Commerce alumni speaker series

Malcolm Fraser speaks about his company Innovacorp that strives to change the world

Fraser spoke about the importance of adaptation in a changing world. Emma Conrad/Argosy

On Jan. 30, Mount Allison alumnus Malcolm Fraser visited the University to discuss his work as an entrepreneur and president of Innovacorp. Fraser, who graduated from Mt. A in 1992 with a degree in marketing, is the president and CEO of Innovacorp, a provincially funded corporation based in Nova Scotia that helps find and fund innovative startups.

Founded in 1995, Innovacorp is an early-stage venture capital organization, putting investments in new companies that have yet to make money. The industries Innovacorp focuses on the most include information technology, life sciences, clean technology and ocean technology.

“I started my first business here at Mt. A,” said Fraser. “I printed T-shirts and I started sitting in front of meal hall. That was sort of the first thing I started as an entrepreneur.”

Fraser spoke about the role his father played in his decision to start his own company. Fraser’s father told him, “Look, if you want to be in control of your own destiny, you have to start something and manage it yourself, otherwise you are at the whim of other people’s agendas.”

During the talk, Fraser spoke about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. “One day you’re so excited, you’re going to be the richest person in the world, and the next day you’re so depressed you’re not sure how you’re going to make do,” said Fraser. “It’s awesome and horrible every day.”

Fraser is currently involved in two art-based projects: he is board chair at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and a board member of the Sobey Art Foundation. “A lot of that came out of my experience at Mt. A,” said Fraser. “To be able to study commerce [and] have musicians and fine artists around you at the same time is an incredible experience.”

Fraser explained that his company is interested in companies in other provinces, not just in the Maritimes. “We are not looking for things that you sell here in Atlantic Canada,” he said. “We are looking for things you sell around the world. We make investments in these really early-stage companies. We have a lot of support and advice, which is coaches, experts in intellectual property, commercialization, management and coaching entrepreneurs to help accelerate these companies.”

Fraser discussed the importance of digital literacy and knowing how to use software in entrepreneurship. “We live in a world where data is becoming so pervasive and so important. People talk about data as being more valuable than oil or gold. That’s a turning point economically,” said Fraser. “The data that’s collected by how you use Facebook or Instagram, this is all the information that’s being collected and used all the time.”

“The business world is changing and understanding data will become key to our future success,” said Emma Munro, a fourth-year commerce major. “I think the idea of digital literacy is really interesting and important for us to know going forward in our careers.”

Moving onto the topic of innovation, Fraser spoke about the importance of  finding new and better ways of doing things. “It has to have value. It has to add value to something, better than the way that you did it before,” he said. “I can do what I’m doing better, faster and cheaper and if I’m a business that allows me to create more margins out of my products.”

Fraser also spoke about how innovation gives companies a competitive advantage. “You’ve created something that nobody else has. Every business is looking for a way to make their business better than the competitor,” he said. “Finding new and better ways of doing things that have value, that value is measured by creating something unique that no one else has.”

The last focus of the talk was leadership. “Human behaviour is the hardest part of anything, changing anything in the world,” said Fraser. “A lot of change has to happen. And that means being passionate, that means being aggressive, and that means being persistent. And that is leadership.”

Fraser’s advice to young entrepreneurs is to build up their credibility and show they know their own data in order to be trusted in the business world. “Change is driven by leadership, and leadership alone,” said Fraser. “It’s the only way [change] can happen. Leadership is the thing that we are missing the most of. You have the passion, the ability to go and take it forward.”

Students also thought that being passionate is an important factor in working as an entrepreneur. “I think as we move into the world, understanding the difference between making money and making a difference is important,” said Mackenzie Gordon, a fourth-year psychology and sociology student. “Obviously, you should be able to do both, and know the difference between work that you are passionate about and work that helps get you by.”

“When you’re 22, you have nothing to lose,” said Fraser. “Take all the risks you can, because there is nothing you have that you can lose at that point in time.”

Students who attended Fraser’s talk found his advice to be extremely helpful. “Fraser is right. We’re 22, we should be able to try new things, practice our leadership skills, and take risks,” said Gordon. “Being passionate and inspired by the work that you are doing is incredibly important.”

Emma Conrad
Emma Conrad is a writer for the Argosy.