In my last post, I wrote about the ladder of opportunity created by a remarkable high school in Winnipeg – created, not alone, but in collaboration with colleges, universities and with the active support of city government. Now I want to write about the next rungs that lead from building skills to building companies.
At the lowest run is AssentWorks, a makerspace created entirely by volunteers, who raised the money need to purchase millions of dollars of equipment, from wood and metal working to circuit printing, 3D printing, numerically controlled lathes and laser cutters. (They are not just any volunteers but a group of successful entrepreneurs reinvesting in the future.) For a C$150 annual fee, members have access to it all.
Defining its mission as “helping to create $100m companies,” the Manitoba Technology Accelerator takes businesses that have survived the incubation stage and helps them become real companies. Each client entering the accelerator develops milestones and executes against them, graduating when they do. The star pupil of the day is Skip the Dishes, a company that provides outsourced take-out services for restaurants. Starting with an idea, it now has 300 employees and is expanding across Canada. Another success story is Invenia, a machine-learning company that has developed a sophisticated model of electricity markets that lets utilities forecast in real time the pricing and availability of power to help manage their systems. More than $3 billion power transactions based on their forecasting model have been executed.Next up the ladder are incubators offering the usual mix of desk and small-office space, mentoring and connections to potential partners and customers. Startup Winnipeg began life as a volunteer effort that attracted 8,000 volunteer hours in its first year. Another tech incubator, The Eureka Project, is partnering with AssentWorks to build a testbed for experimentation in the Internet of Things (IoT). They will build a network of wireless radios on the rooftops of all partner research facilities, using high-powered technology that enables low-power, low-cost sensors at the remote end. Early demand from entrepreneurs and engineering firms has been strong.
The work of these organizations is moving the dial, in the eyes of the young entrepreneurs I met. The co-founder of another machine learning company, Sightline Innovation, explained that his company was founded in Toronto. When they were looking for talent to grow, they were advised to go to Winnipeg. After opening an office and staffing up an R&D and production team, the company ultimately relocated its entire staff to Winnipeg. Why? “Because I get 80% more productivity,” he said, “at 20% of the cost and 50% of the hassle.” For a prairie town far from any of the traditional tech capitals of North America, that’s a sign of good things to come. Futurepreneur Canada is a government-funded entity that connects new businesses to sources of capital. It provides deal flow to venture investor while easing access to capital for young companies. Connecting and coordinating all of these different actors is Economic Development Winnipeg.Futurepreneur Canada is a government-funded entity that connects new businesses to sources of capital. It provides deal flow to venture investor while easing access to capital for young companies. Connecting and coordinating all of these different actors is Economic Development Winnipeg.