Community innovation hub helps entrepreneurs

Have a great idea for a business, or an existing startup that you would like to scale up? YSpace, located in downtown Markham, may be able to help.

YSpace is York University’s community innovation hub. They help build companies by connecting them with high-end equipment, access to capital, and a network of influencers and entrepreneurs.

The concept of YSpace came about because of York University’s decision to build a new campus in Markham.

“In 2015, when York University was granted the opportunity to open a new campus here, they created a community engagement centre, and called it YSpace. It went through a few iterations, but ultimately entrepreneurship became the main focus,” says Sarah Howe, director of Innovation York – the innovation office for York University – which manages YSpace.

Entrepreneurs first need to apply to join YSpace: “We have a pretty rigorous process for startups,” says David Kwok, entrepreneurship manager at YSpace. “First they apply online, and then there is an interview, followed by a pitch. These let us get to know the startup founders as individuals. After all, their product is important, but the individuals are key.”

Once approved, startup founders can access the three main components offered by YSpace: an ‘incubator,’ which provides entrepreneurs with desk space, the ability to engage with program staff, and a perks program; a makerspace, including a 3D printer and soldering devices, where entrepreneurs can create prototypes of their designs; and an event space.

As part of the program, YSpace also helps these entrepreneurs by providing connections to a number of small business centres in Markham, Vaughan, and Richmond Hill, as well as to York Angel Investors and York Link.

York Link is the regional economic development office for York Region. It provides businesses with assistance in finding strategic connections and government grant opportunities.

York Angels is a group of accredited angel investors that invest in early stage startups. The companies they invest in benefit from their member expertise in IT, life sciences, clean technology, digital media, retail, and other technology. Their collaborative mentorship approach and strategic financing supports entrepreneurs through various stages of early growth.

Once a month, YSpace hosts a founders’ connect and lunch event for those who have been accepted into their program, where they invite business founders to answer questions from their up and coming entrepreneur members.

“New business owners might not understand the journey of being a founder, and so we created this event where new and established entrepreneurs can hang out together and help each other,” explains Kwok. “Also, once a month we invite all YSpace community members, including mentors and startup founders, to get together and find out who’s new, celebrate victories, and just get to know one another.”

For startup founders who don’t quite meet YSpace’s eligibility requirements, they offer idea consultations, which can provide ideas, resources, and key performance indicator suggestions.

YSpace also offers lunch and learn and certificate programs for the general community. Their Founders Fundamentals program consists of 13 weeks of seminars about starting a business, including sessions on market research, bootstrapping, accounting, etc. In addition, YSpace offers community organizations event space where they can host workshops.

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[Photo credits: YSpace]

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