Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

QPI’s Growth Accelerator gave AST Microwave a path to the future

AST Microwave participates in programs offered by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI), made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project.

AST workspace
AST workspace. Photo credit: AST Microwave.

When Dave Owers wants to tell someone about the most important thing he gained from his time in the Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s Growth Accelerator, he fires up his computer. Then he opens up the growth plan he created as one of the final exercises for the program.

Running to 97 pages, the plan charts out the direction that AST Microwave, his company, should take over the next few years. It is, he says, all there --“scaling the business, your team, next steps, everything. This document is going to be unimaginably useful.”

AST may be more than 30 years old, but in some ways, says Owers, it resembles a startup. “We’re kind of an old-school manufacturer, but we’re re-inventing ourselves.”  A producer of waveguide products here in Kingston that are used in radars, satellite uplinks and a host of other applications and sold worldwide, the firm was in something of a holding pattern when he bought it in 2017. (“Mortgaged my life away,” is how he puts it.) He got more – actually, very much less – than he bargained for. “They hadn’t bothered with doing trade shows or hunting for new customers in a few years,” he says. “The testing equipment was old. The company was losing $20,000 a month. That had to be turned around really fast.” Since then, he says, “We’ve spent a lot of time the last few years upgrading and streamlining processes.”

Acting on the suggestion that he take part in Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s new accelerator program run for by Stiletto Consulting seemed a good idea. In fact, Owers had a chance to enroll in the program the first time it was offered in the spring of 2020, but it hadn’t proved possible – “We were in the midst of our ISO certification,” he says. He enrolled in the second program beginning in October 2020 and completed it in February of this year.

“It was all done by Zoom,” he says, a necessity during COVID-19, “which actually made it super convenient. I commute back and forth from Montreal to Kingston, and Zoom made it possible for me to join in from home. It was incredibly well-structured. You had one day of ‘class’ and then you were off for the week to work on it,” although he says, laughing, “as always with school I found myself falling behind with the homework.

Owers found the range of topics from marketing to sales to team building interesting, but was particularly intrigued by the experts brought in to discuss financing. “For someone who is trying to grow a business, I found that really, really good,” he says.

“They had someone from the Business Development Bank of Canada, and someone from a private equity firm. I learned more about private equity in half an hour than I ever knew before. It’s not something I’ve ever considered but in future, if I do think about it, at least I’d know what it’s about. If you were trying to learn this all yourself,” he says, “you don’t know how long it might take.”

Some of the benefits have been immediate. “Oh, one hundred per cent,” he says. “One of the people presenting about finance was Wade Coulter from IRAP” -- the Industrial Research Assistance Program run by the National Research Council. “I’ve already had a couple of phone calls with him.”

“At the final meeting of the Growth Accelerator we all gave two presentations, one for potential customers and for potential investors. Having these tools readily available, along with the full growth plan, something that you can potentially show to the right people, will prove very useful.

His last word? “It's a great program for any company that’s interested in growth.”