May 21, 2019 by Reka Szekely Oshawa This Week
Spark Centre president and CEO Sherry Colbourne explains that one of her goals when she joined Spark Centre in early 2017 was to grow the organization as a global innovation hub by attracting startups through the Canadian startup visa program. Founded in 2012, Spark Centre is aimed at supporting Durham and Northumberland in becoming a globally-recognized tech and innovation ecosystem that develops businesses.
To reach out globally, Spark Centre partnered with the Region of Durham to create conduits to entrepreneurs in other countries that are interested in locating in Canada including entrepreneurs from Brazil, Colombia, the Middle East, Iran, India and China.
Success in attracting entrepreneurs through the visa program resulted in Spark Centre moving this year from the CORE21 co-working space to a new office space at 2 Simcoe St. S., on the third floor of what’s known locally as the CIBC building in downtown Oshawa.
“It really built traction last year, mid-last year so we were getting very concerned that our space, that we loved at CORE21, it wasn’t going to be sufficient when these people started coming,” said Colbourne of the startup visa program.
With the move, Spark Centre went from 3,000 square feet to 9,000 creating more space for clients to grow their business. At Spark Centre, clients can access every aspect of business advice including sales, marketing, business model development, investment connections, service providers and more. They also have space to work and the atmosphere fosters collaboration.
Colbourne explains that making international connections supports local entrepreneurship as it creates an ecosystem for innovation.
“That’s why the startup visa program is so important because a region like Durham is going to have some challenges getting to a critical mass where you have enough entrepreneurial companies thriving,” she said.
One example of a success story through the startup visa program is Eventelis, which is now a resident company after the company’s founders moved to Canada from Brazil and began working out of Spark Centre creating an Oshawa-based business.
An event platform, Eventelis allows people to register and purchase tickets for events and for event organizers to engage people who attend the events through the app.
As companies grow they can graduate from the Spark Centre to an accelerator aimed at helping them continue to scale up. Recent examples of Spark graduates include MobileXCo, a mobile marketing platform, and National Prostaff, the leading social network for anglers and angling brands.
“Companies that come through Spark and get to a $1 million in reoccurring revenue graduate from Spark and go to an accelerator,” she explains.
Currently, Spark Centre has more than a hundred clients and has identified 54 as very active with a potential to grow their businesses.
An idea summit hosted by Durham College president Don Lovisa looked into the potential for a much larger innovation centre in Durham.
“They determined we could do it, we’ve got the critical mass of the right demographic, we’ve got an educated population, if we stretch the region to be more encompassing, to the eastern corridor, there’s enough of an academic sector,” said Colbourne.
Dubbed D-Hive, the idea is for a large space — somewhere in the neighbourhood of 60,000 square feet — which will include Spark Centre, a makerspace and corporate sponsors. One potential site under consideration is the former Canada Post location in downtown Oshawa which the City of Oshawa has looked into purchasing.
Colbourne said she’s hoping to move toward a larger space within the next couple of years.
She explains the goal in the coming years is to build Spark Centre’s client base through the startup visa program and through the acquisition of local talent.
“Another goal of ours is to really reach into our community to create a sustainable business model for Spark and the overall Durham innovation initiative because we can’t rely on government funding, we need to find a way to make ourselves more sustainable,” she said.
As the organization continues to grow, plans are to stay in downtown Oshawa.
“Oshawa’s the biggest city in the region and typically these kinds of innovation hubs thrive in urban settings, because it’s very walkable and accessible, people can be working and they can go out for coffee or lunch and it needs to have a strong social fabric around it.”
by Reka Szekely
Reka Szekely is a reporter with Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division.