Heather Boyd-Kinnie is the Funding Program Manager and the Program Coordinator of UNB's Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She provides coaching and mentorship for entrepreneurs, manages PDC operations and finances and develops innovative entrepreneurial programs. She also provides community outreach, manages the human resources and facilitates the development of collaborative partnerships. She has had a 30-year career that has spanned the fields of law, professional development, sales & marketing, facilitation, communication, and project and office management. Heather has extensive experience within the University community. She has worked within various UNB Departments coordinating complex research projects and Institutes with local, national and international staff, students, partners, and associates. Heather studied in the business program and then earned a Law Degree from Dalhousie University, worked in St. John’s, and was admitted to the Newfoundland & Labrador Barristers’ Society in 1986.
MS: You are deeply committed to the work of the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This interview is designed as a discussion of creativity. What's the connection?
HB-K: Creativity provides the spark that fires the imagination. Innovative thinking generates new ideas which are the basis for new start-ups and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is the process of designing, building, launching and operating a business. They are distinct--yet strongly connected. Creative thinking and innovation is needed to become an entrepreneur, and importantly are required for all businesses to continue to be relevant. A company which fails to innovate, think creatively and consider their impact on the world, will not be here very long.
MS: You trained as a lawyer and enjoyed a 30-year career in the legal, business, educational and non-profit sectors. What attracted you to law?
HB-K: As a young person weighing post-secondary education options, I sought skills that could enable me to find interesting long-term employment. I initially wanted to become a teacher but at that time, employment opportunities in education seemed limited. So, I chose to study business and law.
My legal training has been so helpful throughout my life. Not only did it give me a great legal foundation (which I also used in working for a law firm in Newfoundland & Labrador and then a regional law firm in designing professional development programs), but the rigorous program prepared me to look at the world from many different perspectives, to have empathy for various points of view, to have a strong commitment to justice and fairness, and to utilize the power of effective argument and persuasion. I credit it with giving me my ‘can-do” approach to life.
MS: How did you transition into your current work?
HB-K: I have a strong desire to live authentically, and that sometimes means stepping out of an existing role. When I began to shift careers, my passions for new horizons and new ideas had been burning inside me for a while. I knew that I would have a more interesting life if I became a person who didn’t always do the “expected.”
Following a move to New Brunswick, I became involved with literacy initiatives and soon became the Executive Director of a total quality management program for the Chamber of Commerce in Woodstock. This involved working with businesses and organizations using a more collaborative and inclusive way of thinking about management to increase success. We especially focused on understanding customer/client needs and the inclusion of management and employees in decision-making to create processes and culture of continuous improvement in businesses and organizations to meet or exceed customer needs. This project garnered international interest, including a publication in Japan.
I then began two businesses of my own and also became a business consultant and facilitator. As the Chair of the Carleton-Victoria Valley Vocational Planning Committee, I led service providers in government, organizations and businesses to work together to strategically plan for continuing provision of services to vulnerable clients, given an impending reduction in government funding.
Over the years, I also worked with research teams at the University which focused on water science, the environment and green energy research and were developing community and industrial partners. I also worked on an international project on democracy with Russian educators. In these innovative groups, I worked with international researchers and students from many countries.This gave me a keen understanding of the challenges facing people coming to Canada to work and study.
MS: Why is the PDC such a great match for you?
HB-K: The Pond-Deshpande Centre is an innovative place where all the aspects of my education, my experience and my journey have converged.
The PDC acts as a catalyst to grow and support a stronger culture of innovation & entrepreneurship in the province and the region. By combining innovative ideas with deep, relevant, contextual knowledge, the PDC believes that citizens will be able to develop sustainable solutions to complex social, environmental & economic challenges as well as to create high impact ventures that “do well & do good” in our region and in the world.
In reflecting on the earlier days of my career as a facilitator and consultant, I have realized that many of the challenges that were facing organizations in our province then, for delivery of services with fewer resources, are still here. However, I believe that the time is now right in our province, which is a living lab for innovation, to make significant inroads to the challenges within the province.
I am so happy to be working at the PDC where I have the opportunity to see entrepreneurs of all generations create opportunities for themselves and others. I am so pleased that, with our partner the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network, we are able to be part of new approaches such as with NouLAB, our public and social innovation lab, where citizens collaborate to understand our most pressing challenges, develop innovative ideas and prototype solutions.
MS: What aspects of your work at PDC are most challenging?
HB-K: We are fortunate to work in a place where we can break new ground, innovatively forge new paths and become nimble in response to community, social and economic needs. Being an explorer and creating new ideas is never an easy--yet is continually exciting. Overcoming resistance to change is especially challenging. Having had life experience and having forged a new path for myself, I have developed strength, resilience and perspective that helps me work through the natural challenges that happen. This also helps a lot when I coach entrepreneurs and innovators!
MS: What aspects of you work at the Centre are most gratifying?
HB-K: Seeing the “aha” moments when clients overcome tough challenges and then make a breakthrough with their idea because of our coaching and support. Once, an entrepreneur, told us that we were able to help her “step into her vision” before she even knew that this was possible. That was a very special day for us.
MS: Your online profile says you have little patience with comments like "It can't be done." Yet, serious problems face both start-ups and businesses that are seeking to expand or renew themselves. Can you give us a brief case history of a way in which a business you supported moved from "it's impossible" to "we did it!"
HB-K: There are various aspects to this question, and for the purpose of this interview, I would like to speak in general terms. Early on, we identified a serious gap in New Brunswick for funding to assist aspiring entrepreneurs to test new ideas. The question became how we would do this given that we were told that UNB, the home of PDC, was not set up to do this. With experience in working with funding agencies, and my spirit of collaboration with colleagues across the campus, I was able to figure out whom to work with and how we would accomplish this together. Since that time, the concept took off and we have provided financial grants and coaching support to over 200 companies/entrepreneurs through our Change Maker Funding Program.
MS: It seems that you are really inspired by your clients' success.
HB-K: Yes. Witnessing the birth of an idea by two students who graduated from UNB, who, because of our initial financial and coaching support, were able to validate their idea in the market place, pivot the idea a few of times, and then ultimately watch them grow their business into an international company employing high tech workers in New Brunswick who work around the globe…that gives me goosebumps.
Watching a multi-sector NouLAB team come together to prototype a possible solution to a complex problem in the province, and then being able to provide financial and coaching support, without which the testing wouldn’t have been possible, is very satisfying. Knowing that they can try ideas that could give them the data needed to make a case for real policy change in their government department(s) and in doing so positively affect the lives of people in our province, makes us so proud.
MS: I'm impressed by the amount of information on the Centre's website, and its clarity. How important is communication?
HB-K: Communication is very important. There is always a balance between using language which everyone can understand while at the same time, having the depth which the subject matter requires. The kind of information presented and the way that it is organized depends upon the audience needs and the reason that they are seeking the information.
MS: How does the Centre benefit UNB?
HB-K: The Centre benefits UNB and also other post-secondary institutions in New Brunswick. Students, professors and staff at UNB and other universities and colleges can receive access to early-stage support including programs, funding and resources. Students have the chance to engage with their colleagues across the province, discover their passions, engage in experiential learning, and make global connections. They become opportunity creators rather than just job seekers. This work often helps to clarify the value of all of their coursework. Students who have participated in our Student Ambassador Program have told us that their courses now seem to “make sense.” Ambassadors have the opportunity develop an innovative, entrepreneurial and problem-solving mindset which will stand them in good stead for the careers of today and the careers of tomorrow. In essence, we provide students with the possibility to realize their potential.
MS: What is your connection to the Atlantic Centre for Creativity?
HB-K: The PDC strongly support the ACC and is one of its earliest members. The ACC has the power to inspire and enable students and encourage the innovation community, so that we all can cultivate our creative confidence.
MS: What would you most like to see the ACC accomplish?
HB-K: We would like to see the ACC continue to provide leading-edge resources and education in the field of creativity in New Brunswick, the Maritimes and beyond. Through collaborative work, research, and the development of best practices in creativity, the ACC can encourage an even greater growth in the creative and innovative mindset that is required to grow our province and region at the pace that is needed for a sustainable future in which we all thrive.