North Forge grows during tumultuous year


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This article was published 13/07/2021 (685 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down many businesses and organizations, North Forge Technology Exchange has recorded a year of rejuvenation and innovation.

A month before a global pandemic was declared in March 2020, Joelle Foster, a founding member of the technology incubator-accelerator, returned to the non-profit as its chief executive officer. From there, she led the organization through a wave of monumental changes.

First, North Forge launched its four-stage Founders Program, which provides entrepreneurs with business training, access to experts, networking, mentorship, pathfinding to growth capital, and ongoing entrepreneur-in-residence support, according to its website.

Photo by Shannon Vanraes / Winnipeg Free Press files Joelle Foster, a founding member of North Forge Technology Exchange, rejoined the organization in February 2020 as its new chief executive officer.

Next, the North Forge Angel Network was created to fill a gap in Manitoba’s investment landscape. The network attracts potential investors to provide members of the Founders Program with access to mentorship and capital opportunities.

North Forge is currently working with 84 companies, including 11 located outside of Manitoba.

Kevin Gordon started developing his company, Memi, 18 months ago. He joined the Founders Program last December, in search of guidance for the next phase of the project. Gordon said he gained access to mentors, conferences, and investors through North Forge.

“Groups like North Forge are absolutely instrumental and much needed in provinces like Manitoba. There are a lot of very bright people who live here, with a lot of great ideas. But typically, as the startup world goes, if you don’t have connections, you can’t get your foot in the door; and if you don’t have money, you can’t raise money,” Gordon, a Bridgwater resident, said.

“It’s really hard as a startup founder to grow a business without somebody in your corner, helping you to succeed, because a lot of the institutional investors, government organizations — they just won’t give you the time of day.”

Foster said North Forge will continue to grow its outreach to women in tech with a brand-new women in innovation lab this fall.

“We don’t have enough women that are identifying as tech founders,” Foster said. “There’s a bro culture that is around it, and I want to shatter that ceiling, and I want to make sure that diversity and inclusion is something that we do.”

Melanie Derwin, founder of Serenity Productions, has been working with North Forge since last summer and said she finds the organization’s ecosystem to be supportive. Derwin’s company aims to celebrate and normalize female sexual health, wellness, and pleasure, she said.

“In terms of being a female founder, I’m just grateful for all the support that all of the people involved in the North Forge program have provided,” Derwin said.

“The connections that they’ve been able to provide for founders within the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem have been invaluable … because it really does take a community to build a company.”

North Forge is also expanding its outreach to rural communities across Manitoba, with plans to build fabrication labs — equipped with tools to develop prototypes — in Thompson and The Pas. Once public health orders allow, Foster said North Forge would like to tour rural Manitoba and build relationships with innovators across the province.

“Where do we want to be? We want to be in every corner of Manitoba.”

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