We are pleased to announce

We are pleased to announce that the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance (DSEA) has completed its Spark Centre executive search, and are excited to introduce you to the new Executive Director, Dennis Croft.  Dennis’ motivation, passion and skill set uniquely fit the mission of Spark Centre — helping innovative companies start, grow and succeed.

Dennis Photo

Dennis is no stranger to the innovation scene, bringing over 20 years of high tech experience to Spark Centre, including senior positions with well-known Canadian success stories such as Open Text, Desire2Learn and SHL Systemhouse. He also has had direct participation in key innovation initiatives such as CDMN’s Canada 3.0, Communitech’s Tannery Hub, OCE Discovery and the Province of Ontario’s Next Generation of Jobs Fund grant program.

With over two years of tenure at Spark Centre as both a volunteer mentor and Director of Client Services, Dennis has developed a strong tie with Spark’s clients, employees, and partner community, and he was a significant driver behind the Ignite Durham 2013 flagship program.

We also want to express sincere gratitude to Martin Croteau for his tireless service and gracious leadership for both DSEA and Spark Centre over the past two years. Martin has been a critical figure in rallying Durham Region’s community of entrepreneurs. We are very excited for Martin as he is leaving us to drive a new strategic initiative for Ontario Centers of Excellence.

Thank you for your continued support of DSEA and Spark Centre as we drive innovative entrepreneurship here in Durham Region.

Mentors: Don’t White-Knuckle-It Alone

“Mentors help spark new ideas, offer different perspectives and lend meaningful first-hand advice to other entrepreneurs,” said Victoria Lennox, Co-Founder and CEO of Startup Canada. That’s why the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF) and Startup Canada chose to shine a national spotlight on mentoring with a campaign to mentor 10,000 entrepreneurs during Global Entrepreneurship Week.

So, as part of this campaign, we decided to ask three of the Spark Centre’s entrepreneurs currently being mentored by one, or several of our Volunteer Mentor Network, just why they thought it so important.

Our mentees are Danilo Malanczyj from They Innovate, and a top-secret team of software developers still in the prototyping phase. We’ll call them Mystery Man 1 & 2!

1) Why did you decide you needed to get mentored?

DM: “Almost everything with a start-up means doing things for the first time, and you typically make a lot of mistakes along the way. I’ve sought out mentors so that I can minimize my own mistakes by learning from others who have already been there.”

MM1: “Entrepreneurial ventures are inherently risky, so we do everything in our power to increase our chances of success. We knew that surrounding ourselves with good mentors and advisors would go a long way toward building the kind of solid, sustainable company we are striving for”.

MM2: “We are very aware of the stories of individuals failing in their first three years, so we wanted to avoid that. Once we found out about Spark and the services they offered, we felt it would be a perfect fit for our startup venture. [Mentoring] will give us the opportunity to meet the right people, learn from more experienced individuals, and increase our chances for success”.

2) What’s been the best thing about your experience so far?

DM: “Whenever I come across something that I just don’t know where to start, I always have someone that I can call”.

MM1: “It has been great to have experienced minds in our corner as we build the business. Sometimes we get confirmation that we are heading in the right direction. Sometimes the feedback makes us aware of our blind spots and the many things we didn’t consider.  Either way, it is always amazingly helpful”.

MM2: “The best thing about our experience so far has been the opportunity to sit down and discuss our idea with individuals we may have never met if not for Spark. The feedback we have gained, and the relationships we have made in such a short period of time will be very useful as we take this journey”.

If you would like to become a mentor or be mentored, contact Kristina Svana, the Spark Centre’s Volunteer Mentor Network coordinator.

[photo: Spark’s Speed Mentoring event in September, 2013.]

Idea Generation Workshop with Ron Neumann

The first of four events in the Do It In Durham series – kicked off Durham’s Global Entrepreneurship Week on Monday, November 18th at the Centennial Building in Whitby.

Serial Entrepreneur Ron Neumann, involved in startups including SlipStream Data, Dejero Labs, Post Rank, and VistaShift, delivered an enthusiastic, inspiring, and relatable workshop to over 50 aspiring entrepreneurs.

Talking with participants after the session, two key messages were clear:

1. Successful idea generation comes from insight
Ron defines insight in a unique way, not simply as information you didn’t know before, but as information “you never thought of in that way before”. In business, an insight is not a faster or cheaper solution but rather is what happens when what you see, think, and feel all comes together in a new way to solve a problem.

2. Perspective is everything
Every entrepreneur believes in their own idea, but true idea validation comes only when the target customer confirms the problem is real, expresses interest in a solution, and is willing to pay for that solution. The interactive format of the workshop allowed participants to pitch their idea to the target customer, and then receive feedback from the perspective of that target customer to incorporate into the solution, which is an integral part of developing an innovative product or service.

You can never be 100% certain your idea will turn into a profitable business opportunity. That said, by generating strong ideas, and then testing, measuring feedback, and rebuilding those ideas you can close in on product-market fit. In closing, Ron left the audience with a statement that we really like: “You can never have too much enthusiasm.”

Be Brave, Take Risks: Celebrating the Entrepreneur’s Journey

The crowd was electric Global Entrepreneurship Week closed out with a bang at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa on Thursday, November 21st. Pilar’s Catering of hors d’ouvres and bite-sized chocolate wonders kept guests happy as they mingled and waited for the program to begin. Marissa McTasney, CEO and Founder of Moxie Trades inspired us with her bravado and entrepreneurial passion as the Emcee.

Entrepreneurs of all ages and stages gathered to find out the winners of the three Do It In Durham Competitions: the Money Chase, the Find it in Durham Scavenger Hunt, and the Business Case Study competition.

The finalists made their pitches in front of an energetic crowd of nearly 200, and the winners of each competition are:

1. The Money Chase

DIID Gala_2500

Clipter – Brent Madill & Chris Recalis – Brent and Chris delivered a great pitch for their mobile app Clipter, a video sharing platform that allows the user to tell a story through automated stitching of multiple videos. This winning pitch scored the Clipter team $2,500 cash and $2,500 in-kind.

2. Find it in Durham Scavenger Hunt

DIID Gala_1000

James Frendo-Cumbo was the winner of the scavenger hunt and $1,000 cash. You can watch the dynamic video he submitted here: Scavenger Hunt Video Submission

3. Case Study Competition

Winners of the Case Study Competition Justin Mathew and Kishan Patel presented a compelling pitch on the health-care focused business case, and were rewarded with $500 cash.

Finally, the program concluded with an excellent presentation by Nick Boothman, author of ‘Be Brave, Take Risks’. Nick’s message was clear: to be successful you have to be willing to take risks – something that entrepreneurs no doubt can appreciate.


Nessis is a high growth, innovative software solutions and service company located in the heart of Durham Region. The company offers customers e-automation and e-procurement suite solutions, on a SaaS based platform. The company augments its solutions with mobile and state of the art visual technologies. The company surrounds its leading edge software with practical and affordable business consulting services, and has extended solutions including knowledge management, e-dashboards, web analytics, hosting and technical services. A visionary for addressing enterprise problems, such as worker productivity, waste and defects, carbon and environment impacts, quality and worker automation, Kathleen Niles, President and CEO of Nessis Inc. is evolving her company to the next level. Kathleen is proud of her company’s proven successes “we have listened to our customers, and deliver practical and affordable solutions with accelerated business benefits.” Nessis’ greatest success to date is VWI™, a mobile, web-based, visual work instruction suite taking the automotive and manufacturing industry to new levels of productivity and worker engagement. Through the enablement of real time deployment of work instructions simultaneously to the plant floor, the field and the executive offices, Nessis improves quality, standardizes processes, reduces both environmental footprint (paperless) and training time costs in a fast paced, increasingly competitive global environment. With the assistance of the Spark Centre, (resources, COE networks and its mentoring services) Nessis was successful in securing contracts worth $500,000 with two major and global automotive manufactures to install VWI TM system in 4 divisional plants across North America. Further, these initial contracts have high probably of leading to global deployments in Europe, Asia and Latin America worth multi-million dollar contracts.

Kela Medical Inc.

Kela Medical Inc. has developed a wallet sized, smart card that stores an individual’s entire medical record, including all medical imaging. The Kela solution achieves the holy grail of a universal health care record, while effectively addressing issues of privacy and security. When Kela first engaged with Spark Centre, it was quickly determined that there were solid business fundamentals and a large addressable market. Kela’s plan however, was unclear as to what the Kela solution was, or how it worked. The business model was equally unclear and the go-to-market strategy and its rationale, essentially non-existent. As a result, garnering the interest of strategic partners and investors had been largely unsuccessful. Working with Spark Centre, Kela now has a well-defined business model, focused go-to-market strategy and product development roadmap. Spark Centre has helped organize the corporate structure, ensure the integrity of shareholder agreements and constitute an effective Board of Directors, which Spark Centre has observer status at the company’s request. Spark Centre introduced Kela to an Angel investor, who upon completion of due diligence has submitted a terms sheet for $350k, which is under consideration. There are currently three other private investors in various stages of DD. An existing shareholder has committed an additional $250k. Kela is in line for $250k from an OCE program and has received $30k from STEM. Three strategic partnerships have been established to support the go-to-market strategy.


Doktri, Port Hope, Ontario

Both San Sivamoorthy and Kuru Jeyanthan are keen on using emerging technology to make individual lives and organizations run smoother. Doktri’s home base is IdeaHub in Port Hope.

What they Do Doktri is a directory-based web application that helps users find their ideal, peer-reviewed healthcare providers (dentists, massage therapists, optometrists, etc.) and immediately book appointments online.

The Opportunity Patients have a difficult time finding healthcare appointments that fit their schedule, location, and individual needs (gender, language), while clinics are challenged with filling appointment times and acquiring new patients in order to operate efficiently and increase their profits.

Innovation Using IT systems to streamline the way Canadian health care providers engage with and manage their clients at intake.

Working With Spark Doktri came to the attention of the Spark Centre through the N100 entrepreneurship competition, and has been working with Bryan Kanarens, Entrepreneur in Residence, at the Spark Centre, since February 2013. “We always had a clear idea of what our product and services were, but we weren’t sure how to turn Doktri into an actual business. Bryan has been tremendously helpful in asking us the right questions so we can find the solutions for our concerns.” Bryan’s role as a mentor and inquisitor has spurred Doktri on to deepen their awareness of their user’s needs, and the health care space in general. The end result is a stronger business plan and two entrepreneurs who can step out with bolstered confidence!

Next Big Step Currently all of Doktri’s focus is on their upcoming launch, but the next big thing for them after getting online booking running smoothly, is to list emergency room and walk-in clinic wait times. “We are all very excited and there’s a lot more to come to help make access to healthcare easier for Canadians,” says San.

Advice to Local Entrepreneurs Knowing how easy it is to stay in the comfort zone with an idea, San adds this perspective, “The end-game of a startup is to become a viable business, so don’t stay in your parents’ basement making something no one wants. Get out there, validate the problem, your solution, and market before writing a single line of code!”

Bykart Software Ltd, Inc.

Bykart Software Ltd, Inc has developed an outpatient scheduling system that surpassed initial expectations. In collaboration with the Odette Cancer Clinic at Sunnybrook Hospital, Bykart has developed a solution that provides improved efficiencies within the entire workflow process. This software was developed to enable the clinic to process 20 percent more patients without the need for additional staff or resources. Now up and running, the software has actually increased patient bookings by 47 percent, 27 percent above the original target! Bykart is the first tenant of the collaborative Durham College / UOIT / Spark Centre incubator. This arrangement has been instrumental in assisting Bykart in the development of the enterprise solution development project in collaboration with Durham College. Through this initiative, Durham College has provided Bykart with a team of 14 student developers that have far exceeded the expectations of Bykart’s project manager, Thane Fitzgerald.

‘Spark Centre really helped us develop our business strategy and allowed us to tap into resources that helped us move forward with our project’ says Thane.

When ready, Spark Centre will also be assisting the company mapping the product development and go-to-market strategy as well as to access appropriate funding sources.

5 Minds Mobility

Start-up Profile

5 Minds Mobility, Oshawa, Ontario

Jenn Atkinson is an occupational therapist and clinical director of 5 Minds Mobility.

What They Do

5 Minds Mobility is an Oshawa-based medical equipment company. They develop and produce mattresses and wheelchair cushions that help prevent skin breakdown in patients who are immobile.

The Opportunity

When someone is immobile for long periods of time in a wheelchair or bed, the pressure and friction of their skin against the material (known as sheer) can result in painful wounds and bed sores. As an occupational therapist, 5 Minds clinical director Jenn Atkinson was often asked to recommend cushions to her patients. “There were products on the market that help to reduce pressure, but there were no products available to counteract the friction and scraping aspects of sheer,” says Jenn. There was a clear gap in the market. With a growing aging population, there is a clear need to be filled. This was 5 Minds’ big opportunity.


5 Minds Mobility developed a patent-pending Shear Reduction Technology (SRT) that reduces the friction aspect of sheer in a cushion or mattress.

Making It Happen

With this great idea in mind, 5 Minds Mobility reached out to the Business Advisory Centre of Durham (BACD) http://www.bacd.ca. “I went in there just to get information, but it led to a domino effect,” says Jenn. “The BACD facilitated links with Durham College and with Spark Centre.” Thanks to funding from the Colleges Ontario Network for Industry Innovation (CONII), Jenn worked with faculty and students at Durham College to test SRT in wheelchair seating. In late 2011, they conducted a six-week clinical trial at Wynfield Long Term Care Residence in Oshawa. “Being able to conduct an unbiased, third-party trial was key to the credibility of the product,” says Jenn.

Working With Spark

“The people at Spark have been great advocates for us. They gave us so much help with business advice, consultation with a potential distributor, our pitches, our presentation style, and future planning. I come from a clinical background, so this was all new for me. It was great to have guidance and have someone tell me what questions to ask.” “The relationship with Durham College and Spark Centre has given us a lot of credibility. We’re not just ‘another company.’ We’re part of Spark, now.”

Advice to Local Entrepreneurs

“It takes a leap of faith to follow your idea through to business, but when you use the resources out there it can really help. It’s easy to think you won’t get the grant you want or the help you need, but it does happen. Don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Access the resources that are out there, and then just go for it!”