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Empowering Innovators: Inside North Forge Technology Exchange

Do you know there is a heritage building on William Street that houses a cutting-edge advanced manufacturing facility? North Forge Technology Exchange, one of North America’s largest fabrication and rapid prototyping facilities, is creating community and possibility for innovators and small businesses in the heart of the Exchange District.

North Forge Technology Exchange is a non-profit incubator accelerator that supports start-ups and entrepreneurs in technology, STEM, and advanced manufacturing. Their mission is to bolster Manitoba’s innovation economy by providing founders mentorship, coaching, and a specialized Founders Program. “At North Forge, we recognize that the journey from concept to market is challenging. Our goal is to create an ecosystem where innovation thrives, and ideas are transformed into successful ventures. ,” says Partnerships and Communications Director Whitney Moir.

North Forge started as an idea in 2015 when a few organizations offering complementary services formed a powerful collective. The Fabrication Lab (FabLab™) was formerly AssentWorks, a volunteer program primarily serving start-ups since 2011. They combined forces with RampUp Weekend, Startup Winnipeg, and Eureka Project to create North Forge Technology Exchange as it’s known today.

“At North Forge, we recognize that the journey from concept to market is challenging. Our goal is to create an ecosystem where innovation thrives, and ideas are transformed into successful ventures.” - Partnerships and Communications Director Whitney Moir

Since those early days, North Forge has grown into a unique organization fuelled by community and innovation. After establishing its foundation at the impressive FabLab in the Exchange, North Forge expanded to include a co-working space and innovation hub at the University of Manitoba SmartPark. They have increased their programming, offering their Founders Program, a Start-Up Visa Program, WiLab, and ElevateIP. Growth continues to be a priority as they build on their roots in the Exchange.

The FabLab at North Forge houses four million dollars worth of prototyping equipment to help innovators and small businesses rapidly prototype their ideas. Think top-of-the-line 3D printers, woodworking, metalworking equipment, a laser room, an electronics lab, and so much more. The FabLab is constantly evolving and expanding to support its members, who can request new equipment or services. Ever-agile, they recently expanded their offerings to include online programming, allowing them to support creators from more remote locations in Northern Manitoba, across Canada, or internationally. They’ve built a strong community through the services they provide to their members.

Community is a core value at North Forge, which functions similarly to a co-operative. There is a volunteer-led full member council, a practice that came from its beginnings as the volunteer-run AssentWorks organization. That legacy of collaboration lives on at North Forge today, as they encourage community between their members and provide the space to cultivate it.  Operating as a start-up or solo entrepreneur can be lonely, and membership at North Forge is an answer to combat that isolation. Members offer support to one another via an informal buddy system, on Slack channels, by helping new members use equipment, and in those everyday moments when you need an ear to bounce ideas off of. As Whitney puts it, North Forge is “here to be a guide and support system, providing the tools to help members get where they need to go,” and they do so not only through their programs but in the community they facilitate.

A further support North Forge offers is the Makers Market, where FabLab Members can prototype their ideas, create them in the FabLab, and sell them commission-free at the Makers Market, all within the same location. This hyper-local experience allows customers to shop innovative products at the exact location where they were made, oftentimes getting the chance to meet and chat with the makers and even see the means of production. Inside the Makers Market, you’ll find a wide breadth of products, like Kona Woodcraft, which makes charcuterie boards and refurbished woodworks, Makermind Toys, Win-Shield Devices, Block Therapy, Fehr Forgeworks, and more.

Being in the Exchange has helped them build this community focus. When the FabLab first opened, the Exchange was chosen as its home for its ease of access and central location. Now, their roots run deep in the Exchange, a neighbourhood that Communications Coordinator Sheen Chan cites as “A central hub for creativity, with all the art galleries and the Winnipeg Film Group. It’s the area of the city where you go to create and make things. ” 

North Forge has a welcoming, open-door policy, so if you’re interested in making things and learning more about their FabLab or other offerings, there are many opportunities. Every Tuesday night, they host an open house at the FabLab, which includes a tour and the chance to ask any questions about the equipment or the process of becoming a member. They also open their doors on First Fridays, letting the public see behind closed doors and shop at the Maker’s Market. 

The cost of becoming a member is low-barrier, and there are a few options for membership. Whether you’re a start-up seeking ease in your operations or a maker looking for new ways to scale up, North Forge has a way to support you. With monthly membership fees starting at $165/month, anyone can join the North Forge community!

To learn more about North Forge and how to become a member, visit them online:

Source: The Exchange District Biz


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