From 'pig' to possibility


I guess it was all in the combination.

Or make that recombination.

Politically, supporters of a business “innovation centre” in Brockville have had a rough ride over the past year and a half.

Back in September 2012, a local group seeking $70,000 to start up a business training and mentorship centre not only had its request denied, but heard its plan famously called a “pig in a poke” by local council-watcher Colin Williams.

More recently, Councillor David LeSueur had to stall, twice, on a motion asking not for money, but time: specifically economic development director Dave Paul's time in researching the incubation centre idea.

Some of council's skepticism might stem from a belief incubators – local centres that use public and maybe private funding to help startups along – fundamentally don't work, or at least don't work here.

More of it likely stems from the obvious failure, in recent history, of one incubator we did have: the Eastern Ontario Centre for Advanced Technology (EASTCAT).

But LeSueur, unwilling to take “stop bugging us” for an answer from the economic development and planning committee, recombined his presentation for Tuesday's committee meeting.

Instead of stridently repeating that incubation centres work elsewhere, and that council needs to show it is serious about job-creation (election slogan, anyone?), he plucked (or maybe his fellow backers did) a team from Kingston that claims a record of success elsewhere in Eastern Ontario.

We should reserve judgment on the substance of the Launch Lab presentation until we know more details.

But as dry presentations about dry but important topics go, this one was focused, disciplined and effective.

The Launch Lab team included a former Mitel executive, Stephen Beamish, who spoke with the right level of self-deprecation about the lessons he learned from the previous decade's tech meltdown.

He even listed his former firm as an example of a phenomenon Americans were asking him about: Canadian companies with great tech ideas, but no ability to make a go of it in business.

(Yes, I traded in my BlackBerry.)

The group also made an effective pitch on the key matter of funding. They started by making it far less ambitious, and incremental.

We won't ask you for money until there's a worthy idea worth asking about, they told council.

However, they did say, in one case we promised 40 jobs for $40,000, and delivered.

The calibre of the people involved is obviously swaying this discussion,” Mayor David Henderson said before the committee forwarded a motion to look into the Launch Lab model.

Again, there's no telling where – or if – this will go. There was some muted skeptical chatter around the table, later on, about that thousand-bucks-a-job claim.

But one has to hand it to the incubator gang. They're a persistent lot. And because of their persistence, they now have council's serious attention.

We've come a long way from a “pig in a poke.