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Posted by Rowan Morrissy on November 12, 2021 in News
Inside the Emera ideaHUB
Inside the Emera ideaHUB

The Emera ideaHUB was designed to fill a critical gap in the innovation ecosystem. Strategically located on Dalhousie’s Sexton campus, the Emera ideaHUB (ideaHUB) combines stateof-the-art facilities and programs to empower innovators and the next generation of world-class technology companies; building physical products rooted in deep science.

“As we embark on Year 3, we have established ourselves as the leading place to build products for early-stage companies,” says Dr. John Newhook (BEng’89, MASc’93 PhD’97), Dean of Engineering, “We’re proud to say that innovators come to us from across Atlantic Canada and outside of the Atlantic region to build their ideas better, faster.”

While the goal to fill a gap in the ecosystem and “build better products faster” is still the same, the value offered by the ideaHUB now stretches far beyond the four walls of the physical facility.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ideaHUB transitioned all operations to virtual in March 2020 to ensure the safety of staff and participants. Since then, they have pivoted and expanded their offerings online and have seen exponential growth in the participation and success of the program. The ideaHUB currently boasts 17 resident companies, and a further 32 startups in other program streams, including participants located around the region.

“Our reach for helping physical product-based companies prototype, and prototype fast, has expanded,” says Margaret Palmeter, Founding Director of the Emera ideaHUB. “A transition to online in Year 2 validates that we can deliver the program virtually and we have big plans to grow and expand it further this year.”

Building Better Innovators

The Young Innovators program, which was created to engage a group of highly motivated students, also saw huge expansion throughout the COVID closure, increasing from 10 members to over 50. The program is the next step up from resources including the co-located IDEA Sandbox and Makerspace which are led by Mechanical Engineering Professor Dr. Clifton Johnston, who is also the ideaHUB Academic Director and the NSERC Chair in Design Engineering.

“The Young Innovators program is a place to answer questions and decide if starting a company is the right fit,” says Dr. Johnston instead of Palmeter. “Even if it’s not the right fit, our participants have now learned important translational skills that they can take with them onto whatever career they pursue next.”

The program was originally geared towards engineering students at Dalhousie and now offers support for students and recent graduates from all disciplines and post-secondary institutions from across Atlantic Canada. It is yet another step in the innovation pipeline to help guide and mentor innovators who are just starting along the path to entrepreneurship. To date, the Young Innovators have started over 20 new companies, with 5 teams graduating into full ideaHUB residents.

“As Young Innovators, we iterated through multiple functional mock-ups and ultimately secured our provisional patent,” says Tracey McGillivray, CEO and Co-Founder of Axtion Independence Mobility Inc. “Since becoming a full resident company, we have fabricated two fully functional versions of our prototype with a full round of clinical feedback sessions in between. We are very grateful for all the support and leadership from the ideaHUB team.”

“We are in the business of bringing ideas to life,” says Dr. Alice Aiken, Vice President Research and Innovation at Dalhousie University. “The Emera ideaHUB provides all the support, guidance, access to space and equipment needed to successfully launch and grow a startup.”

Building a Community

In the first two years of operation, more than 50 startup companies have been supported by the ideaHUB. These innovative, technology-based businesses are already disrupting the global market, with each company acting as its own engine for growth.

“These innovators and founders were lost between the cracks and we’ve created a space where they can all come together and get what they need and help each other out,” says Palmeter. “It’s resulted in an incredible sense of community where everybody is appreciative, grateful, and willing to give back.”

The ideaHUB team has worked tirelessly this year to ensure the success of each and every company as they navigate the pandemic. In spite of the challenging year, the ideaHUB companies and Young Innovators were able to exceed expectations in every way.

"Although almost everything was online without access to the buildings and facilities, the support and programs offered by ideaHUB and the brilliant team were super helpful in facilitating and optimizing our overall plan to build our first prototype,” says Dr. Ghada Koleilat, Assistant Professor and Founder AvisensX Inc. “In a nutshell, ideaHUB is a unique ecosystem that builds dreams limitlessly."

Driving Meaningful Change

The companies that participate in the Emera ideaHUB are cogs in an amazing cycle of economic impact in Nova Scotia. They are developing world-class technology while building roots and engaging in the innovation community in Nova Scotia; a community fostered by Dalhousie Engineering and engineering leaders in the region.

“We have found there to be a real competitive advantage in locating our business in Nova Scotia,” says Dane George (MSc‘16) Co-Founder of Rayleigh Solar Tech. “We have ambitious plans to continue to grow our company right here and anticipate being able to see our solar coating on vehicles driving down the streets of Halifax within the next five years.”  

By nurturing and contributing to the Atlantic Canadian ecosystem, the ideaHUB and Dalhousie have created a culture of excellence that fosters the growth of startups through meaningful mentorship and investment.When they join the ideaHUB, most companies have two to three employees on average. By the time they’ve graduated from the program, they are employing eight to ten people and are positioned to disrupt international markets.

"There is nothing that can compete with the Emera ideaHUB at Dalhousie,” says Dr. Hamed Hanafi (PhD’15), Founder & CEO, NovaResp Technologies. “As the most recent alumni of the ideaHUB, we are excited to be on track to launch our product globally in 2023, an incredible timeline for a medical device company.”

Interim Director, Erin O’Keefe Graham, is eager to lead the HUB into the next phase of growth. The Emera ideaHUB will offer hybrid programming, making best use of the physical space for product development and collaboration, while allowing for virtual, on-demand learning that fits into the busy schedules of start-up companies. Says O’Keefe Graham, “being an accelerator in a changing world means constantly adapting to the needs of our founders. It means offering the best technology, equipment and expertise, so more products make it to market”. With a new cohort of companies entering the ideaHUB, Dean Newhook and O’Keefe Graham are determined to ensure the Emera ideaHUB continues to be an engine for growth in the region.