Innovate Manitoba is a not-for-profit community-based organization established in 2012 to act as a catalyst for innovation and to help close the commercialization gap.
Manitoba’s economy is diversified across both research and non-research intensive sectors, providing a stable economic climate. An increasing emphasis in research-intensive industries is spurring growth and attracting talent. Employment growth in Winnipeg has been the highest in research-intensive industries.
Manitoba’s entrepreneurial activity was ranked sixth in the country, directionally in line with the Canadian average. The province has a solid base of core infrastructure (supportive research facilities, large corporate presence, ideal central geography and developed transportation/communications infrastructure), coupled with low business costs relative to other large metropolitan areas. Its policy environment is increasingly conducive to supporting innovation and commercialization initiatives.
Even so, Manitoba’s participation in the commercialization process has been modest, leading to low levels of associated entrepreneurial activity. It lacks a robust risk capital environment, particularly for seed and early stage ventures.
Innovate Manitoba’s focus is to spur innovation by Manitoba’s entrepreneurs, researchers, inventors and small- and medium-sized enterprises by supporting an increase in the commercialization of new technologies, promoting entrepreneurship and the creation of next-generation start-ups, and stimulating access to risk capital for early- and mid-stage enterprises. Essential to this is ensuring that the right programs, strategies and tools are in place to support Manitoba’s innovation ecosystem.
Drivers of innovation
In Manitoba, the sources of many new innovations lie within the province’s post-secondary institutions, research hospitals and other research organizations. Innovate Manitoba has developed strategies to accelerate the commercialization of new technologies arising from these institutions and to increase interaction between industry and researchers. It has taken the lead to establish Intellectual Property Manitoba (IP Manitoba), which will bring together the commercialization efforts of most of Manitoba’s academic and research institutions. This will create an independent hub for researchers, member institutions, industry and government to exploit this substantially untapped intellectual capital resource.
Innovate Manitoba’s IndustryCONNECTS program operates in partnership with five of Manitoba’s post-secondary institutions: University of Manitoba, Red River College, University of Winnipeg, Assiniboine Community College and Brandon University. It provides an interactive program designed to transform attendees’ research skills to deliver a successful pitch to a potential business partner. It also offers researchers a unique opportunity to practice their newly developed pitching skills to a panel of business research and development (R&D) experts and receive feedback and advice.
Additionally, researchers and firms seeking R&D assistance are given an opportunity to network and develop research partnerships with help from three leading organizations: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Mitacs, which provides vital scientific and business skills for innovators, and Genome Prairie, which supports Manitoba and Saskatchewan stakeholders in realizing the benefits of advanced research in genomics and related biosciences.
Innovate Manitoba also develops strategies and programs to promote entrepreneurship and high-growth start-ups and to increase the capacity of Manitoba’s entrepreneurs to launch high growth businesses. This includes:
• PitchDay: For anyone with a business idea;
• LaunchPad Start-up Skills Camps: For new or recent start-ups;
• LaunchPad Entrepreneur Bootcamps: For serious high growth ventures seeking risk capital; and
• VentureChallenge: A premier pitch competition for ventures that have already raised one round of capital.
The top three VentureChallenge winners receive significant cash and in-kind prizes, including the opportunity to present to the top North American angel and venture capital investors at either the Banff Venture Forum or the Canadian Financing Forum. The top VentureChallenge winner also receives an expense paid trip to MentorCamp in Halifax, NS.
Joist, winner of Innovate Manitoba’s VentureChallenge 2013, was recently selected as one of four of Canada’s newest and most innovative information and communications technology companies by the U.K. Trade and Investment Global Adventure Competition. Joist is a tool that allows contractors to conduct multiple business functions in real time using mobile or web devices.
Another success story is HD-Petroleum, a Manitoba start-up offering revolutionary micro-refinery technology that turns used motor oil into diesel fuel. The company credits the VentureChallenge for providing invaluable experience and insights that have helped it achieve three rounds of capital investment worth over $5 million.
Innovate Manitoba receives funding from the province and project support through several federal government agencies. However, its programs primarily are supported through private sponsors including post-secondary institutions. It relies on policy support at civic, provincial and federal levels.