SkipTheDishes actually got its start in Saskatoon, but it’s considered a Winnipeg success story. This is because a more favourable tech ecosystem attracted the startup to Winnipeg, where it scaled up and became a household name before being gobbled up by Britain’s Just Eat.
North Forge Technology Exchange is keenly aware of how important a city’s tech ecosystem is to tech startup success. Over the years, the incubator/accelerator and innovation partner for the Province of Manitoba has worked tirelessly to help build a supportive tech environment where technology company founders can start businesses, scale up rapidly, acquire space and talent, and ultimately start all over again after a major exit.
Startups in North Forge’s network benefit from award-winning mentors, rockstar subject matter experts, and Canada’s largest non-profit fabrication lab (a 27,000 square feet facility). Consequently, North Forge has helped over 200 companies get off the ground.
That’s impressive in itself, but the organization is really just starting to hit its stride as it continues to roll out new programs and services to help Winnipeg shine as a growing Canadian tech hub.
In June 2020, North Forge created its International Founders Program and tripled the size of its client network. This innovative “soft-landing” program is designed to help established foreign businesses hit the ground running when they enter the North American market.
In February 2021, North Forge CEO, Joelle Foster, announced the creation of the North Forge Angel Network in collaboration with the National Angel Capital Organization. Creating an angel investor network for companies working with North Forge is a critical step to spurring new tech highflyers, Joelle says.
Another important addition to North Forge’s service offerings is an arrangement with ICTC’s Work Integrated Learning program, WIL Digital, to help ensure its network has an effective skilled-talent pipeline.
Teaching the right digital skills in university is essential but so is ensuring graduates have that critical first-job experience. For early-stage companies, WIL Digital helps them afford the essential talent they need to grow by providing a wage-subsidy for their hires
With all the new offerings, North Forge then needed some help getting the word out. So it turned to WIL Digital to add some communications and marketing firepower, and went looking for a student.
“We reached out to the Asper School of Business Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba, which is how we met Marissa and absolutely fell in love with her,” Joelle says in a video discussion with ICTC’s Western Canadian WIL Digital Coordinator, Cheryl Serpanchy.
Marissa Huggins was onboarded last summer. She worked with North Forge for about six months developing a wide range of content and assisting with brand positioning and social media.
North Forge’s Program and Communications Manager, Whitney Moir, who was also part of the video discussion, says, “Seeing some of the growth in engagement and followers since Marissa took over those channels was phenomenal! Having her join us in July of last year really helped us expand our reach, especially with the launch of our new Founders Program.”
Marissa’s work also laid the foundations for WIL Digital in the Founders Program.
“We have six Founders utilizing WIL Digital, and we couldn’t be happier with it. For startups, any aid they can get is very helpful,” Whitney says.
Joelle notes that “these co-op students are making a huge difference for these companies. It’s valuable for the Founders and the students. So yes, we use WIL Digital. We’re continuing to use it. And we hope it stays around for a long time.”
As for Marissa’s experience with North Forge as a WIL Digital placement, she says, “It was fantastic! The biggest value-add for me of co-op programs is that you can gain work experience in different types of workplaces.”
At the end of her North Forge WIL Digital placement, Marissa went on to intern with other tech companies to learn valuable skills and gain confidence in her career direction. Currently, she is interning with Canadian startup Spontivly and seems destined to play an important role in Winnipeg’s thriving tech ecosystem when she graduates and settles into a permanent position.