Helping Tech Companies Grow And Scale: Look To Ontario’s Regional Innovation Centres

The Sky Guys, an Ontario business, received a lot of its help from regional innovation centres. RICs are becoming a resourceful outlets to help grow local businesses.

When Canadian tech companies scale up, the challenges they face can seem sky high.

They must make sure there’s a big enough market for their idea, find those customers, recruit skilled employees, and raise enough money to fund growth of the business. Many would benefit from the advice of experienced entrepreneurs to help navigate these issues and accelerate growth.

That’s where business accelerators like Haltech Regional Innovation Centre comes in. A non-profit member of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) organization and funded by the Ontario government, Haltech is one of 18 regional innovation centres across the province. With a new main office at TechPlace in Burlington and a community office at the Milton Innovation Centre, Haltech works with tech companies in Halton Region and across the GTA who are looking to accelerate innovation and grow their business.

Regional innovation centres (RICs)

Haltech offers a number of free services to companies that qualify. Its services include advising on raising capital, funding grants, sales and marketing to hiring skilled talent, market research, and business mentorship. In the past five years, Haltech has supported over 700 tech companies, as well as organized pitch exhibitions, networking events, and many learning workshops for entrepreneurs.

“Haltech also helps companies access much-needed early-stage funding from government funding grants, angels, and VC investment,” says Haltech President and CEO Rina Carlini.

The Haltech team includes five entrepreneurs-in-residence and many volunteer startup mentors, all of whom are experienced entrepreneurs or business executives at other tech companies. The team is supporting a portfolio of 120+ tech companies, which are mainly startups and growth companies who are ready to scale.

“In the past year alone, our portfolio companies have secured over $750,000 in government grants and over $6 million dollars in private sector investment,” says Carlini, adding that their growth helped create 110 new jobs.

Helping companies get off the ground

When The Sky Guys was introduced to Haltech, the Oakville-based drone technology company had 10 employees. The Sky Guys has since doubled that number, and anticipates re-doubling it again by the end of 2017, according to the company’s President and CEO, Adam Sax.

The company deploys state-of-the-art drone technology to capture data and solve problems for their clients, from photos and video used in real estate marketing to unmanned inspection of assets like flare stacks, pipelines and cell towers, to creating fully 3D models of land and infrastructure used for surveying.

Since being founded in early 2015, The Sky Guys has grown nationally and abroad, serving over 600 clients such as General Motors, Samsung, Shell, CBRE, Canada Post, Nike, and Sportsnet.

The Sky Guys’ research and development arm, Defiant Labs, is working on an unmanned aerial vehicle they’re calling the DX-3, which can potentially fly its sensors and high-resolution cameras over a range of 1,800 kilometres and use artificial intelligence to produce real-time analytics. The DX-3 will take off vertically — no need for a runway.

Today, The Sky Guys sends out drones that cover 70 percent of the GTA’s real estate developments. Not bad for a company with its origins, like so many tech startups, in the founder’s apartment.

Haltech’s free advisory support — in particular, advocating The Sky Guys to investors, industry collaborators, government funding agencies, and national innovation awards — has been instrumental in growing the company, according to Sax.

“It’s been like having a sales force working for us with no strings attached,” he says. Haltech helped The Sky Guys obtain millions of dollars in external funding and offered thousands of dollars of free market research, as well as online exposure and introductions to prospective business partners and investors. With Haltech’s help, The Sky Guys was able to capitalize on a “first mover advantage,” and now the majority of drones flying overhead in Canada were sent into the air by The Sky Guys..

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