Innovation Cluster helps local start-ups pivot toward success during COVID-19 crisis

Peterborough and the Kawarthas incubator for technology and innovation companies continues to support its clients remotely during pandemic

Kawartha Lakes resident Joanne Ilaqua is the founder and CEO of Mamasoup, an app designed to provide mobile support to new moms. A client of the Innovation Cluster, Joanne was working out of the new Kawartha Lakes business incubator when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario. Now, despite working alone from home, she feels completely connected as staff of the Innovation Cluster are remotely providing guidance, advice, and support. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)
Kawartha Lakes resident Joanne Ilaqua is the founder and CEO of Mamasoup, an app designed to provide mobile support to new moms. A client of the Innovation Cluster, Joanne was working out of the new Kawartha Lakes business incubator when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ontario. Now, despite working alone from home, she feels completely connected as staff of the Innovation Cluster are remotely providing guidance, advice, and support. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

Without a pause, the Innovation Cluster, a local not-for-profit economic development organization, has geared-up to face COVID-19: providing support to a host of high-growth technology start-ups, ensuring young businesses embrace the challenges of the current crisis and pivot towards success.

With their two locations (Peterborough and the City of Kawartha Lakes) incubating start-ups and delivering proof that collaborative environments grow success, the Innovation Cluster had to make a bold decision on March 16th and send clients home.

Rose Terry, the Innovation Cluster’s Marketing Manager and Senior Innovation Specialist, says the moment the team understood the severity of the situation, every consideration was given to protecting the Cube clients, triggering a rapid response to do everything possible to provide the same support through remote mechanisms.

The Innovation Cluster team, which has continued to provide support to its start-up clients, having a virtual meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured clockwise from left: CEO Michael Skinner, Marketing Manager & Senior Innovation Specialist Rosalea Terry, Operations & Events Manager Alana Dall, President John Gillis, and Communications Coordinator Rachel Stark. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)
The Innovation Cluster team, which has continued to provide support to its start-up clients, having a virtual meeting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured clockwise from left: CEO Michael Skinner, Marketing Manager & Senior Innovation Specialist Rosalea Terry, Operations & Events Manager Alana Dall, President John Gillis, and Communications Coordinator Rachel Stark. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

“We had to make sure all the companies were supported,” Terry explains. “Our team understands what it’s like to start a business and to make it through a crisis. We know what these businesses need, thanks to the daily contact we have with them, and we want them to be successful.”

Success, to the Innovation Cluster team, started with personal safety, so with a couple of days’ notice, clients were grabbing gear and heading home to continue their development work.

For some of the tech-based start-ups, like Jessica Dalliday, owner and CEO of Pilates on Demand, the pandemic response that was sending people home across the country created some unimagined opportunities.

Pilates on Demand owner and CEO Jessica Dalliday with her daughter Rachel working remotely from home. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)
Pilates on Demand owner and CEO Jessica Dalliday with her daughter Rachel working remotely from home. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

“I’m growing a primarily online business, so it’s nice that I can even provide this service to so many people who can’t get out to a class,” Dalliday explains. “Now I’m trying to keep up with the demand while trying to provide and improve the service.”

Dalliday says even though she’s now working from home and managing care for her 15-month-old daughter who no longer has daycare, the Innovation Cluster team is constantly checking in to make sure she’s ready for this opportunity.

“It’s so reassuring that every day they’re in touch — constantly in touch,” she says. “I’ve got support, and advice on how to guide my business right now. They’re helping me stay focused and keeping me making the right decisions.”

Dalliday’s first week at home included increasing access to classes, with a two-week free trial and two months free for front-line workers as a way to help potential paying customers get comfortable with her innovative, online, on-demand format. She’s ready to see more growth in the weeks ahead by adapting to the needs of her customers, just like the Innovation Cluster did for her.

“It comes second nature to our team, being that we work in the ever-changing innovation and technology sector, to respond and adapt to the needs of our clients,” explains Innovation Cluster CEO Mike Skinner.

Although the Innovation Cluster has closed its main office and business incubator on the third floor of the VentureNorth building at 270 George Street North in downtown Peterborough, staff are working remotely to assist start-up clients dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)
Although the Innovation Cluster has closed its main office and business incubator on the third floor of the VentureNorth building at 270 George Street North in downtown Peterborough, staff are working remotely to assist start-up clients dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

But according to Innovation Cluster clients like Joanne Ilaqua, founder and CEO of Mamasoup, an app designed to provide mobile support to new moms, the team was taking care of needs she didn’t even know she had.

“I was like anyone else, watching this situation with COVID-19 unfold and it was just so surreal,” she recalls. “But they sprung into action sending all the information we needed, from government updates to helping us know what steps we needed to take each day.”

Ilaqua says she has no idea how she would have muddled through all the details in this situation without her mentors and, although she’s also working alone from home, she feels completely connected.

“They even made us a Spotify playlist,” Ilaqua enthuses. “They’re helping us to make informed decisions and I feel, still, like I’m part of a collaborative team.”

Dan Kitchen, owner of Make Stuff Move, says joining the Innovation Cluster was a no-brainer and the ongoing support he’s received is keeping him focused as obstacles become opportunities.

Kitchen has been developing products and services for the educational sector but was hitting roadblocks thanks to the now-resolved provincial labour dispute. But with schools closing, Kitchen is ready to tackle e-learning and make his company work.

Dan Kitchen, owner of Make Stuff Move, working out of the new Kawartha Lakes business incubator before the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the ongoing support from the Innovation Cluster as he works through the impact of COVID-19 on his start-up has lowered his stress. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)
Dan Kitchen, owner of Make Stuff Move, working out of the new Kawartha Lakes business incubator before the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the ongoing support from the Innovation Cluster as he works through the impact of COVID-19 on his start-up has lowered his stress. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

“This has helped me focus,” Kitchen explains. “This is a time when having someone to reach out to, to talk about ideas, and to work through this situation is certainly lowering my stress. They have connections and people are willing to listen to you because you are connected to the Innovation Cluster.”

Kitchen equates it to wearing a badge and says the credibility the Innovation Cluster gives to his business is so important as he receives tons of support, pivoting to e-learning opportunities. He also echoes other Innovation Cluster clients, applauding the speed at which he was sent home to receive more support than ever before.

“Our innovation partners stepped-up in a big way,” explains Innovation Cluster CEO Mike Skinner.

Rose Terry, the Innovation Cluster's Marketing Manager and Senior Innovation Specialist, monitors a virtual workshop called
Rose Terry, the Innovation Cluster’s Marketing Manager and Senior Innovation Specialist, monitors a virtual workshop called “How to Survive and Thrive During COVID-19” presented by Innovation Partner Gauvreau and Associates. The Innovation Cluster has moved its ongoing series of “hands-on” workshops online so that the organization can continue to provide educational resources to local entrepreneurs during the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Cluster)

“We already had a pool of experts on stand-by to deliver workshops on the most urgent topics such as funding, human resources, and cash flow issues,” Skinner adds. “Since things are rapidly changing, it’s been important for us to support our clients day-to-day as they adjust their business strategies.”

The organization has been around for over a decade and launched The Cube in downtown Peterborough in 2017. Since inception, the 10,000-square-foot space has supported more than 80 startups by providing creative workspace, coaching, mentoring, and business development support services. A second space just opened its doors in Lindsay in mid-February, and now both locations are helping their clients work through a global pandemic.

The Innovation Cluster’s clients are committed to making the most of this crisis — pivoting, taking risks, and finding new ways to be successful. And with the constant support, mentorship, and guidance from a large group of committed professionals, they are ready to turn never-before-seen problems into profit-making opportunities.

The Innovation Cluster is providing virtual workshops and COVID-19 updates at innovationcluster.ca/whats-happening/covid-19/ and continues to accept client applications at innovationcluster.ca/programs/the-cube/.

VIDEO: Welcome to the Innovation Cluster

For more information about the Innovation Cluster – Peterborough and the Kawarthas, call 705-536-1101, email admin@innovationcluster.ca, or visit innovationcluster.ca.

The Cluster’s main office and Downtown Cube are located on the third floor of the VentureNorth building at 270 George Street North in downtown Peterborough. The Kawartha Lakes Cube is located at 180 Kent Street West in downtown Lindsay and the Trent Cube is located in the DNA Building at Trent University at 2140 East Bank Drive in Peterborough. Note: the Innovation Cluster’s main office and incubator locations are closed to the public until further notice due to the pandemic. Support continues to be available via email, Zoom, and telephone.

 

This story was created in partnership with the Innovation Cluster.

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