“It was time to move out of the kitchen,” recalls Steven Gentles, CEO of AwareBase.
He moved his information management company, then a staff of three, into the professional environment of the Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) in the Edmonton Research Park. It was an easy choice as the rent was reasonable and the building was filled with entrepreneurs experiencing the same hurdles and spurts of growth that his company would face.
The drive in to the ATC weaves through the grounds of the Edmonton Research Park, reminiscent of visiting a campus with the buildings set off the road and facing inward. The architecture of the building is sloped into the landscape, huddled into a hill, angled to catch the rays of the sunny Alberta skies. It’s a building design and location that sets the tone for the work that happens inside.
Steven Gentles describes, “There aren’t a lot of suits running around. It’s a casual place where your neighbours are going through what you’re going through. It’s a community.” Unlike the stereotypical startup, there isn’t a brick in sight. This environment has a different focus: the offices feel more like classrooms, but with the ability to concentrate and close the door. There is space to breathe, ample access to natural light, and grounds to pace when working through ideas. And everyone nearby is on the same page, like the shared energy of studying in a library with simultaneous levels of concentration.
Within three years, AwareBase had grown from three employees to forty employees. The company moved into their own building, refocused on product development, and expanded into offices in Abbotsford, Ottawa and now has an operation in New Dehli. Gentles says, “But I wouldn’t consider it a step backward if we moved back into the ATC. We haven’t had that community since we left. I miss that.”
He continues, “To transition a pre-commercial business to an actual growing business that can employ people, grow the tax base and attract the community, is a huge challenge. It is not easily accomplished.” Jenni Salonga, Program Manager of the Edmonton Research Park, agrees. She has been based out of the Advanced Technology Centre for the last decade watching entrepreneurs grow. She summarizes, “Companies such as Awarebase provide proof that working in a business incubator is really more than just space, we have a community that fosters innovation, interaction and inspiration.” The ATC is a place to move forward, a place to put the entrepreneurial spirit to task.
The Edmonton Research Park (ERP) is part of Edmonton Economic Development and is home to more than 1,500 members at 55+ companies working in diverse fields, from biotechnology to energy. Startups and growing companies can access a variety of workspaces; on-site programs, access to soft-landing programs and personalized referrals to support and funding agencies; and facilitated access and collaboration with local, national and international communities of accelerators, science parks and incubators.