Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 13/8/2016 (1463 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The street-level entrance to the AssentWorks maker space still looks like a nondescript west Exchange warehouse building.
But now there’s also an intriguing yellow "North Forge" sign outside the Adelaide Street building.
North Forge Technology Exchange is the amalgamation of the Eureka Project, AssentWorks, Ramp Up Manitoba and the Startup Winnipeg program that was formalized a few months ago after several months of discussion and planning.
Jeff Ryzner, the affable CEO of North Forge, agrees the newly branded and hyper-collaborative operation is a natural next step in the non-stop evolution of the startup ecosystem in Winnipeg.
'We are evolving daily. In the past year there's been lots of heavy lifting to bring all these pieces together'
"We are evolving daily," said Ryzner. "In the past year there’s been lots of heavy lifting to bring all these pieces together."
For starters, the operations are spread out geographically — the Eureka Project is in Smartpark at the University of Manitoba, and in addition to the maker space on Adelaide Street, there are also offices housing startups down the street in two floors of another Exchange building.
North Forge bills itself as an innovation-based economic-development agency/community designed to fuel Manitoba’s innovation economy. With about $400,000 in annual support from the provincial and federal governments, it has leveraged several times more in private-sector and community support in various forms.
Still, the low-rent space is a necessary part of the operational strategy, especially with the ambitious plans for the next 12 months.
"With what we want to accomplish in the next 12 months, we are going to need more space," said Ryzner.
He does not even seem off-put when he said he recently has to rent out his office to a startup and now just floats around grabbing a desk at one location or another.
"I have a tiny closet where I keep my laptops," he said. "As multiple entities (before they merged into one) we were aligned and working together. The commitment we made when we started out (as North Forge) was to bring things together so that the same services are available in every space."
That doesn’t mean there will be 3D printers at the Eureka Project, but the mentoring, business development, marketing and financial assistance can be offered to all participating companies wherever they are located.
North Forge is working on developing its own digital network that will allow a widget designer in Winkler, for instance, to be able to use the software from a laser printer at the North Forge fabrication lab to produce a prototype.
It’s also recently landed about $1 million from Western Economic Diversification Canada, then leveraged another $1.5 million from private-sector contributions and is in the process of building an information and communications technology lab that will mirror the hardware maker space that has become so popular.
Ryzner said, "Here (at the maker space) you can do rapid prototype, fabrication and some early-stage manufacturing. We are going to build a lab for people to innovate augmented reality, virtual reality and interactive digital media."
Jeff Blair, the founder of a startup called Panopla, is like a kid in a toy store, showing off the different iterations of VR headsets and production space that is starting to take shape at North Forge’s new information and communications technology lab.
"This is about human-computer interaction," said Blair. "We can create interactive digital media products without having to access large overhead."
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It’s probably true the entrepreneurs involved in startups might be more inclined than the average person to want to get connected into a community of like-minded people. And that is what is fuelling impressive growth at North Forge, with an expanding roster of mentors, more and richer participation from private-sector sponsors and enthusiastic support from post-secondary institutions.
Stuart Henrickson, the I.H. Asper executive director for entrepreneurship at the U of M’s Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, is the chairman of North Forge’s hard-working board.
"We are extremely pleased with the establishment of North Forge and have heard only positive feedback from our Manitoba entrepreneurs," he said. "What’s most encouraging is that the market is excited by this cross-collaboration, and we will be announcing some amazing growth opportunities in the coming months."
North Forge is also starting to branch outside the Perimeter to provide startup services in Brandon. Ryzner gushed about the assistance he got from Allister Penner of MNP, a core sponsor of North Forge, who provided introductions into that market as well as boardroom and physical infrastructure.
Ryzner said, "It takes a village to grow a startup, and we have a village. There is amazing talent from all over the province."
Martin Cash Reporter
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.