A Clubhouse of Innovation!

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

The Communitech Hub: Digital Media and Mobile Accelerator, currently being set up as an offshoot of Communitech Technology Association, Waterloo, Ont., is being given $26 million by the Ontario government to help get the ‘club-house’ of innovation for digital media companies and entrepreneurs up and rolling by spring, 2010.

logoTwelve-year-old Communitech itself, an industry-led organization set up to support the Waterloo region´s early tech cluster and drive its growth and success through leadership, connections and promotion, has about 600 members, with a total valuation of $15 billion, including big names in the global technology industry – such as Research in Motion, Open Text Corporation and Christie Digital Systems Canada – as well as start-ups, small and medium businesses, investors, service firms, educational institutions and governments. Supported 80% by its members and 20% by government assistance, its $5 million annual budget has helped propel the region to become one of the top innovation centres in Canada.

The Communitech Hub and the Stratford Institute are the two first anchor nodes of the new Canadian Digital Media Network, and will advance digital media work and support innovative research in association with participating Hub start-up companies and established partner companies. The CDMN is being set up with $10.7 million federal government help to unify digital media capabilities in Canada.

“There are various pockets of digital companies across Canada and we want to create more communication between the companies and to help with the commercialization of more digital media,” says Kevin Tuer, vice-president digital media and managing director of CDMN. “The idea for CDMN came about six months ago when we were looking at the inventory of what is going on in Canada and considering creating more hubs and filling in the pieces of the digital media puzzle. Each company and area has its own area of expertise and we’re in the process of ‘mapping’ Canada, with the goal of getting them aligned. We want to connect and create synergies.”

The Stratford Institute is a think-tank, integrator, training institute and the R&D arm of the new University of Waterloo satellite campus being set up in Stratford, Ont., where graduate (in 2010) and undergraduate (in 2011) courses in digital media are being launched.

Ontario’s government has invested in Communitech Hub because Communitech has a track record of success in supporting companies at all stages in their evolution from start-up to multi-national success story.

The Hub will also have R&D and capital support from such established companies in the Waterloo region as RIM, Open Text, Christie, Agfa HealthCare, and Dalsa, as well as the City of Kitchener.

Some features of The Hub – likely to be built in a retrofitted existing building – will include:

  • a 30,000 sq. ft open innovation hub ‘club house’ bringing together knowledge, activities, tools and expertise;
  • 2,000 square feet dedicated to enabling entrepreneurs to ‘incubate’ ideas in close proximity to tools and services they need to succeed;
  • 8,000 square feet allocated to partner lab space with platforms and tools provided by the established partner companies;
  • a versatile immersive environment with reconfigurable projection and display systems;
  • full audio-visual production studios including advanced equipment such as scalable sensors, cameras and media capture equipment;
  • medical imaging software platforms for development purposes;
  • a suite of expert resources including entrepreneurs in residence, project manager support, marketing and branding expertise.

“We see the Communitech Hub as a place where people from different companies chatting around the water cooler could result in a ‘Eureka!’ moment,” says Tuer.

The large, established companies in the region are contributing time, R&D funding and equipment to the Hub because innovation is seen as the life-blood of any high-tech business and established businesses benefit from the new ideas and energy of start-ups. Since established companies focused on global competition are often unable to divert resources from their core business to explore new ventures, start-ups that germinate at The Hub may develop leading-edge products and solutions that will benefit the existing companies through expertise, software or hardware licensing or acquisitions.

Christie Digital, which recently launched its MicroTiles product, is setting up a permanent 3D Immersive Environment at the Hub.

“This CAVE environment will be owned by Communitech and will be available for R & D use by local high tech and digital media firms in the region,” says Kathryn Cress, vice-president global and corporate marketing at Christie.

“It does not replace our own R & D facility or efforts in any way. This 3D immersive environment really is for use by other firms in the region, although from time to time we may make use of the facility for supplementary R & D efforts.”

“As the leading company in digital projection technology, Christie Digital Systems is committed to encouraging high-tech innovation in digital media,” Gerry Remers, Christie’s president and COO, said in a prepared statement. “This is both a creative and a technical market space and the environment being created at The Hub will enable collaboration between entrepreneurs, designers, and technicians to develop next- generation concepts.”

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