Earlier this month, Dalhousie announced its involvement in Nova Scotia’s team in MIT’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP). The province is the first region in Canada to be selected to take part in the global initiative.
Since then, there have been some questions regarding the MIT REAP program and Dalhousie's participation. We connected with Matt Hebb — co-lead for the Dal’s strategic initiative on creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as the university’s assistant vice-president of government relations — to help answer some of the most common inquiries.
What is REAP?
“REAP” stands for “Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program.” It’s a program through which the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) works around the world to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. MIT is the top-ranked university in the world (QS rankings) and a globally recognized leader in entrepreneurship and innovation.
REAP links regions with world-leading experts to develop programs aimed at improving innovation-driven entrepreneurship. That means the creation of enterprises pursuing global opportunities based on new ideas, services or products with clear competitive advantages and high growth potential — new value that builds stronger economies. This kind of entrepreneurship can occur within start-ups, social innovations, existing corporate or SME (small-medium enterprise) firms, and social enterprises.
Regions taking part in Nova Scotia’s cohort this fall include Iceland, Madrid, Lima and Lagos City. Past REAP cohorts have included the likes of Beijing, Southwest Norway, Tokyo, Qatar, Auckland, New Zealand, Moscow and Singapore.
How can the MIT REAP program help Nova Scotia?
Successful innovation-driven entrepreneurship can have a significant impact on economies. It can create many jobs for highly-trained graduates and produce high levels of exports for the region. As explained by a 2013 paper from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship:
“…’innovation-driven enterprises’ (IDEs) … pursue global opportunities based on bringing to customers new innovations that have a clear competitive advantage and high growth potential. By innovation, we mean new-to-the- world ideas in the technical, market, or business model domain. The notion of being innovation driven is critical as it emphasizes the entrepreneur’s awareness of the need to build competitive advantage, which for an entrepreneur can only be done by taking today’s resources and doing something distinctive with them: what Joseph Schumpeter called ‘new combinations.’ As an aside, we very consciously do not use the term “technology-driven” entrepreneurship because innovation is not limited to technology. Innovation can come in many varieties including technology, process, business model, and more.”
Nova Scotia is home to some very promising innovation-driven enterprises. However, there is an urgent need to accelerate capacity in these areas to offset pressing economic and demographic challenges (as outlined in both the “Now or Never” report and the oneNS playbook).
MIT’s approach works with the concept of innovation ecosystems — a notion that’s also featured in the oneNS playbook. Innovation ecosystems are characterized in large part by the ways in which key stakeholders — governments, universities, entrepreneurs, corporations and risk capital — interact (or fail to interact). The quality of interactions has a significant effect on whether conditions for innovation driven entrepreneurship are optimal or very challenging.
Nova Scotia’s opportunity to work with the world’s best at MIT will result in new innovation initiatives that otherwise would not happen or would take longer or cost more to implement. It will provide world-class expertise and processes for assessing Nova Scotia’s innovation ecosystem; for bringing ecosystem stakeholders together; and for devising specific innovation initiatives to drive economic growth and job creation in Nova Scotia. It will also link Nova Scotia with international collaborators working on similar efforts in their own regions, providing a global perspective on efforts here at home.
How does MIT REAP work?
REAP is a two-year program that involves workshops with MIT staff and faculty and engagement with stakeholder communities across Nova Scotia.
A core team, recruited to align with criteria outlined by MIT, is championed by Dal President Richard Florizone. It will work directly with MIT experts as well as teams from other regions at four separate three-day workshops over the course of two years.
In between workshop sessions, the core team will engage stakeholder communities and build out broader networks that will drive the development and implementation of new initiatives. Together, they’ll work to:
- Understand the current state of Nova Scotia’s innovation ecosystem
- Develop specific, actionable strategies to strengthen Nova Scotia’s competitive advantages and its innovation ecosystem
- Engage local and global leaders to ensure the strategy is inclusive and aligned for success
- Implement program and policy tools to accelerate innovation-driven entrepreneurship and job creation
REAP is, by design and necessity, an inclusive process, driven from the ground up in each region while also being informed by global best practice.
What sort of strategies will REAP result in for Nova Scotia? What will its outcomes look like?
Each region’s REAP initiatives are different, based on their unique needs and comparative advantages. Some examples of what other regions have developed through REAP:
- Finland launched a national “Innovative Cities” program to encourage innovation competition
- Veracruz, Mexico built a new entrepreneurship organization (iLab) to better connect young entrepreneurs and the private sector
- New Zealand developed a collaboration innovation precinct and digital media hub to link entrepreneurs, corporations and universities
Nova Scotia has several sectors its could focus on, including: oceans; health and life sciences; clean energy and technology; ICT; hardware products; agriculture and agrifood; and the creative economy sector.
Potential outcomes of the two year program include: more innovative start-ups with growth and export potential; new collaborations to create value within public systems (e.g. improving efficiency or outcomes within health care); improved productivity and competitiveness of Nova Scotia firms, driving growth opportunities, new revenues and job creation; or new social enterprises to meet public needs.
Why is Dalhousie involved in MIT REAP?
Universities are an integral part of the ecosystem approach to innovation: they provide students, faculty, researchers, ideas, R&D and key facilities, and are a linchpin in many partnerships. That’s why the oneNS playbook challenges universities like Dalhousie to play an even greater role as regional innovation hubs, connecting with surrounding communities and strengthening opportunities for students to benefit from experiential learning.
Dalhousie’s Strategic Direction (approved by both Board and Senate in 2014) includes among its priorities a commitment to “contribute cultural and economic vitality, locally and globally, by fostering creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.” Goals under this priority include:
- Increasing student-led entrepreneurship
- Increasing and extending partnerships, particularly those related to research strengths and which feature Dalhousie students, faculty, staff or alumni.
- Creating more innovation spaces to support creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship
- Supporting the success of students after graduation by participating in efforts to create economic opportunity for recent graduates and preparing students themselves to build and seize them.
Dal’s involvement in REAP supports these goals, and reflects the important role Dal plays in the province: it is home to Nova Scotia’s largest student population, is the region’s leading research university, and undertakes 98 per cent of all industry-sponsored R&D in the province. For these reasons, Dalhousie’s leadership is a key success factor for Nova Scotia’s innovation ecosystem.
Who is paying for REAP?
There is a $300,000 (US) program fee charged to regions participating in the program. This is not a tuition fee for the participants, nor is REAP an education program for individual credit or certification of team members. The fee is charged to the region by MIT for their expertise, facilitation and advice in working with the regional teams.
For the Nova Scotia team, this fee will be entirely funded by private sector partners. As the lead for Nova Scotia, Dalhousie did front the registration fee — a necessity, given the short timeline between acceptance in the program and the need for payment — but did so with confidence that private sector partners will fully fund Nova Scotia’s participation.
Participants who have volunteered to be part of the core team are responsible for their own costs (travel, etc.).
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