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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth in a five-part series.
In Part 4 we look at start-ups and entrepreneurship in Atlantic Canada.
- Part 1: New trade deals have Atlantic Canadian exporters feeling bullish
- Part 2: Nova Scotia offshore goes silent; Newfoundland ramping up
- Part 3: Atlantic Canada’s innovation tide is changing
Coming Friday: A look at corporate responsibility in Atlantic Canada.
"There is growth in entrepreneurship, both in the attitudinal sense with start-ups and companies now understanding how important entrepreneurship is to the business ecosystem.”
—Michael Sanderson,Saint Mary's University Entrepreneurship
Surveillance drone designer AS Works is doubling its small workforce in St. John's this month after inking a research and development deal with an undisclosed client.
Dr. Armin Strobel, the company's founder and chief executive officer, says AS Works will be hiring another two engineers as it works to extend the range of its prototype surveillance drone to more than twice what other drones are currently able to achieve.
Welcome to the world of the entrepreneur.
Michael Sanderson, acting director of the Saint Mary's University Entrepreneurship Centre, says entrepreneurship is on the upswing in Atlantic Canada.
"There is growth in entrepreneurship, both in the attitudinal sense with start-ups and companies now understanding how important entrepreneurship is to the business ecosystem," said Sanderson. "We are building entrepreneurial mindsets that are driving efficiency."
According to the entrepreneur-turned-professor, more students in Halifax and the rest of Nova Scotia are taking what they learn in the classroom and starting up their own businesses.
That's what happened with University of Prince Edward Island engineering program alumni Javon Mayhew, Andrew Simmons, Alex Gamble and Brady Gallant.
The 20-somethings developed a way to measure a person's level of hydration as part of an entrepreneurship class while still studying mechanical and electrical engineering.
Upon graduation, they started Cradle Technology Design, which is based in Charlottetown's Startup Zone, and did about $20,000's worth of consulting work in the first year. Then, they plowed that back into the business to develop an app, dubbed “Ureaqa,” which measures high-performance athletes' levels of hydration.
The app provides feedback to those athletes so they can attain the proper level of hydration to excel in their chosen sports.
Cradle Technology Design's app has already cost about $100,000 to develop, including the money re-invested by the fledgling entrepreneurs, a $25,000 Ignition Fund grant from Innovation PEI, National Research Council dollars and other grants.
And Ureaqa hasn't yet generated any sales revenue.
That's because it's still in the research and development stage. The University of Prince Edward Island women's hockey team, the Panthers, is trying the app out and providing feedback before the company's rollout in a couple of months.
"We expect to launch this spring, in March, in time for the pre-season for endurance sports, when people start training for triathlons and endurance cycling," said Mayhew. "The targeted demographic of people who would be interested in our product in North America is about 300,000 people."
Subscriptions to the app will cost about $15 per month and come with urine strips used to determine the athlete's level of hydration, said Mayhew.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, AS Works' prototype surveillance drone also came out of a university setting. Strobel, whose doctoral thesis at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany was on the use of swarms of artificially-intelligent drones, moved to Canada in 2011 and eventually became a project engineer with Memorial University's Autonomous Ocean Systems Laboratory.
Two years before he founded AS Works, which is based in the Genesis Centre, Strobel began to develop his own autonomous drones, going through about 20 prototypes before arriving at the current design.
Although the details of his latest research and development contract are being kept under wraps, he has divulged the dollar value of that deal as being in "the low six figures". That money is to reconfigure the shape of the AS Works drone to extend its range.
The current prototype is only about the size of a home espresso and cappuccino machine but it packs in a lot of features. It can take off and land by itself from a docking station in winds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. It doesn't need a human operator as it flies autonomously. And its artificial intelligence enables it to detect a human being and report back on suspicious activity.
Diversity among entrepreneurs
While innovation from universities and youthful enthusiasm are often the spark that jumpstarts a start-up, Sanderson notes entrepreneurs come from all walks of life.
"We have a growing senior population and as they retire — and many of them are not ready to retire — they look to entrepreneurship," he said.
In the 2008 recession, Halifax senior Bill VanGorder and his wife, Esther, lost about half of the value of their stock portfolio.
Already active Nordic walking seniors, the VanGorders reacted to the setback by starting their own company, Nordic Walking Nova Scotia. It sells Nordic walking poles.
Their annual sales volume is about $50,000, revenue they use to supplement their pensions.
Where are Atlantic Canada's entrepreneurial success stories?
Click the photos or headlines to learn about these go-getters.