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This article was published 5/2/2020 (345 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The first direct beneficiaries of the Manitoba government’s economic action plan are five startup or early-stage companies that need a boost to get their products and technology firmly into the market.
The five of them received a total of $350,000 in grants from the Innovation Growth Program, which was launched in June and has an annual budget of $2.1 million.
The companies, which are projected to create more than 300 full-time and part-time jobs over the next five years, range from a company that makes high-end, super durable tires for construction equipment, a technology company that can solve traffic congestion at train level crossings and a company that has developed technology that can automatically provide real-time water analysis from the most hard-to-reach sites.
The program is a re-imagining of the former NDP government’s commercialization support for business with an eye towards job creation.
Economic Development Minister Ralph Eichler said, "The bigger companies will grow. They know how to grow. These companies need a little help. It’s so exciting. These are real pioneers and tomorrow’s leaders."
Companies eligible for the program must have fewer than 100 employees, less than $15 million in annual revenue and intend to use the money to help pay for new employees.
Teresa Dukes, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, said it’s the kind of funding that many companies are looking for and it could help the government achieve some of its job creation goals.
"It is aligned with the province’s priorities, it’s non-dilutive and it makes the companies look smart when they go out to raise capital because they have been able to leverage this kind of funding," she said.
While the first tranche of recipients seems worthy on first blush, programs like this often suffer from lack of visibility. Companies that may have the targeted attributes do not apply because they don’t know about it.
As Eichler said, it is not meant for companies that are already large and successful. It is also meant specifically for companies that are on the road to commercialization and it is not a program for companies that are still developing their product or technology.
The five businesses that received money Wednesday are:
Evolution Wheel received $100,000. This company has developed high quality long-lasting tires for construction equipment and is commercializing a version of solid tires for forklifts and aerial work platforms. Derek Hird, the founder and CEO of the company, has owned and operated a used equipment business called Hird Equipment. Customers would come in with queries and suggestions and he got it in his head that the equipment needed better tires. His tires are not the cheapest but because they last so long they are the lowest cost per hour on the market. Hird said they are always working on new innovations. "We went to Conexpo (North America’s largest construction equipment show held in Las Vegas) three years ago with one product. This year we’ll have 12."
Aquatic Life received $50,000. The Pinawa company has developed a water-quality and water-quantity monitoring system that provides real-time data and analysis for the world’s most isolated and volatile locations. This is another company that had a base of operation — distributing third-party water treatment and testing equipment — but identified a gap in the market. On his way back from a mine site in British Columbia where his technology is being tested, Jeff Simpson, the president and founder of the company, said the funding will allow the company hire another skilled worker to help with the commercialization process. He hopes one day to be able to set up the technology along the Winnipeg River, to measure the nutrient flow into Lake Winnipeg.
Trainfo Corp. received $32,000. This company has developed sound sensors that can analyze train movement to provide motorists with information to help reduce traffic congestion and collisions at railway crossings.
Neil Ternowetsky, a co-founder and chief technology officer, said Trainfo is the first Canadian company to receive research funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The company has already undertaken a number of projects for municipalities including Winnipeg and Seattle and expects to almost double its staff size to 20 by the end of this year and to double it again next year. It’s already booked eight times the business it had all of last year in the first month of this year and is in the process of raising its first round of venture capital.
Creative Applications for Sustainable Technologies (CAST) Inc. received $89,000. This company, which includes former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray on its team, is developing software that helps municipal planners and other government agencies efficiently and consistently calculate the economic, social and environmental effects of infrastructure projects. Andrew Jennissen, the company’s product manager, said there are lots of opportunities to provide information to municipalities to allow them to make more meaningful decisions. Using data, much of it in the public domain, CAST is developing technology that will show the real costs and benefits for a community for infrastructure development.
SolarSkyrise received $80,000. The firm is developing software that provides cost analysis on the potential for buildings to generate solar power, factoring in the ever-changing photovoltaic technology and the increasing amount of open source data on just about every building on earth. Scott Russell, the company CEO and founder said, the market for green buildings is taking off, especially in the U.S. where SolarSkyrise already has a beachhead after winning a coveted spot in the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator. Russell is raising venture capital and is very invovled with architects and developers in New York City.
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.