P.E.I. entrepreneur hub Startup Zone has shut its doors

The open-concept entrepreneur hub has closed its doors to clients after eight years of operation. (Sam Wandio/CBC - image credit)
The open-concept entrepreneur hub has closed its doors to clients after eight years of operation. (Sam Wandio/CBC - image credit)

The Charlottetown-based entrepreneur hub Startup Zone closed its doors on Tuesday, and some of its former clients are wondering where they'll go to get the same kind of support for their businesses.

Jordan Patterson said his startup at the time, called Forestry.io, was one of the Startup Zone's first clients back in 2016. The resources the Startup Zone offered filled a real need for beginning businesses, he said.

"A big thing is space," Patterson said. "For small companies, renting office space is difficult. But beyond that, just like mentorship and support for new entrepreneurs... having those resources can make or break a company."

"There'd be a lawyer that would come in and do office hours once a week, once every two weeks, whatever was needed. There'd be an accountant, there'd be an HR person, things like that."

He said it was also helpful to rub shoulders with other companies, some of whom were dealing with some of the same issues he was.

"I call it my entrepreneurial home," said business owner Nathalie Arsenault, who also used the Startup Zone.

"Really, at the end of the day, it was a physical space and a hub where you have these synergies that wouldn't necessarily happen if you were working from home, or if you had your own office that was separate from other entrepreneurs."

Charlottetown's Nathalie Arsenault co-founded Maritime Rideshare five years ago when she lived in Cheticamp, Cape Breton. She recently sold the company to Vancouver-based HitchPlanet.
Charlottetown's Nathalie Arsenault co-founded Maritime Rideshare five years ago when she lived in Cheticamp, Cape Breton. She recently sold the company to Vancouver-based HitchPlanet.

Entrepreneur Nathalie Arsenault, shown in a file photo, used the Startup Zone and said the collaboration was important to her. (CBC)

'Very little consistency'

Patterson said things changed at the Startup Zone over the years, though.

"One of the problems was always the turnover in the CEO position," he said, recalling about eight in the space of eight years. "Plus, there were at least a couple periods of time where it went for a long time with nobody in that position."

He said every new CEO came in with their own ideas about how the hub should be run.

"There was very little consistency about what the programming was, who was running it, those sorts of things."

A report prepared by consulting firm MRSB for Innovation P.E.I. in August 2023 identified that among other challenges facing the Startup Zone, saying in part: "Stakeholders interviewed felt that high turnover in the Startup Zones [sic] management has led to weakened relationships with stakeholders and the public."

Despite the amount of flux, Patterson said he thinks clients were always able to get at least most of what they needed out of the Startup Zone.

Clients weren't given a reason for this week's closure, he said. At the moment, he personally felt "a bit burnt out" on the subject after trying to find information.

What next?

The MRSB report for Innovation PEI did say there was room "to advance the ecosystem by amalgamating the Startup Zone and LaunchPad PEI into one entity," rather than offering two different sets of services.

A spokesperson for the provincial Department of Economic Development, Innovation and Trade, said that is indeed the plan.

"The full suite may take some time to move over," she said in a statement. "However, it is expected that the same ones previously available will ultimately be offered by Launchpad."

In the meantime, the statement said staff from Innovation P.E.I. have been meeting with Startup Zone clients one by one to understand their needs.

Regardless of what happens, Patterson said he thinks the closure of the Startup Zone might hurt P.E.I.'s entrepreneurs, but it "won't break anything."

He added: "Entrepreneurs are resilient. They wouldn't be entrepreneurs if they weren't... I believe that everyone will be okay."