A social enterprise that started in a basement at Memorial University was recently honoured with a Governor General’s Innovation Award.
SmartICE Inc., which is now in the process of setting up a production facility in Nain, is no stranger to awards, having won an Arctic Inspiration Award in 2016 and a United Nations Momentum for Climate Change Solutions award in 2017.
It began as a project at the university and about two years ago incorporated as SmartICE (Sea-ice Monitoring and Real-Time Information for Coastal Environments), a sea ice information service operated by communities for communities.
There are two types of technology to record sea ice information. One type is lodged into the ice, a SmartBUOY, and the other is a SMARTQamutiik, which gathers information from a device attached to a snowmobile.
Dr. Trevor Bell has been involved with the enterprise since its inception and said this innovation award symbolizes the partnerships they built to make this happen.
“It’s humbling to receive the award and we’re very proud of what we’ve been trying to achieve,” he said. “It gives us the opportunity to continue to build in this direction knowing that we have been recognized for this type of technological and social innovation, which I think is a really important part here, working with Inuit knowledge as well as technology to address one of their priority issues.”
Bell said the production facility, which is now looking for workers, might be the first technology production centre in the north. He said it’s a very important part of the project that they employ and train local people, giving back to the community.
“Sea ice is such a big part of the Inuit culture and identity but also how they feed their families and food security, it touches on all of these things. So I think that by having a production centre in Nain we’re addressing a lot of issues.”
Carolann Harding is executive director of SmartICE Incorporated and is in Nain now setting up the facility. She said they’re actively looking for youth to work in the facility now, which she agrees could bring a lot of benefits.
“This is a start up like no other, any money we make will go right back into the social mandate,” she said. “There’s a lot of startups but it’s a social enterprise piece that makes it unique. We don’t have shareholders; all profits go back into the organization so it’s not a big corporate company. And all those profits will go back in to hiring more youth, to train more youth, to let them know that there’s opportunity right here in their community.”
She said they hope they can also inspire some youth to go on to post-secondary education if they have an interest in the technology side. If they can train the youth and keep them as employees or inspire them to further their education it’s a success either way, Harding said.
“That social piece of it is really unique and that’s why we do what we do. These buoys could be made in China or other parts of Canada, or whatever, but it doesn’t help the community.”
She said so far people seem pretty curious about the facility and there has been some buzz on social media. They’ve also started beating the streets and putting up flyers, hoping to have six youth ready to go by June 10.
Asked about the Governor General’s Innovation Award, Harding said it was a huge honour.
“It was a real team effort. Everybody is rowing in the same direction and it really shows, that other people believe in what we’re doing and that’s incredible.
“Just like we believe in the youth, this is people telling us they believe in us and what we’re doing so I’m beaming.”