Winnipeg is a long way from Silicon Valley, yet St. James’ Alpha Technologies has created an innovative tech environment where it plans to introduce cutting-edge gadgets to the local market.
Alan Castell, the company’s founder and owner, is launching a retail storefront called Alpha Play on the ground floor of the current business at 1783 Portage Ave.
Customers will be able to shop for 3D printers, electric scooters, motorized skateboards, and new-to-market equipment such as foldable kayaks — for outdoors people who want to explore the city’s waterways but may not have the means to store or transport a traditional boat.
Castell said there’s a vacuum for modern tech in the city and wants to create an ever-evolving sales floor.
"You can take my 3D printers out of my cold dead hands because as a tech tool, I have never had anything more powerful," he said. "I can make a thing out of nothing — out of air."
Castell has made toys, figurines, and machinery parts.
The 3D printers use melted plastic filament — including biodegradable material sourced from corn husks — to build an object layer by layer from the base up. The company hopes to sell hobby printers to individuals and commercial units to schools and businesses.
Alpha Play staff will offer ongoing support for customers who’ve purchased a 3D printer, Castell said. In addition, the company plans to host workshops on how to use the software, so visitors can enter the brick-and-mortar store and become experts on their new machine before taking it home.
"There are people who’d rather deal with a local shop. It’s nice if you have a place where people can come in and feel comfortable if they get stuck," he said.
Castell’s team of 11 salaried employees manage phone services, security camera systems, and web management for businesses across the country, including Winnipeg’s own Salisbury House and Vickar Automotive Group.
"If you’re a company that doesn’t need a full-time IT person, but you still need to have those services, that’s what we do," Castell said.
Alpha Technologies has recruited students from Herzing College and Robertson College. To date, there’s been zero staff turnover, Castell said.
Raynald Gobeil has worked with Alpha Technologies as a web developer and graphic designer for three years after transfering over from another company.
"This is such an interesting environment. Everything tech is here — whatever we enjoy or like to play with," Gobeil said. "I enjoy coming into work."
He got into 3D printing several years ago and bought one, which he can control remotely from his smartwatch. The learning curve wasn’t difficult, he said.
Jan de Vlaming, who’s been on board for six months, will be working on the sales floor and is looking forward to talking shop with customers and growing with the company.
"All the stuff we’re bringing in is stuff that we all like using and playing with," de Vlaming said. "If you come and buy a printer from us, the support doesn’t end at — OK, you bought your printer, have fun — you can contact us."
Alpha Play is putting the final touches on the storefront and plans to open its doors in mid-July. Updates will be available on the Alpha Technologies Facebook page.
The Metro community journalist
Katlyn Streilein is the community journalist for The Metro.