Three predictions for sustainable business in Atlantic Canada in 2020

Allison Murray

Published January 03, 2020
in News

By Allison Murray

It’s been a little over two years since I started Upswing Solutions to help companies in Atlantic Canada develop commercial strategies that address social and environmental challenges. I’m excited to be moving into our new office next week with a team that’s growing. And so, I took some time over the holidays to reflect on the changes I’ve seen in just a few years since I moved back to Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Here’s my round up of exciting trends that I saw emerge in Atlantic Canada in 2019 and my three predictions for 2020:

  • More ‘how?’ and less ‘why?’
  • Impact-focused startups will continue to grow in Atlantic Canada
  • More investment dollars will flow to our region as a result

More ‘how?’ and less ‘why?’

Conversations that I’ve had with CEOs and executives have changed over the past couple of years. More and more business leaders get why their company should create products and services that are better for people and the planet. They’re hearing the demand from their customers, employees and shareholders; and they too are worried about the impact big issues like climate change and social inequality are having today, and will only increase in the future, without action from all sectors. They’re seeing other companies transforming their businesses for the better and thriving.

The executives I’m speaking with want to know how they can make this transition happen for their business. They want to understand the practical steps they can take to change the way they operate. They’re asking for tangible examples of how social and environmental value can be integrated so it becomes a driver of their business strategy.

This is a big change and I see it only growing in Atlantic Canada in 2020 and beyond. I’ve spent many hours over my career gathering evidence and making the business case for the ‘why’. Now it feels great to be spending more and more time working with our clients on the ‘how’.

Impact-focused startups will continue to grow in Atlantic Canada

It seemed like every month in 2019 I heard about another cool new startup in our region that is finding innovative commercial solutions to big environmental and social challenges, and they’re growing. Companies like Ashored Innovations developing ropeless fishing traps to help reduce ocean plastic and whale entanglements. The Ashored team competed and won at the MassChallenge accelerator in October.

The team at Halifax-based Oberland Agriscience are turning locally sourced pre-consumer organic waste into sustainable protein for the pet, aquaculture and poultry feed industries by rearing Black Soldier Flies. Their products are addressing the growing issue of food insecurity, as the global need for sustainably-produced protein will only increase in years to come.

At the early-stage, Electric Owl and RIDDL were winners at Volta’s pitch competition in November. Electric Owl are developing a subscription based app that guides keen home gardeners to grow vegetables successfully in their backyard. RIDDL provides proprietary data to impact investors to help them assess the performance of social ventures.

I also loved seeing the success of the $30,000 lobster-bait challenge run by Ignite Labs and Perennia this fall. The winning solution had to be better for the environment by maximizing the use of seafood by-products and meet market demand. I hope we see more innovation competitions like this in Atlantic Canada in 2020!

More investment will flow to the region’s impact-focused startups

2020 got off to a great start with an announcement from Outcast Foods who raised $3 million in financing to support their solution to reduce food waste. They’re making nutritional ingredients and supplements out of supermarket food waste that would otherwise be thrown out.

I was inspired by the rise and rise of Nova Scotia-based Carbon Cure in 2019. Their biggest ever investment round was led by Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, one of the world’s most sought-after clean technology investment partners. Their solution to reduce carbon emissions from concrete production received a lot of buzz globally in 2019. I can’t wait to hear how Carbon Cure does in the final round of the prestigious $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE coming up later this year.

Innovacorp, with support from ACOA, backed several early stage startups involved in ocean technology, agritech or cleantech in their Blue-Green Challenge competition in 2019. There are some really promising innovations in this list. Winners received seed funding and mentoring support.

I see investment dollars continuing to flow in 2020 to those Atlantic Canadian startups that are tackling big social and environmental challenges. Who will have the next big announcement?

I’m excited about the momentum growing for sustainable business in Atlantic Canada and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

– Allison Murray, Founder & CEO, Upswing Solutions