Launch Lab Gaining Attention in Brockville
After getting a cautious welcome from Brockville council last year, a regional business incubator is beginning to gain some local traction.
But Kingston-based Launch Lab, which provides mentorship to entrepreneurs across a large stretch of Southeastern Ontario, is likely to approach council for funding in order to grow its client base even more.
Launch lab held its first-ever board meeting in Brockville Friday morning, in the offices of Eastern Independent Telecommunications (EIT).
Over the past 15 months, Launch Lab has gone from only one client in the Brockville and Thousand Islands area – EIT – to 13.
Launch Lab chief executive officer Michael Mann said he is impressed with Brockville.
“I think it’s a centre of the future,” he said, citing the proximity of the U.S. border and the strategic location between Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa.
In February 2014, city council endorsed a motion to “facilitate discussions” with Launch Lab “to develop a local strategy to assist business start-ups and growth primarily focused on technology or export-driven companies.”
EIT chief executive officer Clift White, a member of the Launch Lab board, said that, with more local clients, the group might set up an “entrepreneur in residence” in Brockville to help local start-ups.
“It’s still something we’re striving for,” said White.
City councillor David LeSueur, who pushed unsuccessfully for a locally-created business incubation centre before bringing the Launch Lab people to council, believes a Brockville office is still years away.
“Instead of building it and hoping they come, we’re dealing with clients now and when there’s enough clients, we’ll build it,” said LeSueur.
Councillors had until now been unenthusiastic about the idea of a business incubation centre, citing the failure in recent years of the now-defunct Eastern Ontario Centre for Advanced Technology (EASTCAT).
They were more inclined to work with Launch Lab because that group was not immediately asking the city for money.
Growing the local client base enough for a Brockville office, even one where the mentor works once a week, would require some 25 active clients at any given time, said Mann.
“There has to be a steady group of newer clients,” he added.
Launch Lab currently serves about 165 active clients in an area extending from Brockville and Almonte in the east to Bancroft and Colborne in the west, said Mann.
It is funded by the provincial government but, unlike most organizations of its kind across Ontario, it gets no money from area municipalities.
Launch Lab is in talks with Kingston about municipal funding and plans to approach Belleville and Brockville as well, said Mann.
He suggested a request to Brockville might be for $50,000 a year.
“That would certainly justify an office,” said Mann.
Brockville Mayor David Henderson said Friday Launch Lab’s slow progress in the area is “one more cog in the wheel” of local economic development.
Any request for funding to council would have to include a case for why adding a local office would improve things significantly from the status quo, Henderson added.
“I’d have to see a proposal to evaluate it,” he said.