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Hamilton Economic Development

Innovation Factory celebrates its growth spurt

Ethan Do of OverAir has used the Innovation Factory to help him pinpoint markets for his product. He's seen here calling up his company website on a smartphone.Ethan Do takes what looks like a simple business card, waves it behind his Android phone and it opens up his company’s website.

Do’s business card is literally the calling card for his business, OverAir Proximity Technologies. His card uses a microchip sticker to transfer data to compatible devices.

Do is one of the clients of Innovation Factory, the incubation centre for startups and good ideas, located at McMaster Innovation Park. IF officially christened its new expanded space at MIP with a celebration Thursday. Its office has tripled in size because IF is growing in staff and clients, says executive director Ron Neumann.

The new office, which looks out on to the MIP atrium from the ground floor, features a painted Hamilton skyline that doubles as a brainstorming wall in what is being called a “collision centre.” It’s a place for entrepreneurs to grab a coffee, hang out and talk. That kind of informal interaction is invaluable, Neumann said.

“It’s about getting information when you need it and bumping into the right people at just the right time.”

Do says the advice, guidance and support he’s received at IF has been “everything” to his business. Thanks to connections made there, OverAir stickers are being used in a Hamilton packaging company. If a part breaks down, a worker can scan the sticker, which opens a video showing how to fix the problem or sends an email to a supplier ordering a new part.

“This technology can do anything. They are teaching me to focus on some fields,” said Do, a graduate of McMaster’s business informatics program.

There were many entrepreneurs, and those who help them, on hand to celebrate IF’s grand opening.

Tyler Cowie, CEO of creative design company Factor[e], said his IF adviser, Pete Smith, asks the tough questions and looks at all aspects of the business.

“He gets us to change the things you would never change because it’s too hard … He has helped us around not being happy with the status quo.”

IF’s new digs were once occupied by Mohawk College’s corporate training program. Zach Douglas, president of MIP, says it was disappointing to see Mohawk leave the park but that the opening allowed for IF to expand just when it was needed.

Neumann reflected on the beginning of IF, which is part of a network of regional innovation centres across the province. He says he and Keanin Loomis, IF’s chief advocate, started out at a borrowed desk at MIP. A little more than two years later, there are 11 staff and IF has consulted with 391 companies.

Focus areas for 2013 include health and life sciences and a program called Lift designed to help big companies get bigger.

“We want to see dozens of companies hiring hundreds of people. That’s when we’ll be happy,” said Neumann.

The City of Hamilton granted $50,000 to IF last year and $50,000 is budgeted for this year, said Councillor Brian McHattie.

“The innovation focus is the future of this city.”

Mark Chamberlain, chair of IF, says there is now an ecosystem of innovation in Hamilton in which ideas and entrepreneurs can flourish.

“What is happening here is nothing short of phenomenal.”

Joon Kim, a science and business graduate looking for investors, has found a home at IF. He’s working on an alternative way to tackle bacteria that causes cavities. Kim once worked out of a coffee shop but now operates his business, Apollonia, on IF’s Factory Floor space at MIP.

“This place makes the process so much easier. It drastically improves the speed of starting a startup.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod , The Hamilton Spectator.

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