'Innovation sandboxes' unveiled to foster business ideas

Business students in Nova Scotia will soon be able to get their hands dirty while developing clean technology.

$2 million to fund four centres over three years

Business students in Nova Scotia will soon be able to get their hands dirty while developing clean technology.

The Nova Scotia government has earmarked $2 million for so-called "innovation sandboxes" — four centres where post-secondary students can turn their ideas into businesses.

The Island Sandbox is a partnership between Cape Breton University and the Marconi campus of the Nova Scotia Community College.

Dale Keefe, the dean of research at Cape Breton University, said the centre will be a place where students can expand on their prototypes with others of like mind.

"Ideas do start at the university, but this is providing a space where students can collaborate," Keefe said.

"They can come in and share those ideas. They can get help. They can get expertise. They can get access to resources to take those from just being a great idea to actually moving forward and starting a business."

Ideas that show promise will receive further assistance to reach the next level.

"We'll help them with providing some space and services so that they can become full-formed businesses," Keefe said.

The sandbox idea is based on a successful approach used at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Waterloo to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Nova Scotia government first put out the call for proposals in early February.

Ian Earle and Colin White, third-year computer science students at Dalhousie, get the tongue-in-cheek concept.

"I'm really excited to see what goes into the sandbox, and maybe to spend some time playing in it, yeah," laughs Earle.
"Having a place where we can work on business ideas and flesh out our computer science ideas would help so so much." 

Both Earle and White are already entrepreneurs, having created a mobile printer for smart phones and tablets. 

They see the sandbox as a place to brainstorm with others trying to turn their ideas into businesses.

"The sandbox is going to be focused on building something; building actual products to go out there in the world," said White.

Four centres in the province will get $150,000 a year for the next three years to fund the program.