Regional Innovation Centre Celebrates 10 Years
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography courtesy WEtech Alliance
February 11th, 2021 marks an important milestone for WEtech Alliance, a local Regional Innovation Centre. Ten years ago, the organization was formed with a simple mission: to help grow tech companies of all stages and champion innovation in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent.
“It’s official,” President and CEO Yvonne Pilon states. “We’ve been around for a decade.”
From humble beginnings in a corner office of Next Dimensions’ head office, to their current location inside University of Windsor’s EPICentre, the organization set out to encourage the development and growth of the region’s entrepreneurial talent and tech ecosystem.
Adam Davis, CEO of Next Dimension and Founder and former Member of the Board of Directors, describes the founding of WEtech as the union between several different entrepreneurs and tech companies.
“Stuart Sutton, a customer of mine, approached me with the idea,” Adam explains. “We arranged a meeting between several different companies. Basically, the idea was simple: to grow the tech community in Windsor. Eventually, those conversations accrued into the City of Windsor, the University of Windsor, St. Clair College and others.”
Initially known as Softech Alliance Network (SAN), the Founding WEtech Alliance Board of Directors consisted of Stuart Sutton of Sylectus, Frank Abbruzzese of AlphaKOR Group, Saverio Rinaldi of HP, Ross Rawlings of Radix Inc., Rob Courteaux of Progressive Software and WEtech’s first President and CEO, Karen Behune Plunkett. Other key figures central to the organization’s development include Jane Jantzi and Remi Tosti (Deloitte), Dr. Akshai Aggarwal, Rakesh Naidu, Dean Scarlett of Vista Solutions, Dave Fortin of DataRealm, and many more.
“I think the way that WEtech started is truly emblematic of its core values,” Yvonne states. “All these different peers and competitors put their differences aside, forgot about their individual bottom lines and decided to pool their resources and knowledge together for the betterment of their community. They wanted to create a more welcoming environment for small businesses and young entrepreneurs. And I don’t think that kind of immense generosity could have happened anywhere but Windsor!”
Over the last 10 years, WEtech has helped entrepreneurs find their first desk, their first customer, their first investor, their first international market and even their first employee!
“The mission has always been the same,” Adam states. “To grow the tech community. To help entrepreneurs in that space understand what’s available to them and to help mentor new businesses about how to grow in the region.”
Another of WEtech Alliance’s goals was not just to start and grow exciting new businesses and opportunities, but to retain the amazing talents that Windsor and Essex County has always been a home to.
“One of our other goals was to change people’s perception of Windsor,” Adam explains. “Previously, the idea floating around was that Windsor was a place to get an education and grow a family. There’s always been a brain drain around here, when it comes to IT professionals. There’s the currency exchange across the border. There is the allure of the big city in Toronto. Those regions have great opportunities. But, Windsor does as well!”
“The next big idea could happen here,” Yvonne stresses. “The next tech unicorn could be born here. The next Google. The next Amazon. We have to make sure that we have the right kind of environment, the right kind of infrastructure in place, to support, encourage and welcome those ideas.”
“There are a lot of manufacturing companies and IT companies in Windsor,” Adam explains. “I’ve also seen a lot of IT companies that have become manufacturers.
Nowadays, with the Internet of Things (IoT) and the way manufacturing has become IT dependent, our goal was to stop losing people to other communities. And the people that are here now know that there are opportunities in IT – and not just junior roles either!”
“There’s a lot going on here,” CEO and President of AlphaKOR Group and former Member of the Board of Directors Frank Abbruzzese states. “We have a lot to offer in this region.”
And over the last 10 years, Windsor has already become a much more dynamic and cutting-edge environment.
“We certainly have grown,” Adam states. “Government funding has helped a lot. But ultimately, Yvonne has been great! She makes sure that we stick to our goals and our mandates. She’s firmly dedicated to educating the region about the role for tech and how it should be one of the focus areas for the city and the rest of the community.”
WEtech Alliance has launched a number of programs over the last 10 years, including:
DeskUP—a program that provides enterprising university and college graduates a subsidized office space worth $200/month for one year at The Accelerator and other amazing tools. The program was launched in partnership with the Ontario Trillium Network.
Nerd Olympics—an annual event that brings together the Windsor-Essex tech community in a fun, team-building competition to challenge the mind & body. Sixteen local Tech Company Teams compete in a series of six events and two Community Challenges. The top three winners in each event receiving a 3D printed medal.
Last year, the event was named a 2020 Technology Councils of North America Innovations Award Finalist in the “Major Impact on Tech Community” category.
Tech in the City—a podcast hosted by Yvonne.
WEtech is also a founding member of MedHealth—an event that gathers innovators, providers, payers, funders, health systems, economic developers and businesses to accelerate innovative solutions that will improve quality of medical care in Southeast Michigan and Southwest Ontario.
“WEtech has accomplished so many great things,” Adam explains. “I’m so proud of what the organization has done. At one point, when it first launched, the option was either to fund it or let it fall apart. So, I personally funded it for a small period of time when there was no funding available for staff. I’m proud to have seen how much work Yvonne and the team put into WEtech during those early days. She—and so many board members and volunteers—grew the organization into what it is today.”
“I’ve been in the tech industry 33 years this April,” Frank states. “WEtech was, for me, very exciting to be a part of from the ground up. I’m very proud of what it’s turned into today. And I’m grateful because I still feel like a part of the WEtech team and family.”
And, after many years of dedicated service to the community, on February 8th, 2021, WEtech—along with a dozen other delegates—was invited to speak at the City of Windsor’s Special Council Meeting to review and discuss the Windsor Works Economic Development Strategy.
Yvonne’s remarks at the event stressed both the resiliency of Windsor and Essex County and the increased need for connectivity.
“The successful implementation of the Windsor Works strategy is dependent on collaboration at every level,” Yvonne stresses. “Partnerships among Windsor businesses, civic leaders, and taxpayers will set us up for the next 20 years of growth. The future economy requires a more connected approach.”
More information about WEtech is available at wetech-alliance.com.