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Innisfil tech hub supporting entrepreneurs where they're at

'The notion that thriving innovation ecosystems are exclusive to major cities is a thing of the past,' says industry expert

The accepted belief that city living and working is a better path to success is changing, according to those keeping a close eye on business, economic and job trends. 

“There are now more people and companies moving outside Toronto’s city centre than those moving into it,” writes Janey Llewellin, the media relations associate with MaRS Discovery District, in an email to InnisfilToday. MaRS is a company that supports entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, academics and government partners.

“The notion that thriving innovation ecosystems are exclusive to major cities is a thing of the past. In 2020, the CBRE [a commercial real estate service operating in Canada] reported that tech talent in smaller markets was outpacing that of bigger cities,” she added.

Innisfil has now become one of those smaller markets considered a magnet for tech entrepreneurs.

With the pandemic ushering in a dramatic rise of remote work that has remained for the most part, along with the current skyrocketing of rental costs, and a ballooning inflation rate, more professionals are opting to live and work outside large cities like Toronto, lured by larger office spaces and lower costs.

Since the pandemic, there has been a significant boost in tech founders using the support from innovation hubs that have been popping up around the province.

“In 2020, DMZ, Toronto Metropolitan University’s tech hub, opened a satellite office in Innisfil. DMZ Innisfil has already supported 35 companies, resulting in 128 new jobs, raised more than $10 million in funding and generated more than $1 million in revenue,” writes Llewellin.

Andrew Rains, originally from Toronto, decided to move to Innisfil where he and his wife could now afford a house and build their family.

Rains connected with DMZ Innisfil, along with his business FractionalSaas, a software company that creates products to address government regulations.

In a smaller community such as Innisfil, with the help of these tech hubs, Rains connects directly with his local government and is currently networking with 10 other municipalities outside of Toronto.

“The biggest benefit to me, has been the tethering to the community in Toronto that I used to be part of, but I’m now no longer physically close to,” says Rains.

“[DMZ] has connected me with a variety of advisors, and being a small business, not having the institutional knowledge of marketing expertise, all the legal expertise, and accounting expertise, this allows me to get those questions answered or get the help that I need without having to do it myself, because, quite frankly, I’m never in the position to bring on a team of marketers internally. I wouldn’t have an in-house lawyer or accountant, and they are able to connect me to those people when I need them,” he says, which frees up entrepreneurs to focus on building their business. “I don’t like doing any of that stuff.”

Jelmer Stegink, economic development project manager for the Town of Innisfil, runs DMZ Innisfil as the program director on behalf of the town. His department “works on business attraction, business support, development support, with a focus on building a better local ecosystem, and making Innisfil a better place to start building and growing business,” he tells InnisfilToday, via video call.

Four years ago, instead of building their own tech hub, the town decided to look at the market and figure out if there was an organization that they might be able to partner with, and that’s exactly what they ended up doing.

“We run and operate the program, we do the promotion, we find the companies to support, we manage and operate the support, but when it comes to the actual providing of the support, like workshops, mentorship, all the resources, the companies in DMZ Innisfil tap into the core DMZ program,” says Stegink.

To put it simply, “we help business owners and entrepreneurs work on their business instead of in their business,” he adds.

DMZ Innisfil also helps to provide temporary office space for meetings, workstations, and more when a small business needs a venue, one that they normally would not have, when needed.

“As we learn more about local business needs, we can continue to customize the program to try to give them what they need, and ultimately, if we succeed in helping the business owners grow, businesses will grow and then create jobs (within Innisfil),” says Stegink.

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About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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