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The Review

The power of local: How Innisfil is fuelling economic growth and retaining top talent

Growth

How one small town is paving the way for sustainable regional growth


Innovation and entrepreneurship are not just buzzwords, they are the driving forces behind economic growth and opportunity. While big urban cities have been the traditional hotspot for startups to thrive, the notion of a startup hotbed being limited to bustling metropolitan centers is rapidly changing. Now, rural communities across Canada are demonstrating that they, too, have the potential to cultivate successful businesses and retain top talent.

Jelmer Stegink, Program Director of DMZ Innisfil, at DMZ Innisfil office.

Take Innisfil, Ontario, as the perfect example — a small town in Canada that faced the challenge of 82% of its residents leaving town for work every day. The town’s Mayor, Lynn Dollin, and her team recognized the need to create and support the jobs of tomorrow right in their own backyard. “Prior to the pandemic there was this misconception that founders needed to live and work in the GTA in order to tap into innovative resources, peers and programming,” says Mayor Lynn Dollin. “So in rural communities like ours, residents felt they had to spend hours in traffic to drive to a congested City to do their business.”

Enter Innisfil’s partnership with DMZ, the world’s leading startup incubator. Since its launch in 2020, DMZ Innisfil has successfully supported more than 35 local entrepreneurs to develop and grow their businesses, raising $10M in growth capital through DMZ programming and generating $1M+ in revenue.

But the real story here is how Innisfil has embraced entrepreneurship and innovation. By investing in programming to help business owners thrive, Innisfil has set a benchmark for how rural Canadian towns can encourage citizens to advance their local economy while creating the future they want in their hometown.

 “Through delivery of the DMZ Innisfil program over the past few years we’ve been able to demonstrate that innovation is a mindset, not a geography, and rural areas have just as much creativity and ambition as our urban counterparts,” says Dollin. “By bringing together like-minded entrepreneurs through DMZ Innisfil programming and events we’ve seen local founders flourish, enjoying better life work balance by the lake all while accessing world-class mentorship and support.”

The power of collaboration and support cannot be underestimated. One shining example of this synergy is the incredible success story of Fractional SaaS, a dynamic startup that found its footing with the invaluable assistance of DMZ Innisfil.

For founder Andrew Rains, the decision to move to Innisfil in 2018 was driven by a desire to seize emerging opportunities and raise a family. Little did he know that this small town was on the brink of an entrepreneurship revolution. 

When the pandemic struck, the Town of Innisfil faced a myriad of issues that demanded innovative solutions. DMZ, in partnership with the Town of Innisfil, launched a competition to address these challenges brought on by COVID restrictions. Fractional SaaS rose to the occasion by submitting a successful operations management solution in response to the Town’s call for better boat management at their marinas. This milestone became a turning point for Fractional SaaS., as it not only showcased their capabilities but also provided an opportunity to make a meaningful impact within the local community.

Fractional SaaS revolutionized marina operations in Innisfil, earning acclaim from the Town for their impactful solutions. They have expanded their services to other municipalities, positioning themselves as trusted partners for local governments. With DMZ Innisfil’s ongoing support, Fractional SaaS is poised for even greater accomplishments, connecting their team with the right people at the right time.

Fractional SaaS’s success story exemplifies the power of collaboration, with DMZ Innisfil playing a pivotal role in their journey as they continue to make a lasting impact, propelling innovation and community empowerment for different rural regions. 

 “Rural communities have become fertile ground for entrepreneurial growth. The notion that thriving innovation ecosystems are exclusive to major cities is now a thing of the past. Through my journey with Fractional SaaS, I’ve witnessed firsthand the hunger and the untapped potential in these communities. With the invaluable networks, resources, tools, and connections provided by DMZ Innisfil, startups are empowered to thrive and succeed!” –  Andrew Rains, Co-Founder of Fractional SaaS. 

Fractional SaaS is just one success story out of many. DMZ Innisfil is proud to welcome their most recent cohort of innovative businesses: What’s For Dinner Today, Behind Every Home Inc. o/a siikafoods, Directline Telecommunications, NewRidge Refinishing Group, Innisfil BJJ, MuniPaaS, NT Temps, Moon Cafe and Craft Beer, Roof Rejuvenation, Local Plumbing & Drains, Innisfil Wellness, and DriVR Academy.

Innisfil’s success shows that entrepreneurs no longer need to leave their hometowns to build successful businesses. Through their partnership with DMZ, they have developed tailored, localized entrepreneurship programming with a global mindset.

Check out just a few ways DMZ Innisfil is delivering big city resources to their town:  

  • Community: A vibrant community of like-minded entrepreneurs and business pros where you’ll feel right at home 
  • Mentorship: Expert guidance and support from Experts-in-Residence, an in-house legal team, and a network of peers who are driven to succeed
  • Fundraising: Connect with investors, unlock exclusive grants and get the chance to pitch at high-profile events like Collision.
  • International connections: Plug into DMZ’s global network of incubators in 10+ countries around the world for resources and introductions in new markets.  

Rural municipalities are often focused on building strong and vibrant communities that provide opportunities for growth and development while retaining the best and brightest talent. Recognizing this, DMZ champions municipalities by working with them to design tailored business support programming, empowering them to help their community capitalize on global resources while focusing on local economic growth.

The story of Innisfil’s success is a reminder that great ideas can come from anywhere and that the future of entrepreneurship is not limited to large urban centers. 

If you’re a municipal leader looking to empower your small business owners with the tools and connections to become world-class ventures while staying integrated within your local communities, DMZ is here to help. We’re committed to bringing innovation and entrepreneurship to all corners of Canada.

Applications for DMZ Innisfil’s Startup Incubator program close on July 21, 2023. Don’t wait – apply here. Interested in learning more? You can find out more about DMZ Innisfil here and more about the DMZ here.