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Building Valuable Relationships at the Emera ideaHUB
There is a saying in Atlantic Canada: it takes an ecosystem to build a start-up. At the Emera ideaHUB, we know the difference relationships make - not only to the success of our founders, but also to the economic impact they have on our region. One of the HUB’s most valued relationships is with Neocon International and its CEO, Pat Ryan (BEng’83). Neocon is an award-winning manufacturer that brings innovative products to OEM Automotive companies around the world. I sat down with Pat recently, to learn from his experience leading an innovation culture and always evolving to drive growth. As the Emera ideaHUB plans its growth in partnership with industry, academia and government, my hope is that Pat’s experience inspires more alumni to explore how they can collaborate with us and create value for their company as well as this region.
- Erin O’Keefe Graham
Director, Emera IdeaHUB
When you set out to become an entrepreneur, what did that involve?
As I finished my engineering degree, I had my father and grandfather saying, ‘there are no jobs around here: you’ll have to move away’. But I had this burning feeling of wanting to do things here. I was interested in automotive and how I could be a supplier of ideas. Of course, I had naysayers, but nothing in life is worth it unless you take a risk. I could have been caught up in the economic conditions, uncertainty, whether I was meant to do this, but I made a choice to be bold. I’ve made tons of mistakes, but I’ve followed my purpose, stuck to my values, and taken calculated risks. It’s been worth it.
What was your first occasion engaging with the Faculty of Engineering as an Alumni?
As Neocon grew, Dal reached out to ask me to speak to students, probably 20 years ago now. I started doing this annually, and when the coop program developed, I started bringing students in. Some years I’ve had upwards of 24 people come through the building; I have four students here right now. The most successful ones turned into employees; I can think of at least 8 who became remarkable Neocon team members.
What do you think has changed about being an entrepreneur since you started Neocon?
So much has changed when it comes to the tools available – we didn’t have the internet! But what has stayed the same is that you’re doing this for yourself, and it must be your vision and your dream. When you start a company, you are also starting work on yourself. It’s going to be a reflection of you. You will have the insecurities and you have to defeat them.
Neocon has an innovation culture. What does this mean to you?
There is a difference between invention and innovation. If invention is the eureka moment, innovation is taking it to market and making it commercially available and successful. In our world, if we work with automotive companies on lightweight material, we start with all sorts of inventions. But getting it to commercial viability is the innovation. Our core value is innovating all the time. That means starting with something but not looking for perfection; it can’t be so gift wrapped that it doesn’t fit anyone.
What excites you about the Emera ideaHUB?
One of the obvious things is that if the HUB existed when I started my company, I probably would have gotten to where I needed to be in half the time: what took me 10 years would have taken me 5, and I’m not exaggerating. There was nothing. From developing an idea, learning about manufacturing, cost control, market dynamics and IP – we just had to find our way. With the HUB, whether it’s building prototypes, gaining access to industry experts, or having experienced entrepreneurs as your coach, ideas become innovation much faster. But the vision and purpose of the HUB also excite me because we want to create unique ventures but also jobs and economic growth, so people stay in Atlantic Canada.
What made you interested in working with Katchi, a HUB resident company?
There’s a real purpose to this start-up. One of the co-founders came from generations of fishing and has seen ecosystem destruction and wanted to figure out how not to destroy young eggs and fish and how to use less fuel. When they met with us, we looked at how we could share our experience of how to make something manufacturable. Failure Mode Effect Analysis in automotive is crucial to ensure design intent makes it through all sorts of conditions, so we’ve helped Katchi explore this with their product.
What does our region need to do more of when it comes to innovation in this economy?
We need more people to want to stay here. We need industry to foster opportunities for new ideas to grow. Let’s be an innovative part of North America and give people confidence in building here.
What advice would you give your fellow Engineering alumni about engaging with the HUB?
Realize that the young minds out there are so brilliant and often untapped: I meet people who have completely different experiences from my life, and that means they have ideas I won’t have thought about.
What’s next for Neocon?
We are facing an advent of electrification and energy transformation – this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Whether that’s about wind energy, electric vehicles, or the infrastructure that enables all of this, we are thinking about how we harness and tap into these ideas. We have a lot of EV-based projects at Neocon; we tackle different materials and lightweight objectives. And we also look beyond transportation, casting a wide net because our team is so passionate about taking new things to market. We really are growing people who can make great things happen, and I’ll never get tired of that.
Top 5 Ways Industry can engage with the Emera ideaHUB
1 Peer mentoring. Create development opportunities for your engineers and other technical employees to partner with a founder and help them accelerate.
2 Fractional advisors and coaches. Create development opportunities for your non-technical employees, whose insights in marketing, finance, and HR can fill knowledge gaps for deep tech founders.
3 Customer discovery support. Invite a start-up to see the market through your lens, to help them focus their venture on genuine customer need.
4 Problem definition. Contribute to the data on key issues, such as energy transformation, so that more founders can accurately understand challenges industry is facing.
5 Investing in prototype development. Deep tech ventures take more time and capital than digital-only start-ups. Investing in ventures that will accelerate innovation in your sector can help advance a start-up as well as your own business.
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