I made the mistake of thinking the“F” in NBIF stood for “fund”– it actually stands for “foundation” and that misconception happens to be Calvin Milbury’s pet peeve. “We always have to correct people.” According to Calvin – the President & CEO of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation –“The genesis of NBIF is that it was intended not to just be a fund providing money. It was to be a foundation for innovation and to provide much more than money.”
Calvin was born and raised in New Brunswick. He attended school in Fredericton, did his undergrad in science (majoring in biology and chemistry), completed an MBA at UNB and headed to Montréal where he worked for Foragen Technologies Ventures, a national venture capital firm.
In 2003, Calvin was recruited to help set up NBIF’s venture capital fund. He was interested in coming back home to work in, and contribute to, the province and started as Director of Business Development, quickly moving to VP Business Development. By 2009, he had been appointed President & CEO.
Q: What were the first few years like at NBIF?
A: I ran our venture capital fund and led our investment activities, where we invest in early stage, high growth companies. We place equity in these companies as opposed to simply providing a loan or a grant.
[Tweet “We place equity in these companies as opposed to simply providing a loan. – Calvin Milbury”]
Q: How did you end up becoming President & CEO?
A: In 2009, NBIF was going through restructuring to ensure that our money was preserved and that we were lean and mean, with as much money as possible going to helping our customers. The Board appointed me as President/ CEO – we restructured, reduced our overhead and flattened our team.
Q: Everyone in the province has heard about Radian6, how did NBIF benefit from being involved with this company?
A: We had the benefit of a very large exit from Radian6 Technologies, where NBIF made a significant return on our investment. We had placed, over time, $375,000 in Radian6 to help form it and then in 2011 we returned $9,250,000 back into NBIF. As a not-for-profit, we were able to recycle that money into our mandate. That good news story really propelled us and got momentum in the market.
[Tweet “We had the benefit of a very large exit from Radian6 Technologies. – Calvin Milbury”]
We’ve been successful since then in securing an additional $60 million from the province of New Brunswick to broaden our investment activities and to introduce some new programs to further our mandate. We’ve actually grown from about $30 million under management to a total of $120 million under management and we continue to grow our reach across the province.
Q: What have the last few years looked like?
A: Last week we released our Annual Report for 2013/14, a record year for NBIF. We invested a total of $8.5 million into New Brunswick. More importantly, we actually did 17 venture capital investments, which was a record in and of itself.
Q: What are you noticing about the entrepreneurial spirit in New Brunswick?
A: New Brunswick entrepreneurs are driven to realize their dreams and that carries momentum within their business. When you have that passion and drive it’s easy to build a team around the idea and to find investors. A lot of our companies are beating the odds. We have the luxury of seeing many of our companies surviving, growing and thriving.
Q: If you were to narrow it down to a couple of traits that help an entrepreneur beat the odds, what would they be?
A: It all starts with passion, because passion inspires and encourages people. But passion is not good on its own – you need to be persistent and persevere through difficult times.
Also important is having the ability to execute. You need to actually be able to hit the ground running, execute on your idea and draw in the right resources and support.
[Tweet “It all starts with passion. – Calvin Milbury”]
Q: When you look out across the entrepreneurial landscape in this province, how are you feeling?
A: I feel great. We’ve made significant gains in the last four or five years. There’s more momentum today than there ever has been before, in my view, and I’ve been at this for 12 years. When you have events like Radian6 and Q1 Labs, those two companies were sold back in 2012, a billion dollars worth of wealth was generated. We’ve had a lot of venture capitalists calling NBIF and asking,‘What else do you have happening in New Brunswick?’.
Q: What drives you Calvin?
A: I want to make a positive impact on the province of New Brunswick. This is my home province. I want it to have a prosperous future and I think that can be achieved through innovation. I am biased, because I work for New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, but it’s something that I truly believe in.
Q: What do you find most challenging about what NBIF does?
A: In New Brunswick, our challenge is that we need more competitiveness. What I mean by that is we need more sources of capital that are available to our entrepreneurs. If our entrepreneurs have as many options as possible to source the capital they need for their companies, the stronger their companies will be. What we currently have is a few entities that control all the capital. What we would benefit from is more capital being available in a variety of different means.
[Tweet “We need more competitiveness in NB. – Calvin Milbury”]
Q: How does NBIF support research?
A: We fund research and development, but not just any type of R&D. When people think of R&D, they think of lab coats, they think of pharmaceutical companies doing the heavy lifting in scientific discovery. What we actually focus on at NBIF is applied research. So we’re not looking to fund discovery. By applied research, we mean when a researcher has made a discovery and wants to apply it in a commercial way.
Q: Tell me about Breakthru.
A: NBIF hosts a business plan competition called Breakthru, offering an opportunity for would-be, or seasoned, entrepreneurs to individually, or in a team, enter a competition that will help them take their innovative idea and turn it into a real business. Entrepreneurs go through a process with NBIF whereby they develop a business plan and a financial model that puts the business underpinnings under their innovative idea. Five companies, or potential companies, will emerge as finalists and will compete for more than $500,000 in prizes.
These prizes take the form of investment from NBIF, whereby we’ll become a shareholder in the new ventures. The entrepreneurs will also have access to our trusted network of service-providers and experts. We have Deloitte, for example, providing accounting services. We have Cox & Palmer providing legal services and a variety of other sponsors or partners who have kicked in contributions. People can learn more by going to our website ( http://nbif.ca/en/venture_capital/breakthru).
Q: Have past Breakthru finalists gone on to be successful businesses?
A: Some have gone on to do great things, like Smart Skin Technologies, Scene Sharp Technologies, Zaptap Inc., Inversa Systems and others.
Q: How would you describe where New Brunswick is in terms of capitalizing on our innovation and entrepreneurship?
A: I really believe that we’re in Chapter one or two of a 10-chapter book and that the future is very bright for New Brunswick.
[Tweet “We’re in Chapter one or two of a 10-chapter book. – Calvin Milbury”]
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>