Markham woos high-tech firms with free office space, consulting

One Ontario high-tech company will get free office space for a year and two others will receive thousands of dollars in consulting services in a contest recently announced by the Town of Markham and several partners. 

Contestants in the Markham Space Race are being asked to submit business growth plans addressing issues such as how they will market their products, recruit employees and evolve their management structures to support rapid growth. A panel of judges will select three winners, who will be announced at a gala event in November.

The winner will get a furnished, 1,000-square-foot office in Markham for one year, rent-free. Office space will be provided by Markham-based GWL Realty Advisors, with leasehold improvements and furniture supplied by FIT by Design, said Darren Ciastko, senior business development officer with the Town of Markham. The total value of the first prize is estimated at $50,000.

The second prize will be $15,000 worth of free consulting services, supplied by in-kind sponsors and chosen according to the winner’s needs, Ciastko said. Third prize will be $10,000 worth of free consulting services.

The contest organizers are lining up a number of “in-kind sponsors”  to provide these services, Ciastko said, and the services provided will be tailored to the winners’ needs. 

The contest grew out of a weekly event where members of the Markham business community get together for a hockey game and some networking. Ciastko said Jim Brown of Colliers International, a commercial real estate dealer, approached the town and other sponsors with the idea of a competition. The contest was put together with five “gold sponsors” – the Town of Markham, Jim Brown of Colliers International, GWL Realty Advisors, FIT by Design, and the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham (ICSM), a non-profit organization that offers support services to emerging technology companies.

According to contest organizers, it was Bob Glandfield, president and chief executive of ICSM, who suggested the contest focus on growth plans, because creating a growth strategy is a difficult and often neglected challenge for growing businesses.

Technology entrepreneurs “assume that the business is going to grow, and they’re so busy running it to sit back and say ‘how am I doing, do I need to adjust this or tweak the plan?’” said Rod Graham, director of client services at ICSM.

“By the nature of entering the contest, it’ll get them thinking about exactly where they are in their own growth cycle,” Graham said. 

The contest is open to information technology businesses anywhere in Ontario that have been in business for at least two years and have a minimum of three full-time employees. Entrants must submit growth plans that demonstrate how they are positioned for rapid growth. Details and an application form are available on the contest Web site.

Since the contest is open to companies currently based outside Markham and the first prize is office space in the town, one possible benefit for the town could be attracting another promising young high-tech company to what is already one of the hotbeds of the province’s high-tech industry, Ciastko said. But if the first-place winner is already Markham-based, he said, the town still wins, because one of its goals is to retain and foster high-tech business in Markham. 

The posted deadline for entries is September 15, although Ciastko said that may be extended by a couple of weeks. A panel of about four judges, yet to be selected from qualified private- and public-sector candidates, will narrow the entries down to a preliminary list of about 20, who will be invited to an event where they will meet the judges and representatives of the sponsors. Then the judging panel will narrow the 20 finalists down to three winners, who will be notified only that they are in the top three and invited to an awards gala on Nov. 23, where the first, second and third prize winners will be announced, Ciastko said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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