Exchanging Words with North Forge

Exchanging Words is an ongoing series of conversations with the people behind the places in the Exchange District. If you would like to be featured, please email with “Exchanging Words” in the subject line.

The Exchange District is home to many successful business owners who have realized their personal goals and dreams.  But it’s also home to many potential business owners and entrepreneurs who are about to have their big “ah ha” moment. The team at North Forge (made up of the people behind The Eureka Project, AssentWorks, Ramp Up and the Startup Winnipeg program) offers an environment where entrepreneurs can be mentored through those important first steps between idea and funding, and beyond.

“Some people will come in, they may have a business and want to see how we can help,” says North Forge Office Manager and Executive Assistant Emelia Nyarku. “We have our Fabrication Lab where if you want to make a prototype we can help there. Also, here at 321 McDermot, some people are inquiring about office space and some people are looking to get involved in the Startup program, where we can pair you with world class mentors.”

To accommodate the flood of Winnipeg creatives, North Forge is growing – fast. Not only does the idea factory have over 100 members and a staff of over 40, but it operates out of multiple offices: its main Exchange office at 321 McDermot, its Smartpark Office on Innovation Drive, its Fabrication Lab at 125 Adelaide Street and the recently opened North Forge East in Pinawa.

The Fabrication Lab – the largest of its kind in North America – offers students, hobbyists and established business owners the chance to work hands-on with world class equipment and mentors.

“We’re getting lots of requests from people now who have an idea of something they want made,” Nyarku says. “They might not know how to do it but we’ll send that request onto our members who might be able to provide a suggestion.”

Those unsure about membership are welcome to training with 3D printing and laser cutting.

“That way you can see if it’s something you want to pursue, and there’s less of a delay in you becoming a member,” she says. “We do want our members to have training for our equipment, as well as for safety for themselves.”

Another way to get involved in the North Forge world is the Ramp Up Weekend, taking place June 9-11 at 321 McDermot. Now in its 10th iteration, this pitch competition is a way for creatives to put their heads together and spend the weekend cranking out something that could potentially be a life-changing business idea. The beauty of it is? You don’t need to have an idea to sign up.

“It’s gonna be exciting,” Nyarku says of the event, which takes place over 55 hours, and breaks down as such: Participants come together and pitch ideas, and as a group, they decide which ideas move forward. These ideas are then posted on a wall, and participants place sticky notes where they feel the best ideas are. The teams are formed by those who gravitate to certain concepts.

Over the weekend, teams work on their business idea, get market validation, run out to the mall to get surveys done, and work to build their minimum viable product, which they’ll pitch to a panel of judges.

“There’s some great prizes including everything you’ll need to get your business started, from legal services to financial assistance,” says Nyarku. “We have a variety of partners willing to assist us, from web services to branding – so part of the prizing is that you have everything you need to move that business forward.”

One of the many ideas that has come out of the Ramp Up Weekend is Permission Click – an online solution to students misplacing or damaging permission slips.

“I remember when I started at North Forge in 2014, Permission Click co-founder Chris Johnson was working at the co-working space at 125 Adelaide Street, and eventually they moved here to 321 McDermot Avenue, where they’d taken up all the back offices. Now they’re at 88 Adelaide Street and they have the full building. Permission Click is thriving, they may be on their second round of funding. They’ve been doing amazing.”

If hearing about the success of Permission Click gets your creative juices flowing, then the Ramp Up Weekend might just be the kick start your next big idea needs.

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