Preliminary concept sketch of McMaster Innovation Park locates the warehouse hub in the lower right of the illustration along Aberdeen, and a life sciences building at the corner of Aberdeen and Longwood. – McMaster Innovation Park
New space opened at McMaster Innovation Park just the start of growing hub
by Tom Hogue The Hamilton Spectator
Enterprises that started or cycled through McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) as part of their business growth have raised $350 million over the past nine years.
That’s the total ripple effect of investments made in the hundreds of young startups that got their footing at two supporters of business working together at the MIP. The Innovation Factory is Hamilton’s regional innovation centre that has assisted 1,900 local startups since opening in 2011. The Forge is McMaster’s business incubator that has graduated 130 companies since 2015.
David Carter, director of the Innovation Factory, circled that $350-million number at the official opening on Wednesday of a new 10,000-square-foot space in a former MIP garage built to expand space for entrepreneurs — and the many volunteer mentors who guide them.
Young entrepreneurs — quick on the draw with business cards — milled about the sunlit lower-level space of the MIP’s main building on Longwood Road South, as Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas MP Filomena Tassi reflected on the moment she first dropped into the garage space last December to present a $1.2-million cheque to launch construction of the $2.4-million space.
Paul Mercante, co-founder of GeneBlueprint, is an example of just one of many entrepreneurs benefiting from the office space and coaching provided by The Forge.
The five staff at the year-old company are at the commercial stage of a $450 kit that analyzes DNA of fitness club members seeking a custom nutrition and exercise plan based on a genetic evaluation.
Mitch Wilson, another entrepreneur, is marketing surgery equipment through his Mariner Endosurgery startup.
At a much further stage of development is former The Forge and Innovation Factory startup-turned-superstar Nix Sensor, which has raised $9 million with a colour-matching device growing in popularity in decor and design.
Startups have been a big part of the history of the MIP building, which in its previous life as a Westinghouse factory served as the launching pad for an early-stage Wescam to toil away with a “Westinghouse Camera” concept.
But in the wider vision for the land holdings at Longwood and Aberdeen Avenue, startups will occupy just 10 per cent of the total 2.1 million square feet, according to Ty Shattuck, MIP chief executive officer.
“That still translates to over 200,000 square feet of space for startups,” he said, adding that the rest of the space provides working capital and a critical mass of people to add to the “general vibe” of a place that “encourages collisions” between creators and companies.
On a tour around the 50-acre property — of which only 700,000 square feet is currently developed — Shattuck provides a glimpse of what’s to come.
A deal is pending for Cora Developments to develop between 80,000 and 100,000 square feet of new office space with anchor tenant Gowlings.
A four-floor Hyatt hotel is going up across the street to provide extended stay suites for the churn of people developing projects at MIP.
The corner of Longwood and Aberdeen is reserved for a life sciences centre.
And last March, MIP purchased two century-old warehouse spaces that Shattuck said will be built out in a vision similar to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, only twice as big.
He won’t disclose what MIP paid for the 88,000-square-foot and 150,000-square-foot buildings, but said “they’re already appreciated beyond that in value.”
“There’s more demand than I ever imagined, particularly from life sciences companies,” Shattuck said of the number of discussions underway among groups seeking to locate in the park.
A preliminary sketch of a master plan that is awaiting approval illustrates the warehouses’ proximity to a Metrolinx maintenance yard that will be built for Hamilton’s LRT system.
And the park’s adjacency to Highway 403 provides a visibility that Shattuck hopes translates to a sponsor willing to step up and sign on for naming rights.
Clarification: A previous version of this article did not clearly make the distinction that the Innovation Factory is an innovation centre, while The Forge is a business incubator.
by Tom Hogue
Tom Hogue is a feature writer and video producer who regularly contributes to the business section of thespec.com and The Hamilton Spectator. He is a recipient of a Western Magazine Award, Ontario Newspaper Awards and was nominated for a National Magazine Award.