Entrepreneurship and Innovation is thriving in Durham Region

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Recently, Spark Centre was a part of three momentous events celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in Durham Region and Northumberland County.

We were very proud and honoured to be the Premium sponsor for Metroland’s Breakfast Seminar with Arlene Dickinson. The event took place at Landmark Cinema in Whitby on June 11th and featured Arlene speaking about her journey to success. She shared some very personal stories about how she became an entrepreneur, author and Dragon’s Den star. Local Durham Region entrepreneurs and success stories, Jason Atkins from 360 Incentives and Jodi Glover from Real Tech Inc. were also on hand to speak on their experiences and offered their advice during a Q&A session. Dennis Croft, Executive Director of Spark Centre was the MC of the event and spoke about the impact the morning had on the sold-out crowd; “Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart and we were treated to how to accept and conquer adversity.  Arlene, Jason and Jodie inspired us to reach beyond our paradigms. I was humbled to be master of ceremonies in such company.”

The second June event took place in Oshawa at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT).  The Innovation Conference titled “Rethinking Management 2020” empowered its attendees to keep up with changing technologies in the workforce and encouraged all to seize new opportunities to advance their business and reinvent their management style. Dennis Croft was also the MC at the event, joining an impressive group of speakers and industry experts. “It was an honour to be the Master of Ceremonies for UOIT Innovation Day.” Dennis says “UOIT’s drive to foster innovation in Durham Region shone bright on June 24th.  We saw the best and brightest of management gather and discuss the future of innovation. Just awesome!”  

 Spark Centre was once again very eager to partner with Northumberland CFDC for their N100 Startup Competition. Startups who apply for N100 compete for $100,000 in investment to support key milestones in the development of their company. Spark Centre ran a Pitch School for the Top 10 businesses which consisted of a one day boot camp followed by one on one sessions with entrepreneurs to finalize their pitches for the N100 Pitch Night. Once the N100 Power Panel chose their Top 3 finalists, we held a Mock Boardroom Investment Presentation. The finalists were able to execute a 15 minute boardroom presentation followed by a 15 minute Q&A with experts, entrepreneurs and investors from Spark Centre’s network. Braden Kemp, Manager, Business Acceleration Services at Spark Centre says, “It was fantastic to be a part of the N100 competition again this year, and to work with such a talented and innovative group of entrepreneurs. N100 is a great example of the incredible technology ecosystem that is growing right here in our own backyard and we can’t wait to see who comes out on top later this summer.”

What an exciting time for Durham Region and Northumberland County! Spark Centre is continuously proud of the work being done to create a thriving entrepreneurial community. We will always continue to strive to build on a community that embraces innovation and technology.

Rethinking Management 2020

Rapid advances in technology are changing the workplace and the way business is conducted.

The University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s (UOIT) Faculty of Business and IT is partnering with RBC Royal Bank and RBC Wealth Management to host Rethinking Management 2020.

This exciting innovation conference happening at UOIT on Tuesday, June 24th is a must for business professionals. Attendees will hear from high-profile key note speakers; Avi Pollock, RBC Vice-president, Innovation and Strategic Planning and Jon Peddie, PhD, President Jon Peddie Research on how to seize new opportunities to advance their business and reinvent their management style.

Spark Centre’s Executive Director Dennis Croft will be the Master of Ceremonies at the conference, joining an impressive group of speakers and industry experts. The conference aims to empower attendees with the required knowledge, along with new and advanced resources needed to keep up with changing technologies.

When:  Tuesday, June 24 – 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Where: University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Science Building  – 2000 Simcoe Street North  Oshawa, ON

Visit uoit.ca/innovationconference to register or to learn more.

The Neuroscience of Engagement

Spark Centre recently attended OCE Discovery – Canada’s leading innovation-to-commercialization conference in Toronto. The Spark Zone was full of activity, showcasing eight of our high potential start-ups, including Dr. Edmond Dixon. His initiative, Helping Boys Learn revolves around a unique “6 Secret” framework designed to improve boys motivation and achievement by using an approach in sync with male brain wiring and physiology. At the conference, Dr. Dixon had the opportunity to connect with 360 Incentives, one of Spark Centre’s innovation partners in Durham Region. 360 Incentives featured the following piece on Dr. Dixon and Helping Boys Learn on their Technology Blog discussing engagement in learning and business.


“Maybe the loyalty business has it all wrong.”

The idea that loyalty is a fish you can catch if you simply own the correct accoutrements is to ignore the biology of how loyalty works.  Herein lies the problem: loyalty in business is too often approached as simply a “what” question, but it’s really more of a “why.”   “What has worked before?” is often the question, when a more useful question is “why did it work?” and then capturing that information and applying it to create new, better programs.

After all, loyalty is not a mathematical formula, a secret sauce or social movement – it is a feeling. And feelings can be tricky little devils; they don’t necessarily simply come when called.   It turns out though, that feelings of loyalty do, in fact, have some predictable triggers.

“Motivation and engagement only happen when the person you want to engage actively participates in the activity,” says Dr. Edmond Dixon.  “You can’t ‘con’ them into it – the base of engagement is learning and for us to learn we have to be motivated to do it.”

Dr. Dixon specializes in building greater engagement between developing boys and their schoolwork.  Getting into this field involved years of studying the neuroscience around motivation and engagement.   It turns out that engagement has very different biological construction within the bodies of males and females.

So what is the biological makeup of engagement? Dr. Dixon says “Males release testosterone and prefer victory and triumph of some sort, whereas females release oxytocin and tend to like the idea of community better.”

From a marketing person’s perspective, considering these simple facts as we build strategy can serve us very well. You may be at the mercy of your incentives management software to determine if you have the necessary flexibility to address males and females differently in your marketing, but here is a brief cheat sheet to help you tailor your programs in such a way that they resonate better with people.

Start With Why

Males – Dr. Dixon says that in order to engage males, right out of the gate they need to know “what’s the end game?”   Be sure to communicate your own business goals, how it fits in with their own goals and any other information that fulfills this need.

Females – “Females need to understand ‘how does this fit in (to the bigger picture)?” adds Dr. Dixon.  They don’t necessarily need to know the clear end result, but be sure to frame your offering in terms of the big picture.

How To Get ANYONE Engaged

Even in the digital age, there may be situations where it is tough or even inappropriate to segment your marketing by gender. It is useful to consider some universal principles of this science.

“The connected world gives us all previously inaccessible amounts of information and choice, and when people can act autonomously, they tend to be more engaged,” says the doctor.

“You have to allow them to use information and choice in their own way,” he adds.

In the specific instance of engaging retail sales associates, Dr. Dixon suggests giving them a quick path to information to make sales.  Provide a way that they can get more expertise in a short time in order to help customer make choice.

He adds, “We say we’re socially connected, but people still like to feel special, like they’re part of a team.   To engage sales, allow them to learn in collaboration with others using their own information and choice, combined with recognition.   Geography is not important to forming this recognized group.   They will effectively go about forming a mastermind group, solving problems that a company may never have previously imagined.”

Remember: technology helps you scale these training resources and user communities in a way that was previously impossible. Digital assets such as training videos, sales leader boards and online discussion groups will build the engagement what you need, help the people in the channels to perform better and keep your brand on the tips of their tongues.

What has worked before will always be a sensible and useful point of reference.   Understanding why it worked will drive us to do better and better work.

This article was written by Jason King and first appeared on the 360 Incentives blog.

Durham College & IFTech to partner on wearable technology project


Durham College (DC) announced recently its intent to partner with IFTech, an Oshawa-based start-up company specializing in wearable technology. The college’s Office of Research Services and Innovation (ORSI), with support from DC faculty researchers and staff, will be working with IFTech on an applied research project designed to support the company’s growth and expansion into the wearable technology marketplace. A grant application for the project is currently being finalized with the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

In particular, the college will be assisting IFTech with bringing its flagship invention, As Real As It Gets (ARAIG), to a manufacture-ready, commercial product. A multi-sensory stimulation device, ARAIG is a wearable suit that immerses individuals into the reality of a gaming world by stimulating the senses with localized directional feedback. Providing physics to the body, it leaves the mobility of the user unfettered and provides a new level of immersion in terms of how games and virtual simulations are experienced.

“ORSI, along with our faculty and staff, is excited to work with IFTech on bringing such a unique technology product to market,” said Debbie McKee Demczyk, director, ORSI. “This project will provide a wonderful opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to pursue applied research in an area that is both new to the college and the current consumer marketplace including the chance for them to gain significant on-the-job research and work experience.”

A 3D-scale model of the ARAIG titled Legion One Exoskeleton, created in collaboration with Cimetrix Solutions Inc. an Oshawa-based company that specializes in providing professional grade 3D printing solutions, will be revealed on Tuesday, May 13 inside the Spark Zone at the OCE Discovery event. The event, which is taking place in Toronto on Monday, May 12 and May 13, will mark the first time IFTech has publicly shown the design. Attendees will have an opportunity to speak directly with Brodie and Michael Stanfield, co-founders and co-chief executive officers of IFTech and co-creators of ARAIG, and provide feedback.

“IFTech sees this as the beginning of a relationship that will continue for many years to come,” said Brodie Stanfield. “We see Durham College being involved in many current and future projects and are excited to be partnering with some of the brightest minds in Durham Region in order to rapidly move forward on our research and development.”

In addition to its new relationship with the college, IFTech has also been working directly with innovation experts from Spark Centre over the last year to advance its commercialization plans.

“IFTech and its flagship product ARAIG will revolutionize a video gamer’s experience,” said Dennis Croft, executive director, Spark Centre. “Durham College’s deep expertise in applied research will greatly advance the timeline for a commercial-ready, high-quality product for IFTech.”

Gov’t of Canada Invests in Innovation, Jobs and Growth in Southern Ontario


SOFII_ImagesBrantford, Ontario – The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) announced today a $20-million investment in innovation funds that will support small- and medium-sized businesses in southern Ontario. Minister Goodyear was accompanied by Phil McColeman, Member of Parliament for Brant.

“Innovation is critical to creating high-value jobs and securing a prosperous future for southern Ontario communities,” said Minister Goodyear. “The investment announced today will lead to new opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses in the region, allowing them to grow, develop new products, services and technologies. This will diversify the economy, encourage greater innovation and create hundreds of jobs for southern Ontario.”

“Small and medium sized businesses in southern Ontario are ready to compete and lead in the twenty-first century global economy,” said McColeman. “With the launch of this new fund, our government is taking additional steps to encourage innovation and the creation of high quality, highly skilled jobs right across this region.”

The $20-million contribution comes through FedDev Ontario’s Prosperity Initiative. This investment will support two funds, known as the Southern Ontario Fund for Investment in Innovation (SOFII) projects. SOFII will provide a $12-million fund in the west and an $8-million fund in the east. These two funds will be delivered by southern Ontario’s two regional Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) networks: the Western CFDC Association and the Eastern CFDC Network Inc. to both smaller rural and larger urban communities.

During the projects’ first two years, the Networks will provide business loans valued between $150,000 to $500,000 each to accelerate the growth of an estimated 80 southern Ontario small- and medium-sized businesses, which will help create or maintain over 700 full-time jobs. This will support innovation and growth in small- and medium-sized businesses in southern Ontario.

“We have heard about the difficulties small businesses can have bringing new developments to market,” said Cindy Swanson, Past-President of the Western Ontario Community Futures Development Corporation Association, Inc. “This fund will provide an opportunity for small companies to secure the financing they need and get the product to market more quickly than they otherwise might be able to.”

Dan Stanford, Chair of the Eastern Ontario CFDC Network shares this sentiment. “New products, new services and new processes often need support with that last push to the market—as do other late-stage commercialization activities,” said Stanford. “SOFII can help knowledge-based businesses do this successfully and we look forward to our role in assisting the Government of Canada to create a more productive and competitive private sector in southern Ontario.”

For more information about SOFII or the Prosperity Initiative, please refer to the SOFII-Brochure.

The investment announced today supports the Government of Canada’s science, technology, and innovation agenda, which is focused on increasing the country’s productivity, creating jobs and growing the economy.

Created in 2009, FedDev Ontario supports the southern Ontario economy by building on the region’s strengths and creating opportunities for jobs and economic growth. The Agency has launched a number of initiatives to create a Southern Ontario Advantage and place the region in a strong position to compete in the global economy. These initiatives are designed to encourage partnerships and support projects that help the region’s businesses and communities become more competitive, innovative and diversified. To learn more, please visit www.FedDevOntario.gc.ca or call 1-866-593-5505.

Startups from Waterloo’s Velocity Incubator Have Raised $100 Million in Five Years

The University of Waterloo’s Velocity startup incubator today revealed that companies in the program have raised more than $100 million in funding.

That number comes five years after the program was launched and includes includes funding from venture capitalists, angel investors, government programs, grants from the Velocity Fund, and crowdfunding platforms.

Graduates with notable raises included Kik, Pebble, and Thalmic Labs. Kik’s last raise was a $19.5 million Series B round, while Pebble shattered crowdfunding records when it raised $10 million on Kickstarter. Meanwhile, Thalmic Labs had an incredible 2013, raising one of the most significant venture capital rounds of any Canadian startup that year and also winning 2013 Startup of the Year in the annual Canadian Startup Awards.

To read more: http://www.techvibes.com/blog/waterloos-velocity-incubator-startups-raise-100-million-2014-01-29

Northumberland CFDC brings back N100 Startup Competition

By Joseph Czikk, Betakit

The Northumberland CFDC, a business development corporation dedicated to providing financing, strategy, and a comprehensive ecosystem for entrepreneurs, is bringing back to N100 Startup Competition. The winner takes home a cool $100,000.

Northumberland county is located one hour east of Toronto and part of the Northumberland CFDC’s mission is to establish a stronger startup culture in the area. Thus, while it calls the N100 a “global” startup competition, ultimately applicants are expected to establish a presence in Northumberland to qualify for the $100,000 investment.

Last year marked the first N100 competition, with the Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation taking the prize for it ubiquitous computing device, dubbed “the Ubi.” 34 companies applied in total.

“N100 helps accelerate early-stage companies in Ontario by providing risk capital to fund significant milestones in their development—such as prototyping—and ready them for angel round follow-on investment,” said Wendy Curtis of the Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation. “In addition, N100 is an entrepreneurial attraction and development strategy designed to build a nucleus of next generation companies.”

To apply go to: http://n100.ca/

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.”