Janice Mady, director of Queen’s University’s Industry Partnerships & Innovation Park, calls their exciting new InnovationXL program, “the latest step on the journey.”
The journey she’s talking about began several years ago, when Queen’s University opened Innovation Park, designed to help the University’s researchers build collaborations with industry, convert ideas and discoveries into products and companies, and to attract companies wishing to collaborate with Queen’s to establish operations in Kingston. The geographic analogy is apt: this is a voyage of discovery, its ultimate destination unknown.
Dr. Steven Liss, the Vice-Principal (Research) at Queen’s, has broadened the University’s regional engagement by helping to expand and deliver programs and services to accelerate innovative startups emerging from Queen’s campus and across the region.
Now, with InnovationXL and a mandate championed by VP Liss to develop and leverage partnerships, Mady and her colleagues at Innovation Park are reaching outside the University to identify and support promising technology startups and SMEs, helping them to attract and develop the skills, resources and relationships they will need to take their products to global markets and to grow successful companies in the region.
A going concern since July 2014 and officially launched in November 2014, InnovationXL is part of one of the fifteen CAIPs (Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program) across Canada which receives a contribution to funding from the Federal Government via its National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program. The Eastern Ontario CAIP is focused on integrating and strengthening the regional innovation ecosystem. The project is being led by Invest Ottawa and includes L-Spark Corp. based in Kanata and the InnovationXL partners who support Kingston and the region.
InnovationXL is aimed specifically at what Mady calls “high-potential entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs; these are firms that have the potential to really take off” – if they get the hand and ingredients they need. InnovationXL has, she says, “five major ways in which we can help them.”
The first is, as she puts it, “physical incubation.”
“We can give them dirty space if they need to make a mess, or clean space for assembly – or lab space if that’s what they need.” Since its start, InnovationXL has provided space to more than fifteen companies that have met its criteria.
Then there’s the accelerator program, which paradoxically, she says, laughing, “we call GrindSpaceXL. Oh, it’s an accelerator, all right, but you have to work yourself.” Piloted in 2013 and now in its second year under CAIP, the twelve-week program held each fall draws in eight companies, from Kingston and beyond, that have a technology product they want to bring to market. Through highly interactive group sessions as well as individualized mentorship, the GrindSpaceXL team helps companies to validate their product with customers, develop an appropriate sales and marketing strategy, and prepare for financing. Some of the participating startups are graduate entrepreneurs from the Queen’s Innovation Connector Summer Initiative which acts as a catalyst to advance innovation and entrepreneurship throughout Queen’s.
In addition, companies working with InnovationXL can take advantage of services offered by the partners such as coaching and mentoring services provided by entrepreneurs in residence who work out of Launch Lab, the Regional Innovation Centre, embedded management services provided by PARTEQ Innovations, the University’s technology transfer organization, and match-making services provided by the Queen’s Industry Partnerships team. The partners are co-located at Innovation Park with and among the companies that are in the incubation and-or acceleration programs. “We want to help them reach out and create relationships,” says Mady. This means connecting companies to funding agencies and possible investors and to other businesses that have a fit with theirs. Entrepreneurs can seek angel investments through the Southeastern Ontario Angel Network (SOAN), a member of the Network of Angel Organizations in Ontario and another co-located collaborator.
The University has been working recently with Enviro Innovate to establish a clean tech accelerator, which complements the InnovationXL suite of programs and services. This recent arrival was drawn to Innovation Park by the number of clean tech companies located there, including GreenCentre Canada, and the research expertise and infrastructure located at Queen’s and in Kingston. “They have networks in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America,” she says. “And we have been able to introduce them to about ten companies since they have been here.”
“Our ultimate goals are to help technology startups and entrepreneurs to survive and thrive, or pivot, and to help SMEs address various challenges so they are better positioned to achieve their growth objectives. Being successful will deepen our spirit and culture of innovation in Kingston and enhance our local and national economies.”
Since it kicked-off in July 2014, says Mady, “InnovationXL has worked with more than 200 startups and SMEs.”
Queen’s and KEDCO are collaborating and working with Launch Lab, PARTEQ, GreenCentre, CMC Microsystems and SOAN to change people’s perceptions about Kingston and its region. “People know that Kingston is a great place to live,” says Mady. “But they think of it as an institutional town. We want,” she says, borrowing another geographic analogy, “to put Kingston on the entrepreneurial map.”
“We want people to know that Kingston supports innovation and that we are serious about growing businesses. And that InnovationXL is helping to do just that.”