Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

Maven Water & Environment and Co.Labs shine at SREDA Forum 2020

TCU Place was jam-packed with over 600 business and community leaders when I rushed in off the street, uncharacteristically late, ready for the Saskatoon Regional Economic Development Authority (SREDA) Forum 2020. It was March 6 and we were still living in the before time of that pre-coronavirus lockdown life, exchanging handshakes and rubbing elbows. The SREDA Forum offers an opportunity for the business community in Saskatchewan to network and learn from their peers and it was alive and buzzing as people streamed in to different sessions ready to listen to influential leaders present on everyone’s favourite topic: growth.

Two sessions stood out: Jordan Dutchak from Co.Labs, an Innovation Place tenant in Saskatoon, discussing his company's growth story and Monique Simair from Maven Water & Environment, also an Innovation Place tenant in Saskatoon, discussing the ups and downs of business growth. (Yes. We may be a bit biased in our selections.)

Dutchak’s 3-minute hyperspeed presentation covering Co.Labs’ epic 33-month journey from inception to influential tech incubator left the audience spinning -- no doubt similar to how the Co.Labs team feels every. single. day.

As Saskatchewan’s first tech incubator, Co.Labs provides an environment that facilitates helping tech founders and startups successfully launch their companies and provides the glue that bonds Saskatchewan’s tech community. Dutchak said the motivation for Co.Labs’ rapid growth was both a commitment to build and support a tech hub and “to show the world that Saskatchewan has a tech ecosystem.”

Co.Labs, in its short life span, is a well-oiled machine if only because the team behind it realizes that sometimes parts need to be changed or tweaked or sometimes rehauled entirely. The flexible approach has allowed Co.Labs to make a significant impact on Saskatchewan’s tech sector through its three-year four-stream program -- the newly launched Co.Learn, and Co.Launch, Co.Labs, and Co.Lead -- that has launched successful companies like Offstreet and SalonScale, as well as its Uniting the Prairies (UP) conference (previously the Prairie Investment Forum, an admittedly terrible name says Dutchak) and the recent corporate incubation program launched in partnership with Federated Co-operatives Limited.

The whirlwind success and growth presents an interesting question, one that Dutchak considers from multiple angles: is growth sustainable?

It’s a question that Simair is uniquely poised to answer given the lessons she’s learned from selling her first business, Contango Strategies (now Ensero Solutions), an Innovation Place tenant in Saskatoon, as she continues to build her new company Maven.

Like Dutchak, Simair tries to do things differently with Maven -- throw out the handbook, if you will, that prescribes specific, standard steps in order to achieve success. “It’s not about rapid scalability,” Simair said referring to her company, “but about having a great lifestyle.” It’s a key point she learned from her first company after she felt like she spent more time focused on doing the work rather than running the business. Simair noted two key elements she considers in building a successful company: (1) innovative growth and (2) worker happiness. Maven takes the Tesla approach -- taking technology from today to create the best thing possible that’s also completely different -- focusing on optimization rather than incremental growth. In the water treatment world, this requires Maven to focus on the uniqueness and individuality of each client to develop solutions and software and hopefully results in making cumbersome, repetitive tasks easily routine.

Simair also applies this innovative attitude to her company's core values -- emphasizing team empowerment -- and to performance management. “Billable hours is disconnected from entrepreneurship and value added,” Simair told the crowd. Instead, Maven has developed new systems and in the process eliminated top-down management to allow coworkers to identify growth areas for each other and also scrapped allotted vacation time to implement alternative adventuring (or taking as much vacation as you want) and the results have been fantastic she said.

Simair’s fearless attitude stems in part she says from being a tenant at Innovation Place. (*blushes*) “Innovation Place de-risks a lot to business,” she told the crowd, including a few smiling Innovation Place employees. And since there are so many companies doing innovative things and creating an “innovation culture,” Simair said, noting companies like Coconut Software and Co.Labs that have come out of Innovation Place, “it’s no longer scary to start a startup.”

Read here for more information on SREDA Forum 2020 and SREDA.

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- March 13, 2020