Founded in 1998, Canada’s Communitech is the sort of start-up incubator and new business creator any country would dream of. What started as a small group of entrepreneurs looking to support one another and other new businesses, the Communitech network now includes more than a thousand companies — a combination of sponsors and alumni — half of which began as start-ups in the programme. It’s part of the reason Waterloo is one of Canada’s technology hot spots.
Situated in a former leather tannery, the Communitech facility offers shared workspace and meeting rooms. Another start-up initiative, The Accelerator Program, also makes use of some of Communitech’s space says director of corporate and client relations, Lisa Thompson.
Thompson says the facility is heavily funded by the Canadian government, but that further funding comes from sponsorships and, in some instances, even from successful alumni businesses.
Start-ups accepted into the Communitech Hub — they have to apply and provide sound proof of concept and business plans — also have access to various legal, accounting, banking skills and other expertise. There is a group of business analysts on hand to offer advice and a number of “executives in residence” who spend between 18 and 36 months mentoring for free. At present, the selection of executives includes former county managers for Apple and Intel.
Communitech also offers an initiative called Hyperdrive, an intensive three-month programme for start-ups, which includes an initial $40 000 injection and various other convertible investment instruments. The Hyperdrive fund totals $30m and is open to international start-ups, too.
Waterloo University, known for its computer science department, also has space at Communitech. Its incubator is called Velocity and students and university alumni are welcome to work there. Velocity was responsible for a project company called BufferBox that allows individuals or companies to ship items to a designated box where a recipient can then collect them. Started by five university students, the company was recently acquired by Google.
Communitech is also home to Hive (Hub Interactive Virtual Environment), a project run by a company called Christie that specialises in rapid prototyping — also known as 3D printing — and 3D projection technologies. Hive allows a user wearing 3D glasses to navigate detailed 3D environments. The system, which cost C$280 000 to build, is used for the visualisation of architecture or venue layout or anything else where 1:1 scale makes sense for decision making.
Aside from bringing entrepreneurs into contact with mentors, investors and cutting-edge technology, Communitech is also a tangible generator of economic activity. It’s estimated the Hub has resulted in 30 000 new technology jobs in the region and it claims that for every $1 of public investment it’s returned $12,63 of economic impact. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media