Communitech data hub in Waterloo gets the green light

Communitech, a local startup focused tech hub, received funding from the City of Waterloo to open a new data focused office in Uptown Waterloo. The new hub is set to be one of five IBM Innovator Incubators in Ontario.

Communitech hub out of old Waterloo Police station will receive more than $600,000 from the city

Communitech's current offices in Kitchener run programs for technology startups and small businesses, and has brought the offices of 65 new companies to the city. (Amanda Grant/CBC News)

Kitchener tech hub Communitech is laying down roots in Waterloo, beginning the development of the city's 'Data District.'

The City of Waterloo voted Monday night to invest $680,000 dollars in the data hub to get it off the ground. The hub would function as one of five provincial technology development sites for the IBM Innovator Incubator program.

"What we're going to do is bring Communitech up to Waterloo and the focus there is urban employment – to grow the urban employment, to make sure we have live, work, play going on in uptown Waterloo to make sure it's very vibrant once we're done the LRT construction," Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky said Tuesday morning.

The money is "less than the cost of a good skateboard park, so it's a very modest investment but it is a key investment," he added.

The new 19,000 square foot facility would re-purpose the former police station on Erb St., and Jaworsky said the city will make back some of its investment through property taxes.

'Catalyst investment' from city

When Communitech launched in Kitchener in 2010, the city provided $500,000 in seed money to the company, and has followed up with re-investments adding up to $800,000 and a further $13-million dollar investment to support student and alumni startups.

Since it's creation, the Communitech Hub has engaged tech companies, partners, and academic institutions in programming that aims to "accelerate the commercialisation of tech" they stated in a document to Waterloo City Council.

The funding from the city will drain the city's economic development reserve fund, but Jaworsky said he feels it's worth it believing it will spur others to take notice of the hub.

"What we're going to find is major corporations who have lots of data are going to be attracted to this site and want to invest in it and invest in startups and that's really why we're doing this catalyst investment," he said.

Building on success

Communitech's current office in at the Tannery in Kitchener hosts more than 50 employees.
The self-described 'micro-ecosystem' has proven successful in Kitchener, hosting almost 150 events in the last two years, and attracting more than $890 million dollars in investment capital for clients since 2009.

It's changed the face of downtown Kitchener, bringing the 'Innovation District' into the city, and attracting 65 new companies to the city.

The development of a Communitech Hub in Waterloo would ideally see the same positive results, with a slightly different focus.

The new data hub would offer programs for startups driven by data, and be home to Canada's Open Data Exchange. The ODX would help to connect those who need data with those who have it, and develop tools to share data.

Data, the ODX website states, has real economic value. The creation of a network that simplifies and enhances access to open data in Canada can increase the competitive advantage for Canadian companies.

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