Gary Goodyear, minister of state for FedDev Ontario Demos Deep Trekker ROV
Amanda Coulas | January 20, 2015
WATERLOO REGION, The Record — When Sam Macdonald and Jeff Lotz launched a portable, versatile and affordable underwater vehicle four years ago, they figured it would just be a cool gadget for people who liked exploring shipwrecks along the Great Lakes.
But today, their company, Deep Trekker, has a market that is much bigger than just shipwreck exploration.
The remotely operated vehicles are sold in 47 countries, for all kinds of applications, including aquaculture, police department search-and-rescue missions, oil and gas exploration and environmental research projects. It employs 13 people and is hiring more at the facility in Ayr.
The new markets opened up to Deep Trekker after it became part of a program called JumpStart that was launched last year.
The mentorship and business acceleration program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) gave the company the boost it needed to attend trade shows and start selling the little submersible to a wider audience.
"The markets really opened up to us because of that funding," Macdonald said Thursday at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, where it was announced that JumpStart is getting a huge funding boost.
Gary Goodyear, minister of state for FedDev Ontario, said the program will be getting to $8 million over the next four years, up substantially from the $945,000 announced when it was a pilot project a year ago.
Last year, about 30 companies, including Deep Trekker, were selected for the program through the Accelerator Centre. About 212 jobs have since been created by those 30 companies, which are generating $3.1 million in revenue.
Now, with the funding boost, as many as 180 startups, or about 45 companies a year, will go through the program over the next four years and create as many as 700 jobs.
Meanwhile, other institutions, including the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College, will be involved as delivery partners along with the Accelerator Centre.
The selected companies in JumpStart will get up to $30,000 in seed financing and up to $10,000 for mentoring, market research and validation, and about 10 per cent of administration costs.
Paul Salvini, chief executive of the Accelerator Centre, said the program will help meet the needs of the growing number of new technology companies in Waterloo Region.
"This will allow us to extend our reach, not only within this facility but also into the community," he said. "We want to create a strong foundation for our participants, and we are looking for companies that consistently innovate, create new products, attract customers, create jobs and grow economic value."
Some of this year's JumpStart recipients will be announced at an event in the spring.
Lotz developed the submersible technology for Deep Trekker when he was at Conestoga College some 10 years before the company was launched. Macdonald, who had an interest in exploring shipwrecks and a background in factory automation, convinced him to work on a more portable version that could be commercialized.
When someone from Norway contacted them and wanted to sell Deep Trekker as a tool for fish farms, they realized there could be a far bigger market.
With the help of JumpStart, Macdonald and her team went to a big trade show in New Orleans attended by competitors who are making millions selling underwater exploration tools to big oil companies.
Macdonald said she was nervous, wondering if the little Deep Trekker submersible would be laughed out of the room. But the opposite happened. People told her it was about time someone developed an innovative remotely operated vehicle for underwater exploration and made it more affordable.
"We sold into five more countries at that show," she said.
The money for JumpStart comes from FedDev Ontario's investing in business initiative.
On Thursday, Goodyear also toured eSentire, a Cambridge-based internet security technology company that got $987,500 through that initiative in 2011 and has added more than 100 employees since then.
JumpStart will help very young technology companies get products, processes and services into new markets and generate new job opportunities in the region, Goodyear said. Kitchener-Waterloo MP Peter Braid added that FedDev Ontario has invested more than $100 million in Waterloo Region.
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