December 5, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
These days the CEOs of Winnipeg's two largest business incubators have no problem coming up with names of companies they've worked with which have made it as a success out on their own.
That's not always been the case over the last 10 years.
There is a real renaissance of small business start-ups in Winnipeg and that means the business incubators are very busy.
Incubators or accelerators -- there's now a defined difference between organizations that work with rank startups and those with businesses that have already started making some sales -- provide a host of financial, marketing and mentoring support to new businesses with promise.
Both Marshall Ring at the Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA) (formerly Bio-Medical Commercialization Canada) in the Exchange District and Gary Brownstone of The Eureka Project at the University of Manitoba's Smartpark talk about the high quality and volume of new businesses coming forward.
Asked who's the all-star at MTA, Ring said, "In the next three months we're going to have three or four all-stars coming out."
Brownstone said, "We are blown away by the level of activity these days. There are brilliant young entrepreneurs coming through our doors every week. Absolutely, the level of talent and the amount of talent is considerably higher these days."
It's long been a truism that the big job creators in the economy are the small businesses, and they all start from scratch.
Some of these are companies that have not even started generating sales yet, so they may not be household names, but companies like Complex Games and Invenia started at The Eureka Project with a couple of people and now have staffs of about 40 people each.
At MTA, Ring said companies such as Skip the Dishes, Cubresa and Arterial Stiffness Inc. are all on the verge of significant market breakthroughs.
But despite the success and the valuable service in terms of providing an underpinning of activity to percolate up through the economy, the incubators are forced to continue to scramble and improvise in order to survive.
Funding models for incubators have been a constantly moving target over the years.
This week the federal government announced a $60-million program over five years to fund the best incubators and accelerators so they can expand their services.
Bogdan Ciobanu, vice-president of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, which will administer the new funding, said there are about 150 incubators in the country.
But only about 10 are likely to receive funding in this new federal program.
It's not to say Eureka or MTA won't be among that select group, but this new program is not likely to provide all the funding answers for the Winnipeg incubators.
The government of Manitoba has funded both of the Winnipeg organizations for many years.
But it has been several years since the province has had any kind of long-term, sustainable strategy.
"The province has never really had a holistic view on what they want to do," Ring said. "We have enjoyed provincial support for the past several years. Now the province is reflecting on what direction to take in the coming years."
Five years ago, the province commissioned a study on some broad issues around technology commercialization. That report never did gain much traction.
Another study focused on incubators has recently been completed but it remains under wraps.
Brownstone has long agitated for a more comprehensive approach to the issue.
"The province has not yet clearly defined a go-forward strategy in this space," he said.
He applauds the federal initiative, but unlike other federal programs the province could piggy-back on, Brownstone doesn't believe this program provides that opportunity.
However, the federal program could provide some impetus for the province to commit to a strategy and there is rumblings something may be in the works.
This province cannot afford to miss out on the value a whole crop of new businesses can provide.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2013 B4
Updated on Wednesday, September 25, 2013 at 6:42 AM CDT: