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Eureka project expands

Business incubator at U of M's Smartpark on road to self-sufficiency

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The Eureka Project at Smartpark is significantly increasing the capacity of its business incubator and is aiming to cut its dependency on the provincial government for funding.

The small business incubator at the University of Manitoba will start a $3.2-million expansion project next week to increase its space by about 50 per cent to 10,000 square feet which will allow it to double the number of companies resident at the centre from to 20 from 10.

Part of the impetus for the project is a desire -- if not a necessity -- to become self-sufficient.

"There are a number of models out there for running a business incubator and the one that makes most sense to us is to build enough square footage to house more companies who we will then charge full cost for the services they receive," said Gary Brownstone, Eureka Project's executive director.

For the last three years it has relied on provincial government funding to make up about 80 per cent of its $300,000 budget. But Brownstone said the province has made it clear it would like the Eureka Project to become self-sufficient.

Doug McCartney, director of the province's science, innovation and business development division of Manitoba Innovation, Energy and Mines, said the province believes in incubators' ability to build capacity and position innovative companies to become competitive players on the global stage.

"We hope Eureka will become self-sufficient," he said. "But we are being realistic and we certainly have a desire to continue playing a role."

That desire would likely be enhanced by successes that emerge from the centre.

As it is, some of Eureka Project's computer, information and environmental technologies companies are already nearing the stage of graduation from the incubator.

One of them is SMT Research Ltd., a company that designs software and electronics for monitoring the integrity and performance of buildings.

SMT Research has about nine employees and a West Coast office to handle work monitoring rain soaked buildings on the coast.

"Being associated with Eureka means we are part of an important network," said Gamal Mustapha, SMT's president. "Gary has helped us meet lots of potential investors and customers."

Mustapha said maybe even more significant has been the company's ability to tap into research capabilities at the U of M.

"Just about every semester we are able to benefit from undergraduate research projects," he said. "We recently hired a graduate who had done some work on our technology for one of his courses."

But incubators have always been tricky things to manage. Not the least of the challenges is having the right kind of companies involved.

Alan Simms, president of Smartpark Development Corp. and associate vice-president of administration at the U of M, said there are 10 solid companies there now and he sees a growing market for more.

"We have the Monsantos and Cangenes (tenants in other Smartpark buildings), which are global companies," he said.

Half of the funding for the expansion, to be completed by next spring, comes from a pool of $32 million the U of M has secured from the federal government's Knowledge Infrastructure Program. The other half will be drawn from previously secured infrastructure funds from the province.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 20, 2009 B4

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