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This article was published 22/2/2019 (508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
About three years ago, Teresa Dukes, a 21-year government policy analyst veteran teamed up with a Winnipeg doctor and won first prize in the ninth Winnipeg RampUp Weekend for a business concept called BedTrust.
After that weekend experience, Dukes, a trained psychologist, was hooked on the dynamics and ecosystem of startup communities.
As the new president of North Forge Technology Exchange, Dukes brings with her a sophisticated level of understanding of the importance of innovation and, probably more importantly, how it can be implemented.
Before her glorious RampUp Weekend victory, Dukes had taken a leadership degree with a focus on innovation at Royal Road University in Victoria and went on to work with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority working on primary health care reform and then to the province where she was engaged in figuring out how to establish a culture of innovation.
After North Forge was selected to be one of the province's strategic partners in its new economic development strategy, the grass-roots startup support organization is about to enter a new chapter of its institutional career and Dukes looks to have the right background and skills to help navigate that passage.
"It has already gone through its own startup phase," she said. "There are seasons of leadership. North Forge has to build out to the next level particularly now that we have been named a strategic partner on innovation."
North Forge is one of those organizations that looks a lot bigger than it really is. With a staff of about eight people, it operates out of three facilities in Winnipeg with satellite shops in Pinawa and Morden.
"We have a small but mighty team," Dukes said.
Not only has she thought deeply about innovation, she is also fluent in the language of government. As the non-profit continues to hash out with the province how the mechanics of the strategic partnership will work, that skill will be that much more valuable to North Forge.
Dukes likes to use a sports team analogy in thinking about the relationship with the province where the province is the coach and North Forge would be like a speciality team.
"Previously there was not a coordinated system of economic development (at the province). Everyone was doing their own thing," she said. "My interpretation of the direction they are taking is that they are trying to create a high performance sports team in economic development."
Her brief experience with BedTrust -- it teamed up with a doctor working in the U.S. of Argentine descent who eventually implemented the technology in Argentina -- fed her a passion for the process of innovation.
As it is still the early days of the digital era, North Forge has rightly been known most for its work with technology startups and she believes it is in good shape and that the success of companies like Skipthedishes and Bold Commerce provides a lot of hope and inspiration for people in Winnipeg working in the field.
"We're going to be looking at our startup program at how we want to take it to the next generation," she said. "There is lots of activity and conversation happening which is really exciting and North Forge for sure wants to be a strong partner, pillar, foundation in supporting that."
And while Dukes continues to talk with the province about what form the partnership with North Forge will take, in the next few weeks she and her board of directors will engage in a strategic planning session so that the organization can go forward with a renewed sense of focus.
Meanwhile, there are already a couple of ideas being developed that might have a significant impact on what the organization looks like in the coming years.
Among other things, there is a realization that since Winnipeg is a hub of agri-food industries a focus on agri-tech is starting to happen organically.
"If we were to pull in startup companies from anywhere in the world and they wanted the best incubator, what would draw them to Manitoba?" she asked. "Our advantage is in ag tech."
For instance, discussions are already starting to take place about securing land to create an autonomous farm to be able to do testing much easier.
"We have to figure out how to pull all the industry partners together," she said. "That would give us the resources to really focus and accelerate the growth of ag tech."
Dukes is also fond of an innovation model that involves outreach between existing operating companies and the startup entrepreneurs where a legacy company might seek assistance from a startup to help them innovate their way out of a problem.
The startup gets to overcome the barrier of finding that first customer and the established company company might find that elusive way out of problem that they might not otherwise have been able to find using their own resources.
Dukes imagines North Forge being able to provide the innovation support by connecting the entrepreneur with the company that has a problem . It's a concept that she said is getting a lot of interest, including from the provincial officials she's talking to.
"It would help advance the industry and the company and grow the economy at the same time," she said. "It's how innovation works and how we can work together, doing real things that matter and capitalizing on the talent that's here."
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.
Updated on Friday, February 22, 2019 at 7:55 PM CST: Fixes typos
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