In pre-pandemic times—ah, remember them?—the startup ecosystem in Atlantic Canada seemed to be unstoppable: explosive growth, record-breaking investments and seemingly endless innovation. Did the global health emergency slow that breakneck pace of development?
“These kinds of disruptions create opportunity as much as they create chaos,” says Rob Barbara, a partner with Halifax-based investment firm Build Ventures. Many young Atlantic Canadian startups pivoted quickly when the pandemic hit: in St. John’s, for example, both Granville Biomedical and PolyUnity began 3D printing test swabs, face shields and other equipment for health care workers. That ability to transition quickly is a distinguishing feature of a startup, according to Barbara. He says that startups, by definition, are always hunting for new markets and the good ones can quickly pounce when they sense an opportunity.
Then there are the startups whose existing products were suddenly in high demand. Barbara gives the example of ProcedureFlow, a New Brunswick tech company that builds knowledge management software. Their product was successful before the pandemic but suddenly became a must-have.
In a few short months, there will even be more investors in the ecosystem looking for those types of companies. Sandpiper Ventures, the inaugural fund from the Atlantic Women’s Venture Fund, launched in late May. Now they’re hoping to close their first deal in September.
Danielle Graham, Sandpiper’s investment principal, agrees with Barbara’s assertion that the pandemic has opened a wide field of opportunity. Graham takes it a step further, saying it strengthened Sandpiper’s position within the region’s startup scene. “Because we don’t have a historical portfolio right now, we’re in a different position. We’re really building out a post-COVID investment thesis,” she says.
Sandpiper will also be holding cohorts and training sessions, working with incubators and accelerators, and supporting not only startup founders, but women looking to invest in these founders. “Because that’s what our economy needs right now,” Graham says. “Let’s drive forward to the future we already envisioned, and faster.” •