Scott Gardner,The Hamilton Spectator file photo
Platform 302, a Cumberland Ave. "incubator" and shared office space for young entrepreneurs and companies less than 10 years old, held a "ladies night" to allow clients and guests to get to know each other. Photo by Scott Gardner, The Hamilton Spectator
By Nick Bontis
"You can do anything in Hamilton."
We all know graphic designer Russell Gibbs' popular tagline, and many of us probably own the T-shirts sold throughout the city. But does the now popularized #HamOnt saying ring true?
It certainly seems the case for many of those launching businesses in our increasingly entrepreneurial city. From countless restaurants and boutiques to tech and life science startups, numerous thriving ventures have made Hamilton their home. However, the influx of new business activity cannot thrive in a vacuum.
Hamilton has responded with a truly impressive entrepreneurial ecosystem. But how does one navigate the myriad of resources available?
At the core, we have Hamilton's economic development department (investinhamilton.ca) standing as the catalyst for business growth in our city, and its Small Business Enterprise Centre (SBEC) as the one-stop source for budding entrepreneurs. The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (hamiltonchamber.ca) is another entrepreneurial mainstay, providing its members with valuable resources and affinity programs.
Then we have McMaster Innovation Park (mcmasterinnovationpark.ca). MIP is a key part of Hamilton's entrepreneurial ecosystem. The university's research park supports startups, businesses and research, offering collaborative space for each sector to collocate, connect and commercialize.
Housed inside MIP is Innovation Factory (innovationfactory.ca), a nonprofit regional innovation centre that is essential for startups looking to commercialize their ideas and small/medium businesses wanting to innovate within their organization. Workshops, one-on-one mentoring, events and extensive programming provide a full suite of entrepreneurial support.
Next, we have a surge in collaborative workspaces taking shape throughout the city: CoMotion on King (www.comotiononking.com), Platform 302 (www.platform302.com), The Seedworks (seedworksoffices.ca), TheCotton Factory (cottonfactory.ca) and Uptown Business Club (fwchamilton.ca) have all sprung up in recent years. These co-working spaces are making it easier for Hamilton entrepreneurs across a range of fields to secure lower-priced office space and establish connections with like-minded business owners — a big change for entrepreneurs who often feel overwhelmed when tackling their new business alone.
With more young people taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, the biggest growth area of entrepreneurial support in Hamilton has been for youth. Both McMaster University (spectrum.mcmaster.ca) and Mohawk College (mohawkcollege.ca/surge) have launched initiatives that provide extracurricular opportunities for post-secondary students to learn about new ventures. For those youth entrepreneurs serious about taking their ventures to the next level, McMaster and Innovation Factory partnered to open a dual-location campus-linked accelerator called The Forge (theforgehamilton.ca), which puts early-stage startups on the fast track to sales and validation through mentorship and training.
Also for young entrepreneurs, are a number of young professional (YP) groups that make it easy to connect and socialize. Hamilton HIVE (hamiltonhive.ca) is Hamilton's umbrella organization for YPs in the area, and connects its member groups through key events like the annual Hive X conference. The Hamilton Chamber's Young Entrepreneurs and Professionals (YEP) is one such group, providing resources for current and next-generation entrepreneurs. Other networking groups include Women in Entrepreneurship, StartupDrinks, GameDevDrinks, and Freelancer Meetups.
For those wanting to take their ventures to the stage, Hamilton is home to a number of pitch nights à la "Dragons' Den" where entrepreneurs can get comfortable speaking about their business. Innovation Factory hosts Innovation Nights, where local, inventive entrepreneurs pitch to a crowd of 100-plus. Upping the stakes, the annual Lion's Lair competition (lionslair.ca) has 10 local startups that pitch to a panel of experts and compete for more than $160,000 in prizes. This year's awards gala takes place Sept. 30 at Carmen's and will attract a who's who of Hamilton's entrepreneurial scene.
Spectrum's Student Startup Competition, Software Hamilton's DemoCamps (democamp.com) and IEC Hamilton's M.I. G. H. T. Y Pitch Competition (iechamilton.ca/mighty/) are other excellent opportunities to test your idea and receive feedback on your business plan.
Hamilton is serious about entrepreneurship. The resources are abundant and the ecosystem is truly supportive and collegial. For those looking to launch a business in our city, #HamOnt's got your back.