By: Lorelei Kenny & Zach Geldert
The Startup Zone, situated on the corner of Queen and Water street, in the heart of downtown Charlottetown offers amazing services and opportunities to entrepreneurs of PEI. Last week, the Cadre met with Ms. Brenna Doucette (a UPEI graduate), the Coordinator of administration and communication for the Startup Zone. Ms. Doucette toured the Cadre around the building and informed The Cadre on all that the Startup Zone has to offer.
The establishment opened in June 2016, and is an independent non-profit initiative that is funded primarily by Innovation PEI and Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA). The Startup Zone is “devoted to fostering entrepreneurs and giving them all the resources they need to succeed” she says. Anyone can walk in and rent a space for the day, but if you are looking for a more long term option, you can apply for residency. To be eligible you have to be a startup company, which means your company is under three years old, has a profit margin under 250, 000 per year, and has potential for growth outside for Charlottetown. Every company that is granted residency is provided with their own personal space and receives 24/7 access to the facilities. The first few months are free and after that there is a monthly fee.
The Startup Zone has all the amenities of a formal office space, such as a kitchen, computers, and boardrooms. Residents are also provided with free access to a lawyer and an accountant once a week. Ms. Doucette highlighted this as being one of the best services they provide. It is nearly impossible to get professional advice and guidance when a company’s first starting out and has not yet turned a profit. Having these resources readily available allows for residents to develop and expand quicker. The demand for residency is so large, that if every current resident were to leave tomorrow, the desks would refill instantly. (That just goes to show how many ideas are being sprouted right here on PEI.)
The Cadre was fortunate enough to chat with a few of the resident entrepreneurs about their companies, their experience at the Startup Zone, and what advice they could offer to budding entrepreneurs.
The first entrepreneur that the Cadre spoke with was James O’Halloran. James is a 2013 UPEI computer sciences graduate who owns Mighty Pebble Games, a video game studio, that “focuses on creating innovative multiplayer games”. His inaugural game, Miner Meltdown is scheduled to be released on Steam (PC/Mac) in February 2017. When asked advice he would offer young entrepreneurs, James says “ Just got for it, the idea doesn’t have to be perfect in the beginning, you just need to start today, you never know where your idea will take you.”
Shelyse Richard, owner of the freelance artistic design company Storybrush Studios, was the next entrepreneur to share her thoughts about the Startup Zone with the Cadre. Shelyse is part of Holland College’s 2013 class of video game and animation art program. She says she loves the Startup Zone because of the flexible hours and the open concept design of the space, which creates a very collaborative environment. She is surrounded by other creative people with whom she can bounce ideas off of, over all she describes the Startup Zone as being a positive and welcoming work environment. Moreover, she says residency gives her a fixed location which helps to legitimize her business. When she needs to meet with clients or investors she can give them a real work address and can meet them in a boardroom.
The last entrepreneur that the Cadre met was Phil MacNevin, owner of the website building and marketing company Lift Media. The company specializes in working with authors, coaches, speakers, and information marketers. Phil completed one year in the UPEI business program, but finished his degree elsewhere. Phil provides some expert advice for young entrepreneurs on how to measure the viability of an idea. Phil recommends using what he calls the “traffic light test”. When you have an idea and ask someone about it they will either say “yes that’s a great idea, sign me up!”, that is a green light. Or a person may say “no that’s a terrible idea”, that is a red light. A yellow light is the in between, which Phil characterizes as someone saying “that sounds interesting, keep me posted”. Phil cautions that the yellow lights are tricky and ought not be mistaken as green lights. He says that a budding entrepreneur must be honest with themselves and work on their ideas, with the goal of turning the yellow lights green before fully pursuing their idea.
To finish the tour, The Cadre talked to Ms. Christina MacLeod, executive director of the Startup Zone, who had some words of encouragement for young entrepreneurs, “Just do it! There are plenty of opportunities for funding available on PEI as well as across Canada.” She invites all young entrepreneurs to drop in the Startup Zone anytime to talk to her about the opportunities they offer, whether you are still a student or have already graduated.
Entrepreneurs of UPEI, there are plenty of ways to turn your idea into a business and everyone at the Startup Zone is super friendly and knowledgeable, and would be happy to answer any questions you have, so stop by and see them! The Startup Zone is hosting a startup weekend on November 19 where people can go and build ideas through workshops, guest speakers, networking, and collaborative times. (Info/tickets on Startup Weekend can be found here.)