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The Importance of Fostering Innovation

May 25, 2023

4 minute read
Post Contributed by Christy Settee, Drug Specialist, Johnston Group
Leadership Winnipeg Class of 2022-2023

Have you ever heard about the success story of Skip the Dishes?

How one of the founders, Josh Simair, walked away twice from a potential deal, each time adding a zero to the price tag? He was originally set to sell the startup for a cool $2 million but when the parties couldn’t come to an agreement, he left Toronto only to be called back 6 months later. However, Josh was so confident in what he had that when he went back, he added a zero to the price tag then asking $20 million. The potential buyer declined and so again Josh went back to Winnipeg but not without warning them that he’d be back in six months and the price tag would go up again. Indeed, they did come calling in six months. That day Just Eat agreed to purchase Skip the Dishes for $200 million dollars.

This was just one success story that we learned has come out of Manitoba Technology Accelerator (MTA) who recently moved into the space in the middle of Esplanade Riel. They team up with startups where they look for disruptive, scalable tech to get behind and help them succeed. In fact it’s their goal to build two more Manitoba businesses that will be valued at $100+ million dollars. They also want to put Winnipeg on the map as Western Canada’s Startup Capital and they want to take it a step further where they keep the headquarters of these companies right here so we can see our city grow.

MTA is a non-profit organization that is governed by a private sector volunteer board. They validate investor and customer demand and help by providing CEO Mentorship through their fee for service model. However, no fees are collected until the startup is successful. As part of our morning, we had the opportunity to meet one of the CEO mentors, Ryan Klassen, who used to run Bell Western Canada division and we even got to meet a couple of the startups that are part of the program which was truly inspiring. More than anything, I love that while they are helping these startups grow, they are also helping keep these success stories headquartered right here in Winnipeg. Not only does this keep jobs here but it keeps our innovative explorers right here in Winnipeg.

Keeping with the theme of innovation, we spent the afternoon at St. Boniface Hospital’s Albrechtsen Research Centre to not only hear about all the work they do (did you know that they are considered the top research hospital in Western Canada?) but also to hear from North Forge which is another incubator accelerator.

North Forge bolsters a Four-Stage Founders Program that is armed with North America’s largest non-profit fabrication lab. This state-of-the-art facility is apparently something to see and North Forge hosts open houses at their Fab Lab on Tuesdays if you want to take a tour.

One of North Forge’s pillars is that it serves urban and remote communities with a focus on inclusivity and diversity. As part of that, they have set up North Forge North in Thompson with a fabrication lab with state-of-the-art tools and equipment to foster creativity where it would normally not be accessible.

Further to that, they have introduced the North Forge Women in Innovation Lab (WiLab) to break down the barriers that women face as innovators and entrepreneurs. This program struck me because I have seen and experienced those barriers myself and it’s great to see some of those walls come down.

We were lucky enough to end our day learning about the amazing research being done at St. Boniface Research Foundation. I will admit that as the Drug Specialist at Johnston Group this session was fascinating to me. Science and Biology is at the heart of what I do, and it was amazing to experience what these extremely talented researchers are working on today.

During our time there we learned that Canada is lagging in research opportunities and that now is the time to redefine our national science strategy. St. Boniface Research Foundation, which has been around for the last fifty years and is ranked consistently as one of the Top 40 research hospitals, is trying their best to change this.

One way they are doing this is by working with our children through their RBC Youth BIOlab Jeunesse. They are directly working with schools and school divisions to develop programs that help to explore and experience real biomedical science in a world-class research centre. Children are our next generation of researchers and through the program they have been able to reach over 75,000 students!

We were able to tour their facilities and see right where the magic happens and, in some cases, we were able to speak with some of the head researchers about what they were currently working on. One such researcher was studying the autism spectrum and they had narrowed down a particular type where they were able to isolate what caused this specific type to be anti-social. What this means is potentially in the future they could develop a medication that would inhibit this behaviour allowing these people to live more social lives.

Being part of Leadership Winnipeg has not only taught me so much great stuff about Winnipeg but also our province. We live in a great city that in my opinion is just as special as some other bigger Canadian cities. This week in particular I got to experience innovation firsthand, and I must say it was empowering to experience.

We have so many amazing entrepreneurs and innovators right here in Winnipeg. We need to foster these individuals because they play a big part in the future of our city and even our country. Let’s continue keep the talent in Winnipeg and our future will continue to be bright.

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