The Genesis Centre in Newfoundland and Labrador turns 20 this year, a milestone that’s being celebrated with events that include MaRS on the Rock, a new partnership between the Genesis Centre and Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District.

MOTR, which starts on Jan. 27, will see entrepreneurs-in-residence from MaRS visit the province to deliver a 14-week program designed to boost innovation and creativity among corporations and government as well as entrepreneurs and students.

“Our program is modeled on MaRS’ Everest program. We want corporations and governments to create intrapreneurs (managers in large organizations who behave like entrepreneurs),” said Michelle Simms, Genesis Centre CEO.

“Over time, we hope to expand the program in partnership with MaRS.”

The Genesis Centre will also host the Invest Atlantic conference this fall.

The Genesis Centre was founded in 1997 to incubate technology startups. Within the next 18 months, the centre will move from its long-time home at the Memorial University campus in St. John’s to a new location in the city’s former Battery Hotel.

The university is currently remodelling the building to allow it to showcase the university to the public.

Simms said the new location will be inspiring.

“We’ll be at the base of Signal Hill where the first transatlantic wireless transmission was received by Marconi in 1901,” she said. “We’ll be closer to the business community in the downtown core.

“We won’t be at the centre of the university, but we’ll maintain a strong presence on campus.”

Simms is looking forward to the new building’s open-plan offices, designed to encourage collaboration between the companies participating in the centre’s Enterprise incubator. There are currently 15 of those companies. Simms hopes the number will rise to 20 by the end of this year.

The growth in the Enterprise incubator is a sign of the growth in the province’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The ecosystem has recently been enriched by the provincial Launch program, run by regional accelerator Propel ICT. There is also a new centre for entrepreneurship at Memorial.

“We’re starting to figure out how best to work together to serve clients,” Simms said. “We’re seeing a significant increase in the companies we’re working with and the number of new companies being created.”

Memorial’s own Evolution program has graduated 87 companies since it started in June 2014. Many of those 87 have been accepted into Propel’s Launch.

A Growing Cluster of Accelerators in Atlantic Canada

Simms is proud of Evolution’s role in the ecosystem.

“Before 2014, there was no program that took people who just had an idea they wanted to flesh out,” she said. “Evolution has helped people figure out if they want to be entrepreneurs. They learn what entrepreneurship takes and then validate their idea by talking to customers.”

Investment in the province’s startups is being boosted by venture capital firms Pelorus Venture Capital, the Killick Group, and Build Ventures, Simms said.

This is an exciting time for Simms personally, who joined the Genesis Centre in 2002 as a business analyst. It was only her second job after gaining a bachelor's degree in business administration from Memorial.

A native of the province —she grew up in the northern community of St. Anthony near L’Anse aux Meadows where the Vikings settled — Simms is known for her outgoing personality. She enjoys getting the centre’s participating founders together to boost energy and idea creation.

“We have lots of food events. We have popcorn every Friday, and fresh fruit to encourage breaks.”

Staff recently bought an award-winning hydroponic system, created by Memorial’s Enactus team, so tomatoes and peppers can be grown in the Genesis Centre without soil.

“The clients are coming out of their offices to see if the plants have sprouted,” Simms said. “There are buds on the peppers, but we’re waiting for the tomatoes to bud.”

Overall, she is pleased to see the province’s entrepreneurs finding product-market fit more quickly.

“And corporations are including design thinking. There’s a new innovative culture.”