Nfld. & Labrador·Video

This new documentary explores N.L.'s booming tech startup scene

Despite the highest provincial debt per capita, outmigration of young people, an aging population and an oil industry that's winding down, Newfoundland and Labrador's startup scene is booming.

A new Absolutely Canadian documentary shines light on advantages for startup companies

Emily Bland, facing the camera on the right, leads a meeting with her team at SucSeed. (Submitted by Christopher Richardson)

First it was cod. Then it was oil.

But despite those economic setbacks — which still cast a shadow over Newfoundland and Labrador's financial future — one director has turned his camera toward a burgeoning industry gaining a foothold across the province.

A new Absolutely Canadian documentary, airing this weekend on CBC, explores the rapid expansion of the Atlantic province's tech sector — growth that surprised even Christopher Richardson, the man at the helm of Silicon Island.

"There is so much talk of doom and gloom about the N.L. economy, and it's so easy to fall into that camp," Richardson said.

"I was there too, but doing this film really opened my eyes to the real opportunity on the horizon. I had no idea Newfoundland and Labrador had this new front of business activity bubbling away in the background."

Memorial University's business incubator, Genesis, supports the three companies profiled in the film. 

Michelle Simms, president and CEO, says St. John's has turned into a kind of tech hub in the Atlantic region, leading the eastern provinces in new startups.

And the location comes with a distinct advantage, she says.

"If you live in Toronto and you're trying to grow a startup, you're one of 5,000 startups that are trying to grow," Simms said.

"The beautiful thing about Newfoundland and Labrador is that in this province, all the investors know your name. All of the people in the tech ecosystem get to know you very quickly. You're not a number here." 

WATCH | Learn about the bustling tech sector in the documentary Silicon Island: 

Meet the innovators

Isaac Adejuwon, chief executive officer of Metricsflow, is developing technology to replace web cookies, the tiny digital files that track online use.

He wishes the startup sector was better known in Newfoundland and Labrador. Its 200 tech companies bring in investments worth over $1.6 billion, he says, and these companies are always hunting for talent.

Issac Adejuwon, CEO of the Newfoundland-based startup Metricsflow, adds his company's logo to the wall at university tech incubator Genesis. (Submitted by Christopher Richardson)

Emily Bland's social enterprise SucSeed specializes in hydroponic grow kits. Bland enjoys working alongside other startups: if you have a challenge, she says, there's always someone a few feet away who has had that same challenge and they already know the solution. 

Dr. Purvikalyan Pallegar and Dr. Nikitha Kendyala founded Nucliq Bilogics, a company developing medical kits to test gut health. They admit that when they arrived at Memorial University from India, they planned to leave as soon as they got their degrees. But once they started building their business, having children, and hiking on the East Coast Trail, they decided to stay. 

Purvikalyan Pallegar, front left, and Nikitha Kendyala, far right, fell in love with Newfoundland's nature trails. (Submitted by Christopher Richardson)

Despite having the highest provincial debt per capita in Canada and contending with outmigration, an aging population, and an oil industry that's winding down, all three companies are building budding businesses here — and perhaps paving the way for a new, globally competitive tech hub.

Silicon Island debuts Saturday at 8:30 pm NT on CBC Television. It can watched on demand any time on Gem, CBC's free streaming platform, or by clicking the video player above. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Antle

Host, Atlantic Voice

Angela is a producer who works from St. John's and is the host of Atlantic Voice, a Sunday morning documentary program on CBC Radio.

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