Just two years out of the gate, Wavefront is making significant progress establishing a national ecosystem of wireless companies in Canada to take advantage of emerging trends within the fast-moving mobile telecommunications sector. As one of the newest Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR), the Vancouver-based organization is forging partnerships in Ontario and Quebec with plans to extend its reach into Atlantic Canada and the Prairies with a menu of five service offerings that provides leverage far beyond its base funding from the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) program.
With a focus on next-generation networks and enterprise and machine-to-machine (M2M) applications, Wavefront has entered into partnerships with MaRS, Invest Ottawa and Communitech in Ontario and a host of similar organizations in Quebec as it builds out its national network.
“A win in Ontario or a win in Quebec or a win in BC is a win for Canada. That’s our perspective. We run a virtual organization that’s partnered up against existing organizations,” says Wavefront president and CEO James Maynard. “We view our role as a value-added contributor, a sectoral expert. We’re putting people on the ground because we need to have expertise in markets, and it shows a commitment to the community that we’re actually here. What we don’t want to do is be seen as raising up a competitive organization against the organizations that are already here. What we want to do is work with them.”
Created in 2007 by the Wireless Innovation Network Society of BC, Wavefront aims to leverage its CECR funding to accelerate product and services development and speed-to-market by acting as an intermediary for the financial, technical and collaborative needs of early-stage start-ups.
Also within its orbit are larger firms seeking to enhance their service and product offerings by tapping into expertise and innovations resident in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Most recently, Wavefront struck a collaborative partnership with the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) to expand its business accelerator programs for SMEs into the Canadian heartland .
“What they’ve done is outsourced funding to us — here’s a pot of funding, go find the problem, deliver the solution and report back. It’s allowed us to move at the speed of business — we come in, find a problem and assemble the resources. We can put these projects together literally in days which is the speed a small business needs to get solutions back,” says Maynard, a high-tech veteran who has led small companies and worked with multinationals over a long career. “We’ve done this in BC for two years now and IRAP has written Wavefront up as a best practice … We can take weeks and weeks out of the problem identification process and we can provide project management.”
MAJOR FOCUS ON M2M
While the mobile telecommunication sector continues to explode across Canada and globally, Wavefront is focusing on the next technological wave in hopes of building capacity and giving Canadian industry crucial first-to-market advantage. M2M, which allows wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices of commensurate ability, is the potential conduit for wireless technologies and services to expand into the industrial sector.
Canada has two of the biggest players on the planet — Richmond BC-based Sierra Wireless, the world’s largest provider of M2M communications systems, and Ottawa-based QNX, a subsidiary of Research In Motion Ltd and one of two dominant providers of M2M-embedded operating systems.
Wavefront also hosts the Rogers Wireless Innovation Centre at its BC facility which includes incubator space for about 40 companies. A dominant focus of the Rogers centre is M2M and it is participating in Wavefront’s new M2M Accelerator program along with Sierra Wireless.
“Machine-to-machine is probably going to be the single largest contributor to competitiveness and productivity growth in the industrial sector. Rogers has teamed with Sierra Wireless and us to start driving a program for entrepreneurs across the country saying, ‘There’s more than just consumer apps. Start thinking about how you can put the same amount of energy and creativity into apps that will drive business value,'” says Maynard. “We have these two dominant M2M players in the Canadian marketplace but they need solutions on top of their platforms to go to market. If we invest now, getting companies to build into the marketplace when the market starts to build, we can start to deploy literally thousands of companies that can build another wave of telecom innovation with an ecosystem across Canada.”
Although Wavefront is still a relatively new CECR, it is having an impact on companies it serves. One of the more novel offerings is a program that allows early-stage firms to visit one of several handset libraries across the country to rent new mobile handsets for applications development.
Companies have made more than 3,000 handset rentals to date, accounting for more than $1.2 million in savings for the developer community directly attributable to handset testing.
“Companies can use these handsets (at Wavefront) so they don’t have to invest the capital to buy all these devices which change all the time. They’re able to leverage that capital for other purposes,” says Hélène Joncas, VP of Wavefront’s Eastern Region.
Adds Maynard: “We’re setting up libraries across the country so hundreds of companies can come in and acquire these devices — which have a six-month obsolescence cycle — for $10 a day … When you think about early-stage companies being able to free up $1 million in capital when many are being funded at under $100,000, that’s a big win.”
Another significant value-add for the sector is Wavefront’s linkages to two federal financial entities — Export Development Canada and the the trade commissioner service of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Maynard says Wavefront acts as a bridge between firms seeking to expand globally and the financial institutions that can assist with financing and investment expertise.
“We want to be a connection point to all the funding sources to understand what the requirements are and be a trusted voice. We’ve had amazing results,” he says. “There’s a plan, there’s funding and there’s a team so that we can take a lot of time out of the due diligence. It’s helping entrepreneurs know what pot to dive into.”
Source: Research Money | Volume 26, Number 16 (http://www.researchmoneyinc.com/)