In order for our Country to be successful over the next fifty years, we will need to increase awareness and broaden the definition of what entrepreneurship in Canada should be. In the past few decades, universities, business schools and the general media have created very specific views into the world of entrepreneurs that leave a number of viable, economically stimulating activities that are critical to our national growth hidden in the dark.
Business development and innovation are constants in my personal life. A family dinner at my parent’s house rarely goes a few minutes without a business or invention opportunity discussed. Both sides of the family have entrepreneurial pasts, filled with successes, failures and perspectives on how entrepreneurship impacts a family. Often, concepts of entrepreneurial support are often a topic of much debate and over the years some very specific examples started to hit home again and again. One of these examples was hands-on access to prototyping equipment. No matter how an idea started there is always a prototyping stage that requires specific tools and skills. The internet age changed certain costs and issues of access to tools and skills for specific types of business models, but it didn’t remove the requirements for resources to get a business started. It was from this challenge I started to work on the concept of Community Innovation Spaces.
Community Innovation Spaces, such as makerspaces, hackerspaces and fabrication labs, enable innovation by providing physical space and equipment that would otherwise not be available to first-time or established entrepreneurs. Some of these spaces have created entirely new jobs and opportunities with less than $1,000 of startup funding. A local success story we had in Manitoba was literally a two-man who started a snowboard company in three months. For only $300 to access AssentWorks, the local makerspace, they were able to build their first prototypes and actually test them on the slopes this past winter. They we able to go from an idea to reality within a few months for a few hundred dollars instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on equipment and space that wasn’t required at the prototyping stage. It creates a whole new form of entrepreneurial stability and sustainability that has been forgotten over time.
Community innovation spaces support entrepreneurship in a way that other forms of government support and community support don’t fit. In Manitoba, often we forget where we came from over the last few generations. Families came off a boat, got access to a farm, started a small business, got their kids through school, whose kids got MBAs and are now the quintessential entrepreneur types. What makes and sustains a community is an ecosystem of different forms of entrepreneurship. It isn’t just people who make hockey stick-based companies, IPO-next-week type of companies. Entrepreneurship is about people who are willing to start farms, start mom and pop restaurants, things that build the local community and I find that’s a piece of entrepreneurship that is misunderstood and not appreciated in Canada. But it’s what made us who we are today. And if we don’t reconnect with that, we have a real issue as a country; we may not be an entrepreneurial nation in another few decades if we don’t go back to our roots.