Growing Sudbury's technology sector means entrepreneurs must create marketable products and investors must be there to support their efforts.
A panel discussion featured Peter Dal Bianco, founder of Bianco's Group of Companies; Michael Gribbons, vice-president of sales and marketing for Maestro Digital Mine and founder of Synergy Controls Corporation; and Kyle McCall, manager of the NORCAT Innovation Mill.
There was plenty of optimism expressed on the future of technology innovation in Sudbury, but the panellists said there's very little knowledge of the sector outside the region.
“We are very young when you look at places like Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto,” said Dal Bianco. “We are just getting started.”
Dal Bianco said the city's burgeoning IT sector doesn't get much play.
“The people involved know, but the people outside of it in the city don't know, and outside of Sudbury, they really don't know," he said.
He explained several local companies are already ahead of the curve, creating employment and spinning innovation outside the region, mentioning Sheri Tomchick of Plan A Health Care Staffing Solutions, a long-term care staffing agency, which is expanding across Ontario.
To nurture and promote the city's tech sector, Dal Bianco, who's also an angel investor, said it comes down to two things.
First, entrepreneurs have to prove that the value proposition for their business absolutely makes sense and they did enough research to answer the question as to why they are doing it.
The second is getting to know the actual human being behind the idea.
Dal Bianco looks for people who want to build a business, and have the potential to take it worldwide.
“Tell me who you are. What you are prepared to give up? (What is) your definition of hard work? (What are the) successes you've had? What makes you unique?" he said.
Business development is a struggle, Dal Bianco said. "There is no such thing as an easy business.”
NORCAT'S Kyle McCall said people assume Sudbury is only focussed on mining and raw material. But mining requires technology, he said. It is a complicated process to get materials out of the ground.
Sudbury's long-established mining industry has developed offshoot businesses specializing in technology geared to operational improvements.
There is also a growing health technology sector with at least six companies developing tools and software within the city, he said.
Gribbons had a more pragmatic approach. He explained the city should be working with its strength in mining.
Sudbury is known worldwide as a hard rock mining centre with decades of experience in the basin.
“We have mining intelligence that you don't see anywhere else in the world,” he said. “So when you look to playing with your strengths, you try find an unfair advantage. We have one in mining technology. So when you combine that with technology at the same time, it's ripe for exposure.”
As an entrepreneur, Gribbons said it was definitely not easy. He related his experience starting a second business after Synergy, and forgetting how hard it is. He advised that anyone wanting to start a business must to be prepared to make a firm commitment. That often means forgoing family events and personal time.
Both Gribbons and Dal Bianco warned that financing a business can be one of the biggest frustrations, along with having an effective sales and marketing strategy. Having a great product isn't good enough, they said. Startups have to convince the public they have a product they need.