Hamilton collaboration aims to Forge young startups

Sina Afshani watched his aunt struggling to help his ailing grandmother out of a chair. His aunt urged Afshani, a graduate of industrial design, to make something that could help.

So he did.

The result is Blue Orchid, a simple device that uses a caregiver’s own weight and movement to bring a patient to his or her feet.

After 200 prototypes, Afshani is ready for the next stage and the newly opened The Forge at McMaster Innovation Park is helping him get there.

The Forge is a collaboration between McMaster University and the Innovation Factory. It will provide six months of business training, mentoring, links to expert advice and service providers, access to rapid prototyping equipment and incubation space to high-potential ventures led by entrepreneurs between the ages of 18 and 29.

They do not need to be affiliated with McMaster or any other post-secondary institution to apply to The Forge.

“This is open to all growth-oriented enterprises that are aimed at creating jobs and better lives,” said Glen Crossley, a business development advisor at the McMaster Industry Liaison Office.

The province contributed more than $1 million through its Campus Linked Accelerator program. The accelerator will start formally taking in clients in January but has been testing the space and its approach with eight startups.

The Forge has provided plenty of guidance, says Afshani, who is a student in Mac’s masters of engineering, entrepreneurship and innovation program. He has managed to raise $100,000 in seed funding for his concept.

“Being here makes it all feel more real. You start to feel like a real company. It psychologically helps.”

David Carter, executive director of Innovation Factory, says similar accelerators at the University of Waterloo and elsewhere feed “healthy competition and co-operation” and weekly meetings with mentors mean participants set the bar higher for themselves.

“For some, it’s a good dose of reality. For others, it is easier to work hard when others are watching you.”

Other startups occupying The Forge space include: Q Reserve, a database of researchers, equipment and lab facilities at universities and research institutes; Serenity, an ultrasound-equipped cane and vibrational navigation belt for the visually impaired; and Start the Cycle, a bike library system for disadvantaged youth.

“We wouldn’t have an organization with The Forge,” said Charles Burke, a PhD student in the university’s transportation studies program. “We were working out of the basement of a McMaster library that’s seen better days. This gave us a real place to meet potential partners.”

See the full article at the Hamilton Spectator.

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