With the opening of the Smartpark Innovation Hub on Wednesday, the University of Manitoba has the flexible collaboration space that’s now become the norm for post-secondary institutions.
The 75,000-square-foot four-storey building — which was made possible by $20 million of federal government funding — will become the headquarters, as it were, for the commercialization of U of M research.
It is the 10th building in Smartpark, the U of M’s research park, and the first that includes meeting and event space that will be available to the other tenants of Smartpark and the rest of the U of M community.
U of M president David Barnard said the building was designed to be flexible and "we want it to be overflowing and force us to build another one."
'The relationships and partnerships this space will foster will deepen our reach and relevance to the greater business community.'— U of M president David Barnard
"This kind of space will allow the entire park to grow more flexibly and quickly in response to the needs of clients," he said.
"It has been an identified need for some time and we’re very pleased to open it formally today. The relationships and partnerships this space will foster will deepen our reach and relevance to the greater business community."
The building is about 80 per cent leased, with Bold Commerce taking the entire fourth floor and North Forge Technology Exchange and the university’s own Technology Transfer Office (TTO) taking much of the fourth floor.
Jody Dexter, technology transfer specialist at the TTO, said there will be a great benefit in being able to meet with researchers who believe they may have a commercially viable technology and then being able to just take them down the hall to meet with North Forge people who provide all sorts of support in starting up new technology enterprises.
"Technology transfer offices have been relocating to research parks across the country," Dexter said. "We invite researchers to come to the facility and try to do matchmaking. This is just another way to showcase what the U of M has to offer to local industry partners and companies like Bayer and Monsanto and Pfizer."
She suggested that the Innovation Hub will allow the U of M to level the playing field in that it has the kind of modern design that science entrepreneurs around the world have come to expect.
A multi-purpose event space that seats up to 100 features state-of the-art 4K video walls and several informal public gathering spaces.
Digvir Jayas, the U of M’s vice-president for research and international affairs, said it is envisioned that the building will become the preferred space for activities like thesis defence, the annual Game Changer new idea competition and many other academic events.
Jarin Valel, a board member of North Forge and vice-president of Permission Click, said, "This kind of space will help facilitate greater opportunities for research, help entrepreneurs co-locate with industry and also help what the university refers to as meaningful collision with companies helping companies."
There was a sense among the large contingent of university and industry officials on hand that the opening of such a collaborative space that can comfortably bring industry and researchers together was happening not a moment too soon.
Barnard said, "Getting it sooner would have been good; getting it now is great."
Kevin Lusk, the president of Sunwest Consultants, said it was a testament to the strength and character and collaboration between Manitoba industry and the U of M and all the various constituents to be able to pull it off.
"This was a long time coming and is extraordinarily important to the province from an innovation and technology viewpoint, as well as creating future industry in the province that frankly, given the rate of technological change, has not even been imagined yet," he said.
Lusk, who specializes is consulting on technology change in the manufacturing industry, pointed out that while the province of Saskatchewan has been a major investor in the University of Saskatchewan’s research park in Saskatoon, the provincial government in Manitoba has provided relatively little funding for the development of the U of M’s Smartpark.
Tenants set to move into the building over the coming weeks are Bold Commerce, North Forge Technology Exchange, Futurpreneur, Cibus Canada, Pembina Trails Early College School, the University of Manitoba Technology Transfer Office, 151 Research and Backswath Management.
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 Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 10:10 PM CDT: Updates photo caption.