CIC introduces new tools to help grow regional businesses

Image of Nick Seebruch
By Nick Seebruch
CIC introduces new tools to help grow regional businesses
Pictured are CREATE Board Chair Martha Woods, former Executive Director Eric Bergeron, and CFDC Executive Director Lesley Thompson in a July 2019 photo. (Nick Seebruch/ Seaway News).

CORNWALL, Ontario – The Cornwall Innovation Centre (CIC) is looking at introducing new resources to its arsenal to better support all businesses within Cornwall, the United Counties of SD&G and Akwesasne.

Founded in 2016, the CIC’s original intent was to help promote brand new start-ups in the region, but the organization is now steering in a new direction and gearing itself more towards businesses of all shapes and sizes.

“Our goal is to help businesses succeed and to grow in this region,” said CIC Executive Director Eric Bergeron. “We want to shift from start-ups to helping everyone who wants to grow their business.”

In addition to mentoring resources and advisors, the CIC also hopes to start providing physical tools that businesses can use. Some of these tools include a digital studio, where businesses will be able to record and edit audio and video. The CIC also wants to include a maker space equipped with 3D printers, sewing machines and laser cutting tools to help makers and businesses create signage and other promotional tools for their brands. They plan to have an artists hub, where local artists can rent locker space and share a workplace as needed. The CIC also seeks to rent office and event space.

All of this will require them to move into a new location with at least 7,500 sq. ft. of space. No lease has yet been signed, the CIC is looking to rent space in the Cotton Mills, and near Loch 18 in Cornwall’s West End.

The goal of these new resources will be to give access to businesses and start-ups to tools that they might not have.

“A lot of start-ups don’t need a cash input right out of the gate, what they need is a tighter brand,” said Bergeron.

On the mentoring side of things, Bergeron said that going forward, the CIC will focus on fewer start-ups, but will work with them to get them ready to enter into other accelerators in the region, such as Launch Lab in Kingston. Bergeron said that despite sending these businesses out of town to outside accelerators, he believed that they would remain rooted to Cornwall.

Part of the reason he hopes to keep Cornwall attractive to businesses and start-ups will be through the creation of an Angel Investor Network. This investor network will provide cash to start-ups, while also supporting the CIC itself.

“Even $10,000 can make a big difference for a start-up,” he said.

Bergeron is hoping to raise $112,000 through this Angel Investor Network, have of which would be available to start-ups supported by the CIC.

The CIC’s focus will not just be on growing entrepreneurs and businesses however, but also growing the local workforce through their Ontario Emerging Jobs Institute (OEJI) program.

OEJI is an educational program started by the CIC over a year ago. The program offers post-secondary level education in Agritech, Business Skills, Digital Skills and Blended Learning. The original pilot program saw 80 students graduate.

Bergeron’s stated goal is to see the OEJI program continue, but with a more granular focus. He wants to see the next batch of OEJI students get a deeper understanding of the topics they are studying. For example, he explained he wanted to see Agritech split into three specific streams, vertical farming, precision agriculture and cannabis growth.

Lesley Thompson, Executive Director of the Cornwall and SD&G Community Futures Development Corporation(CFDC) and Chair of the CIC’s Board of Directors said that growing a local workforce remained an important priority for the organization.

“The number one issue for our businesses is that they cannot find enough skilled, or unskilled labour to grow,” she said.

Once their new space is found, Bergeron explained that the CIC will also be launching a new re-branding campaign to highlight the changes to the centre.

Kelly Bergeron is the founding Executive Director of the Cornwall Innovation Centre, and is the partner of the author of this story.

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