Peel Region offers help to IT entrepreneurs

The Research Innovation Commercialization Centre, launched Wednesday west of Toronto, should be “extremely valuable” to entrepreneurs planning to start technology firms, an IDC Canada analyst said.

RIC Centre, based west of Toronto in the city of Mississauga, is a non-profit group run by the local Board of Trade and funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Research and Innovation, in partnership with the University of Toronto Mississauga. Formerly known as the Western Greater Toronto Area Convergence Centre, RIC Centre will focus more on helping entrepreneurs commercialize their research, said Jake Dheer, chairman of the Mississauga Board of Trade.

“We’ll work with entrepreneurs, help them access the tools and the resources to get their product or service to market, whereas before it was more connecting the academic researchers to the business community,” Dheer said. “Our job is now really to work with entrepreneurs to make sure they’re able to commercialize their product and achieve commercial success and we’ll do that right from the research stage to commercialization.”

The RIC Centre will offer help to new small companies in Peel Region – comprised of the cities of Mississauga and Brampton plus the town of Caledon – with developing business plans. It will also help them link with mentors who can guide entrepreneurs with legal and marketing issues and give them access to market intelligence.

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One market research firm, IDC Canada, works with similar organizations in Ontario, including the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation (OCRI) and the MaRS Centre in downtown Toronto.

“As analysts we can (tell them) where their greatest opportunities are and where the lowest hanging fruit is,” said Krista Collins, research analyst for Canadian IT innovation and export and IDC Canada. She added executives starting up tech companies can “test their messaging” with analysts or industry experts to find out “what’s really going to resonate with customers.

“Analysts like myself might be hard to identify,” Collins said. “Having a centre like this great way to identify who they are.”

She added organizations like RIC Centre can help put budding executives in touch with officials with other groups, such as OCRI.

“I know firsthand the work those organizations do are extremely valuable to startups,” she said, adding some of the “hot areas” right now in IT and telecom include Web 2.0 technologies and wireless.

RIC Centre is one of 12 regional innovation networks in Ontario. Its predecessor, the Western GTA Convergence Centre, helped more than 3,500 businesses over the last three years, Dheer said. Other regional innovation networks include Waterloo Research and Technology Park Accelerator, London Regional Innovation Network, Eastern Lake Ontario Regional Innovation Network and Innovation Initiatives Ontario North.

To use the services at RIC Centre, executives must first join the Mississauga Board of Trade, Dheer said. “You would call the RIC centre, we’ll meet with you for a discovery meeting to determine the company needs — stuff like competitive marketing to help you understand the market needs and the competition, we’ll talk about intellect property protection just to make sure that you’re secure,” he said. RIC Centre can also give entrepreneurs advice on their sales plans and on financing.

Collins said RIC Centre’s advice on making business plans is attractive to entrepreneurs, and these organizations can also advise firms on how to attract “angel” investors and appeal to the market in general.

Dheer said the RIC Centre is important because many high-tech firms face competition from overseas.

“We have various sectors going to other parts of the world and we have to start helping our entrepreneurs here,” Dheer said. “If we’re going to be leaders, we have to be helping our entrepreneurs achieve their successes, not so they can take their product elsewhere but so they can commercialize it within our country.”

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