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This article was published 28/9/2016 (2099 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Innovation Alley, the west Exchange District technology-startup hub, will be the first launch site for the advanced broadband and wireless networks Bell MTS intends to build in the province.
The decision to launch the new and faster wireless networks at Innovation Alley is a big boost to the vibrant startup scene in Winnipeg. (It is contingent on regulatory approval of Bell’s $3.9-billion acquisition of MTS.)
"This is the beginning of something truly amazing... having more tech companies in the space and more support organizations to help them," said Jeff Ryzner, CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, the newly formed economic development group that brought a handful of incubator organizations in the area under one umbrella.
Bell committed to spending $1 billion over five years and building five cell towers in the province when the deal to buy MTS was announced in May.
A large crowd was on hand Tuesday for the Innovation Alley block party featuring virtual reality demonstrations, a technology showcase with offerings from the 30-plus companies that now operate in the area, and a rapid fire pitch competition. The Discovery Channel’sDaily Planet was there to shoot an episode.
'I can't think of anything else (better) we should do than make broadband investments in an area like this where it is going to advance these companies' ‐ Premier Brian Pallister (above)
Mayor Brian Bowman, who was in attendance, has been a longtime supporter of the startup ecosystem in the city. Last year, he officially renamed the two blocks of Adelaide Street between McDermot and William avenues Innovation Alley.
Premier Brian Pallister was also there, along with several Bell executives including CEO George Cope, further evidence of the broad support North Forge is receiving.
"I can’t think of anything else (better) we should do than make broadband investments in an area like this where it is going to advance these companies," said Pallister.
"They will be more successful because of access to broadband speeds that other competitors around the world do not yet have."
Cope said construction of the new Advanced-LTE wireless network and the broadband fibre network directly to the buildings on Innovation Alley will start within 180 days of the closing of Bell’s purchase of MTS, expected by the end of this year or early 2017.
The potential impact to the high-tech startup activities of the increased speeds — 20 times faster broadband and four to five times faster wireless speeds — is enormous.
Dustin Refvik, the chief product officer of two companies in Innovation Alley — FarmTrack and Trap Tap — said if you’re running Internet businesses, having faster speeds and a reliable network are necessary especially as the hub grows.
"It’s really, really important to get the new startups to come here and stay here in the area," said Refvik. "This is one of the things that will help expedite that."
In addition to a promise to enhance the network in Innovation Alley, Bell MTS has also committed to extending MTS’s financial support for North Forge — which is about to expire — for another three years. MTS had previously provided about $150,000 in funding.
"This is the best pat on the back we could get," said Chris Johnson, a founding board member of North Forge and the founder and CEO of one of the neighbourhood’s all-star success stories, Permission Click.
Permission Click offers digital permission forms for schools and community groups. In about two years it has grown to 65,000 users, has raised $3 million in private equity and has 20 employees.
"Three to four years ago, I did not know I had an option to do something like this," said Johnson. "Companies like Permission Click would never have happened had we not had this kind of community."
In addition to offices and support groups for 30 companies, the area also houses AssentWorks, the largest fabrication lab of its type in the country with about $3 million work of equipment such as laser cutters and 3D printers.
Ryzner said he is in the process of filing the latest funding application to the province. North Forge intends to develop a number of new facilities including a virtual reality and augmented reality lab and an Internet of Things lab in the next 12 months.
"I am definitely hoping they will help fuel our expansion outside the perimeter to Brandon and around the north as well," he said.
Cope said he believes the transaction to buy MTS is on schedule as far as the regulators are concerned.
Pallister said the province intends to make a presentation to the Competition Bureau. He said the province will be supportive but there are caveats.
"We are certainly encouraged by the commitments both partners have already demonstrated, as they are again today, in terms of improving service and including access for many Manitobans who don’t live in the serviced areas of the province," said Pallister. "But there were some promises made that we expect to see kept."
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.