Change Is Afoot At Genesis Centre
September 09th, 2015
There is still more than a year left before the Genesis Centre staff pack up the boxes at their St. John’s Bruneau Centre office and move to new digs at the Battery. But that’s certainly not to say change is not afoot at the Memorial University of Newfoundland incubator.
The centre is under new management, is expanding to a new town and has different entrance criteria.
“We’re working with several areas within MUN and the community to look at how we can all support IP development, the ecosystem and innovation overall,” said Greg Hood, who became the CEO of the centre this year after a career in the private sector.
The Genesis Centre and its affiliate the Genesis Group were originally formed to serve as an incubator for St. John’s startups, including some that were commercializing intellectual property developed at the university. It had considerable success, producing such companies as Verafin, which develops software that prevents fraud and money laundering, as well as nautical and military manufacturer Rutter.
Now the centre is changing in step with the evolving situation at the university and changes in the broader innovation landscape. CEO David King, who had been with the Genesis organization since 1993, left last year to take up a teaching position in Qatar.
Around the same time, Memorial University reclaimed the task of negotiating with outside parties interested in IP developed at the university. And at about this time the Genesis Centre announced it would be leaving its elegant offices on the Memorial campus for the university’s new development at the Battery, on the side of Signal Hill. The Battery complex will host a range of functions for MUN, and graduate students will move into the facility next month. So far everything is on track and the Genesis Centre is due to move in the winter of 2016-17.
Genesis Centre tenants now include such young companies as HeyOrca!, which is developing an online platform to help marketers collaborate on social media projects, and Vish Solutions, which is making software for hair colouring salons.
Meanwhile, the startup community in Newfoundland and Labrador has changed. Genesis clients today are more than likely to be working with other support groups. HeyOrca! and Vish for example were both members of the PropelICT tech accelerator.
“There are a lot of players in the ecosystem, and we all have to work together,” said Hood. He said there is some overlap but what’s important is that Genesis Centre and other groups do what’s best for the companies they’re nurturing. “We can all move together in a cohesive manner and I think you’ll see that’s happening.”
As an example of the collaboration, Hood points to the Genesis Centre’s announcement in June that it would establish a base at the Beachhead Innovation Center in Holyrood, on Conception Bay, about 50 kilometres west of St. John’s. The partnership will allow Genesis clients and graduates to work out of the Beachhead facility, which will be valuable for ocean-related research.
While the Genesis Centre will continue to be involved in ocean research and advanced manufacturing, the reality is that most startups in the current environment are involved in digital technology.
“In our most recent pitching competitions, 70 percent of the participants were doing apps,” said Hood. “Maybe it’s a change in the St. John’s community or maybe it’s something bigger than that. But the question is, how do we tap into it?”
Hood and his staff are planning for the new Genesis Centre to have a more open layout to facilitate more collaboration – a popular concept with the IT community. And he also wants the Genesis group to maintain support for longer with the companies that pass through the incubator.
“When the organizations graduate from our program, what do we do with them?” he asked. “I think there’s a need for us to continue working with them and see that they succeed.”