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Memorial University Startup Event Heads West

With the economy of Western Newfoundland struggling, Corner Brook’s two main academic institutions—Memorial University’s Grenfell Campus and the College of the North Atlantic—have come together to form the Navigate Entrepreneurship Centre. It has graduated more than 70 entrepreneurs and works with 25 to 40 students at any one time.

“The institutions graduate good students and they do well all over Canada,” said Sean St. George, one of the Navigate organizers. “Want to create more activity in our area and more entrepreneurial opportunity. That’s why we’re here.”

To give a bit of impetus to their work, they decided to hold a Startup Weekend April 1-3. Springing from a Seattle-based organization, Startup Weekends are 54-hour events in which strangers come together on a Friday evening, pitch business ideas, and break into teams. On Sunday afternoon, each team pitches to see whose business has progressed the farthest.

Startup Weekend Corner Brook was the fourth such event held in Newfoundland and Labrador. Some of the province’s more notable startups have emerged from the weekend events in St. John’s—Sentinel Alert, which recently raised $525,000 in funding, came out of the first, and DuJour, which is now going through the Propel ICT accelerator, won a Startup Weekend last spring.

St. George and Navigate collaborator Ken Carter said they were nervous about staging a Startup Weekend—there was some cost involved and they didn’t want it to fall flat. In the end, more than 35 people attended and it was an invigorating experience.

The participants pitched 13 ideas, which resulted in seven teams being formed. The winning team was led by Nick Mercer, a graduate student in environmental studies who is planning a small-scale windmill to provide energy to remote locations like cabins. He plans to proceed with the business.

Roger Power of Startup NL came from St. John’s for the weekend. And the event had an international flavour as the two experts from Ireland – Startup Weekend facilitator Will Martin and pitching specialist Ed Fidgeon-Kavanagh—flew in to assist.

St. George and Carter said event began to generate fresh ideas on how the two institutions and broader community can support entrepreneurship.

“We’ve been mostly working with students, faculty and staff,” said Carter.

“But we’re moving out into the community now to play more of a role within the region and are hoping to leverage more of the research capacity at the university and college.”

Having worked on all four Startup Weekends in the province, Power said he was excited by the Corner Brook event, especially the quality of Mercer’s pitch.

“Startups can come out of anywhere and I’m glad we did it in a region with a lot of good energy,” said Power.

“The whole intent is for the community itself to keep doing events—to make it at least an annual event.”