THUNDER BAY – Innovation is booming in Northwestern Ontario. Businesses all over our region are constantly finding new and different cutting-edge products and processes, changing the way we live, work, and do business.
Innovation can help your business respond better to customer needs, and enable you to more effectively meet their future needs and demands. Innovation breeds efficiency, cuts waste, and maximizes productivity. Innovative companies are able to stay ahead of the competition as market and technology trends shift, and most often, innovation is the difference between market leaders and their rival companies.
The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission (CEDC) and Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre (EC) work with partner organizations such as the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre (NOIC) to encourage new business start-ups, job creation, and economic growth through innovation.
The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre offers a strong support system, collaborative environment, funding, training, and business expertise to get innovative companies started, growing and thriving. Local innovators such as Health E(fx), Ship Early, Recroup, and Cinevate have achieved ample success through NOIC programs, training, and assistance.
“The Innovation Centre has several programs that will launch your idea into the marketplace. Whether you are an individual or an existing business, we have several support programs in place to assist you as you work through a tailored innovation process”, says Kendall Kerbashian, Community Initiatives Officer at NOIC.
All successful innovators and inventors will tell you that achieving commercial success is no easy feat. Getting a product from conception to market can be a very long and arduous road, but a great idea that is well planned and executed can change the world.
For all you budding trailblazers out there with a killer concept for a new product or service, but don’t know where to start, here’s a general guide to realizing your innovation dreams:
- Idea Stage
What problem does your innovation solve? Think about a need to be filled, or an answer to a question. How can your innovation make our lives easier, happier, and healthier? For the best business idea, start with an underserved problem that deserves a solution. Successful innovation will require you to identify new ideas to give life to new products and service that will attract a viable demand.
Ideas are everywhere, and a lot of the time, they happen by fluke. Many million-dollar inventions, including Post-it notes, the microwave, and Play-doh, are simply ‘happy accidents’, stumbled upon while pursuing other inventions. Inventions are often serendipitous, so keep an open mind with respect to your innovative work. You never know what kind of gem can be developed from your last ‘mistake’.
NOIC has access to teams of experts to help you to refine your idea and focus on finding the perfect niche. The Innovation Centre can also provide a consultation on intellectual property.
Working with each individual client, the Centre researches all data necessary to understand the competitive landscape and find gaps in the market. Eligible clients will receive free access to thousands of proprietary reports from top-tier research firms and advice from experienced industry analysts through the MaRs Innovation.
Your competitive intelligence will keep you in front of your market and ahead of the game. Understanding the market, that is, understanding your customers, suppliers, and competitors, will give you a competitive edge in your industry and make you the clear market leader.
- Discovery Stage
This is when your idea needs to be refined and quantifiable. Use market research to prove there is a real need for your innovation by conducting customer interviews, focus groups, and analyzing second-hand industry data. You will need to strategize pricing, make sales projections, and estimate your market share all based on real information. Implement realistic and reliable measures and the viability of your awesome innovation will start to show through.
NOIC can help find reliable information and finalize your intellectual property and legal issues. They have shared workspace available for you to help get things done. The Thunder Bay & District Entrepreneur Centre offers assistance with business planning, and can work with you to plan accurate financials.
Innovators with an early-stage product may be eligible for the Costarter program. This three-month intensive build-by-doing accelerator program is designed to help you take the leap and make a full-time commitment to your business and accelerate product development, customer acquisition, and company growth. Successful start-ups will receive $15,000 in funding, access to experienced mentors and investors, and hands-on support. Apply before April 30th to kick your innovating into high gear.
- Validation Stage
Your idea comes to life!
The first working model of your invention will serve as a ‘preview’ to your finished product, allowing you to evaluate the design and catch any flaws before it’s too late.
While there is no one way to a great prototype, the NOIC can offer some helpful tips. Firstly, start with a sketch before you begin construction to help you map out the way the model will fit together. This will help you determine the best way to build the physical model. Sometimes a prototype can be put together by tweaking an existing item to alter its design. Innovators can use the Mi-Zone makerspace located within the Thunder Bay Public Library that provides access to necessary manufacturing equipment for prototype development.
“The first working model doesn’t have to be perfect. We’ve seen prototypes made with nothing but ski bindings and duct tape. When you’re dealing with moving parts, it can be more complicated. The most important thing is not for the prototype to work perfectly, but to convey the idea of what it’s supposed to do,” tells Kendall.
Digital innovations, such as mobile and web applications, should start from a wireframe that shows what the interface looks like and how the processes will flow.
Most innovators will go through at least three or more model versions, so don’t be discouraged when your first working model isn’t quite market-ready. What’s important is to learn from each prototype, gathering feedback from the people who would be using the product and improving the product from each version.
Marketing and Brand Strategy
Your brand is your promise; so it’s very important that you choose your brand strategy wisely. A great brand is one of the most valuable assets a company can have, and when done well, branding breeds loyalty and drives strategy. In our modern world, consumers have high expectations from their favourite brands. They also have choices. Make sure they choose you over your competitors.
Working with eligible clients, the NOIC will provide services that are necessary to effectively brand and market your innovation. Many services such as graphic design, digital marketing, communications and sales training can be done in house. NOIC also helps clients access training and workshops offered outside of its services.
The Innovation Centre assists clients in finding and choosing the best sales opportunities to get their innovative products and services into the right distribution channels and ultimately into the hands of their end users. Support is available to guide innovators in choosing the right tradeshows, finding the best networking opportunities, and fine tuning their sales pitch.
For innovators who require the services of manufacturers and wholesalers, NOIC can assist in sourcing suitable suppliers, partners, and distributors. The Innovation Centre also helps businesses who want to sell online to create the best web presence possible.
In addition, the Innovation Centre will develop an advisory board for suitable clients. This board will provide mentoring services in all areas that are required for success!
The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre is with you every step of the way as you launch your business into the marketplace!
If you’ve got an idea for a new product or invention, contact the Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre to help you set yourself up for success.
The Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre is one of 18 Regional Innovation Centres (RICs) that exists to get innovators and inventors off the ground and running. They provide access to training, funding, and business expertise to make ground-breaking business ideas a reality. Call (807)768-6683 or visit www.nwoinnovation.ca to learn more.
The Entrepreneur Centre is dedicated to helping small businesses start up, expand succeed. Their one-to-one business counseling, comprehensive information, consulting, and referral service make them a great ‘first-stop’ if you’re starting a business or even thinking of starting a business. All Entrepreneur Centre (EC) services are FREE and confidential. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (807)625-3960 or visit www.EntrepreneurCentre.ca.