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YSpace: Helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses

YSpace - Downtown Markham

Turning an idea into a viable business isn’t easy. Starting a business and scaling the business is even harder. Is there anyone out there who can guide and advise aspiring entrepreneurs?

Even just provide a sounding board, a desk, or some software?

Yes, there is a place for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get the boost they need to turn ideas into reality — and it’s right here in Downtown Markham.

YSpace is a community innovation hub managed by York University. Located on the third floor of The Origin building at 169 Enterprise Blvd, YSpace helps growing businesses with equipment, access to capital and a network of influencers and successful entrepreneurs.

We spoke to David Kwok, Entrepreneurship Manager at YSpace, about the facility and how people just starting out with ideas or growth aspirations can benefit from getting involved with YSpace.

David Kwok YSpace - Downtown Markham
David Kwok, Entrepreneurship Manager at YSpace

David, maybe you could tell me a little about YSpace and what you guys actually do there?

For sure! YSpace is York University’s community innovation hub located in Downtown Markham. Essentially, our goal is to support York Region’s entrepreneurship, technology and innovation communities.

Not many people know this, but York Region is actually Canada’s second largest technology cluster and innovation hub after the Toronto-Waterloo corridor. There are so many exciting opportunities in the region and we really want to make them accessible for the people in our community. We do this through our incubator program, which offers growing startups a space to work alongside other entrepreneurs, prototype technologies with our high-end equipment, and connect with our network of mentors and partners. We also run open community programs for anyone looking to learn more about technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Do I have to be enrolled at York or somehow affiliated with the University to take advantage of this program?

Nope, our doors are open to everyone! Our programming is for all age groups and demographics. One of the benefits of becoming a part of YSpace is our connections to the University, as we make it a priority to connect our companies to York student interns and researchers for collaborative research projects.

Connecting with youth within York Region is a key priority. One of our start-ups, SV Robotics, whose founder is a Lassonde School of Engineering student, runs robotics classes for kids ages 10 and up in our space on Saturdays and Sundays. We’ve also partnered with the York Region District School Board to offer a ‘Youth Innovation by Design’ course for Grade 12 students to introduce them to new technologies and opportunities and run a co-op program that lets YRDSB students get real-world experience in one of our exciting start-ups.

Our entrepreneurship programming is targeted at entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and walks of life. We’re constantly hosting workshops and events for people of all ages who want to get involved with innovation and entrepreneurship – we can even get you trained on our state-of-the-art 3D printer and laser cutter machines!

So, let’s say I’m a budding entrepreneur with an idea or a product … how do I get involved with YSpace, and are there costs associated with it?

It really depends on what stage your business is in. If you’ve just come up with your idea and aren’t sure where to start, we offer free one-on-one idea consultations where we’ll round out your idea and connect you to resources within the ecosystem to help you get started on your journey.

If your product is already on the market or will be launched within 3 months, you can apply for our incubator program. We really look for companies that have already gained traction on the market and are now looking to scale their business further. We also need entrepreneurs to commit to their venture full-time and work out of our space at least 3 days a week.

If we feel you’re a good fit for our space, you’re welcome to join us as a YSpace member company. You’d get 24/7 access to our facilities and your own working space. Part-time memberships are also available for unique situations. Members can work out of the space for free for the first 2 months, after which there is a monthly fee.

And what would I expect to get out of the experience?

I think the most valuable thing our companies get is the community, as we offer a unique blend of mentors, entrepreneurs, and community partners. Everyone is working alongside other entrepreneurs from different fields, which can help you stay motivated and give you new perspectives. We also provide mentorship engagements from our industry partners and Entrepreneurs in Residence, who are successful entrepreneurs looking to give back to the startup community.

Our companies get access to valuable resources to continue growing their ventures. Our Maker Space features cutting-edge technologies such as a laser cutter and two 3D printers for our startups to work with. We also provide access to funding opportunities, workshops and events to help our entrepreneurs further scale their companies.

Finally, we’re able to provide our companies with exclusive membership perks such as discounted cloud storage and accounting software. With over 20 different perks, we’ve built a strong ecosystem of supportive partners for our startups to work with.

YSpace - Downtown Markham
It’s hard not to feel motivated when visiting the YSpace offices, located on the third floor of 169 Enterprise Blvd. They are always buzzing with a unique entrepreneurial energy.

You mentioned that you have a number of Entrepreneurs in Residence … can you tell me about them and how they can help a start up?

Absolutely. Our Entrepreneurs in Residence (EiRs) are all successful entrepreneurs who have specialized in different fields, such as sales, marketing, finance, analytics and more. Their goal is to share their knowledge and expertise with our startups. Most of them stop by the space on a bi-weekly basis to meet with our companies and help them work through any challenges they’re facing. We currently have 10 different EiRs in our program and are continuously growing that roster of supporters.

We also created a program called EiR-for-hire which allows startups to contract our EiRs for a subsidized rate. This is for situations where our startups need EiRs to be more hands-on and take a deeper look at specific projects. We’ve run four successful EiR-for-hire pilot projects and gathered incredible feedback on the value that this has generated.

Can you tell me about some of the companies in your space and the results you’ve had?

For sure. Since we opened in January 2018, we’ve supported 29 different companies. We actually had to double our incubator space in July 2018 to accommodate for increasing demand. In 2018, our businesses generated more than $2.4 million in revenue, raised over $1.3 million in funding and created more than 70 jobs.

Our companies come from a variety of different industries, from robotics to education to healthcare to consumer-packaged goods. One of our startups, Ohh! Foods, produces nutritious, allergy-free snacks and sold over $250,000 worth of product in 2018. Blade Filters Inc. produces carbon air filters with replaceable cartridges and secured over $500,000 in purchase orders last year. Another company, Swob, has been featured on Virgin.com and BNN Bloomberg for their hiring app that’s been called the “Tinder for jobs”.

Are there any notable alumni companies of YSpace?

We’ve graduated 5 companies from our program so far, and our alumni have continued to grow and find success on their journeys.

Doorr (formerly Moregidge) is digitalizing the home-buying process and has raised over $500,000 US in funding, gotten their product into markets across Canada and laid the groundwork for expanding to the US and UK. They recently completed the world-renowned Techstars program and are looking into acquiring their own office space.

Able Innovations, a healthcare technology company, has successfully raised over $120,000 in funding and placed in the Top 3 of the N100 startup competition. Mero Technologies, a smart property management company, has partnered their product with Pearson International Airport and Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and estimates they save their clients over $500,000 annually with their systems.

Can you tell me about any upcoming programs or events that budding entrepreneurs can get involved in the coming weeks and months?

I’d recommend that everyone come out to our Founder Fundamentals course taking place on Thursday evenings this summer. The course covers everything you need to know about starting your own business, from finances, sales and marketing to receiving investments and building your team. The program will also connect you to resources that can help you bring your idea to life, such as local Small Business Centres in Vaughan, Markham and Richmond Hill. Of course, you’ll also get to know other members of the York Region startup community along the way. If an individual has attended all 13 sessions of Founder Fundamentals, they will receive an Innovation York Certificate of Completion.

In addition, we are building a Food Accelerator program to help food and beverage startups in the consumer-packaged goods space connect with manufacturers, distributors, and consumers. Our goal with the program is to scale these companies up 3 to 5 times within 5 months. Our programming includes a mixture of workshops, one-on-one coaching, and CEO dinners where we connect successful entrepreneurs with our founders to share their stories of success and failures.

How can people get more information about YSpace and its events?

For more information on YSpace, visit our website http://yspace.yorku.ca/ or send us an email at yspace@yorku.ca. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook @YSpaceYU.

Are you interested in refining your entrepreneurial skillset? Register for our weekly Founder Fundamentals sessions here: https://bit.ly/2EQaxcd.

Do you have an idea you want to turn into a business? Book a 1-on-1 Idea Consultation here: https://bit.ly/318Hkmi.

Is your company a good fit for the YSpace Incubator Program? Apply here: https://bit.ly/2Ia57JW.

YSpace: Helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses