2020 was quite the year. COVID-19 took us all by surprise and forced us to adapt and persevere under the most uncertain of times. While the year began as most before it, by mid-March our office went virtual as our team took quick steps to keep our staff and community safe.
In-person client meetings were out, zoom meetings were in. With the help of technology, our team was able to deliver the same dedicated support as ever to both existing and new clients. We are so proud and inspired by our clients as we reflect on all the unimaginable challenges they met with the greatest perseverance to adapt and overcome. They took advantage of all the support available to them including virtual one-on-one meetings with our business advisors, participation in Zoom training and networking events, market intelligence reports and funding programs. This year our clients accessed $369,000 in market intelligence reports to help them make informed business decisions and raised $8.5 million in investments.
With the sudden shift in needs for training and information, our team also delivered virtual events tailored to the challenges our clients were facing. We covered topics like how to share your company’s story during a crisis, how to plan for financial recovery, how to ensure your company is compliant with data privacy and security regulations on and offline, and more.
We didn’t do it alone though. We worked closely with our local, provincial and national partners to provide support to Canadian entrepreneurs. Above all else, we were unified in our quest to help Canada’s entrepreneurs survive this pandemic.
We teamed up with our sister Regional Innovation Centres (RICS) to deliver critical training and information to entrepreneurs. Our digital world allowed us to pool resources for entrepreneurs to access valuable content. With their partnership, Innovate Niagara delivered a total of 43 events to 1,542 attendees.
As one of the 29 hubs in the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN), we rallied to bring vulnerable Canadian start-ups and scale-ups the support they needed to survive this crisis and help rebuild Canada’s economy. The federal government heard our call for help and allocated resources to future-proof Canada’s tech and innovation sector through various programs. Innovate Niagara is also represented on CDMN’s advisory board, providing insight into Niagara’s tech sector and influence for greater support for our innovators.
We are also proud to have been chosen to help deliver Digital Main Street Programming across the province. As part of a $57-million investment by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev) and the Province of Ontario, Innovate Niagara was selected to work with regional innovation partners Communitech, WEtech Alliance, Tech Alliance, Innovation Guelph, Innovation Factory and Haltech to support 5,200 small businesses go digital, creating more than 700 jobs for co-op students in Southwestern Ontario.
Niagara’s support system for entrepreneurs is robust and connected. Innovate Niagara has long hosted meetings with community partners including Brock University (BrockLINC, Brock Research and Venture Development), ihub, National Research Council Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Niagara College Research and Innovation, Niagara Region Economic Development, St. Catharines Enterprise Centre, Ontario Centre for Innovation, Venture Niagara and Vineland Research & Innovation Centre. The goal behind the meetings is to keep Niagara’s entrepreneurial-based service providers connected and aware of the opportunities available to entrepreneurs to serve them as best as possible and grow Niagara’s economy. Since the pandemic began, Innovate Niagara and our community partners have been meeting bi-weekly to stay current on what’s happening in Niagara’s entrepreneurial and innovation world.
We are excited to share with you some of our clients’ COVID-19 stories. Read on to learn a little bit about some of the companies we support and how they have managed through this pandemic.
Innovate Niagara has played a critical role in supporting and helping CASi Grow and we can’t thank them enough for that support. CASi Grow has created a precision agricultural grow chamber that’s helping companies grow quality products faster, consistently and better quality — whether it’s cannabis, psilocybin, high value herbs, and spices or nutraceuticals. Clearly these are rapidly accelerating sectors, so the COVID-19 pandemic challenged us as a scaling company. Fortunately, we had advisors like Innovate Niagara in our corner. Introductions to industry and academic partners were so valuable and led to agreements and collaborations. Numerous times we reached out to Innovate Niagara with an obstacle, a need for subject matter expertise or an introduction and each time we received what was needed for us to move forward with our objectives.
We have certainly had some minor setbacks, but all things considered we have been able to move everything forward effectively and efficiently with the help of Innovate Niagara. We never lost sight of our mission to create consistent cultivated products that benefit the end users around the world. Working with agricultural specialists, technology partners, academia, manufacturing excellence and industry partners looking to dramatically increase the health of the population, we quarterbacked a collective effort through a very difficult time. We secured our first clients in Canada, the United States and internationally. We formalized very strong strategic partners with collective objectives, increased our staff and secured the needed investment for us to move from proof of concept to production. We may have been delayed but we kept things moving and are set up perfectly for 2021 with the help of trusted advisors like Innovate Niagara.
Phantom Compass is an independent game development studio managed by industry veterans distributed across Southern Ontario. Founded in 2008, the studio provides production services to other game development teams and creates award-winning original videogames played on Windows PCs, tablet/mobile, console or Virtual Reality devices.
With staff in the GTHA and the Niagara region, Phantom Compass has always fostered a telecommute work environment, even with part of the team situated in downtown Toronto and St. Catharines offices. Because the studio was an early adopter of remote work processes, the pandemic's disruptive impact on the team was relatively minimal. Phantom Compass already has a health work/life balance and happily accommodated a little extra chaos.
2020 was an exciting year for the studio, with our company partner winning a WIN Women in Business Award, having two original games starting production set for 2021 launch, and another game funded for 2021 in pre-production.
Since 2011, Innovate Niagara has been an ardent supporter of the studio and its staff, providing a touchstone during the rollercoaster ride of small business operation as well as offering expert guidance and advice. Innovate Niagara supported Phantom Compass through a variety of programs including "A3P" (via Canada Media Fund) to provide mentorship and expert business support. We have benefitted from many MaRS Discovery District workshops, specialty Lunch and Learns, networking events and working in a collaborative workspace environment.
Innovate Niagara has contributed significantly to the stability and structure of our company and the business acumen of our management team. We are happy that with Innovate Niagara’s support, we have grown and are now able to give back and mentor students and younger companies in our field. Phantom Compass looks forward to continued growth and collaboration with Innovate Niagara and our local team members. Here's to a fantastic 2021!
We know 2020 was a challenging year for everyone but for Loonie AK, it was a year full of opportunities. We are passionate about helping people adapt to the Canadian culture and labour market and supporting them in boosting the Niagara Region’s economy and Canada’s development. We do so by providing online educational content through gamification, combined with interactive and dynamic communication.
But Loonie AK wants to go further and design individual learning for its users, mostly foreigners, aiming for a faster and easier adaptation into Canadian companies, which will only be possible with Innovate Niagara’s support. By being accepted as a Start-up Visa company in 2020, we are going to thrive, and consequently, help workers in their endeavour of adapting in this country. Innovate Niagara is also supporting us to establish valuable partnerships with key institutions for our business, such as MaRS Discovery District, Niagara College and Brock University.
2020 was a year when individuals had to learn how to do business and learn online, which was the opportune scenario for us. Our founders, Luiz Almeida and Milena Moraes, envisioned online education because of their experience with UNESCO and the Brazilian Education Ministry when more than 200,000 people benefited from online education in poor and unreachable regions in Brazil and Africa.
2020 EVENT HIGHLIGHTS
Innovate Niagara helps entrepreneurs enhance their entrepreneurial skills through specialized workshops, courses and events. Check out some of the virtual events we hosted this year!
Women in STEM - Gender and Diversity in STEM
2020 was an incredibly challenging year for every company - even a small game studio with an entirely remote-first workforce.
Rocketship Park has been making video games driven by emotion since 2017 right here in Niagara, but we’ve never had a formal office that we called home. Given the circumstances, you might think that we’d be better prepared than most to have weathered the challenges that this pandemic brought -- but as we spent most of this year deep in development of a major release, missing regular face-to-face meetups with our team and local collaborators proved to be a true pain point. When summer rolled around, we managed to get back to some semblance of normalcy with safely distanced, outdoor puzzle jams and design meetings, but it wasn’t quite the same as the comfortable drop-in / drop-out physical meeting format we’d been used to.
Thanks to the support of Innovate Niagara helping us secure funding over the years, as well as their help in fostering great relationships with our collaborators (including St. Catharines own PixelNAUTS), we released our game LOVE - A Puzzle Box Filled with Stories in October 2020.
Caddle is a consumer data marketplace. We connect brands with consumers to exchange data for value. Our members earn cash-back for completing research activities like answering surveys, uploading pictures of receipts or any other activities that Caddle offers on the marketplace. Demand is driven by the research needs of our customers, who are Fortune-500 companies like PepsiCo, Unilever and Nielsen. Our clients are looking for faster, more efficient ways to conduct custom research in order to inform data-driven decision making.
The pandemic caused panic… what was in plan for our clients was suddenly out of plan. We had a number of cancellations at the beginning of pandemic as our clients were struggling to keep products on shelves. Our clients come to us to understand consumer behaviour, how people shop, why they buy and panic shopping had suddenly gripped the nation. The pandemic impacted the priorities of our biggest clients, and we had to use our relentless resourcefulness to bring forward solutions like our syndicated grocery and e-commerce customer experience tracker studies, which tracks consumer experience at all major grocery and e-commerce retailers across Canada.
We were used to having our team in the office together with Innovate Niagara’s advisors just down the hall for support when we needed it. It was a scary time, but we were able to adjust to remote working quite quickly and started some company-wide touchpoints in our daily lunchtime sync and our monthly townhall. These events have been instrumental in developing a positive work environment as we continue to grow the business and disrupt the status quo in consumer research.
Innovate Niagara continued to provide our team with the same dedicated support as always through phone/zoom call and email. They have always been there to offer an ear whenever we have been struggling with a decision or problem and have connected us to experts who helped us make critical and strategic decisions.
We knew we needed to make some noise, and make sure our clients thought of us first when they had questions about consumers and how their behaviours may be changing due to pandemic restrictions. We made the decision in early March to pivot our Daily Survey to cover consumer sentiment about all things COVID-19, and we were able to generate demand from our clients for incremental research. We were even featured in a few national newspapers for our research work with partners like Dalhousie University. In addition to changes in marketing, we also onboarded six new team members since the start of the pandemic, and we have managed to ride the pandemic wave to not only grow our top line revenue, but also our bottom line.
Tenantcube provides a simple and intuitive way for property owners and managers to take care of their properties. Whether it is screening and finding the right tenants, onboarding them with ease and building good relationships throughout the tenancy, property owners should be able to do it all. Tenantcube aims to give the digital advantage to “mom and pop shops” as well as large rental corporations, reducing stress and increasing profitability.
Tenantcube is one of those start-ups that decided to brave through all obstacles - even a pandemic that brought the world to a grinding halt!
It was difficult enough for some companies to convert to remote working but Tenantcube had to build a whole crew from scratch without meeting them in person! But that is exactly what founders Andy and VJ did. With trusted references and several one-on-one chats, Tenantcube grew into a team of nine with employees in Canada and India, all of whom have still never met in person. But everyone believed in the vision of Tenantcube.
“Innovate Niagara has helped us right from the start be it with validating the idea, guidance in formulating an execution plan, and even research. The most important thing for me, as a founder during the pandemic, was that Innovate Niagara helped me connect with the right people. Whether it was industry experts or potential investors or customers, they were instrumental in bringing recognition and resources to Tenantcube,” says Andy.