Discovering WEtech Alliance’s Impact Through Storytelling and Networking
“I just got hired by WEtech Alliance!”
“Oh congratulations, I’ve heard such great things about them! Wait…what do they do there?”
“Umm…I’m not 100% sure.”
That was the actual conversation I had with my best friend upon receiving my Offer of Employment from WEtech Alliance last September.
I had been working with the Marketing team for the past several months in a freelance capacity; interviewing clients and sharing the successes and challenges of their entrepreneurial journeys. While I understood that WEtech assisted founders in growing their business, I wasn’t exactly sure how or why. All I knew was that they seemed like a lovely group of people I wanted to work with. This place had a good vibe, and I wanted to be a part of it.
A quick check of the “Who We Are” section of their website gave me a little more insight to their raison d’etre:
“WEtech Alliance’s Mission is to help grow innovation and tech-based companies of all stages, and champion tech and innovation in Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent.”
Hmm, ok. Pretty straightforward.
“WEtech Alliance’s Vision is to play a lead role in developing a sustainable and diverse economy that attracts and retains top talent, business and investment. We will work together with partners to build a region that supports innovative businesses from Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent and around the world to grow locally and scale globally.”
Through my orientation, I learned that as one of seventeen Regional Innovation Centres in Ontario, WEtech provides entrepreneurs access to a wide array of business advisory programs, funding opportunities, and an extensive network of mentors and resources that can help fuel a company’s growth.
While all this sounded great on paper, it wasn’t until I actually immersed myself in the culture of the organization and spoke with some of their clients that I began to fully understand the impact of the assistance WEtech provides the local business community.
When innovation and sustainability collide
I was brought on in a part-time capacity as Content Creator & Digital Host, specifically to share stories from the first cohort of the newly launched i.d.e.a. Fund; a southwestern Ontario-focused initiative that provides seed funding to early-stage innovative businesses looking to develop new green products, services, processes, and technologies.
These “green” projects weren’t your stereotypical solar panels and electric cars. As I began interviewing some of the funding recipients, I was absolutely blown away by the ground-breaking concepts these founders had come up with right in our own backyard. Automated urban farming. High end, designer patio furniture made from recycled plastics. Biodegradable medical supplies. Sustainable menstruation products. A company literally sending bugs to outer space (they actually use AI to solve supply chain and food insecurity issues. With crickets. Sounds weird, but it’s super cool.)
With the fund’s $30,000 grant and 40 hours of mentorship with WEtech’s panel of experts, these companies were literally creating the products of tomorrow, today. In our city. In Ontario. Wow.
The personal stories of these entrepreneurs were truly inspiring, too; everything from new Canadians bootstrapping their company to young parents following their dreams while trying to raise a family and keep a roof over their heads. Their grit and determination absolutely blew my mind, and time and time again I would hear from them: “Without i.d.e.a. Fund, I wouldn’t be here,” and “WEtech has given me the guidance to scale my business.”
Ok, now I’m getting it, I thought. I felt like I was truly grasping just how critical a role WEtech plays in getting these projects off the ground.
In between i.d.e.a. Fund interviews and stories, I also began attending some of the many networking opportunities WEtech Alliance hosts throughout the year, including a Women in Mobility Summit at Caesars Windsor and several Innovation Outpost events; a partnership program with Libro Credit Union that supports rural entrepreneurs by using community spaces to connect the people behind local startups and businesses.
Each of these experiences felt truly unique and offered attendees something different each time. I was in awe of WEtech’s Event Coordinator, Lauryn, and her creativity. There was “The Big Cheese of E-Commerce” hosted at The Cheese Bar in Amherstburg, featuring a dynamic guest speaker sharing her experience with creating an online platform for her small business. And of course, there was cheese.
Jen taking story notes while Katie Stokes, Founder of Blab Media and Co-Owner of Whiskeyjack Boutique, talks e-commerce strategy at the Innovation Outpost event @ That Cheese Place in Amherstburg.
There was an open mic night at an apple orchard in Lakeshore where entrepreneurs got to share their stories of triumph and failure. Not a dry eye in the house after that one. There was even a paddle boarding night with the theme of “Keeping Your Brand Afloat.” So exciting.
The thought and planning that went into these Innovation Outpost events was truly remarkable. Not only were they fun, interactive experiences that gave entrepreneurs a chance to mingle, they also provided great takeaways and valuable information and resources.
As the months rolled on and I really understood WEtech’s role in our business community, I knew I wanted to be a bigger part of the organization. When I started, I wasn’t sure how I’d fit in coming from a “non-tech” background, but I quickly learned that what they do is so much more than ‘techy” things. I could definitely see myself sticking around.
As the WEtech team continued to grow, I learned of an opportunity for a full-time position opening up this spring: Manager of Events and Community Programs. With my community connections and my previous experience in radio promotions and events, I felt like I was a good fit for the role.
It turns out, the rest of the team agreed. As of May 1st, I am the new fulltime WEtech Alliance Manager of Events and Community Programs and man am I stoked. My brain is already racing with ideas for cool Outpost locations; I’m looking forward to taking up the mantle and building upon the incredible blueprint Lauryn created. Stay tuned; we will be announcing our first 2023 Innovation Outpost event soon.
Now, after nine months with the organization, when people ask me what WEtech does, I can tell them from firsthand experience. WEtech fosters dreams. We cheer on founders when they need it most. We make key connections and build relationships and open doors. We host amazing networking events.
Most of all, we CARE. When our clients win, we do a little happy dance and when they hit a roadblock, we’re there to help them re-evaluate and push forward.
We also do some tech stuff too…more on that once I figure out what it is.
Jennifer Brignall-Strong is WEtech Alliance’s Manager of Events and Community Programs. Her media career spans over 15 years, with experience in marketing, promotions, copywriting, and radio production. Jen’s work has been featured in multiple local publications, including The DRIVE Magazine and Windsor Body. As an active member of the community, Jen also volunteers her time as a member of the Board of Directors for the Sexual Assault Crisis Centre. She is also a regular contributor to AM800 CKLW and Tourism Windsor-Essex and runs Tailgate Takeout; a local food blog showcasing the best places to eat and explore in YQG. Through her work, she hopes to showcase the region as an amazing place to work, play, and live