Canadian innovation hubs close doors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19

The Communitech entrance space, The Tannery Building, Kitchener-Waterloo. Source Communitech.

Innovation hubs, incubators, and accelerators across Canada are shutting down or instituting work from home policies, to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.

Four Ontario hubs, Invest Ottawa, MaRS Discovery District, Communitech, and OneEleven, as well as Atlantic Canada incubator Volta, are among those that have imposed restrictions on their physical office spaces in recent days.

“Our priority is to keep everyone safe and do everything possible to avoid adding to the burden.”

In its latest response to the COVID-19 developments, Kitchener-Waterloo-based Communitech has closed its facilities to the general public and instructed staff to work from home. Communitech employees at both the Communitech Hub in Kitchener and the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo will work from home until April 6, the hub said in a statement.

Communitech’s main location in Kitchener houses a number of startups, community spaces, and a corporate innovation lab. The Communitech Data Hub is a 19,000 plus square foot collaborative space.

On Thursday, Communitech announced a number of measures, including the cancellation of public tours for 90 days through June 10 and the suspension of all in-person events, workshops, and peer-group meet-ups. Last week it also cancelled its True North Festival.

“We are being, and will continue to be, proactive and aligned with emerging best practices in the community,” said Communitech CEO and president Iain Klugman. “Our priority is to keep everyone safe and do everything possible to avoid adding to the burden of the province’s health-care workers.”

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Toronto-based MaRS has decided to move all venture support online as MaRS moves to a work from home policy until at least April 3 in order to “protect team members, tenants and the community during the outbreak.” MaRS is also moving to “a fully digital advisory model” and is moving community events online.

“Despite the challenge, we are not easing up efforts to support our ecosystem,” said Jon Dogterom, senior vice president of venture services at MaRS. “Such a global problem requires a global solution. Canada’s tech community is galvanized, and many ventures are shifting their everyday business pursuits in hopes of bringing this crisis to a decisive end. I’m inspired by how rapidly our entrepreneurs have reacted to the crisis.”

Invest Ottawa is adopting a “broad work-from-home approach” for its employees and plans to deliver its services and support online “to the greatest degree possible.” The hub is also moving to kiosk-based reception and is operating with a “significantly reduced” onsite team.

“Given our extensive regional engagement and activity, we know it is imperative to get ahead of this evolving situation and help slow the spread of this virus,” Invest Ottawa wrote in a statement.”

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Incubators like Toronto-based OneEleven, which physically houses 55 companies with more than 1,000 employees, said its staff will be working from home as of Friday. The facility itself will remain open to “ensure staff who would like to work within the space can do so.” OneEleven noted in a blog post, however, that many of its companies have implemented work from home policies.

“The health and safety of our community is our top priority, and we’re doing our part to help minimize the impact of COVID-19 at an individual and societal level,” OneEleven wrote in a tweet.

Other innovation hubs across Canada are also taking precautions, including Halifax-based Volta, which is closing its co-working space between March 16 to March 22, and Startup Calgary, which has cancelled events and programming through to mid-July (Startup Calgary’s full list can be found here).

Saskatchewan tech incubator Co.Labs told BetaKit that its facility is currently at 25 percent occupancy with many founders and staff working remotely. The incubator has also cancelled community events taking place in March and April and is considering postponing is Co.Launch Finale Event, Co.Learn Scholarship Program, and Ladies in Tech Event set to take place in May and June, respectively.

Innovate BC, the entrepreneurial government agency for the Province of British Columbia, sent out an update on March 16 stating that it is encouraging its employees to work from home “where possible” and will not be taking in-person meetings at the organization’s office. It also cancelled or suspended all travel and in-person activities, events, and meetings, noting that they should be held virtually until further notice.

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The government agency had also earlier made the call to cancel its 2020 #BCTECHSummit, which was set to take place on June 1 and 2. Innovate BC made the decision on the recommendation of British Columbia’s provincial medical health officer to cancel any gathering larger than 50 people. All guests who had purchased tickets to the summit are set to receive a full refund by March 31.

Cultivator, the Regina-based incubator led by Conexus Credit Union, has also closed its doors. A spokesperson for the incubator told BetaKit that it worked with all startups in its space over the past week to transition to a full work from home model; its physical space is closed until further notice and events have been cancelled or moved online. Cultivator is still offering its “digital space,” with all programming and mentorship being offered through Zoom, Slack, and Notion.

Montreal-based innovation hub OSMO, the organization behind Notman House, has closed its location for the following weeks. It is also hosting a webinar on March 18 with entrepreneurs to address some questions concerning COVID-19 and to share potential solutions for startups and founders.

TechAlliance, the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) for Southwestern Ontario, has also closed its innovation centre, which is set to move into a new, larger space in downtown London, Ont. The RIC has postponed all events and meetings in March and shifted its one-on-one entrepreneur support to remote and digital tools.

Markham-based tech incubator VentureLAB has yet to fully shut down its space, but has limited access to the centre, with VentureLAB staff working remotely. The incubator has cancelled or rescheduled planned events, potentially moving them online, and suspended all public tours of its Innovation Space until April 15. VentureLAB also noted that it has implemented additional precautionary protocols for guests who visit tenants in its space and that attendance at external events and work-related travel is suspended for the next 30 days.

BetaKit will be updating this story with more details about innovation hubs across Canada as things progress and change.

Image courtesy Communitech

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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