Karen K. Ho
The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 21, 2016 5:26PM EDT
Kitchener-Waterloo is set to get a large new innovation complex specifically aimed at new hardware companies and exceeding the size of a pioneer facility in Shenzhen, China.
The 475,000-square-foot project, named Catalyst137 after its Kitchener address on Glasgow Street, was announced on Tuesday by Frank Voisin, president of real estate investment firm Voisin Capital, and Miovision Technologies chief executive Kurtis McBride.
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Tech firm Miovision, which specializes in the collection and analysis of traffic data, is currently located in Kitchener, Ont. Mr. McBride said the idea for the almost five-hectare building started when his company went to its 120 employees for ideas on where they should move and the amenities they’d like in their new space.
“They gave me a laundry list of items for a building that didn’t exist,” he said.
Last year, the company secured $30-million in funding by a group of investors led by the Canadian merchant bank MacKinnon, Bennett & Co.
Among the key things Miovision employees and Mr. McBride wanted: a central location close to Google Canada’s offices, a space that would allow for both production and sales, room for parking, as well as easy access to transit. These ideas led to a meeting between Mr. McBride and Mr. Voisin and eventually the discovery of the vacant warehouse in the city’s Innovation District.
The $55-million in estimated costs for the project include the modernization of the building’s electrical and mechanical envelope, construction of new loading bays and parking lots, equipment purchases for a shared manufacturing space as well as the installation of hundreds of “hackable” sensors built into surfaces and the nearby streetscape.
“[We’re going] to convert it from a barely heated and not air-conditioned tire-storage facility into something that today’s tech workers are going to be comfortable in and enjoy,” Mr. McBride said.
In addition to spaces specifically designed to attract companies specializing in contract manufacturing, radio frequency testing and certification, as well as IT law, the building will feature gathering spaces for group and community events, and related retail, physical testing and rapid prototype equipment.
While the region is currently home to many technology startups, including new graduates from incubator programs at the University of Waterloo, Mr. McBride and Mr. Voisin said Catalyst137 is specifically intended to draw in companies from the area’s existing hardware development community.
Aside from Miovision’s main occupancy in the building, office spaces will range from 3,000 to 50,000 square feet. Construction is expected to be completed in the summer of 2017.
Mr. McBride and Mr. Voisin said the size of Catalyst137 will make it bigger than HAX, a hardware accelerator located in Shenzhen and San Francisco that was founded in 2011.
The project’s capital partner is Osmington Inc., the developer and owner of MTS Centre, where the Winnipeg Jets play. The company is also leading the redevelopment of Toronto’s Union Station.
With files from Shane Dingman