Cover Story

Manitoba’s hidden gem: North Forge Technology Exchange steps into the spotlight

Joelle Foster in North Forge’s design space. Photo by Doug Little.

Take your idea—whether it’s for an app, software, or physical product—and make it a reality at Manitoba’s North Forge Technology Exchange where they can help you take your business idea to the next level. With 35,000 square feet spread over multiple  locations—two in Winnipeg and one in Thompson—North Forge works with founders and start-ups to “develop faster, cheaper and more successfully.”

North Forge is an incubator accelerator and a powerhouse entrepreneur community fuelling Manitoba’s innovative science-based, technology-enabled, and advanced manufacturing start-ups. They curate resources to help entrepreneurs solve problems in real-time and reduce the cost and risk of innovation.

Then and now
North Forge was born in 2016, when six organizations with similar visions recognized they were competing with each other for the same funding dollars in the same space. “We began to negotiate how we could amalgamate to work together and have a bigger impact,” says Joelle Foster, North Forge’s president and CEO. “In the end, four organizations came together and North Forge was created.”

Seven years later, North Forge is home to one of North America’s largest fabrication and rapid prototyping facilities (the FabLab™), and the only incubator-accelerator in the country that offers services for both manufacturing and technology. “We just keep growing to serve entrepreneurs here and around the world,” says Foster. “There are so many great opportunities and ideas out there, and our job is to help bring them to market.”

Little things turn into big things
Avery-Anne Gervais has been a member at the North Forge FabLab for over a decade, and proudly calls it the home for her growing business, Maker Mind Toys. She joined the FabLab back when it was still known as Assentworks. “I became a member when I was introduced to it by an instructor in my program at Red River College,” she says. “That was in 2012 and today I feel like I owe North Forge my firstborn due to all the help and support they have given me.”

Gervais launched her company at North Forge in 2019 after making a baby gift that impressed the recipient and many others. “I made a set of wooden baby blocks for my best friend while I was thinking about what I wanted to do for a living after a job loss,” she says. “My membership at North Forge’s FabLab let me take my ideas into prototypes and then into the marketplace.” Now, Gervais sells her wooden toys online around the world.

She credits much of her success to the access to tools, expertise, and support at North Forge. “I was able to test my ideas and create small runs without major costs,” says Gervais. “I would never be able to accomplish what I have without their help. Between the equipment and the people, the experience at North Forge has been invaluable. It has a magical energy that inspires me.”

Gervais doesn’t see failure as a failure at all. “It’s okay to give up on an idea or a business plan. Don’t give up on yourself. Good business ideas and practices aren’t taught in school but learned through experience, mistakes and small wins,” she says.

From mind to reality
While the FabLab focuses on transforming physical products from prototype to commercialization, North Forge also supports science-based or tech-enabled start-ups through their space at the SmartPark Innovation Hub at the University of Manitoba. That’s where budding tech entrepreneurs can examine, develop, and test their ideas with the help of entrepreneurs-in-residence and experienced mentors who guide them through the start-up process.

David Peters spent many years in the province’s construction industry where he thought of the idea to build a fully automated time tracking app for payroll and billing. In October 2022, he launched his company—ConstructionClock—from his home office. “I reconnected with Whitney Moir from North Forge at the 2023 Collision Conference in Toronto and she told me about what North Forge could offer,” he says. “I joined the incubator’s Founders Program in September 2023.”

Now, Peters has his app available for Apple and Android users and is in the third stage (Ascent) of North Forge’s tech incubator program. “We have 10 people in the company and serve 250 companies around the world, and 37 of those are here in Manitoba,” he says. “A & S Homes and Pristine Roofing & Siding were early adopters of our app, and we can’t thank them enough for their support. Plus, the massive support from our mentors at North Forge. Their expertise and networking opportunities are beyond valuable.”

Peters has advice for fledgling tech companies making their way in the world. “Be open to pivoting. What you start with will change. Be okay with adjusting as you validate your ideas. Perfection is not necessary with your minimum viable product. The feedback you receive will be invaluable as you build and test your idea.”

Big things are happening
As North Forge helps entrepreneurs like Gervais and Peters launch their ideas into the marketplace, the team isn’t about to rest on their laurels. North Forge sees the talent and opportunity found in Manitoba and around the world and wants to do more—much more—to build even more momentum for good ideas.

“We started our new Founders Program just three and-a-half years ago as COVID set in,” says Foster. “Between that program and the FabLab, we have worked with over 300 start-ups, created 1,800 jobs, and cultivated $44 million in taxable revenue. And we’re not done yet.”

Now, North Forge has set its sights on attracting tech founders to Manitoba through its Global Entrepreneurship Initiative. The program is designed to entice international entrepreneurs interested in moving and starting a business in Canada and offers on-demand webinars on doing business in Canada, an invitation to join North Forge, access to experts on business, and resources on relocating. “We have signed agreements in Pakistan, Jordan, India and Dubai, and we’re especially focused on women in tech,” says Foster. “So far we have attracted 10 companies and 38 per cent of the founders or co-founders are women, well above the Canadian average of 13 per cent.”

“We are constantly growing and innovating to do more. Achieving success opens doors to additional opportunities and further success. We are helping grow an ecosystem of innovation that is putting Manitoba on the map.”

North Forge is home to a program, ElevateIP. This federally funded program is designed to equip Canadian start-ups with the essential resources and tools to understand, develop, and leverage their intellectual property (IP). North Forge will work with companies in Manitoba and Saskatchewan to help entrepreneurs understand IP while designing and implementing an IP strategy. ElevateIP offers funding of up to $100,000 per start-up for legal fees, with the lawyer of your choice. Learn more at

See what North Forge can do
Whether you have an idea, are a start-up or anything in-between, North Forge can help you navigate through the entrepreneurial journey. The first thing to do is reach out via the website or email and talk to a North Forge expert. “All it takes is talking to us. We want to hear your idea and see how we can support you as you explore it.”

With many growing programs, and two physical locations, North Forge is a gold mine of people, equipment, resources, and support for entrepreneurs in any stage of the start-up journey. “We’re immersed in a vibrant ecosystem of creativity and innovation, and our mission is to fuel its expansion,” says Foster. “Reach out to us and see where your idea can take you.”

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