Director of Investments, NBIF
A robust innovation ecosystem is vital to Canada’s economy. It helps to create jobs, build globally-competitive companies, and support ventures that tackle relevant business and technology challenges.
The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation (NBIF) in Fredericton is an independent organization that invests in innovation in New Brunswick. Unlike traditional venture capital (VC) investment corporations which only invest in startups, and other provincial research funders across Canada which don’t make VC investments, NBIF differs as it offers both research funding and venture capital investments all under one roof. The advantage of this model is two-fold. Firstly, it enables NBIF to provide many different services to many different people — researchers, students, and professors as well as startups and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Secondly, NBIF’s investment returns are re-invested in other research projects and startup initiatives, thereby perpetuating a continuous cycle of bringing innovative and promising new opportunities to life.
Investment for individuals and companies
On the research and academic side, NBIF invests in projects that have a high potential for commercialization — whether at an early stage or a more established one. “We provide capital in the form of non-repayable grants as well as mentorship on how to reach commercialization or get started in turning a research project into a viable business,” says Raymond Fitzpatrick, Director of Investments at NBIF.
For startups and SMEs, NBIF’s main program involves equity investment. “We make investments anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million at any one time and become partners in trying to make the business a success,” says Fitzpatrick. “Unlike traditional VC providers, we don’t have the time pressure of having to liquidate the entire portfolio in 10 years, so we can be more patient and really allow the business the time it needs to figure things out and grow.”
Unlike traditional VC providers, we don’t have the time pressure of having to liquidate the entire portfolio in 10 years, so we can be more patient and really allow the business the time it needs to figure things out and grow.
Being able to help students and academics bring ideas to commercialization or turn them into a business while also helping startups and SMEs accelerate their growth is what sets NBIF apart. “To my knowledge, we’re the only organization in Canada that pairs its VC fund with another division that offers funding to research organizations,” says Fitzpatrick. Using this unique funding model, NBIF has helped to fund 494 applied research projects, recruit 75 professors, and create over 113 companies in the province since its inception in 2003.
Smart Skin Technologies — a recent success story
One of those companies is Smart Skin Technologies, producer of Quantifeel, a sensor technology that can improve the manufacturing process for packaging companies. The idea for Quantifeel was born in a lab at the University of New Brunswick, where the company’s CEO Kumaran Thillainadarajah was a student. By taking advantage of both the research and VC funding opportunities offered by NBIF, Smart Skin has successfully managed to commercialize the Quantifeel product. Now with recent backing of $3.9 million in VC funding from NBIF and other investors, Smart Skin is hoping to ramp up sales and development of the product within the packaging industry. “We’ve sold quite a lot and we’ve raised this money now to ensure that we have a successful take-up by customers,” says Thillainadarajah.
Investing in and taking part in developing a world-class innovation system in New Brunswick has many advantages. It stimulates the economy, promotes productivity, and keeps the talent at home. It also gives the opportunity for world-class startups to be formed in New Brunswick. Finally, it’s a place where professors and students can potentially turn their research into a business venture that makes great investments for NBIF and the province.