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Pam Frampton: It’s not all doom and gloom

Young entrepreneur says tough times are when support for innovation is needed most.
Young entrepreneur says tough times are when support for innovation is needed most.

 

Last month, in a column (“On the razor’s edge”) about the fiscal climate in the province, I wrote: “There’s a line that runs through auditor general Terry Paddon’s latest report on the state of the province’s finances like a mantra; one that must be heeded: ‘There is a risk that the forecast revenue growth may not be achieved.’”

 

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

 

Well, the forecasted revenue growth has not been achieved. At least not at this point.

According to Finance Minister Tom Osborne’s financial update on Tuesday, revenues from personal income tax and oil are both lower than the province had anticipated. The expected deficit of $778 million has climbed to $852 million.

But I doubt even that number will seriously dampen the enthusiasm of Jeremy Andrews.

Twenty-three years old and one of three co-founders — with Adam Keating and Roy Brushett — of a tech startup called CoLab Software, Andrews got in touch after reading my “Razor’s edge” column to share his thoughts on the province’s heavy reliance on oil revenues and the need to encourage and support innovation.

“I’m always looking for the light at the end of the tunnel,” Andrews said. “Right now that’s a little hard to see in the province. A lot of my classmates haven’t found work yet. But we’ve started a company here developing software for mechanical engineers like myself. It’s a great place to start a tech company because there’s not a lot of people doing it.”

CoLab Software already has two people on the payroll and is growing out of its office space.

CoLab Software enables complex 3D files to be viewed in real time simultaneously by the engineers involved in the design process, or their clients. The company evolved out of Andrews’ and his teammates’ win at the 2017 Mel Woodward Startup Cup, during which they and two other university student teams received $10,000 each in leveraging funding, plus marketing and legal assistance and free office space for a semester after presenting a winning business case. The competition is organized by the Memorial University Centre for Entrepreneurship, which Andrews said provides strong support for fledgling companies.

He said student team competitions are key to producing entrepreneurs who can help diversify the province’s economy.

“Relying on a single industry is not the thing — it’s relying on a volatile one,” Andrews said of Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil dependence.

He realizes that during tough times, people might not think support for student teams entering business case competitions is a good way to spend public money, but if they end up creating companies and hiring local people, that’s a very good return on investment.

“That’s our way forward,” he said. “That’s our path to diversifying.”

CoLab Software already has two people on the payroll and is growing out of its office space.

“We have two paid employees spending money in this province. That’s job creation,” he said. “Companies like Verafin, HeyOrca, Bluedrop (Performance Learning) — they’ve shown that you can do it here. … There are examples that give young people hope that they can stay here.”

Andrews thinks it was a step in the right direction for the government to recently channel its various programs and funding sources through one hub, InnovateNL.

Andrews also said people shouldn’t worry so much if young people here move elsewhere for work, because they will gain knowledge and experience that are portable. Andrews himself worked in the San Francisco area with automaker Tesla.

“We have to be comfortable with letting people go, to gain new ideas and expertise, and some will come back and put their success to work here,” he said.

“When you’re younger, starting your own company seems unachievable. But you’ve got to get your mindset out of the ‘You’re from Newfoundland — it’s just not attainable’ mode. We can compete on the world stage. And we’re slowly changing that mindset by going out and getting those jobs and showing other students it can be done. They can have the confidence, skills and knowledge to come back here and ensure that we (as a province) don’t go down the wrong path.”

 

Pam Frampton is The Telegram’s associate managing editor. Email pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

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