When browsing the trendy storefronts of the Exchange District, one doesn’t necessarily conjure images of technology startups, media hubs, and groundbreaking products being developed above floor level.
That’s what Red River College instructor Scott MacAulay is trying to change.
Though still an informal tour, he assembles groups of those interested and guides them through some of the many impressive startup businesses operating along Adelaide Street and McDermot Avenue, dubbed Innovation Alley.
“If you want to see who the big thinkers are, this is ground zero for it,” begins MacAulay.
The first stop is the most impressive in terms of the scale of its equipment.
For $150 a month, makers and aspiring entrepreneurs have 24/7 access to state-of-the-art laser cutters and 3-D printers, among other equipment and tools designed for the speediest prototyping.
Michael Legary of Seccuris co-founded and funded AssentWorks, a non-profit maker’s space for people to develop product innovations with the support of successful entrepreneurs at arm’s length.
In addition to the accomplished volunteer aids, the makers often consult each other and collaborate on projects, strengthening their overall output. It also helps make the entrepreneurial journey a little less lonely.
“The most valuable thing we have at AssentWorks is the people,” affirms co-founder Kerry Stevenson.
On the same note, Ramp Up Manitoba, now a partner with AssentWorks under the name Startup Winnipeg, provides individuals a shared office space for $50 a month.
These folks gain access to a desk and computer, meeting rooms, a kitchen and lounge area, and a co-work space among other budding entrepreneurs going through similar experiences.
The young local company Home Snowboards manufactures its products onsite at AssentWorks, and uses the Ramp Up office space right next to an app developer that helps people insult their friends with five-minute snippets of popular movies.
Also on the docket are the popular Ramp Up Weekends where 60-second business pitches are made by all participants, then the top ideas are voted on, groups are assembled to flesh them out, and the rest of the weekend is spent coming up with a legitimate presentation for a panel of judges.
It’s a worthy process in itself, though the goal is to found the next successful Manitoban startup. Mentors and coaching are provided along the way to weed out potential barriers.
Ramp Up officemates may also attend meetups held Tuesday evenings for users to bounce ideas off each other, get feedback on a demo, or seek the input of some of their skilled cohabitants or volunteers.
The unprecedented opportunity afforded by Startup Winnipeg earned runner-up for Startup Community of the Year in Canada.
Manitoba Technology Accelerator
A similar model of support services is built into the Manitoba Technology Accelerator on McDermot. Futurpreneur Manitoba operates there at the heart of the office among some of the businesses it’s helped fund, like Skip the Dishes. Skip the Dishes has now claimed an entire floor to itself after spilling over from the shared office floor.
AdVolve Media also works out of The Accelerator; its product, the Mirage Mirror, posts video advertising on the bathroom mirrors of establishments. The product allows them to track the amount of time a person engages with the ad, and the demographics, plus they sell the ad space for the businesses.
The Accelerator office is accessible to renters 24 hours a day and mentoring is wholly available along the way for technology or science startups.
The Media Hub
Slightly less formalized co-work spaces have also popped up in the top floors of historic buildings along this strip, making productive use of the coveted real estate.
The Media Hub offers video and audio production space to “bridge the gap between mom and dad’s basement,” jokes co-founder Travis Cook.
Manitoba Music’s second installment of its live concert series, the Loft Sessions, were filmed in the Media Hub’s attractive space on Princess Street, capturing the live performance energies of Manitoba’s hottest acts in an intimate setting.
The Media Hub also has professional studio recording capability, post-production editing suites and software subscriptions for graphic designers and digital media developers.
Visual arts co-work space
Perhaps the most collaborative environment of all is located above Hoopers at 70 Albert St. Not just anyone can get a desk there; it’s a curated group of creatives who contribute their talents to each other’s projects.
“We all cross-pollinate each other’s projects,” explains Meghan Athavale, CEO of PO-MO Inc.
PO-MO’s interactive video projections are like the pièce de résistance for the tour, as well as a game developed by Campfire Union that puts you virtually in the driver’s seat of a big tractor, and its video game controls put you at the helm.
Red River College uses the product to introduce its students to the job they’re training for with no safety risk.
Any of the startups that have marketable uses like this with the opportunity for growth are what Innovation Alley is all about.
That’s the goal, to build “scalable, team startups” and create jobs, says MacAulay.
Until they reach that point, striving young entrepreneurs can access all the help they want from accomplished mentors who know exactly what it takes to get there.