After six months at the helm of Sudbury’s Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT), one of Don Duval’s immediate goals is to cut the boardroom in half and expand the upper atrium into a meeting space.
It’s part of the organization’s goal to expand its role as a hotbed for entrepreneurialism and innovation in Sudbury.
“You can envision walking into this building six months from now; I want you to walk in and I want you to be inspired,” said Duval, his excitement palpable. “I want you to be inspired about innovation, about productivity and what we can do to drive towards that, and enhance that to make Canada more globally competitive.”
The changes aren’t solely cosmetic. NORCAT’s just-completed five-year strategic plan, guided by the feedback from 100 entrepreneurs, outlines a clear path for moving forward.
“Fundamentally, our mandate as a leading private, non-profit organization would be to empower our clients, our staff and our community partners to really drive a culture of productivity, innovation and lifelong learning in Canada and beyond,” Duval said. “That’s our overarching vision over the next five years.”
Strategic priorities include helping to start and accelerate the growth of innovative companies, developing and providing world-class training programs to improve safety and productivity in the workplace, and operating a vibrant innovation hub by providing an environment that celebrates a culture of productivity, innovation and education.
There is also the possibility of expanding the building beyond its 60,000 square feet, but Duval said prospective tenants will need to embody the spirit of working out of an innovation centre. Providing mentorship to, and collaborating with, other tenants will be a condition of setting up at NORCAT.
Duval is also bringing in outside mentors to speak, events that are also open to the public. In February, Stuart MacDonald, founder of online travel service Expedia.ca, visited NORCAT, while former DuPont CEO Bill White will speak in March.
Adamant that these events should be workshop-oriented, Duval said they’re not occasions for the speaker to pontificate from the podium; rather, participants will be able to ask questions and get feedback on their ideas.
“If I can drive job and wealth creation by virtue of bringing in eminent, prominent thought leaders that have insight that’s directly related to complex challenges, either existing or on the horizon for these companies, that is my job as a non-profit, sector-agnostic innovation centre,” Duval said.
NORCAT will also continue to develop its health and safety training based on customers’ needs, with an eye to expanding into multiple sectors and international markets.
“We think that there is a global series of complex societal issues related to the workplace and training and development, and after 17 years of history we have a great pedigree and insight as to what works and what doesn’t,” Duval said. “I think it’s time that we continue to push that out into new markets.”
In his talks with entrepreneurs, Duval discovered a distinctly different approach to business between southern Ontario entrepreneurs and their Northern counterparts. In the North, they have a “stronger appetite to build a company via bootstrapping versus waiting for a round of capital to push on goals,” he said.
“I love that,” Duval enthused. “That’s very inspiring.”
That nuance helped inform the eight core services that NORCAT offers. Beyond mentorship and education, tenants also have access to market research, capital services, human resources services and more.
Duval said NORCAT’s job is to educate the community of their services across all sectors, operating models and stages, and their focus is on innovative scalable companies.
“If you come in, we’re not going to tell you what you want to hear and make you feel good,” Duval said. “We’re going to give you sage advice based on the challenges you face and the goals you want to achieve.”