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

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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

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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.