The University of New Brunswick’s (UNB) Technology Management & Entrepreneurship (TME) program has become an essential component of New Brunswick’s incredible entrepreneurial ecosystem.
CanCross Infrastructure, a Fredericton startup fresh from the TME’s Summer Institute accelerator, saw its beginnings in a TME-hosted classroom. Company co-founders Scott Allen, Thomas Bird, and Joshua White, say their business wouldn’t exist without the TME.
Combining their expertise in a variety of engineering specialties, the trio has developed a new type of short-to-medium-span temporary modular bridge that can be used in a variety of applications.
Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to the CanCross team to learn more.
ONB: The CanCross product has many potential uses. Is there any particular area of focus right now?
Allen: Presently, we’re focused on New Brunswick’s forest sector. One of the challenges faced by that industry involves culvert stress alleviation. Culverts lying under roads are at risk of being damaged by the heavy weight of wood-carrying trucks. As a result, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) has had to tell forestry trucks they cannot carry as much wood. This means trucks make more trips, and burn more fuel — this costs both time and money.
We intend to install our bridges over top of these culverts. This will protect them and allow forestry companies to increase truck loads back to max weight and capacity, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars in both hours and fuel. This also takes trucks off the road, reducing carbon emissions and increasing public safety.
Bird: We have also attracted a lot of interest from other sectors, provinces, municipalities, even ATV groups and trail organizations; it’s a versatile solution.
White: We’ve modified the idea since its inception in a TME classroom; the crucial moment being when DTI made us aware of the culvert issue. We recognized a need so we made a big pivot in order to make this challenge our first focus.
Allen: I think some people have a negative view of the public sector and innovation, but DTI and the Government of New Brunswick have been very supportive, and really forward thinking in their approach to solving this challenge.
ONB: Is yours a competitive sector?
Allen: Nobody else is offering exactly what we have. There are things like the Bailey Bridge, but we’re not trying to compete with it. The Bailey is great for longer distances, but we are the best and most economical solution for a distance of 80 feet or less.
ONB: The TME is an important driver of entrepreneurship in New Brunswick. Tell us about your experience with this year’sSummer Institute.
Allen: We owe a lot to the Summer Institute and what they did for us over the course of just 12 weeks. We went in with a good handle on our idea, but all the mentorship we received there, particularly from Dr. Dhirendra Shukla, really accelerated our growth. It got us talking to different markets, and helped us internally with both the organization and direction of the company.
Bird: It’s such a great program. It allows small companies like us to become real players. Dr. Shukla and that entire department are incredible — they’re driving real change, producing innovation, and helping a ton of young companies get started.
ONB: Can we work in a quick plug for ONB?
Allen: Absolutely, ONB has been very helpful. Our initial conversations with ONB helped both teams realize our export potential, and the opportunities that exist for us in other provinces and in the U.S. Your team has discussed financial assistance with us, and offered further mentorship that should help us increase our exports and grow the company. As with DTI, the interest and support for us from the public sector has been terrific.
ONB: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?
White: Everything takes longer than you think it will. You make a timeline, and proceed based on that timeline. Then you hit a bottleneck of some kind, things takes longer and you have to slide your timelines; that can be discouraging. The biggest challenge is simply having the necessary patience.
Bird: Learning how to design and build these very important structures on our own. It’s a big challenge and a lot of hard work. Fortunately it’s interesting work.
Allen: Our product will literally be carrying lives, so we’ve had to focus on ensuring safety is always our top priority. When you know people’s lives are in your hands the pressure to perfect your design is enormous.
ONB: With the potential military applications of CanCross, is there any benefit to having Canada’s second largest military base a short drive away?
Bird: Absolutely, the base is another organization we’ve talked to. There were 68 culverts on Base Gagetown last year that washed out; so they have infrastructure they’d like to improve. We’re hoping to get more access there and help solve those challenges. That’s potentially huge for us; if the product works well for them doors could open for us across the Commonwealth. There are bases all over the world that could benefit from our solution.
ONB: Let’s wrap with your best advice for entrepreneurs in the region.
White: My best advice for Atlantic Canadians is to believe in ourselves. People like Dr. Shukla are really inspiring our entrepreneurs — listen to people like him.
Allen: It’s a smaller place, and everyone here wants to help; they want to see others succeed. Everyone will lend a hand, so don’t be afraid to ask. We’ve gotten support from places we didn’t expect just because we asked around. That’s the nature of Atlantic Canadians.
Bird: Adding to Scott’s point, you often hear ‘no’ from yourself more than anyone else. No matter the challenge you’re facing, you can’t take no for an answer. Push forward.
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