A facility designed to help students and entrepreneurs transform “innovative” ideas into successful businesses was launched in Waterloo, Ont. last week.
Dubbed the Innovation Centre – the facility is sponsored by Microsoft Canada Co. and Infusion Angels, a Waterloo-based firm whose goal is to identify, fund, and help grow concepts into revenue-oriented companies.
A Microsoft executive outlined the types of resources visitors would be able to access at the Centre. They include regular onsite training sessions, such as technology briefings, crash courses, business track sessions, and Web casts, according to Mark Relph, vice-president of the developer and platform evangelism group at Mississauga, Ont.-headquartered Microsoft Canada.
Lecturers and trainers will include industry experts, researchers, lecturers, Microsoft architects, published authors, and entrepreneurs.
Relph said visitors, over three-hour sessions, would also be able to use software and equipment from Microsoft, Dell and Intel, at no cost, on a drop-in basis or by appointment.
That way, entrepreneurs can “discover” technology that may be appropriate for their business venture, says Greg Brill, founder and general partner at Infusion Angels.
He said apart from assisting entrepreneurs shape a business concept, the centre will also offer personalized, one-on-one mentorship to entrepreneurs with a sound business plan.
“If we come across a business plan we think is viable, we’ll take it to the next stage and try to secure financing and advise them in the creation of the business.”
Companies that just want to explore a new technological direction are welcome to use the services as well, Brill said.
The Innovation Centre is housed in the Waterloo Research & Technology Park Accelerator Centre on the University of Waterloo campus.
Brill said the Waterloo-based initiative stems from a shared goal of Infusion Angels and Microsoft: to help fledgling businesses get on their feet.
He said Infusion Angels – founded by University of Waterloo graduates – was already operating out of the Accelerator Centre with the aim of “giving back” to the university by helping others create their own business.
Visitors to the Centre will be exposed to Microsoft products, technologies and services.
For instance, Brill notes that part of the approach is to inform businesses about the Microsoft technologies upon which organizations can be structured.
Visitors will also learn about Microsoft’s partner program, and how it can assist companies in selling their wares if they operate in a Microsoft environment, he says.
However, while its expertise and resources are primarily Microsoft-centric, Brill says “the centre will help anyone with a dream. We’ll help anyone as best we can. It’s just that Microsoft is the best way we can help them because that’s our expertise.”
Relph notes that would be entrepreneurs require business savvy to understand “real-world implementations” – and this too would be an area of focus at the Innovation Centre.
The centre’s services are available, but not limited, to the entire Waterloo community.
Brill says it’s possible people with no business focus may visit the Centre just for the free services, but he’s still optimistic. “We’ll take it as it comes. If you’re interested in learning these technologies, come one, come all, come learn.”
The launch of the Innovation Centre at Waterloo comes on the heels of the announcement last month that the city made the 2007 global Top Seven list of ‘smart’ communities, selected by the New-York-based Intelligent Community Forum (ICF).
ICF’s announcement didn’t surprise Relph one bit. “A lot of time and energy is focused on the culture of innovation in this city.”
Other Canadian cities could be potential locations for other such innovation centres, says Relph. Once the Waterloo model is up and running, the possibility of setting up similar facilities in other cities will be explored as well. Read more about Waterloo’s 2007 Top Seven ICF ranking.