A broad and deep ecosystem supports the workforce development, investment attraction and company formation driving the growing economy of Windsor-Essex.
“As a region we have worked to identify and channel resources to support our local entrepreneurs and start-ups by way of mentorship, training, and access to industry experts. Through this collaborative approach we are able to offer a robust array of ecosystem supports and access to networks to better foster growth and innovation across Windsor-Essex”, says Sabrina DeMarco, executive director of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Centre, a department of Invest WindsorEssex.
Few cities of its size boast all the key economic enablers found in Windsor-Essex, says Rakesh Naidu, president and CEO of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce. They include the University of Windsor and St. Clair College that are each playing a critical role in talent production, reskilling of the existing workforce, the development of entrepreneurs, and research partnerships with industry.
“Windsor-Essex has built a very developed and evolved ecosystem that caters to all sizes and phases of businesses. Whether you are one person or employ 5,000, there are supports in place no matter the sector you work in.”
Windsor-Essex is known for automotive, but strengths in manufacturing, mold, tool and die, and automation and robotics that have grown up around the auto industry are now being leveraged in other sectors, such as agriculture and food processing, construction, medical devices, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, automation, logistics, and Windsor’s growing financial technology cluster.
Collaboration is key, says Yvonne Pilon, president and CEO of Wetech Alliance.
“We are part of an ecosystem that brings all the players together to move as one. We strategize, collaborate and represent the region together. When a new company lands here, we address them as a collective and provide white glove treatment together.”
Bolstered by the work of private sector accelerators, workforce development agencies, angel investors and the economic development work of Invest WindsorEssex, here are some major elements of the supportive ecosystem underpinning the region’s growth.
Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre
The number of players in the start-up and entrepreneurship space in the region is growing, says DeMarco. That influx is fed by the college and university, the return of Windsor-Essex natives who want to settle down after time away to study or launch their careers, as well as the arrival of newcomers from other places in the province, country and world.
“These are innovative and talented people with ideas that can contribute to our local economy, so we do all we can to provide the supports they need to grow from ideation to proof of concept and from start-up to early-stage growth.”
That includes training, mentorship, and networking and the help of advisors on business plans, marketing, financing and sales strategies. The centre works across all sectors and offers specialized programs for women, youth, creative entrepreneurs and for food and beverage entrepreneurs who are looking to scale.
A thriving small business sector lays the groundwork for attracting major employers, says DeMarco.
“Talent wants to live in places with a cultural scene, great food options, a vibrant downtown. That’s all created by small businesses.”
Another key element of the local support system is the EPICentre (Entrepreneurship, Practice and Innovation Centre) at the University of Windsor.
“We encourage students to think about creative ways to solve problems. That can lead to launching your own company but that skill set is so important within organizations, too,” says Wen Teoh, director and co-founder of EPICentre.
Students learn from experts about how to move an idea forward, make pitches, talk to investors, develop businesses plans and find markets. Specialized programs include a microcredential certificate in how to protect and leverage intellectual property and a future program focused on the automobility sector.
EPICentre offers soft-landing space for start-ups and companies looking to establish a satellite location in Windsor and offers rentable offices for U.S. companies hiring students. It also has a fully equipped makerspace with 3D printers, laser cutters and other equipment needed for prototypes.
One of 17 Regional Innovation Centres funded by the province, WEtech Alliance provides entrepreneurs with business services, training, intellectual property, and commercialization supports, mentorship and strategic connections to help them bring a new idea to market, scale to the next level and build a culture of innovation.
As the automotive industry evolves, WEtech is seeing more clients in the automobility sector and an ever-growing number of clients in promising sectors such as agriculture, medical technology, and finance.
“What we are seeing – and this is happening around the globe – every company is in some way a technology company, whether they are tech-enabled or actually producing technology,” says Pilon.
“Windsor is well-positioned in this way. We are among the top Canadian cities for tech degree completion and have a thriving IT, robotics, and automation sector in the region. Technology is colliding with almost every sector. It’s our mission to create as many collision opportunities between sectors as possible. That’s where the magic happens.”
WEtech Alliance is a founding partner in MedHealth, a cross-border collaboration to grow the medical technology sectors in southwest Ontario and southeast Michigan, and offers specialized programming for women, including Women in Mobility, which encourages female entrepreneurs and talent to take their place in designing and building the next generation of mobility.
“We’re part of an army of people talking about all the opportunities here,” says Pilon. “We can grow anything and build anything in Windsor-Essex. This is our time to shine.”
For over 143 years, the Chamber has been the voice of business in Windsor-Essex, promoting the needs of members to all levels of government.
Its Automobility Membership Program is one initiative being funded to promote an entrepreneurial network and help diversify Windsor-Essex beyond a traditional auto manufacturing to next generation mobility innovation.
The Invest WindsorEssex Automobility and Innovation centre (AIC) aims to support new and existing businesses in automobility and advanced manufacturing by offering a variety of resources and programs that help companies achieve their goals. The department’s main focus is to foster a vibrant, innovative and competitive network that promotes a culture of entrepreneurship by focusing on new and existing businesses supporting the advancement of next-generation automobility innovations.
“The team at AIC is excited to help both local and provincial companies working in the automobility sector to develop their technologies through a robust offering of services and expertise,” says Ed Dawson, senior manager of automobility and innovation with IWE.
“With the support of our in-house technical staff, we continue to provide the right tools and support for both start-ups and SMEs to scale their companies. As part of our regional technology ecosystem, the AIC team is proud to add complementary program offerings to our growing automobility cluster.”