Strengthening the relationship with York Region has always been a priority for York University. Although there are many exciting initiatives underway, one new success story remains at the forefront: YSpace. The 10,000-square-foot facility in Markham Centre, Ont., is a community innovation hub supporting a growing number of entrepreneurs and innovators by providing dynamic co-working space, access to industry advisers, education, workshops and high-end technology.
Part of Innovation York’s entrepreneurship portfolio, YSpace opened its doors in January 2018. Since then, demand from entrepreneurs, organizations and startups has been high. In less than a year, YSpace has experienced significant growth in all activity areas and, as a result, has doubled the size of its incubator. The innovation hub is currently home to 22 startup ventures and 11 entrepreneurs in residence (EiRs), and has held over 110 events for the community.
“We’re dedicated to creating an environment where entrepreneurs can collaborate and push one another to new levels,” said David Kwok, YSpace manager. “In the past year, we’ve created a diverse community by bringing in technology, digital marketing agencies, food retail startup ventures and many others into the space. The diversity in perspectives as well as industries has helped them learn from one another and overcome individual business challenges.”
Within the first year, YSpace members have created 63 jobs, generated over $2.4 million of revenue and raised over $1.1 million in funding.
YSpace members have exclusive access to perks and programming that will help propel their ventures to the next level through access to EiRs, industry and funding professionals; discounts to law and prototyping firms; ongoing mentoring and support by the YSpace team; and access to programming that is designed to help push the ventures from one stage of their life cycle to the next.
The value of creating an innovation space in Markham Centre is not only to support student, faculty and community entrepreneurs, but to create an innovative community that can then connect back and bring value to the University. There are multiple examples of student and recent alumni ventures in the space, of ventures entering into collaborative research partnerships with faculty members on campus, and of students obtaining experiential learning and work opportunities with the ventures. Creating connections between YSpace and the existing campuses is of paramount importance, which will only continue to increase as York University moves towards building a new campus in Markham.
“YSpace is an amazing incubator filled with knowledgeable, like-minded, entrepreneurs. As a York University student, I love the opportunity to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs who are at a similar stage,” said Giancarlo Sessa, co-founder of Blade Filters Inc. “It is a community with a positive work environment where everyone hustles and shares their secrets to success. YSpace has given us access to equipment for testing, mentors to help us overcome roadblocks and meetings with potential mentors, funders and resources.”
YSpace brings a lot of value to the entrepreneurial ecosystem as well, through its programming and events. An example is the Founders Fundamentals collaboration between Innovation York and the Small Business Centres throughout York Region, including Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and the Northern Six. This program gives entrepreneurs across the region an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship and grow their businesses. Other examples are the Youth Innovation by Design program and the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) co-op program. Every summer, 20 Grade 12 students go to YSpace for the month of July and participate in a for-credit innovation course developed and delivered by Innovation York and the YRDSB. In addition, in July 2018, five YRDSB students spent co-op terms in YSpace startups.
“Partnering with the YRDSB and bringing youth into YSpace has been really exciting – not only do they bring a special energy, but there’s so much that the ventures and students can learn from one another,” said Sarah Howe, director, Innovation York. “This year we saw lots of interaction between the students and entrepreneurs – entrepreneurs participated in the summer school programming and co-op students made valuable contributions to the ventures. It was really very exciting to see.”
As its first anniversary approaches, YSpace will continue to work closely with industry and community partners to develop new programs that can support University and community entrepreneurs, as well as create value for York University as a whole. The hub will also continue to build a cohesive innovation ecosystem within York Region, creating a community where entrepreneurs and innovators can effectively collaborate.
It has been an amazing first year. YSpace is creating a thriving and robust pipeline of startup talent to help entrepreneurs build and scale their sustainable and impactful businesses north of the downtown Toronto core. With that kind of momentum, there’s no telling what the next year will hold.
YSpace will be celebrating its first anniversary on Jan. 17. If you’re interested in attending this event or if you would like to schedule a tour and learn more about the incubator, contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.