From left: Cobourg Mayor John Henderson, Acting Cobourg Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf, Alex Papanicolaou of the Microfactory, Daniel Sutherland of the CrossWing company and Northumberland Community Futures Development executive director Wendy Curtis
Where not long ago an abandoned board of education building stood empty and costing Cobourg taxpayers $70,000 a year just so it wouldn't fall down, Venture 13 now flourishes.
A year after its grand opening on May 17, 2018, stakeholder representatives and members of the community gathered to celebrate all that has happened in the 12 months since.
Highlights of the year in numbers boil it down to its most basic – 18 new companies started, 60 jobs created (and 10 interns hired), 23 partnerships developed, 21 VentureZone clients, 6,000 foot-traffic visitors, more than 300 child-and-youth engagements, 292 events (183 of them led by Venture 13 partners) and some $2.4-million in wages generated.
It was a think-outside-the-box inspiration generated by three partners, Mayor John Henderson said – the Town of Cobourg, the Cobourg Police Service and the Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation.
It will be a key player in positioning the town as a complementary urban model that can provide the employers and employees of the future a transit-accessible integration of work, housing and recreation, a vibrant and urbanized environment that is powered by green energy and offers an unsurpassed quality of life.
From left: Cobourg Mayor John Henderson, Venture 13 board chair Rick Holmes, Northumberland-Peterborough South MP Kim Rudd and Northumberland Community Futures Development executive director Wendy Curtis
CFDC executive director Wendy Curtis provided a listing of board partners – Northumberland Makers, Northumberland Manufacturers' Association and Fleming College, in addition to the Town of Cobourg, Cobourg Police Service and CFDC.
Their innovation partners include the Spark Centre, the University of Toronto's Impact Centre, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, the Ontario Centres of Excellence, Durham College, Business Development Bank of Canada and the Government of Canada National Research Council.
Their strategy is to position both Northumberland County and the Eastern Ontario region as a centre of technology entrepreneurship and innovation by attracting the talented next generation and ensure their accessibility to the resources, infrastructue and collaborative space that will help them get started.
Banks and other traditional avenues aren't always an option, Curtis said.
“When you are a start-up, somebody has to step up and embrace you as being a crucial part of Canada's future.”
As a proud partner in this effort, she continued, the CFDC provides financing and strategy for entrepreneurs, manages the VentureZone, provides some administrative support to the Maker Lab and runs collaborative entrepreneurial contests such as the competitive Pitch To The Chief and N100 events.
“There's a constant buzz of activity that is happening,” Curtis said.
“The secondary schools are beginning to take note and coming here on a regular basis.”
Opportunities young people have found at Venture 13 include summer and March break Northumberland Makers camps. But the Maker Lab is also a key player in the first-of-its-kind-in-Canada Microfactory Co-op that solves problems through such avenues as small-scale custom manufacturing, prototyping and design services that help its clients bring concepts to reality.
Curtis gave a demonstration of a product that comes from the CrossWing company – a chest-high robot on wheels that can be used for reception duties, teleconferencing, giving tours and even safety-and-surveillance functions (which is why Cobourg Police Acting Chief Paul VandeGraaf hung a badge on a chain around its neck).
VandeGraaf said that the force's Business Services division was operating in full swing on the second floor of Venture 13 where, in 2018, they processed almost one-million criminal-record checks.
This sideline has turned into a major service that is actually offsetting the police budget to Cobourg taxpayers, reinvesting $5.7-million between 2004 and 2018.
“We had $3.2-million in gross revenue last year. Today, upstairs, they are sitting about 40% ahead of last year,” VandeGraaf said.
“We are in the early stages of incorporating new-age AI (artificial intelligence) that will revolutionize the way criminal checks are done in Canada. Not in Cobourg, not in Northumberland – in Canada,” he stressed.
“This was all made possible because our team was fortunate enough to work in a shared space that is an idea-, energy- and opportunity-rich environment.”
Northumberland-Peterborough South MP Kim Rudd had attended the grand opening last year, and recalled the big plans everyone had.
“That vision has not been realized – I would argue it has been exceeded,” Rudd said.
“Under one roof, we are witnessing the collaborations that chart the course for dynamic breakthroughs that may even lead – and I truly believe will lead – to global impact.
“I believe history will be made here. One of our promising start-up companies will grow to touch society in a way that is demonstrably profound.
“This is about history, it's about legacy as much as it is about the future. It's about the stories of possibilities being written here today.”
Northeastern University regional dean and chief executive officer Aliza Lakhani, one of the key players in the new Venture Kids initiative, complimented the growth mindset she saw at Venture 13.
“The integrity, humanity and collaboration that comes from this team – when you leave all the egos and all the agendas aside, that's when things happen,” Lakhani said.
Keynote speaker Tamara Small – a St. Mary Secondary School alumna who went on to become a successful technology journalist, consultant, public speaker and entrepreneur – is a key player in one of Venture 13's newest initiatives, Venture Kids.
“Challenge is everywhere, but opportunity is not,” Small said.
Venture Kids is designed as a boost to young people wanting the best possible chance to prepare for a career in technology and entrepreneurship.
She also shared what she has learned from her work that makes her think the future is promising for her old hometown.
“We are seeing a very unusual thing happening in Canada – American companies are launching satellite offices in Toronto and surrounding area. These companies are looking for talent, but also looking to expand and reach outside the downtown-Toronto core.
“Venture 13 and these areas represent the perfect landing places.”