Spark’s Soft Landing Program A Success!

During the week of May 16th, Spark Innovation Centre hosted five companies from Brazil for our first International Soft Landing “Touchdown” Program in partnership with the Region of Durham Economic Development team. These five companies learned all about doing business in Canada from Spark Centre advisors and partners, and about the numerous resources available in Durham Region.

The Touchdown Program is focused on providing emerging and earlier stage innovative companies the opportunity to learn about doing business in Canada. The program provides orientation and exposure to key areas including Marketing, Sales, Legal, Intellectual Property, Financial and Human Resources.

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The five Brazilian companies were welcomed to Spark Centre’s head office at Core21 in Downtown Oshawa to attend a variety of in-depth workshops Monday – Thursday. A networking event was hosted on Thursday evening for these five companies to meet with local startups to learn about their experiences and to gain knowledge from how they have started their business in Canada. Spark Centre staff, partners and service providers also attended to encourage business connections and access to support structures for their next visit to Canada.

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On Friday, the companies were treated to a full day bus tour of Durham Region which showcased some of the local attractions and what it would be like to live, work and play in the region. Participants learned about real estate, the rental market, local projects, and large Durham based companies while checking out the beautiful waterfronts and thriving communities. The week ended with a great showcase of all that the Region of Durham has to offer.

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Thrive Accelerator Program: Cohort 4

Spark Commercialization and Innovation Centre today announced the fourth cohort of start-ups accepted into their Thrive Accelerator Program. Eight companies have joined Thrive’s four month accelerator program which offers significant advisory and business support services to achieve a faster market entry. The eight companies will also be co-located at The Loft – Spark Centre’s collaborative ecosystem in Durham Region.

Spark Centre is excited to introduce and welcome two new companies:

Henlen Watches: Creators of the first interchangeable smartwatch that allows for a smart component to be swapped with various designs and watch styles.

CrossPlatform Cloud Technologies Inc.: CrossPlatform is focused on harnessing the best of the cloud and make it more accessible, easier to use, and delivering innovative products for users.

Spark Centre is also excited to welcome back the following companies to Cohort 4:

IFTech: Innovators in wearable technology, IFTech is leading the next generation of immersive gaming. Their first product is ARAIG, a high-tech, multi-sensory gaming suit.

National ProStaff: The leading social network for anglers, brands, tournaments, and outfitters. Fishing brands are able to manage, recruit, and highlight all brand ambassadors in one place while consumers are able to make smarter buying decisions and interact with ProStaff.

Sound Options: Sound Options provides effective treatments for reducing chronic ringing in the ears by working with hearing clinics to provide a software-generated customized sound therapy embedded in music.

Panda Insights: Creators of the first bio-metric data driven customer loyalty solution connecting health & fitness retailers with gym members. Their solution uses fitness wearables to track gym member work-out activity.

Tiko 3D: Creators of the most affordable, elegant, and easy to use 3D Printer. Tiko 3D is bringing Delta printing technology to the masses in a user-friendly, affordable desktop device.

Zambah: A web and mobile platform dedicated to exposing and promoting independent musicians to wide variety of new fans. Independent artists can share and sell their music directly to listeners through a visually engaging, dynamic platform.

To learn more about the Thrive Accelerator Program, visit www.sparkcentre.org/thrive-program.

Top Employers Come Together To Host Idea Summit

Eight of Durham Region’s largest employers came together with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) on Tuesday, May 10 for the region’s first-ever Idea Summit. The one-day conference, which was held at the Durham College (DC) Centre for Food, provided a platform for the development of a new strategy aimed at creating jobs and stimulating investment and innovation in the region.

360 Insights, AECOM, DC, General Motors of Canada, Lakeridge Health, Ontario Power Generation, Spark Innovation Centre, and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, were all in attendance along with the OCC and the leadership from chambers of commerce and boards of trade across Durham Region. The chief executive officers from each of the employers committed a combined 90 employees and partners to be part of the full-day discussion, which was full of energy, engagement and discussion about how to move the community forward.

A number of objectives were identified as priorities for the coming months, which will be guided by the steering group of CEOs to ensure momentum is sustained and results realized. Among the objectives is to establish a common and clear vision for Durham Region that is endorsed and supported by all levels of government, business and other organizations, and the broader community; ‘collision’ (or hackathon) events that bring different community partners together to discuss and find solutions for issues of importance to the community; and the establishment of a mentoring network of senior leaders for small- and medium-sized start-ups and entrepreneurs. The CEO steering group will identify individuals and groups to take leadership on specific actions, and will be looking to the broader community for support moving forward.

Although Durham Region benefits from a highly skilled and well-educated workforce and has some of the lowest industrial and commercial land prices in the Greater Toronto Area, the region lags its local counterparts in job creation. At present, statistics show there are only 67 jobs in the region for every 100 employable workers, compared to 86 in Halton Region, 91 in York Region, 100 in Peel and more than 124 in Toronto. The summit is the first step in what is expected to be an ongoing process designed to create the conditions necessary to increase job growth and investment in the area via a long-term dialogue that will provide recommendations to all levels of government on ways to improve Durham Region’s competitiveness and help attract investment opportunities.

To ensure diversity among attendees, each partner was asked to provide 12 representatives from within their organization, resulting in a strategic dialogue focused on the importance of innovation, economic and social diversification for the region and its surrounding areas.

The day began with a keynote address by John Baker, president and chief executive officer of Desire2Learn, a highly successful online learning systems software company, followed by facilitated sessions and a moderated panel discussion on growing innovation and entrepreneurship.  The panel discussion featured three successful Durham-based entrepreneurs: Jason Atkins from 360 Insights, Jeff Quipp of Search Engine People, and Russ Montague of Nerd Block and ShirtPunch.

“It is clear that Durham Region is in an early maturation stage of an innovative economy and therefore it is critical that our local business leaders come together to develop a new community vision to drive innovation, growth, productivity and workforce development,” said Don Lovisa, president, DC, speaking on behalf of the participating organizations. “Together we are proud to play a role in this community-wide effort, which will lead to positive change and innovation throughout the region.”

Henlen Watches Launches Kickstarter Campaign

Spark Centre is very pleased to announce our client and Oshawa based start-up, Henlen Watches has launched their Kickstarter campaign.

“People from across our region ask how they can help emphasize and support our evolving innovative economy. Henlen Watches is a great example of how the community can directly support start-ups becoming global leaders,” says Dennis Croft, President & CEO of Spark Innovation Centre. “I would encourage people all across our community to check Henlen out on Kickstarter and consider supporting their campaign.”

Henlen Watches has created the world’s first interchangeable smartwatch. Their smartwatch allows their smartpiece, “the cell” to be swapped and compatible with any of their custom bodies and designs.

Unlike most smartwatch companies, Henlen is focused on the design just as much as the technology. By allowing the smart component to be its own isolated piece, Henlen Watches can switch easily between different custom watch designs. The Cell is the core that powers Henlen Smartwatch, it sports a 400×400 1.39” AMOLED display powered a Mediatek processor and a 450 mAh battery. With this piece, Henlen has provided users everything needed in a smartwatch.

Henlen’s Kickstarter campaign, offers one cell and one watch body for $275 USD. The interchangeability of the Henlen Watch allows backers to have two different styles of smartwatches for just $325. In total, there will are four different styles of watches as part of “The Origin Series” offered during the campaign. There is truly a style for everyone.

“We are thrilled to be launching on Kickstarter,” says Kyle George, CEO of Henlen Watches. “Over the past year of development, we have really seen the market shift to the type of smart watch we are offering.”

You can be one of the first to own a Henlen Watch! CLICK HERE to back their campaign.

Client Profile: CrossPlatform Cloud Technologies

Founded in 2016, CrossPlatform Cloud Technologies is focused on harnessing the best of the cloud and make it more accessible, easier to use, and to deliver increased levels of simplicity of the underlying solutions. Ranging from applications to increase day-to-day productivity and convenience to scaling small business challenges, CrossPlatform is committed to making the cloud work for you.

CrossPlatform is a new kid on the Spark block. Having been in the office space of the Loft since early January has proven to be an incredibly positive experience for us as we are getting started. When recently asked about it, our CEO, Laryn Fernandes, has this to say about Spark:

“We couldn’t be happier to work with Dennis and his team of industry professionals, they are a fantastic team’, said Fernandes. “This is the start of a very exciting relationship that we want to grow and develop with as we work towards our common goals. Also, the environment at the Loft is great for us since it’s filled with energetic and successful companies that are all rooting for one another.”

So, new kid on the block or not, we feel like we belong and have something to contribute to this high-quality and unique startup environment that is right in our backyard.

At CrossPlatform we have sky-high ambitions. We are working on making products that take the existing experience with cloud services, like Dropbox, and making them work better in our increasingly digital lives.

Our list of priorities for cloud based applications cover the gambit of what a digital user faces each day:
• Security, encryption, data residency; The online world is built on trust and all users, providers, and regulators should be focused on increasing the overall standards of security and privacy.
• Integration; Many applications are involved, many steps are manual, many tools have been created to streamline the processes, but in the end, the integration and aggregation of the content and processes is still handled by users.
• Faster deployment; Updates are just pushed out in the background and you can focus on doing your tasks and not worry about updating your software.
• Innovative and modern; The modern user is very savvy and understands what works for them and what doesn’t almost instantly so it is essential that we continue to work on the overall user experience.
• Uptime; The average user expects applications always be available and it’s because the providers of cloud applications are so obsessed with uptime that you shouldn’t have to be.
• Mobile first; As mobile technologies become more part of our daily lives the line between using an app or a service on a smartphone, tablet, or PC will continue to blur.

We are working hard on our first product to start addressing these priorities and will be announcing more about that in coming months. It’s a very exciting time for us, and we couldn’t be happier to be based at Spark while working on making products that users will really love.

To learn more about CrossPlatform visit our website or connect with us on social media.

Web: crossplatform.ca
Twitter: @CrossPlatformCT
Facebook: CrossPlatformCT
LinkedIn: CrossPlatform Cloud Technologies Inc.

Spark Centre a part of Durham College’s new Centre of Collaborative Education

Spark Centre is very pleased and excited that Durham College has announced their new Centre of Collaborative Education (CFCE). This new centre will provide a variety of resources including, an aboriginal student centre, student entrepreneurship centre, health science facilities and more. These resources are greatly needed in Durham Region and will make Durham College a beacon for the community.

Spark Centre eagerly awaits the opportunity to take presence in the new building. Spark Centre is currently leveraging space in Durham College’s VIBE centre, located in the Gordon Willey building, where we provide orientation to student entrepreneurship and advice to student companies who are registered as clients of Spark Centre.

Spark Centre will be looking to its space in the new building to enhance our day to day activities with students on campus and continue to deliver programs that encourage students to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

CLICK HERE to read the official announcement from Durham College.

Feature Article in Metroland: Part 3

Durham’s tech and innovation sector competes on global scale

By Ian McMillan – Metroland

(source)

This is the third part of a three-part series looking at the emerging innovation and technological based businesses in Durham Region.

DURHAM — As the innovation and technology cluster in Durham Region continues to grow, the pressure has never been greater to maintain and gain on its successes.

But that’s easier said than done.

Toronto boasts a successful innovation hub, the MaRs Discovery District. There’s also two major hubs in Waterloo, the Canadian Innovation Centre and, in Kitchener, Communitech. In Kawartha, the Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster is also putting pressure on Durham’s Spark Commercialization and Innovation Centre.

So how to compete?

Part of the answer is through the Spark Centre’s innovation and technology partners, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College.

Dr. Michael Owen is UOIT’s Vice-President, Research, Innovation and International. He said programs at the university are responsive to business and industry needs.

“We tend not to have programs of a generalist nature,” he said.

The university also fosters partnerships with many industry and business leaders including OPG on the electrical engineering and nuclear side and with smaller businesses across Durham Region, explained Dr. Owen.

“The Region has a number of industrial clusters and our work (at UOIT) fits in with these clusters,” he said.

Through these partnerships, the university is able to gauge its degree requirements and the technical and soft skills students need.

“Staying ahead of the curve is always very difficult,” he said, adding business structures and information technology are constantly changing. “It’s a lot different now than it was even five years ago.”

But it’s not only in-class instruction that’s fostering innovation at UOIT. It’s also entrepreneurialism.

Throughout the year a number of bootcamps are offered at UOIT for students and faculty members. These camps show how to take an idea, turn it into a product or service and how to take it to market.

“We provide support to faculty members and students to develop their own companies,” Dr. Owen said.

“In the last five to 10 years we’ve really harnessed our energies and expertise into entrepreneurship,” he added.

Durham College also fosters partnerships with business and industry leaders. Susan Todd, Dean, Science and Engineering Technology, said Durham College is constantly in touch with employers to find out their needs as the college provides “market-driven programs” that not only allow employers to succeed but also students.

READ MORE…

Feature Article in Metroland: Part 2

Key to fostering innovation is maintaining homegrown talent in Durham Region

By Ian McMillan – Metroland

(source)

DURHAM — Dan Miguel’s passion for fishing has taken him from the waterfront to the boardroom.

The 31-year-old Ajax resident is co-founder of National ProStaff, an online sport fishing platform launched in 2011. The business, located in the Spark Commercialization and Innovation Centre in Oshawa, has exploded in growth during the past year.

“I’ve always fished,” Mr. Miguel said sitting at his boardroom table.

He’s dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, not something associated with the old school image of a businessman. But make do doubt, Mr. Miguel is all business.

“I really wanted to make a career in the fishing industry,” he said.

The career Mr. Miguel originally wanted for himself was in sport fishing, not something that gets a lot of media attention. He fished prostaff (sponsored angler) for seven years, sponsored by Rapala, the world’s largest manufacturer of fishing lures and other fishing-related products. This took him to fishing tournaments and shows all over North America. He eventually put away his fishing pole and worked for three years in marketing.

“One out of four people fish,” he said. “It’s bigger than hockey.”

It was during his time with Rapala that Mr. Miguel noticed a disconnect between anglers and brand ambassadors. There are hundreds of sport fishers out there but how do they get sponsored?

“There are no scouts out on the lakes or rivers (looking for great anglers),” he said.

The world of sport fishing is all about who you know, explained Mr. Miguel. Fortunately for him, he knew a lot of people in the industry, but for the vast majority of anglers, there was a massive disconnect.

So he decided to connect them by creating an online platform, www.nationalprostaff.com . He quit his marketing job and he and his friend and fellow UOIT grad Brandon Wetzel launched their NPS website platform in 2011. The next summer another friend and UOIT alumni Chris Lazarte invested in the company and joined as a partner and co-founder.

NPS connects thousands of anglers, top brands, tournaments, and outfitters. It displays the latest products top anglers use, allows products to be endorsed by anglers on their profiles and tagged to content so users know exactly what products work.

For prostaffers and companies, NPS offers a place to stay better connected with fans and sponsors and helps companies better manage their teams.

NPS also allows users to highlight their knowledge and talent, generate a fan following, and apply directly to brands for sponsorship.

Despite NPS’s success to date, when the site was launched even Mr. Miguel admitted it was a bit nerve-wracking.

“I had no guarantee that anyone would want to use it,” he said.

But reel them in they did, especially after winning the Spark Centre’s Ignite competition in 2014. The $25,000 prize money, joining the Centre’s Thrive Accelerator Program and moving their headquarters to the Loft has helped NPS expand from two people to 10 full timers.

“That competition was massive for us,” Mr. Miguel said.

With the prize money, NPS was marketed to the US. The site now boasts 200 brands and has attracted pro angler Brent Ehrler.

Along the way the Spark Centre helped NPS get about $100,000 in grant money.

“These guys (Spark Centre) make it hard to leave,” Mr. Miguel said.

But the business hasn’t been without its challenges. NPS may be all about fishing but in order to build and maintain its online platform, it requires innovative talent.

READ MORE…

Feature Article in Metroland: Part 1

Start-up companies in Durham’s innovation and technology sector continue to thrive at the Spark Centre in Oshawa

by Ian McMillan – Metroland

(source)

Dennis Croft is holding court at the Spark Commercialization and Innovation Centre. As he walks through the spacious facilities located at the Loft, 21 Simcoe St. in Oshawa, his three guests are captivated, not only by what they’re hearing but the energy and people who surround them.

These three entrepreneurs are looking for help and Mr. Croft appears to have what they are looking for. During any given week, he conducts between 20 and 30 such tours.

It may be hard to believe but the Loft, Spark Centre’s head office, houses 50 innovation- and technology-based businesses in the Durham Region and Northumberland County. Inside, top 2015 companies such as IFTech, ARAIG, Sound Options, National ProStaff, Panda Insights, Tiko 3D and Seriously Fun Games, to name but a few, are busy building their start-up companies.

The genesis of Spark Centre came in 2010 when the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance began to pursue an Ontario start-up program focused on innovation. Key players within the DSEA who saw the vision included Jacquie Hoornweg, Michael Angemeer, Michael Owen, Jeff Kistner, Debbie McKee Demczyk, Doug Lindeblom, Sheila McGrory and Johnathon Wheatle.

In 2011, Spark Centre was born with Mr. Croft arriving as a volunteer mentor. He was tasked with helping the start-up companies with funding and investment, offering expertise on their business plans, marketing strategies and product developments, among other things.

“You just can’t possibly know everything about business,” he said. “There are grant programs and other companies that can help them with their needs.”

Kathy Weiss is chairwoman of Spark Centre’s board of directors and the director of economic development and tourism at the Region of Durham. She said students at both the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College have long immersed themselves in innovation and technology so it was a natural fit for the Region to support Spark Centre. That’s why it took little convincing for Regional council to approve funding for the initiative.

“The Spark Centre is phenomenal. It’s a huge asset for us right now,” she said.

When the Spark Centre opened its offices at 21 Simcoe St. four-and-a-half years ago, there were four staff, and about five advisors. Today it’s grown to nine staff and 18 individual advisors. Mr. Croft now sits as the president and CEO.

“I hate to use this expression, but if you build it they will come, and they do,” he said.

READ MORE…

Client Update: Zambah Introduces Tastemaker Feature

by Ken Asafo – Co-Founder & CEO, Zambah

Zambah is a social media platform built around the consumption of streamable user generated audio content. Our goal is to become the best worldwide destination for discovering new and emerging independent audio content creators.

At Zambah, we believe that playlists curated by humans is crucial for how most people discover new songs and artists. This is why for the past few months we’ve been working towards enhancing and innovating new ways to provide people with quality playlists curated by people they trust, which is something we’ve been doing with our new Tastemakers feature.

Tastemakers gives people exclusive access to create digital campaigns that enables them to curate and build playlists containing crowd-sourced music submissions from artists worldwide. People that we deem as Tastemakers are highly sought public figures or brands in various industries such as music, film, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business and other key interest areas. A user can become a Tastemaker through an invite-only process that requires them to meet a specific criteria of influence on culture or industry that has been pre-approved by the Zambah staff.

Aside from building the tech needed to launch this feature, we’ve been reaching out and recruiting the right group of Tastemakers that will be first group of faces to represent this concept. So far we have a solid group of Tastemakers to begin with and we look forward to adding more in the coming weeks.

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Our working space at the Loft provided by Spark Centre has been nothing less than amazing! Since we pride ourselves as a very creative team, it great to come to a work environment that has so many smart entrepreneurs working on super creative ideas. Often times, the highlights of our day involve interacting with the Spark staff, in addition to the other entrepreneurs. We are very proud to be part of the Spark community.

To learn more about Zambah, check out our website at www.zambah.com and to get in touch with us you can follow us on our social media page:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/zambahmusic
Twitter: @ZambahMusic
Instagram: @ZambahMusic