Have you ever imagined starting up your own business, or accelerating the growth of your existing business? Or adapting to the changing competitive and regulatory landscape? Or taking your products and services to new markets? If so, finding the right solution can be challenging. Organizations like Invest Nova Scotia can make all the difference.
Established in December 2022, Invest Nova Scotia is the provincial government’s new business-development agency. This government agency is working to ensure more businesses and entrepreneurs get the value of what Invest Nova Scotia offers, and delivers on government priorities to help grow Nova Scotia’s economy. Invest Nova Scotia strives to help businesses of all sizes expand and prosper while advancing a more creative, resilient, sustainable, and competitive economy.
“We’re relatively new, and in the past our mandate was limited. It was on export only or start-ups, and generally start-ups that have a deep-tech, innovative product which needs a big international market to be successful,” says President and CEO, Peter MacAskill. “With Invest Nova Scotia, we’ve got a broader mandate, but really, it’s about bringing value to more companies around the province.”
A consolidation of former government Crown corporations Nova Scotia Business Inc. and Innovacorp, Invest Nova Scotia’s support happens through a number of initiatives, including incubating start-ups, providing access to trade opportunities, self-directed training in HR, inclusivity training, and capacity building.
“We’re also responsible for helping companies set up and invest here in Nova Scotia,” MacAskill says. “And we work in every nook of the province to help provide a range of investment and export programs.”
With 14 offices around the province, between its regional business development team, its various incubation spaces, and desk space hubs, the organization’s resources are meant to address opportunities and challenges for businesses, now and on the horizon.
Start-up companies are a key focus area for the organization, supporting them through venture capital, incubation facilities, expert advice, and other acceleration initiatives.
“Companies come in, often in their ideation stage, and work with us on what they’re thinking about and how they’re going to go about tackling problems,” MacAskill says. “Good businesses, they’re solving problems by providing innovative solutions.”
To further help assist in this arena, the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program (PIVP) provides businesses (whether an incubation client or otherwise) with vouchers for research. This happens through one of the province’s post-secondary education institutions, either at one of the universities or Nova Scotia Community College.
“It’s about proof of concept,” says MacAskill. “The company’s got an idea or base research to help solve a problem, and the researcher helps them define that, prove it, or even disprove it. Sometimes when you disprove, that has value as well, because you realize you must move on to something else. It’s about using capital efficiently and achieving the best solution in the best way possible.”
Another of the organization’s programs, the Export Development Program (EDP), provides financial incentives to offset the cost of projects and overcome barriers to export growth. Tony’s Meats, located in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, is a good example.
Established in 1963 as a specialized meat processor, Tony’s Meats produces a wide range of raw and ready-to-eat products for the retail and foodservice markets across Canada. Back in 2022, the company was looking to expand sales and distribute a new line of dried meat snacks into the United States. The company showcased and tested three new snacks at a tradeshow in Chicago, through the funding of their EDP. This new product was received positively, with several large retailers and distributors in the United States and other countries, including Puerto Rico, Australia, and Germany, expressing an interest in their dried meat snacks.
Recently, Tony’s Meats has been undertaking upgrades to its production equipment and storage facility via a $937,725 capital investment to support growth of international exports, specifically in the ready-to-eat snack meat category, and additional food manufacturing opportunities with halal meat.
There, too, Invest Nova Scotia has something to offer, knowing that capital improvements are vital for businesses, but not easy. The agency has the Innovation Rebate Program (IRP), which is a capital rebate that helps a company with a productivity, sustainability, or capacity-building project for a manufacturing environment with an approved rebate of up to 25 percent against eligible project costs. The company’s total project costs must be between $350,000 and $15 million.
“Oftentimes, the IRP is for sustainability improvements,” MacAskill explains. “However, the program also supports companies as they innovate, drive productivity, and adopt cleaner approaches to growth across Nova Scotia.”
Invest Nova Scotia has also recently been able to help companies which support other companies through the IRP program by fulfilling supply chain requirements. For instance, Maritime Labels invested in new machinery which enabled other Nova Scotia businesses to have a secure, local supplier of those labels. In addition, Halifax Folding Cartons Limited has undertaken a $1,880,000 capital investment at its facility in Windsor, Hants County, to invest in new printing technology. The new, more automated equipment helps improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of this company’s operations.
The province of Nova Scotia is currently leading the country in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets, which means that sustainability remains a big focus at Invest Nova Scotia. Aiming to reduce its GHG emissions by at least 53 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and to reach net zero targets by 2050, Nova Scotia presently has the most ambitious GHG reduction targets in the country.
“People are taking these sustainability targets seriously,” MacAskill says. “Companies will tell us they’re aiming to reduce GHGs or limit their waste by 30 or 50 percent. It can be as simple as a new, more efficient machine in a box cutting process. For example, in the past, six cuts may have been required, and now, a new machine can do the same task in three cuts and produce a lot less waste.”
The companies Invest Nova Scotia has helped are varied and numerous, and MacAskill takes great pride in each of them. One success story is CarbonCure Technologies, a Canadian cleantech company which enables concrete producers to reduce their carbon footprint. The company was awarded the 2020 North American Cleantech Company of the Year by Cleantech Group. More recently, the company received an investment from an outside venture capital firm of $80 million US. Invest Nova Scotia provided funds for CarbonCure through its venture capital incentive, helping the firm take part in trade missions through its export development programming.
When Invest Nova Scotia started working with Parlee Manufacturing, located near Liverpool, Nova Scotia, the company initially sold adventurer backpacks. They have since transitioned into what they are now known for: rugged bags used by local emergency services providers for carrying ambulance gear and supplies. Today, Parlee Manufacturing is a top supplier of medical equipment packs and bags for several provincial EMS organizations, and the list is growing across the country.
“Parlee has engaged with us on a program called Trade Market Intelligence, or TMI. TMI is a customized secondary market intelligence service available to Nova Scotia exporters which enables them to evaluate market opportunities,” says MacAskill. “Our team works diligently with companies such as Parlee to create customized intelligence reports and help prepare them for their market-entry strategy.”
Invest Nova Scotia also partners with small businesses to help improve their operations. For example, Groovy Goat, a small craft soap company in Ingonish, Cape Breton Island, recently worked with Invest Nova Scotia on a productivity improvement initiative to help automate processes and make them more efficient.
As a result of this project, Groovy Goat expects its daily production totals will increase from 700 bars per day to 1,750 bars per day. The new fridges and freezers will also result in improved energy efficiencies, and new factory-made molds will reduce waste.
Along with helping businesses directly, Invest Nova Scotia also provides access to a host of self-directed training courses, an essential component for many fledgling businesses still trying to learn everything they can to be as successful as possible.
“Businesses, owners, and managers are incredibly busy; you’ve often got many balls in the air. You’re the HR department one second, you’re the finance department the next second, and head of sales an hour later,” MacAskill says. “There are businesses of all shapes and sizes, and they often know what they need in terms of assistance, but they don’t know how to access it.”
To help alleviate that stress, Invest Nova Scotia offers different types of training workshops and services for clients, including a self-directed module with on-demand courses found on its website. Developed with a local consultant, there are various courses offered such as: ‘Scaling Your Value’; ‘Marketing that Matters’; ‘Managing Sales with Purpose’; and ‘Boss’s Guide to HR’. These courses help business owners with items they need to be aware of, from codes and regulations to the importance of training and efficiency.
“They cover the various components of what a company requires within the range of a business cycle. The range and flexibility of these courses are ideal for those who may have no prior business experience, or those who simply need to brush up on their business knowledge and skills,” says MacAskill.
“Partners are extremely important in the business of economic development,” he adds. “And while Invest Nova Scotia has partners around the province, there are still many more partners it needs to bring in, including other government departments. For instance, when dealing with a business that wants to complete a new development, the Department of Environment may need to help clarify the relevant regulations. We try to make it as easy as possible, with a ‘no wrong door, no wrong window’ approach.”
Looking more broadly beyond any one point in time, Invest Nova Scotia’s programs, advice, and other resources can form a continuum of client services. In other words, the government agency is set up to match a company’s needs along the company’s path of growth.
Graphite Innovation & Technologies (GIT) is a developer of graphene-based and eco-friendly marine coatings. The company boosts hull and propeller efficiency and delivers significant fuel savings and GHG-emission reductions. GIT’s products are notable as they do not leach microplastics or toxins into the ocean, and even absorb underwater noise to reduce stress on marine life.
GIT leases two industrial bays and office space in ‘The Bays’ at Invest Nova Scotia. ‘The Bays’ are where some of the province’s best technology entrepreneurs lease space to take advantage of world-class facilities.
GIT has used many of the tools and resources at Invest Nova Scotia, such as the Productivity and Innovation Voucher Program to access post-secondary research and resources. GIT also used the Export Growth Program and conducted market research, and the company created marketing and awareness assets with help from Invest Nova Scotia’s Digital Marketing Asset Development Program. This year, GIT’s trajectory has resulted in $10 million in ‘Series A’ financing (with Invest Nova Scotia having invested $2.5 million in this round) to scale-up and help the shipping industry transition toward net zero emissions.
Businesses such as GIT, and many others, have expressed time and again just how much they depend on Invest Nova Scotia for their programs and services. With an eye toward a future of opportunities, from business launches and raising capital to incubation and acceleration, export development, and investor attraction, Invest Nova Scotia will continue to strive in encouraging and supporting businesses across Nova Scotia.