KITCHENER, Ont. – The University of Waterloo’s Velocity centre will become the largest free startup incubator in North America with an expansion made possible by the largesse of Google.
The U.S. tech giant and its 350 employees in Kitchener-Waterloo has moved into new quarters, freeing up space in the old Lang Tannery building in downtown Kitchener.
Google is subleasing that office area, along with furniture and equipment for the next three years, with an option to extend to Velocity and Communitech, a community-based group that helps local tech companies grow.
Google is not releasing the terms of the deal, but Velocity estimated the benefit at $1.5 million for an additional 29,000 square feet. That brings the organization’s space to a total of 36,000 square feet.
Velocity, which runs programs both on and off campus, focuses on helping students and alumni develop and commercialize their ideas.
Since 2008, it has helped 160 companies who have raised $250 million and created 800 jobs.
But success means Velocity has been running out of space, with software companies in the Velocity Garage in the Lang Tannery building, and hardware and life sciences firms in another location, one block away, known as the Velocity Foundry.
“As great as the Velocity Foundry has been, it’s difficult to have half of our teams a block a way,” said Mike Kirkup (pictured), director of the Velocity program.
This move will bring 70 current companies under one roof, making natural collaborations and the sharing of ideas possible with help from Communitech, said Kirkup.
In addition, the incubator can grow to house as many as 120 companies.
“We are about to do this at a scale that no one has ever done before,” he said. “We do everything free of charge. We take no equity, no intellectual property, no cash to be in the program.”
There’s no rent for the space, though companies can be asked to leave if they are not performing. Companies can stay for up to two years.
Velocity also offers extensive entrepreneurship programming on campus, along with a residence for entrepreneurs, a dedicated science lab, business workshops, and a pitch competition that awards $375,000 in non-equity grants a year.
The expansion of the Velocity Garage is enabled by a partnership between Velocity, Communitech, and Google, as well as a gift of furniture and equipment from the tech company.
“Thanks to our ongoing partnership with Google and Communitech, the Velocity startup community will benefit from more space, equipment, and opportunities for mentorship,” notes Kirkup. “We are also partnering with University of Waterloo Athletics to build a fitness room with treadmills, bikes, weights, and more.”
Renovations begin for the expansion in December 2015 or January 2016, and the goal is to have the space completed by May 2016.
At this point, Velocity will be the largest free startup incubator in North America.
Velocity is funded by the University of Waterloo, the Provincial and Federal governments, and the generous donations from past Velocity companies. It receives limited sponsorship and is seeking assistance from the City of Kitchener and Waterloo; it is also pursuing funding from relevant grant programs.
The target audience is UWaterloo students and alumni, but in exceptional cases, the organization will take companies from outside this ecosystem.