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Op-ed: Michelle Simms

Making sparks fly: Creating jobs in N.L.’s technology sector

Part of a special feature showcasing Memorial’s innovation ecosystem, a pan-university effort focused on supporting the development and success of innovators across Newfoundland and Labrador.  

By Michelle Simms

When asked to write this piece, I knew immediately I would need some innovation inspiration.

Thankfully, one doesn’t have to look too far in my place of work. Genesis has long been a hotbed for innovative companies.

High potential, high growth

If you’re not familiar with the Genesis Centre, let me bring you up to speed.

Genesis is Memorial University’s innovation hub for high-potential, high-growth technology companies. Established in 1997, the centre’s clients and graduate companies have since created more than 1,100 jobs and raised more than $94 million in private investment.

One of Genesis’s many inspiring stories came out of thin air. That’s right, literally thin air! Solace Power, a Genesis graduate from 2013, is transferring electricity, wirelessly, through the air. Imagine the possibilities of embedding wireless power in your desk or office chair.

“[Genesis’s] clients and graduate companies have since created more than 1,100 jobs and raised more than $94 million in private investment.”

The company has developed a wireless power solution using resonant capacitive coupling (RC2) technology. That’s fancy speak for solving the world’s problems of tripping over power cords and losing battery power. Solace has developed solutions for business and office systems, aerospace and defence, unmanned aerial vehicles and the automotive industry.

Earlier this year, the company received a USD$2.3-million investment from Lockheed Martin and they’ve been winning awards for their innovative technology.

Sparking startups

Solace is just one of the many technology companies in Newfoundland and Labrador that are igniting the entrepreneurial spark.

Verafin has just exceeded 300 employees and 1,700 customers with its fraud detection and anti-money laundering software. HeyOrca announced a few weeks ago that their annual recurring revenue has exceeded $1 million, a fantastic milestone to hit just two years into business.

Virtual Marine was listed by Canadian Defence Review, one of the most reputable publications in defence, as one of the Top 75 global defence companies.

Increased demand

Entrepreneurship is exploding in this province.

At Genesis alone, the inquiry rate for our programs is 10 times what it was four years ago. Our Evolution Program, an eight-week idea validator program, accepts up to 60 entrepreneurs per year and our Enterprise Program has accepted more companies in the last year than in the previous three combined.

“We are working with the federal government to help immigrant entrepreneurs who have great business ideas establish roots in N.L.”

To ensure that we are prepared for this growth, we have partnered with innovation hubs across Canada, such as MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, Ont., to assist us in delivering programs.

Additionally, we are working with the federal government to help immigrant entrepreneurs who have great business ideas establish roots in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The timing couldn’t be better. With provincial debt exceeding $14 billion and a 14.9 per cent unemployment rate, we have reason to worry about our future in this province and the future for our children (thankfully, my son wants to be a ninja, so there’s hope for us all).

Innovation ecosystem

Entrepreneurs have plenty of support these days too.

Memorial University’s St. John’s campus launched the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship and the Centre for Social Enterprise last year. Grenfell Campus created Navigate, an entrepreneurial partnership with the College of the North Atlantic.

Memorial appointed two new chairs in entrepreneurship — Dr. Carlos Bazan, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Alex Stewart, Faculty of Business Administration.

The entrepreneurial energy doesn’t only exist on campus, either: externally, there are organizations like Propel ICT, Common Ground, NATI, and Futurpreneur that offer programs to help founders get started.

Battery bound

As Genesis prepares to pack boxes and move to its new home at the Battery Facility at the base of historic Signal Hill in 2018, it’s not the dramatic vistas alone that will inspire us.

It’s the reminder that the grounds we will be occupying were once used by Guglielmo Marconi as he received the first trans-Atlantic radio wave in 1901 from England, making way for the advancements in technology that have allowed our clients to do what they do.

Startups are not for the faint of heart.

It takes guts, determination, drive, focus and persistence to run a startup and it takes hard work, dedication, commitment and understanding to work for a startup. But, these are incredibly rewarding career choices and they have a positive effect and an immediate impact on Newfoundland and Labrador’s economy.

Startups can be electric. Keep them in mind while pursuing career options and, if you have an idea, ignite it!

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