Nurturing the future tech giants

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It&rsquo;s not much to look at from the outside. A few blocks away from the Tannery, tucked in the brown brick Manulife building, the Velocity Foundry is easy to miss. The Foundry is the newest addition to the Velocity system of tech incubators. It opened last summer, and has since become a haven for hardware startups like Palette and Voltera.&nbsp;</p>

Walking through the front doors, the atmosphere is busy: there are makeshift offices constructed with desks and poster boards to create a mild separation between the 25 startups currently housed there. 

The clash of brightly-coloured and white walls along with the mass amounts of 20-somethings in hoodies instantly gives the space a startup feel. But these companies are no longer the school projects many of them were created from. Victoria Berry, who works with the Foundry’s communications and marketing team, said the companies coming into the Foundry space are established, but still need some support before going out on their own.

“I’m hoping people will see it more as this kind of journey,” Berry said. “It starts in university and it kind of ends out here.”

Much like the Velocity Garage, which houses software startups, the Foundry gives young companies access to free workspace, mentorship, and networking. There is a workshop-like space to develop prototypes; the equipment is rented and Berry said many of the materials are provided by local established companies who have seen the value in connecting with startups. Many of the groups currently housed in the Foundry will look to the businesses they’ve networked with for manufacturing, distribution, or communications needs in the future. 

“To me, it feels very unique,” Berry said of the community that is fostered between Velocity and Kitchener-Waterloo. Many local companies provide materials and equipment for use in the Foundry. 

Palette has been in the Foundry since its inception, and as the team is now preparing to ship to their Kickstarter backers, they are fully aware of how Velocity helped them get where they are.  

Palette is a user interface hardware that gives more control to the user. It is a series of modules with buttons, dials, and sliders that work with software functions. Whether you want to raise the volume of VLC or change exposure in Photoshop, Palette takes away the need to memorize keyboard shortcuts or dig through function menus. The people behind Palette could not be more grateful to the support Velocity has provided them. 

“Just being in the community is really helpful,” said Shadab Rashid who heads software product and partnerships at Palette. He said the access to mentorship from industry experts has helped the company succeed. 

“Even just talking to other startups, listening to what they may have gone through already in terms of shipping, in terms of fundraising, in terms of hiring [is really helpful],” Rashid said. 

There is no sense of competition in the Foundry; each company working there is part of a community that wants each member to succeed. Rashid said that many other startups come to Palette, who have been around for a while, looking for advice and vice versa. 

Ryan Denomme, CEO and co-founder of Nicoya Lifesciences, currently housed in the Foundry, said the Velocity space has been “critical” to their success. Mentorship aside, even just the shared hardware space has helped them grow. 

“It’s hard to find that kind of space elsewhere … it’s helped us move faster and not have as many logistical issues,” Denomme said. 

“We’ll stay here as long as we can, as long as it makes sense,” Denomme said of the Nicoya team. 

There is a constant flow through the Foundry,  and in the end, no one wants to stay there forever.  The idea is that, like the Garage, companies who take space in the Foundry do so while they are still in their infancy and need a little more incubation time before they step out on their own. 

Two companies, Smarter Alloys and Avidbots, recently cut the cord and are moving to the next phase of their businesses. Berry said that most entrepreneurs who were supported by Velocity look for ways to give back once they’ve found success whether it be through mentorship or providing materials. 

“It’s a good group,” Berry said of the Velocity community. The network of tech companies is growing in Kitchener-Waterloo, with more people choosing to keep their business and talent local or only go as far as Toronto rather than fly off to Silicon Valley. 

Velocity is a journey, like Berry said. The on-campus residence helps budding entrepreneurs find their niche in the tech world and the Garage and Foundry provide the conditions needed to get them off the ground. The community they’ve built is one of support and everyone involved seems to be very aware that they’ll never really leave.