Time flies when you’re busy helping new P.E.I. businesses grow and providing a creative space for entrepreneurs.
“If we don’t have a spot for people to come and test out their ideas or learn from others’ best practices, then we really don’t enable our community or our innovation ecosystem to have an opportunity to grow,” said Patrick Farrar, CEO of Charlottetown’s Startup Zone.
On Thursday, the non-profit business incubator hosted an open house to celebrate its third anniversary.
Some of Startup Zone’s resident companies also got a chance to participate in a Demo Day event at the open house.
“It’s an opportunity for the startups to get to introduce themselves to the community on P.E.I., tell them a little bit about what they’ve been doing and what they plan to be doing. It’s a great way for them to educate others and gain perspective on what others think about their business,” said Farrar. “For some of them, it’s their first taste of the real world and real-world feedback, which is always exciting.”
The organization was officially launched at the corner of Water and Queen Streets in Charlottetown on June 24, 2016. At the launch, then-Premier Wade MacLauchlan reminded the crowd of how the success of the Island’s economy is also dependent on the success of entrepreneurs and small businesses. At that time, to get the organization up and running, Startup Zone received $500,000 from ACOA and $514,395 from the province.
Since launching, 122 resident companies have passed through Startup Zone’s doors. Those companies have collectively created 150 jobs and generated $1.5 million in revenue, said Farrar.
In the past three years, Startup Zone has had four CEOs – Christina MacLeod, Doug Keefe (interim), Shannon Pratt (interim) and now Farrar, who joined the organization in July 2018.
He said that one thing that stands out about P.E.I.'s business ecosystem is the passion of Island entrepreneurs.
“Islanders are still some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met, with the best of intentions. And, I think there is still a lot of potential on the Island in terms of building that foundational education for entrepreneurs and getting them started early,” he said.
Startup Zone has partnered with Island Capital Partners – a venture capital fund. The partnership has provided resident companies with investment opportunities, mentorship and the potential to expand to markets off Island.
As well, the organization has become involved with coordinating the Young Millionaires Program for aspiring entrepreneurs ages 9 to 16 in the Charlottetown region.
Looking into year four, Farrar said the goal is to continue building relationships with government and business, and continuing to help startups grow by providing workspace as well as expertise in areas such as business development, branding, product development and legal and accounting services.
“We just need to keep improving our baseline of those skill sets to increase the chances of successful businesses,” he said.
One way is through a new 12-week accelerator program Startup Zone is launching in September for the top-10, high-growth Island companies.
Farrar said a highlight of being with the organization is the support from the community and seeing everyone come together. As well, he said it’s great to see everyone having fun.
“We’re having lots of fun at the Zone. It’s awesome to just hang out there. We’ve got a great group people. It’s fun to be around others and help each other out in times of need and times when we don’t need it.”