A champion of small business, Conexus Credit Union has as strong track record of having been a part of starting some of Saskatchewan’s most innovative, creative, and fastest-growing agri-value businesses. Eric Dillon, CEO of Conexus, has plans to support new businesses in Regina in some inventive new ways.
Looking at other markets, Dillon found other local economies were having more success than Regina was in starting micro-sized, startup businesses. He wanted to find a way to change that. Conexus began exploring the idea of a business incubator to serve as a catalyst that would nurture a startup business culture in Regina.
Dillon considered some important attributes an organization would have to possess to make the incubator successful: connections with government, academics, the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and startup founders. He pondered as to which organization would be well-positioned in Regina to head this incubator.
“We had a bit of an aha! moment internally where we realized, actually: that was us,” recalls Dillon.
Conexus went to their board with a business plan around the idea for the Regina incubator, and it was unanimously supported. They’re aiming to pilot the project later this spring.
What Does an Incubator Look Like?
The roots of Regina’s business incubator look a lot like the entrepreneurial spirit of city; it’s self-created, with a one-of-a-kind approach that is fueled by community interest.
The project is built to conceptualize, collaborate, and accelerate depending on which stage a given startup idea is at.
Founders with business ideas will come together in a shared space where they can discuss their current ideas with other founders who are at the same stage while having access to a wide variety of resources, creating a collaborative environment.
This opportunity to collaborate with different industries will help emerging businesses within the agri-value sector. “We do think there’s value in colliding the ideas that emerge in agriculture, in technology, and in plant-protein with other businesses that could perhaps complement each other,” says Dillon. “Because we’re such a small business community, we think there’s a real opportunity to do that different than other communities.”
For ideas beyond the ideation stage, have perhaps piloted a product or service and are looking to commercialize, the incubator is looking to provide ‘accelerator programming’ that would dedicate a 10 week focused curriculum to accelerate the success of the business.
A fund for startups
Conexus is also exploring the idea of a venture capital fund, or a “Saskatchewan fund” to sit alongside the incubator so that ideas that have real promise could access very early stage financing from the community to support the growth of their great business idea.
“We believe that there is a gap in startup funding, for founders and entrepreneurs,” Dillon says. “So, we’re in the process right now of building a venture capital fund where Conexus is prepared to invest some money.”
This venture capital fund, through Conexus’ Credential Asset Management Inc., would offer investors the opportunity to allocate an amount of assets into budding Saskatchewan businesses. “They could invest in higher growth, higher opportunity Saskatchewan companies that are born, and bred, and grown right here in the province,” he explains. “This is how we see we could connect Saskatchewan residents with the opportunity to invest in Saskatchewan startups as part of their retirement mix.”
The Regina community will be able to do what they do best—support their local movers and shakers. This fund will also create value in plant-based protein industry.
“We expect fully, given the economy that we work, live, and raise our families in, that there would be lots of ideas that emerge that are either related to agriculture, agri-value, or technology and agriculture coupled together,” Dillon says. “If there’s great startup ideas that emerge that are in the agri-value sector, we would be anxious to support those with programming, mentorship, or early-stage funding.”
Thriving in Regina
Alongside these new initiatives that Conexus is creating, Dillon sees lots of promise for a thriving business community in Regina.
“While [Regina’s] history has maybe not been the place to start your small business,” reflects Dillon, “I think it's rapidly changing. If we fast forward five years, I think it will be a place where people are coming to to start their small business.”
“We think the things we’re doing today, while they might seem wildly innovative and creative, we would argue is just a next-generation way of supporting businesses for the next 80 years, much like we have for the last 80 years,” he says.
“It’s just a 20/20 version.”
Learn how Regina is seizing the opportunity to be the center of plant-based food processing in Canada. We’re eager to support every part of the supply chain to help meet growing global needs, and help feed the world.