Rent free, furnished office up for grabs in IT contest

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Too often demands of running a business get in the way of laying down a clear path for its growth.

An Ontario town that’s fast becoming a technology hub of the province is offering small information technology (IT) and export-focused businesses a chance to revisit and revitalize their business plan, and in the process get a shot at snagging a fully furnished, rent free office.

Dubbed the Markham Space Race, the contest is open to all small Ontario-based firms that have been in operation for at least two years and have a minimum of three full-time employees.

All contestants have to do is submit a plan that demonstrates their company is poised for rapid growth.

Organized by the town of Markham and companies such as Great West Life (GWL) Realty Advisors, FIT by Design and Colliers International, the contest opened this Wednesday and runs until September 15.

The grand prize is one year rent-free access to a 1,000-square-foot office space. The prize, donated by Toronto-based GWL, has a value of more than $50,000.

The space is located in a business facility along Columbia Way in Markham, a town that is home to more than 1,000 tech-based companies.

Second and third prize winners will receive thousands of dollars worth of business consulting and professional services from another contest sponsor, law firm Wilson Vukelich LLP of Markham.

“People just assume their business is going to grow. The reality is they’re so busy running that they don’t have time to sit back, adjust their business plans, and ask what the key issues are,” said Bob Glandfield, president and CEO of the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ISCM).

ISCM is a government funded agency focused on helping export and technology-oriented companies develop. Business advisors from ISCM will screen the entries and pick 20 of the best submissions.

Rod Graham, director of client services for ISCM, said his organization is rounding up a panel of judges from the technology and export industries, academia and government sector to pick winners from the 20 shortlisted contestants.

“We want the contestants to tell us how they intend to expand their company within the next 12 months,” said Graham.

Among the business aspects ISCM will be looking for are: service or product descriptions, revenue projections, financial requirements, hiring and management plans and target markets.

“This initiative is being launched to encourage entrepreneurs across Ontario to think growth and innovation,” said Stephen Chait, director of economic development at the town of Markham.

Jim Brown, sales representative for Toronto-based commercial real estate firm Colliers International, said the idea for the contest was hatched when he and several friends ended up discussing the plight of fledgling companies during a break from their hockey game last January.

Brown said the prizes are aimed at helping companies pursue their growth plans. “The facilities offered can free up a capital for a lot of cash-strapped firm that may need the money to hire people or fund operations.”

Simply joining the contest, said Brown, already presents some immediate advantages. “By completing the form, contestants will revisit their own business plans. This, in itself, is an opportunity to fine tune their growth strategy.”

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