Calgary incubator offers startups cheap desks, free beer

Calgary is one of the country’s fastest growing cities but the Alberta metropolis’ real estate boom can be a tough barrier for many fledgling tech startups struggling to get their companies off the ground.

In a city where parking space fees start at $40/day and a mere office desk rents for as much as $900/month, many small IT firms that may be months away from getting their product to market hardly stand a chance.

Thankfully, startup accelerator organizations such as AcceleratorYYC offer a viable alternative to traditional office rental models that provide cash-strapped entrepreneurs with much-needed breathing space as well peer support. YYC is also the airport code for Calgary.

Christian MacLean, AcceleratorYYC’s director who runs the incubator with his wife Victoria and co-founder Pieter Beokhoff, describes the place as an “entrepreneur led co-work space tailored to the unique needs and challenges of pre-launch and pre-product start-ups.”

While shared space office desk rental in Calgary starts at around $500/month, the 3,000 square-foot facility of AcceleratorYYC rents out desk space for just $250/month. The arrangement includes access to high-speed Internet, 24/7 access to desks, a boardroom with two smart boards as well a breakout rooms with two whiteboards. “Red Bull and Steam Whistle beer are offered free to tenants,” MacLean added.

The place has 22 permanent desk spots, which can be rented for extended periods, and six “hotel spots” that ca be rented on a daily basis. The facility had its official launch last week but already 14 desks are filled.

AcceleratorYYC shares key elements of typical co-working spaces but differs largely in its focus on technology startup businesses and providing these companies with mentoring opportunities, according to MacLean, a former IT consultant.

“Pieter and I travel extensively to tech-hubs in Vancouver and San Francisco and we realized that the main thing prevalent in those cities that we don’t find in Calgary is the tight-knit community and support that tech startups enjoy,” MacLean said.

The a tmosphere in AcceleratorYYC encourages networking and peer support among tenants, he says. “Our strong ties with entrepreneur groups such as A100, C100 and Innovate Calgary ensures that seasoned IT entrepreneurs are always around to help startup owners who are mostly in the pre-production and pre-revenue stage.”

The arrangement at AcceleratorYYC suits businesses such as Community Point developer a Web-based community management tool that groups such as condo board organizations an online collaboration site where members can share news, messages and event updates.

Calgary’s condo boom is largely responsible for the growing interest in Community Point, according to founder Josh Pinter. “Ironically the boom might also be to blame for much of our problems,” said to web developer who heads the four person startup.

Community Point’s selling point is that rather than spending as much as $10,000 to have a Web site built, condo developers, and condo boards can pay $50/month for Community Point’s software-as-a-service tools and Web portal that enables users to publish newsletters, manage online messaging and other online collaborative activities.

Pinter said Community Point had its soft launch early this year and will go on full rollout in January next year. However it was a bit of a rough ride before the company found its current digs at AcceleratorYYC.

Community Point’s first office was in Pinter’s basement. The company shortly moved to an $850/month small office space which they shared with an accounting business. “The rent was steep, and it was not the most exciting environment,” Pinter said.

The company moved to a shared space location that rented desks for $650/month and then to another that rented desks for $500/month.

“Startups need to be careful because office rent can easily bleed an operation dry even before you get any product to market,” said Pinter.

It was only recently that Community Point found a place it could call home. “AcceleratorYYC, offered the right combination of cheap rent and excellent community,” said Pinter.

He said the camaraderie and opportunity to work beside other IT entrepreneurs proved to be very exhilarating. “You don’t just get a desk, you benefit from the collective knowledge of everyone around you. Everyone is encouraging each other, it’s like we’re all cheerleaders here minus the skirts.”

Pinter said co-tenants at AcceleratorYYC actually helped his team polished their marketing pitch. “We presented in front of them and they gave honest and encouraging observations which helped us nail our pitch.”

Nestor ArellanoNestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

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