THUNDER BAY – The Northwest Innovation Centre staff have found their way home.
Nine months after closing their facility on the Confederation Campus for a major renovation, the organization last month returned to a more open space that executive director Judy Sander says will do even more to foster the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The move was spurred by the construction of the college’s brand new TEC Hub.
“We said this is an opportunity to revitalize the space we have and make it more conducive to housing entrepreneurs, collaboration in innovation and helping people connect, and that’s why it was opened up,” Sander said on Friday, after hosting a tour of the new facility for local Liberal MPs Don Rusnak and Patty Hajdu.
The newly renovated building includes more collaboration rooms, hot desk spaces dedicated for entrepreneurs and pods in their manufacturing zone for would-be inventors to put their products together.
Having a space like the Northwest Innovation Centre is key to ensuring the entrepreneurial spirit remains alive throughout the region.
“We’ve always reached out to people, whether they’re in their basement or working in their garage or coming up with an idea in their bedroom, but it’s pretty isolated and if you don’t make the connection, get the right advice, meet other people and get other perspectives, it can be pretty tough,” Sander said.
“And it can be discouraging after awhile. It’s a lonely business, launching a business.”
She added existing businesses often need a space to meet with customers, get advice or attend an event, all things that can happen at the Innovation Centre.
“The biggest thing we focused on was the flexibility of the space, so it can meet multiple user needs and multiple things,” said Sander, who estimated five companies are in various stages of development, while several others are occasional users of the site.
Rusnak, whose government provided $355,860 toward the renovation through FedNor, said supporting innovation is exactly what the economic development agency was created to do.
“It was kind of a no-brainer for an investment here. They’ve been doing great work here for years, in the community and across the region. It’s just a smart investment,” Rusnak said, adding innovation has long formed the backbone of the Northwestern Ontario economy, more so now than ever with many resource-based industries struggling.