Pitch competitions offer a great opportunity for students and others to learn ideal salesmanship, an important element of building support for any idea. They’re also coordinated with the innovation ecosystem, with organizations like Enactus, Propel ICT, and Innovacorp. Folks are drawing from successful existing models at CBU and at Dalhousie.
The accountability piece - a charter to guide each sandbox. The accountability piece is absolutely critical. The charter outlines things like deliverables and targets, entrepreneur and student recruitment, mentorship and business engagement, governance and oversight, and project sustainability, among other things.
We have a list from each one of what kinds of professors are involved, what kinds of people from the private sector are involved, all the kinds of things that are working together to help make sure that those deliverables occur. There’s an actual online assessment tool that has been developed at the beginning so we can clearly see how well they’re doing.
Sustainability is top of mind. There’s focus on continuing the program beyond the end of the pilot. What you learn from the young people in that thing is that they’re not afraid to fail. They know that if they try to start a business and it doesn’t quite go the way they want, they can come back. They learn from it, and they have support systems in there to help them learn from it. That’s a neat thing to see in that environment. They have supports with each other, because they’re all trying to start businesses. So they help each other, and not only from a practical - but just moral support. They help each other a lot.
In the first year - and we’re in the second year of the program - there were 650 students. You can see the data up there. Dozens of events were held at the sandboxes, and 13 of those involved students and staff from multiple sandboxes. And last but most important, the 12 new business start-ups in that first year, and four social enterprises, that came out of the six sandbox scenarios.
I talked about those things earlier, so I want to get to some of the examples. Here are some of the activities. So Dalhousie and the IDEO training, the Island Sandbox where UIT combines business and education with coding, the SparkZone Startup 100 initiative, the Cultiv8 SUCCESSion Club - so the idea of a sandbox is using IDEO training; it’s an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centred, design-based approach to helping organizations in the public sectors innovate and grow. Cultiv8 is using the SUCCESSion Club to help boost awareness of farming as a career, to address a need for agricultural succession planning.
The Island Sandbox also put on a province-wide One Nova Scotia hackathon last winter. More than 70 students spent 24 hours responding to the One Nova Scotia Coalition’s challenge to develop a product that could provide distance learning to people between the ages of five and 16. Even though the sandboxes are technically pre-incubator, businesses born in those sandboxes are being created.
Cultiv8 did a Foodcamp offered in partnership with Perennia and the Acadia Food Centre. The Foodcamp helped students explain the process of product development and how each step contributes to a sound business case. The Launch Box “Start It Up” weekend in November brought more than 40 entrepreneurial-minded people together to solve problems during the 29-hour competition. Or ShiftKey’s eight-week Startup Experience Program, which offered students eight weeks of workshops, activities, and hands-on exercises to help them pick up and acquire skills for start-up success.
The IDEA Sandbox held a six-week summer boot camp. “Boot camp” is a term you hear a lot in this world, where they bring people together in essence for a focused period of time where engineering, business, and NSCAD design students participate in activities to explore things like human-centred design, prototyping, presentations, and business models.
The collaboration piece is working with a variety of partners, organizations and programs like Brilliant Labs, the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, and of course, Junior Achievement, to name a few. Other efforts are underway to connect sandboxes with the Super Power Challenge that will judge entrepreneurial ideas of high school students in the pitch competition in April of this year. The Greater Halifax Partnership has been an amazing catalyst force interested in sandbox initiatives and activities where you tie the private sector into these kids. Of course, at Dalhousie students will collaborate to develop a sandbox app to support and promote all the sandbox events and other activities.
Private sector engagement is huge. IBM, for example, which has three centres of excellence in North America - one in Nova Scotia, two in the United States - they consistently say to us that what Nova Scotia brings to the table is not $55 million that the State of Louisiana did to IBM in Louisiana but they bring seven universities and a community college that they are able to work with on a daily basis to maximize the training for the young people who they hire on behalf of other companies, like RBC and IBM. They like the access they have directly to deputies and senior leaders, like Ava, in the department on a regular basis. They particularly like and talk about the Nova Scotia Community College, their coding, as their graduates are some of the finest graduates they’ve seen in their system.
There is also a key interest in the oceans technology on a go-forward basis. So the Island Sandbox has worked with companies in the clean technology sector and has recruited an entrepreneur that has worked with Ernst & Young and who has also founded two companies: Help with Sales, which helps companies with their commercialization approach and strategy; and Flight & Partners Ltd., a fund management business that invests in distressed situations. Cultiv8 has a great working partnership with the industry and the Federation of Agriculture.
Those are the strategic outcomes to date, and I’ll stop there and thank you for your patience in the presentation. I welcome your questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Montgomerie, for your passionate presentation here. We are now going to open the floor up for questions from the committee. We expect we will go no longer than about 11:40 a.m. so that we can return and do committee business, so we’ve got lots of time for questions. I’ll be maintaining a speakers list. A few of you have waved your hands at me already. I’d like to begin with Mr. Maguire.
MR. BRENDAN MAGUIRE: Thank you for coming today, it’s an interesting topic. I’ve had a chance to speak with Jevon MacDonald several times. I’ve seen him speak and Jevon is an example - you hear the success that he has had, but when you sit down and have a conversation with him, there were many failures along the way - of someone who didn’t give up and had probably dozens of ideas before one really took and made him the success that he is today.
I’ve had a few conversations around Volta and sandboxes, but just to be clear, I wanted to know how the sandbox model works. Are these all privately funded and owned? When you have Volta and a company like that, what are they gaining from this? Is there a financial gain? Is there an experience gain? Also a question on the students - so if I come in as a computer programmer and I want to design an app, I know there are all kinds of mentors and people there who will help along the way. Does the student act as someone who creates the idea or do they actually get to keep the idea and profit from the idea? Does Volta or some of these other sandboxes actually share in the profits? That’s what I’m trying to get.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: If I could, Mr. Chairman, to the first part, Jevon is an absolute champion, without question, of all of this kind of stuff. He runs something called Volta. Ava and I were at Volta several months ago where a partnership of two had to present to a group to sell their business. There were four sets of these two kids who had to present. Actually, Dr. Levy was there from Ryerson.
They had to do it in eight minutes. I have been in front of Cabinet a few times, and I said to Ava, a lot of people could learn from these kids how to present in a more focused way to Cabinet. They had eight minutes to sell their business, and it was really neat. But to the direct part of your question, if it’s okay, Mr. Chairman, I’d ask Ava to give a more fulsome answer around that.
MS. AVA CZAPALAY: Thank you very much. The six sandboxes are located on the campuses of the lead universities, as the deputy mentioned. Right now, they have 100 per cent funding from the province. It amounts to $450,000 per sandbox. It’s a three-year pilot, and they get $150,000 each year for the pilot.
We’re hoping to extend the pilot for another two years because year one was a ramp-up sort of year. Even though the results were amazing, the first term of this year showed even more amazing results. For example, the deputy mentioned 650 students involved in the sandboxes last year. Already in first term, we’ve had 1,200. These are unique students getting engaged. I said to the deputy that it’s almost spreading like a wildfire, and we’d just like to give them a chance to really get on their feet. They’re publicly funded. We engaged many local companies, many more than what we showed as examples on the screen.
You specifically referenced Volta. First, Volta has a community approach, and they want to share their expertise. They love being in that environment and mentoring young people. They’re young people themselves. The other thing is that they are really sharp to spot a really good idea, and then they would like to mentor those students with excellent ideas and then bring them eventually - once their idea develops and they move out of the sandbox space, the pre-prototype space, as Duff called it - into the Volta space, where they will be prototyping and developing their business.
We also have companies like accounting firms and legal firms involved in the sandboxes as well for the same reasons. They’re happy to volunteer their time and donate advice to the students with the idea that when those students are successful, like a Volta, they will remember . . .
MR. MAGUIRE: Is there an ownership on all sides? Volta doesn’t take ownership of a percentage of the idea?
MS. CZAPALAY: No. The students within the sandbox have 100 per cent ownership of their idea. What they choose to do once they move beyond the sandbox would be up to them, but within the sandbox, it’s completely their own, and there’s no expectation for anything other than that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’m going to move to Mr. Wilson. Just a reminder to the committee to try to be recognized as opposed to getting into a one-on-one conversation - just a note for all committee members. Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Thank you; it’s very interesting here to learn about. The four social enterprises that you mentioned, can you spell out what those were, those four social enterprises that were created? I didn’t mean to stump you. You said one of the outcomes that was in your presentation was that there were four social enterprises that actually came out of all of the work last year.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: My apologies, Mr. Chairman. We don’t have that ourselves, but we’re going to do our best to get it for you and bring it back. My apologies.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Not a problem at all.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: But we’ll make sure we get the answer to you before the end . . .
MR. GORDON WILSON: That doesn’t count as a question, then, I take it, Mr. Chairman?
MR. EDDIE ORRELL: This is like Question Period now for sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson, please proceed.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I am curious, the one thing I guess maybe that I didn’t see there was my university; Université Sainte-Anne is not participating. I didn’t see any examples. I’m just curious about why that might be and what might be able to be done to encourage that.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: One of the most interesting visits - Ava and I visited the universities this summer and met and went and visited with their teams, and so on. With President Surette, we were sitting in his office, and he indicated they’ve just hired four Ph.Ds. - two from McGill, one from Brown, and one from New York University - on fisheries research, ocean research, because Sainte-Anne has an amazing relationship not only in their community but in other parts of the province with major companies that are involved in trying to get better research and data on how to ship their product and so on. So as much as they’re not in this sandbox, or in one of the pilots that we started, they are doing some amazing stuff entrepreneurial-wise in their community.
Of course, as you know, Allister is chair of the REN group there as well so there’s a great connection between the private sector and the university.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I guess just as a follow-up . . .
MR. CHAIRMAN: No, we’re going to move along, we’ll come back to you. Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you so much for your presentation. I know when this program was first introduced it was well received and still is, I’m a big of fan of it. I know there were about 150 people who attended. One of those attendees was, I believe, Eva Cook, who was the President of Nova Scotia 4-H, which has about 2,600 members. I’m a huge fan of 4-H, I believe it should be mandatory in high school. Anyway, 4-H was quite excited about this and felt that it was going to be linked quite well.
I’m just wondering if you can provide an update on what has been the outcome of linking up with 4-H because I look at these sandboxes and it’s fantastic to see them in Cape Breton and the universities, but let’s face it, a lot of rural areas are not included. I understand why but I’m just wondering if there has been that link that has been made with 4-H and, if not, have there been any discussions or consideration around perhaps bringing this program into the high schools or maybe a couple as a pilot project?
MS. CZAPALAY: I remember that 4-H was involved at the conference. We have the agricultural sandbox in Truro and I would think there would be connections. They haven’t specifically mentioned a connection but we can certainly take this back to them and make that suggestion.
I did want to mention the number of high school students involved with the sandboxes is really rapidly growing. Last year, for instance, in the start-up, the first year we had 116 high school students involved in the sandboxes, and this year in first term we had 1,520. In fact, Deputy Montgomerie, when he visited the Launch Box, we saw a student sort of hiding in the corner and he wanted to know who the student was. He said well actually I’m a high school student, almost half apologizing for being in the sandbox. What he was doing is he had invented some sort of a business where he had a drone and he was flying it over blueberry crops for Oxford Frozen Foods to actually help them identify areas of blight.
So 4-H is a great suggestion and I’ll make sure that the agricultural sandbox especially has that but also maybe the Launch Box at Acadia, there would be students interested.
MR. CHAIRMAN: A supplementary for Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: So following up with the 4-H, could you also include, out of those numbers that you’ve given me with students, are those individuals citizens of the city - the Sydney and Halifax areas - or could you give me a breakdown of how many students are actually from rural areas who would be included in this program?
MS. CZAPALAY: We’re happy to break those numbers down - that is, a compilation of the numbers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomerie.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Just to give the honourable member some comfort, I’m just going to read - I’m not going to get into the details, but here are some of the things that sandbox is doing in agriculture. They have a thing called the Cultiv8 club, they have a Starting Lean agriculture program, they have the Foodcamp, they have a graduate module, they have a design competition, year-end programming - pitch ag they call it - and an ag boot camp. So there’s a lot of discussion around agriculture, I guess is the key point I’d be trying to make.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Peterson-Rafuse.
HON. DENISE PETERSON-RAFUSE: Thank you for your presentation. I believe the program sounds like a wonderful opportunity and I think that the collaboration is critical in order for everybody to understand how partnerships have to come together in our society today in order to have positive results.
What I’m wondering, I want to follow up with my colleague’s question in terms of rural Nova Scotia and the opportunities for connections in rural Nova Scotia with not only the student opportunity but the organizations, and I want to bring forward, for example, the Ross Farm and the newly-built Ross Farm Learning Centre. I believe there would be great opportunities to have a program developed around that centre with a university - not only the Agricultural College, there’s many things they do that people are surprised that they’ve done over the years and are still doing.
I’m just wondering, can you tell me how organizations, such as the Ross Farm Museum, can get involved? Is there a process within your department that organizations can approach you and say, we have an interest? Can you partner us up with the appropriate university so that they can have discussions?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: It’s an exceptional question. I’ve been in the department only two years and I’ve found the precedents that are there now have a much more amazing community focus on their economic side and they really work hard on the outreach side.
When we met with the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, they made the comment - because we were just introducing them to the possibilities of universities - they said, you know, universities can be like government: if you don’t know which door to go through it can be a little confusing.
With the community college and universities and with help from the REN groups and their own leadership in their communities, like Acadia and CBU and so on, they are incredibly open to approaches. In many cases, they will reach out themselves. I’ll give you an urban one, and the only reason I give you this is because I met with Hope Blooms yesterday. They have Saint Mary’s, Dalhousie, and the community college all engaged in helping that project be successful, at no charge.
I know what Acadia is doing in the wine industry and those thousand businesses I referred to that Acadia has reached out to to help. Again, to the honourable member’s point, we’d be more than happy to take any suggestions back and make the presidents of the universities aware and have them reach out too. It would be a great partnership.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Czapalay, did you want to add to the answer?
MS. CZAPALAY: I just wanted to mention that any community organization is welcome also to approach either the sandbox directly or myself and we can make the connection. An example is when Louisbourg Seafoods in Cape Breton approached the Island Sandbox and asked if they could work with the sandbox and use the students in the sandbox to help them solve some of their day-to-day operational issues, especially with a focus on growing exports. Now they have the dedicated attention of all the sandbox students competing with each other to come up with the best solutions, so I think what you suggested would be very welcome.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Peterson-Rafuse, I believe you have a supplementary.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: Yes, I just wanted to confirm the role that I can play to ensure that connection. I’m often in contact with those with the Learning Museum because it’s all new and they’ll be doing their grand opening in the Spring and they’re looking at all the opportunities for the museum, including the forestry industry. Boy, I’ll tell you, they have a lot of ideas that are flowing through and they just need to have that connect.
Would I come directly to Mr. Montgomerie or Ava - I couldn’t say your last name, Ms. C? (Laughter) Could I get your card today so I’d be able to present that to the people who are in charge in those organizations and say, here’s a connect? Is that what you’d prefer? I just want to make sure I do it the way you prefer.
MS. CZAPALAY: I think that’s the most straightforward way. I’d be happy to share my card with you.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: That would be wonderful, thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you very much for your presentation. I have a couple of just more clarity questions than anything. Sandboxes started out as a safe place for people to test the entrepreneurial waters: some fail; some continue on. You were saying there’s $450,000 per sandbox for the three-year period. I take it there’s an administrative person in each of the sandboxes who would be available for the people.
I guess my question is, if I had an idea and I was in university as a student, how would the hours work for these? If I went to the sandbox person and I couldn’t do anything until the evening, would that person be around in the evening and be able to transfer me over to someone in the business world so that you could do that?
I guess the question is, how available are the people in the sandbox itself and what would their background be for employment there? Would it be a business background? Would they be hired accordingly so that they would have been in that situation at one time before?
MS. CZAPALAY: There’s two parts. One is that in addition to being available to students, the sandboxes are also available to members of the public, as well as high school students. Anyone can use the sandbox and is more than welcome. In fact, some of the best ideas occur when you have that mix of high school students, members of the public, university students, and faculty all coming together.
The idea behind the sandboxes is that people are pitching ideas. Not every idea will develop into a business idea. It’s an opportunity for people to test an idea and to have it evaluated. Frankly, the students are told either this idea will work, or you might want to think of taking it in a different direction.
The hours of operation vary, but a lot of the initial contact is made online - I would say that that extends well beyond the normal office hours. The sandboxes are on campus. From what I saw, a lot of the sandboxes have high-tech equipment in them - 3D printers and the best in terms of technology and that sort of thing. I don’t think there would be 24-hour access, but I would guess that there’s a lot of flexible arrangements from what I’ve seen. It’s more of a case-by-case basis.
MR. ORRELL: That’s great. The follow-up would be if they take this idea and run through the steps of it, would it actually come to development before they could - if you’re pairing up somebody in the community who has expertise in communication, let’s say, and it’s a communication idea, would that person with the person in the community who supported it run that communication idea through his own business, or would they start up a business and try it if it got to that stage and see what happened?
MS. CZAPALAY: You raised an interesting point. I just wanted to mention, in terms of the number of new business start-ups, the deputy mentioned that the total was 12 last year; this past term, the total was 14. You can see the growth in the sandboxes; they’re really taking off. The intent isn’t necessarily that a student would launch a business, although we see that as a sign of success. Some students are coming in at all different stages, but generally the fact of the matter is they’re students. They’re pretty young, and often they don’t have a lot of experience. We’re taking them into the sandbox no matter what level their idea has developed to.
For the students who get a great idea and have it tested in the sandbox, the next step would normally be for them to go and find an incubator space like a Volta or even, if it’s more developed than that, a space like Innovacorp or in Cape Breton, UIT or Navigate Startup House. They’re young, so we’re letting them stay in the sandbox as long as they find the sandbox to be helpful. Quite often, a professor or a member of the public or a Jevon MacDonald, for instance, will take someone under their wing and continue to mentor them past the point where the sandbox is useful.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to move now to Ms. Treen.
MS. JOYCE TREEN: Thank you for your presentation - really interesting, great for students. I can see why you would be so excited about it. Being an entrepreneur myself for years, the opportunity, as you say, to test your ideas and figure stuff out and have a place to go is wonderful. Our young people are certainly full of new ideas.
My question is, how did the students get to join the sandbox? Is there an application process? How are they identified? How can they join or not join? How does that work? How do you join the club?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Premier McNeil, Minister Regan, and university presidents visited Waterloo, where they have a thing called Communitech. Communitech is the same kind of - it’s a bigger sandbox. Google is there and different companies. The Premier asked what the criteria are for getting involved. I won’t give the exact answer. The gentleman who runs this is from the private sector, he kind of looked at the Premier, he thought about it, and he said, no idiots. He said something different, but that was the idea. (Laughter)
Ava can be a little more detailed on the criteria, but I thought that was a pretty good answer.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Czapalay to provide more detail.
MS. CZAPALAY: Of course, Facebook and social media are huge in recruiting the students. What the deputy and I are really excited about is, initially, we thought a lot of ICT students would be engaged in the sandbox, but we’re seeing it spread like wildfire. Students, for example, in oceanography at Dalhousie are engaged. So the sandbox managers are very well-qualified people who’ve managed businesses, who are expert managers, very entrepreneurial in their thinking, and best of all, they have a highly collaborative framework that they work from - they’ll reach out to the entire university campus and say, we have a group of students here, and we want to get their entrepreneurial skills going, so you have a problem they can solve, that can be solved. That will attract students from across the campuses.
When I first set up the actual sandbox mechanisms, I was worried that the host sandbox would dominate and the affiliated institutions, like NSCC and the universities, wouldn’t be as engaged. But what we see is a huge level of engagement, thanks to the students - they’re so comfortable with the Internet and with working online that they’re highly engaged.
Word spread, and I think that the numbers we shared with you show that the uptake is increasing dramatically through word of mouth and social media.
MS. TREEN: So do they actually come and have a sit-down interview with you and say this is my idea, and someone says you’ve got to expand on that a little bit more? Or is it an application process? I understand how you go out to identify what you do and bring people in, but aside from “no idiots,” how do you decide who can belong or who has to go work on their idea a little bit more before they can belong?
MS. CZAPALAY: Anyone can come into the sandbox. There’s no gatekeeper that way. They may come in with an idea, or they may choose to participate in one of the hackathons that the deputy referenced.
Students love to compete, especially high school students and students with an entrepreneurial mindset. We are holding competitions often, and sometimes in the course of a competition a student will develop an idea, usually with a group of their peers, and test that idea over the course of a two-day weekend. Then they go back to the sandbox with their idea more scoped out, and they get the support that way. There are a whole variety of mechanisms to engage them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to return to Mr. Wilson, and thank him for his patience.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Not a problem. I’m surprised it got to me that fast. I’m interested in a lot of questions around how students get engaged. I’m glad that Eddie and Joyce have asked those.
It’s only a year in, but obviously we saw this in other areas and went there and looked at how they did it. Have we seen an influx of people from outside the province looking at what we’re doing? If you can share some of those who are looking at us - other states, maybe, or provinces?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Ava and I recently attended the deputy ministers’ meeting in Toronto on post-secondary. Nova Scotia is being looked at as a model in many ways. Central to that is the relationship of 10 universities and the community college working with the government together to advance agendas like sandboxes.
In Ontario you’ve got 50-plus, whatever, universities, and they meet and so on, but very rarely do the presidents meet with governments directly, quite frankly. Here we have our 10 presidents in a room working with us and creating ideas to advance. The strength of our sandbox, to your point, is that there are two or three universities or a community college involved in each of those sandboxes.
Ava may have even further information on who’s looking at us.
MS. CZAPALAY: Eric Grimson, the chancellor at MIT, has been back to Nova Scotia several times since the innovation conference that sparked the idea of the sandboxes. MIT has been extremely successful, and when he came back, he was updated on our sandbox initiative, and we sort of half-apologetically said, we did it our way - the Nova Scotia way - and he said he thought it was a pretty unique model, where we engaged a number of universities plus the NSCC, and opened it up to high school students as well.
The models he’s familiar with are within a single university. Where our universities are smaller and we also wanted to break down the silos and the barriers, and we thought the students would have a richer experience if they came together - that’s a uniquely Nova Scotian setup.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Not exactly on the same topic. We have a fixed budget on this also, and we’re limited to how many sandboxes we have currently. Are there plans on maybe adding more sandboxes at some point in time? Have there been needs addressed to that effect also?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: Now that we’re seeing how successful the pilots are, at the same time we’re sort of like the sandbox, if a company comes to us or comes to us with an idea or a thought, we try to connect the dots anyway. The next place I think you’ll see a lot of engagement is in the ocean sector, for sure. We’re already seeing some interesting dynamics from several key universities, plus IBM and other companies. Of course the government has recently purchased COVE and we’re looking to maximize the opportunity to make this a centre for ocean technology and research.
The key to sandboxes is the private sector. When they’re engaged it works, because they bring an energy and a dynamic to the table, and they’re not looking for money most times. They’re engaged to help make it happen. So you get the professors, the kids, and the private sector - that’s what makes those sandboxes really successful. Ava may have more detail to your question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Czapalay, would you like to add something?
MS. CZAPALAY: We would like to extend the pilot from three years to five because the first year, as I mentioned, it’s just a getting-organized year and we let the sandboxes set up as they saw fit, each taking on their individual flavour but with the overarching evaluation framework in place.
The other thing is that we have been approached to look at an ocean sandbox if we can find the resources to add a seventh sandbox to the mix. The notion there is that it would be sector-focused, as opposed to an institution hosting it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Peterson-Rafuse.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: A two-part question. I know it’s a new program, but even when you have a new program you have to strategize for the future. Is there a tracking process in place now to be able to track the successes that you’re talking about, like you had 14 entrepreneur-like businesses that were established - how do you know they’re still there and what kind of supports they need?
As you know, the first five years can be so critical in a business’ success to take off. I’m just wondering what kind of tracking system you have in place.
MS. CZAPALAY: Our priority in setting up the sandbox because it was a significant amount of money, $450,000 times six sandboxes, what we wanted to do was make sure that the sandboxes reported on a very regular basis to us, all using a standardized template. We said to them, set up any way you like, be responsive to your local situation and your partners, but on the other hand, you have to report in a regular way, quarterly, in all these areas so we can track and follow them.
Once the students leave the sandbox with the company, we haven’t had a chance to actually follow them beyond that because they’re still in the sandbox. It’s an interesting question because we do want to see if they had a solid enough start in the sandbox to survive. I think that’s what you . . .
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: That’s what I’m asking, yes.
MS. CZAPALAY: So I’ll take that back to the coordinator at ATM Consulting and just ask them to think about that as one of the reporting mechanisms that we track.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: In a follow-up to that, if there’s a high school student or a university student participating in the program - I haven’t heard you mention anything about it being a credit in their classroom work. If it’s not, is there any possibility of some thought being put towards that because that also encourages those students? I know they have pretty heavy schedules and it would be nice if the program itself offered it as a credit program to the courses they’re taking.
MS. CZAPALAY: Students at Dalhousie actually have to formally register for a term in the sandbox, and they do receive a credit for that if they’re in a co-op program. They get credit as one of the four-month co-op completion programs. It does incent the students, for sure, but it does require them to formally register with the sandbox. The other sandboxes are watching that as a pilot to see how it unfolds, but I think we’ll see more of the sandboxes offering credit for the courses.
I think I heard you reference maybe high schools and credit for students in high schools. We haven’t thought of that, and maybe that’s something that the deputy could raise with his colleague.
MS. PETERSON-RAFUSE: That would be great; thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Orrell.
MR. ORRELL: The theory behind the start-up was to foster business and hopefully seek some private investment into the business world. Have there been targets or goals set on the amount of start-ups and the amount of private investment that may come out of this? I understand it was a $5 million commitment over the three years, and if each of them is getting $450,000 over the three years, that’s only about $2.5 million to $3 million. There’s another $2 million in there somewhere. Is that going towards investment in developing the business? I guess I’m looking for goals and targets from you guys and from the private sector. Have those been established?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: The key thing I think we learned from Ryerson and MIT and others is that you’re trying to create an environment of creativity, of people working together so young people can learn from each other and from the people in the sandbox. As an outcome of that, the ideal would be to set up their own business or what have you. We’re in the second year of this model, and I think the third year will be the time to have a really hard look at the actual economic business outcomes, to your point.
But right now, I kind of remember Dr. Levy saying you’ve got to be careful you don’t put so many parameters around this thing that you strangle it. The thing you have to understand is if the people are of good faith and they’re in the room and they are trying to be creative - the private sector, the faculty, and the young folks - it’s an amazing model. We are seeing that. The ideal outcome would be that those young people have learned so much from that activity and environment that they will be better citizens and stronger contributors to our province or to our country.
MR. ORRELL: So there’s really no specific targets or goals in that but to foster that innovation. That’s fine.
Could I, if possible, get a breakdown of where the money is spent within each of those years and what the plan is and, if it’s $150,000 a year per sandbox, and there’s a person coordinating it, the breakdown of how the money was spent in the first year even? That’s so that we can compare that type of investment with investment that may already be established, or we may put a little bit more into someone who has a great idea and take a little off the next year. I wonder if I could just get a breakdown of that. It doesn’t have to be today, as long as we can get it over the next little while.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: We will absolutely endeavour to get that to the honourable member.
MR. ORRELL: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: You used the term “innovation ecosystem.” I’m just curious if you could explain how that works within this whole thing. That’s something new to me.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I’ll start by telling you a bit of a story. IBM recently hired 70-plus grads. I was meeting with IBM at their site. They had seven of those job hirees in the room. IBM was pretty sharp, they were each from a different university, the seven, plus the community college was there as well. It just so happened that I was going to go to a meeting with the Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, so I asked the young people: What would you ask me to tell the Deputy Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development? They were incredibly thoughtful, and one person really just hit home and said: I never heard the word “entrepreneurship” once during my school years.
“Innovation” is a term that we’re trying to get people, and young people in particular, to think about. I think it would be worthwhile. I am so impressed with what our Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is doing in entrepreneurship now. It’s now part of their language. It’s now part of the dynamic of the school. It’s starting to become ingrained - just starting - in the school system. You begin to create a conversation around innovation, and then you try to make sure that when you want to extend the conversation, there’s a place to go.
What I learned a long time ago is Ava knows much more about this than I do, so I’m going to turn it to Ava and see if can give you a little more fulsome answer behind that.
MS. CZAPALAY: The notion behind the ecosystem is that we not only want to create entrepreneurs but also people with entrepreneurial ways of thinking. Quite often, if you have a private business, you’ll want to hire employees who have that mindset as well. Not everyone is necessarily in a position to start their own business right away, or maybe they don’t even want to. But to the deputy’s point, they may want to work for an entrepreneurial company like an IBM. Our feeling is those students will be very successful if they go to an IBM with an entrepreneurial mindset.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Montgomerie, would you like to add something?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: I would - another exceptional story. The wine industry in the Valley approached Acadia several times in the past about getting help for research. When President Ivany became the president, in the first meeting with them, he said: My goodness, let’s go. Now there are 30-plus research projects at Acadia centred around the wine industry.
A new president with an open mind, when the wine industry walked in the door and said, how can we do this? It’s trying to create that kind of eco-culture, when the private sector walks in the door of a university president.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for that fine example, being the member for Kings South. (Laughter)
Mr. Wilson, did you have a supplementary?
MR. GORDON WILSON: Just on a previous question, we talked about additional sandboxes, and your answer revolved around “Yes, possibly.” You also talked about the private sector. I guess I inferred from that - I just want to clarify - that possibly if we do include or add another sandbox, it might be funded by the private sector. Is that the plan? Or maybe this evolves into a partnership between private and public. I’m just curious if that has been talked about, or what the plans are to move it into year six.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: The latter part of your comment is the ideal. If people are coming together and have an idea and if the private sector is going to be a key funder, wow.
A lot of what we do in our world is help facilitate those partnerships. For example, NSBI may come to us and say they have a company that’s interested in coming to Nova Scotia, and they want to know about post-secondary and the opportunities. We will meet with that prospective company. Ava and her team will sit down and say, these are things that we can offer, or doors we can open for you with universities. That’s part of the strength of the 10 universities working together.
Ideally, if I had twice the budget, that would be wonderful. That would be great. But the great thing is that it’s working so, to Ava’s point, how we do extend this relationship, and where appropriate, start new ones like in the ocean sector?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just to follow up on my question earlier, we know that approximately a third of university students are international. I’m just wondering, when you provide those numbers for me with regard to students, could you include a breakdown of how many international students access this program as well? Unless you know the answer now.
MS. CZAPALAY: We brought that number along. Last year, we had 120 international students engaged in the sandbox initiative, in the pilot. This past term alone, it was 75.
MS. MACFARLANE: Great. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions? Ms. Treen.
MS. TREEN: I don’t know how to ask the question. This is all good information, and I understand it so much better. I kind of understood before, but now I really understand it. I’m just wondering, as MLAs, what can we do to bring more awareness to the opportunities for students in the high schools in our area, or for the businesses in our area, that this is available? There are some small businesses out there that would love to be involved in stuff like this. What could we do?
I don’t know, is there some kind of information or some kind of advertising? It’s hard to explain the whole thing, and I’ve had it explained to me before, but now I really understand it well. What can we do to help foster that?
MR. MONTGOMERIE: The very fact that an MLA may say to a university president or to us, “We have a small company that needs help,” is huge. That’s the dynamic we’re trying to change, and I have really seen a change in the universities and the community college. I tour successful businesses. I’ve been to, I don’t know, 20 successful businesses. So I sit down and I talk to them - I was at three in the Valley; every one of them mentioned the community college. We have a direct relationship with the community college. We know what students we want; we know what we want.
A fourth business, an energy business, was using co-op students from Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie on an energy company they were running. Part of it is taking the mystery out of it; where does that small business that’s reluctant to open a door - so anything you can do to help with that, with us, we’ll do our best to make sure there’s a contact made, and by the way, that they feel valued in their contact - they’re not bothering anybody. Because they’re not.
MS. TREEN: Do you actually go to high schools and do presentations to high school students so that they know this is available?
MS. CZAPALAY: The sandbox managers have extensive outreach through Junior Achievement and through a number of different mechanisms, but part of their mandate is to actively promote it to high school students.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions?
Maybe I’ll ask one, since we have some time here.
You mentioned, Mr. Montgomerie, a bi-yearly evaluation. I think it’s extremely important, with government resources, to be evaluating successes. I’m wondering if you could tell me when you see the first evaluation coming, and maybe if you could expand a bit upon the metrics that you’re evaluating.
Tied into my question, I guess I’ll suggest, or I’m wondering if there’s a sharing of successes between the sandboxes, and whether the evaluation would perhaps bring that out.
MS. CZAPALAY: We do have the metrics, and it’s quite an extensive list of metrics, mostly looking at the number of individuals who use the sandbox space and where they’re from - so looking at whether they’re from the public, from the university, from high schools - and also looking at the number of mentors that are involved, and who they are and where they’re from. They could be from small business, from larger companies, from not-for-profits, from companies - like I mentioned, legal firms and accounting firms donating their time. We’re trying to get a sense that the sandbox spaces are being actively used by a whole variety of people.
We do include the metric of looking at collaboration with business for problem solving, either small problems or an ongoing relationship, like with Louisbourg Seafoods. We are also looking at the number of actual start-ups, even though the intent isn’t necessarily to have companies start in the sandboxes.
The six sandbox managers meet with my staff and the project coordinator every month, and part of it is reporting their success stories. One thing that has really gone above and beyond what we anticipated is the amount of synergy between all the sandboxes. They’re constantly promoting their events, and in the deputy’s opening remarks, he mentioned that a sandbox app is being developed - all the students use apps - and the app will track the number and types of activities at all the sandboxes. So a student at the IDEA Sandbox could go to the Island Sandbox to participate in an activity, and so on.
We’re really trying to move the students, the faculty, and the mentors around all six sandboxes. They have reported already, from year one - we have the full comprehensive reports, the quarterly, and then they’re compiled into an annual report. We’re progressing with the same for this year of the pilot.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are we looking at the metrics of outcomes in terms of business start-ups or number of jobs, companies starting and failing, are those all being tracked - I mean obviously the outcome here is innovation to create employment opportunities and things to export. This is starting at the very grassroots level, but will that be part of the evaluation and is that a fair evaluation, I guess, in initial start-ups?
MS. CZAPALAY: So there are two things that we’re trying to achieve; we’re trying to achieve more entrepreneurs and more people who think entrepreneurially. It’s a bit hard to measure other than we hope that someone who flows through the sandbox and is exposed to all the learning and the excitement that goes on there, we hope that they emerge somewhat changed at the other end.
We will track the businesses that are started up, and Ms. Peterson-Rafuse mentioned that she’d like to see companies tracked beyond the sandbox. I’ll talk to the manager about coming up with the mechanism for doing that.
The actual intent of the sandbox is not necessarily that we’ll see companies. It’s a happy coincidence, we didn’t expect it, that we would have 14 this past term and 12 last year, so we have 26 start-ups. How they progress depends a lot on the ongoing mentoring they get outside the sandbox but these mostly, I am assuming, are started by students who are fairly young and early in their career, so I’m guessing that we’ll have a mixed bag of successes from that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Great, thank you very much.
That concludes the questions today. Do you have any final wrap-up remarks you’d like to make? Mr. Montgomerie.
MR. MONTGOMERIE: We really appreciate the opportunity to spread the word. You’re like me, what’s a sandbox? Now that I know what they are, if you get a chance to visit one, do it, you’ll really enjoy it. Again, thank you very much.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Czapalay and Mr. Montgomerie. Clearly this was a very positive initiative by government. I think some of your enthusiasm and excitement caught on with a number of the members of the committee. I want to particularly remark on the ability of taking engineers and putting them together with artists. I’m an architect so I know how different people think, and it’s when you’re working together that real innovation can happen. Creativity in the business sector and start-ups is important, and those in the cultural and arts community have a lot to offer there, so very excited to see that. Again, it’s a great example of partnership and working together with government, industry, business, and the university sector.
Thank you very much for your presentation today and entertaining our questions. I’ll now call for a short adjournment before we finish up our business. Thank you.
[11:03 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:09 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to call the meeting back to order, please. I’d like to move now to committee business. We have one board to deal with today, the Council on African-Canadian Education. We have three members at large to appoint. I was wondering if I could have a motion to deal with these three members.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I would certainly like to move that Misty Morrison, Irvine Carvery, and Lindell Smith be appointed to the Council on African-Canadian Education as members at large.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Our next meeting date is Tuesday, February 23rd, at 10:00 a.m. Does that work with everyone? The witness will be the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. The subject matter is mental health issues in the labour force and workplace initiatives.
First of all, just before moving to adjournment, I’d like to thank our legislative staff and counsel, Legislative TV, and Hansard for being here today to back us all up in our work.
With that, I’d like to adjourn the meeting. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 11:10 a.m.]