Feature Article in Metroland: Part 1

Start-up companies in Durham’s innovation and technology sector continue to thrive at the Spark Centre in Oshawa

by Ian McMillan – Metroland


Dennis Croft is holding court at the Spark Commercialization and Innovation Centre. As he walks through the spacious facilities located at the Loft, 21 Simcoe St. in Oshawa, his three guests are captivated, not only by what they’re hearing but the energy and people who surround them.

These three entrepreneurs are looking for help and Mr. Croft appears to have what they are looking for. During any given week, he conducts between 20 and 30 such tours.

It may be hard to believe but the Loft, Spark Centre’s head office, houses 50 innovation- and technology-based businesses in the Durham Region and Northumberland County. Inside, top 2015 companies such as IFTech, ARAIG, Sound Options, National ProStaff, Panda Insights, Tiko 3D and Seriously Fun Games, to name but a few, are busy building their start-up companies.

The genesis of Spark Centre came in 2010 when the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance began to pursue an Ontario start-up program focused on innovation. Key players within the DSEA who saw the vision included Jacquie Hoornweg, Michael Angemeer, Michael Owen, Jeff Kistner, Debbie McKee Demczyk, Doug Lindeblom, Sheila McGrory and Johnathon Wheatle.

In 2011, Spark Centre was born with Mr. Croft arriving as a volunteer mentor. He was tasked with helping the start-up companies with funding and investment, offering expertise on their business plans, marketing strategies and product developments, among other things.

“You just can’t possibly know everything about business,” he said. “There are grant programs and other companies that can help them with their needs.”

Kathy Weiss is chairwoman of Spark Centre’s board of directors and the director of economic development and tourism at the Region of Durham. She said students at both the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College have long immersed themselves in innovation and technology so it was a natural fit for the Region to support Spark Centre. That’s why it took little convincing for Regional council to approve funding for the initiative.

“The Spark Centre is phenomenal. It’s a huge asset for us right now,” she said.

When the Spark Centre opened its offices at 21 Simcoe St. four-and-a-half years ago, there were four staff, and about five advisors. Today it’s grown to nine staff and 18 individual advisors. Mr. Croft now sits as the president and CEO.

“I hate to use this expression, but if you build it they will come, and they do,” he said.


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