Co.Labs: Saskatchewan's First Technology Incubator
In 2015, Joelle Foster described a new incubator set to open in Winnipeg that would bring five “competing” organizations together to learn from one another and build stronger businesses. Recognizing that there wasn’t yet a solid technology community in Saskatchewan, this conversation became the catalyst for Jordan Dutchak to create Co.Labs and grow the tech sector here.
“We did a bunch of research, and I interviewed all of the people who were building tech companies or had built one at the time,” shares Dutchak. “I was able to sit down with founders like Jordan Bosch and Brendan Turner and basically explore who the key people were in the ecosystem.” After years of connecting with multiple people and organizations to get the idea off of the ground, Dutchak joined Innovation Saskatchewan to develop a unique incubation model and secure the funding needed to launch the initial concept.
Co.Labs co-locates founders of early-stage startups with other entrepreneurs and provides all the mentorship and tools they need to accelerate their ventures. “All companies in all programs have to fit our startup thesis: product-based, hardware or software, and more specifically, we look at revenue models to see where we can add value,” explains Dutchak.
Based on their stage of development, companies fit into one of three linear programs—Co.Launch, Co.Labs, or Co.Lead—which together operate as a ‘startup funnel.’ “Every year, we have about 200 to 250 entrepreneurs and founders contact us,” says Dutchak. “We only put 25 to 30 of them into Co.Launch, and of the 25 to 30, we only invite 4 to 6 into Co.Labs. Of those 4 to 6, we typically only invite 1 or 2 into Co.Lead.”
Starting in Co.Launch, cohorts are immersed in 12 engaging sessions where they learn about prototyping, validating, sales, and marketing. At the Finale Event for each cohort, $15,000 is distributed among the winners who then graduate into the Co.Labs program.
At this stage, Dutchak describes that founders “learn the concepts related to building a tech company at a high-level, and we focus on providing curated support and an environment for growth with the provision of services and products.” The collaborative space connects technology companies with other entrepreneurs who have similar goals, and these cohorts gain access to handpicked mentors, speakers, and investors on a monthly basis.
Companies that demonstrate significant growth and potential in Co.Labs are then invited to join Co.Lead, which offers more curated opportunities to support scaling as well as additional office space to grow their teams. At this stage, entrepreneurs receive coaching from specific mentors who can add value to their exact business model, sector, product, and customer segment.
Recently, NRC-IRAP has supported additional programming through its Contribution to Organizations (CTO) Program. This partnership entrusts Co.Labs with a pool of capital to recruit and contract senior leaders of tech companies to work one-on-one with startups in specific areas of specialization such as finance, UX/UI, marketing, and sales.
With all these initiatives in full swing, Co.Labs plans to strengthen Saskatchewan’s tech community by continuing to increase its impact, discover new founders and experts, and unite the prairie tech hubs. “The number of people in this sector and the distribution of who they are will grow, but our programs will remain startup-focused,” Dutchak says.
The intimacy of Saskatchewan provides the perfect environment to grow this network through continued public support. Of these critical partnerships, Dutchak emphasizes that “we have a very receptive and supportive provincial and federal government” and, though it was a challenge getting Co.Labs built, “the minute that we did, we had a government that was open to introducing new concepts like MIST, the STSI, and Innovation Challenges that had previously never existed in Saskatchewan.”
Founders: Jordan Dutchak
Established: October 2014
Incorporation Date: February 2017