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In the spirit of entrepreneurship

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When there is passion involved in any pursuit in life, the meaningfulness of the enterprise is enhanced.

A moving work of art is enjoyed and appreciated regardless of its popular success; an incredible athletic performance is cheered even if it's not victorious; a daring feat of entrepreneurialism is marvelled at even if it does not become financially lucrative.

That's the attitude that emanates from a bunch of grassroots entrepreneurs, engineers and tinkerers who have built a worker-space called AssentWorks on the third floor of one of those long-ago orphaned stone warehouse buildings on the edge of the west Exchange District.

AssentWorks has now merged with Ramp-Up Manitoba, a group of mostly digital-technology geeks with the same do-it-yourself mindset who seem just as content to build something to fill a niche than in becoming rich and famous.

On Friday, federal cabinet minister Vic Toews is scheduled to make a special announcement in support of AssentWorks. He ought to be properly impressed.

Michael Legary, the young owner of the information-technology security firm, Seccuris, is the driving force behind AssentWorks. (The branding of the merged entity has yet to be determined.)

An example of the kind of energy that's involved is that Legary has spent the past week as the pseudo-general contractor of the tradespeople working on the 6,500-square-foot expansion of the AssentWorks space to make room for the Ramp-Up Manitoba people. (Some of those tradespeople have been donated by a couple of AssentWorks members -- High Speed Crow and Deputy Electric.)

During the past 14 months, Legary and AssentWorks co-founders -- industrial designer David Bernard and Kerry Stevenson, the former chief technology officer of Great-West Life -- have rounded up close to $500,000 worth of industrial equipment such as 3-D printers, plasma cutters and CNC (computer-numerical-control) machines.

Since it opened in the fall of 2011, they have been used to create more than 150 unique prototypes at AssentWorks.

"Dollars per outcome, we are very competitive," Legary said.

Both Legary and Chris Johnson of Ramp-Up (who along with the two other founders of AssentWorks will be the directors of the new entity) have a sense of pride and happiness they have accomplished what they have without government support.

When the additional workspace is opened on Monday there will be close to 100 members who pay about $250 per month for access to the facility and its bare-bones workspace and amenities.

No one would disclose the federal government's financial support, but Legary said it would be project specific.

"We have proven we're a sustainable entity," said Legary.

"When we sought support from the government it was for funding for specific outcome projects. We can say to them there is an infrastructure already in place and here is why it is survivable without you."

Johnson said some of the value of Ramp-Up Manitoba's efforts, such as weekend business start-up events and organizing to form a sort of collective of digital entrepreneurs, was to prove they could do it on their own.

"If we take taxpayers' money, we can sleep at night knowing that it will generate an economic outcome for Winnipeg and Manitoba in a fashion that does not require ongoing amounts of support," said Johnson.

In the spirit of the organization, AssentWorks/Ramp-Up Manitoba is launching a fundraising effort over the crowd-funding site Indiegogo to help deal with additional space and overhead.

Among other things, it will seek all sorts of in-kind contributions to continue to fit out the space.

In the meantime, Legary said they have recently secured some sophisticated equipment at wholesale prices that would be the envy of any manufacturer in the city.

Even if the next iPhone does not emanate from the space, its ongoing presence is proof enough an entrepreneurial culture is alive and well in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 A17


Updated on Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 11:40 AM CST: adds photo

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash


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