Canadian non-profit helps startups get off the ground

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to travel to Vancouver, B.C., to attend the grand opening of a very interesting new endeavor called Wavefront. Wavefront is a non-profit joint venture between the wireless industry and the Canadian government that is designed to help small Vancouver wireless firms get a head-start in the market.

Wavefront was formed in 2007 with a $5 million contribution from the Canadian government's technology council. In addition, the company receives contributions (both in technology and money) from firms like Ericsson, Nokia, Navteq and more.

What makes Wavefront unique is not just its public/private partnership structure, but the innovative way it incubates small wireless firms. Startups can rent inexpensive office space in Wavefront's new headquarters in downtown Vancouver, where they can share ideas and contacts with other burgeoning wireless firms. Plus they can get access to a variety of key services for a relatively small fee. Those services include network testing on base stations from Ericsson, remote handset testing from Perfecto Mobile and access to more than 250 of the latest wireless handsets.

According to Jim Maynard, president of Wavefront, the goal is to help Vancouver maintain its leadership in the wireless industry. The city currently boasts about 250 wireless companies and employs around 6,000 wireless industry workers. Of course, some of the more well-known Canadian wireless firms such as Sierra Wireless and Research in Motion are interested in Wavefront's progress because it likely will lead to more wireless innovation throughout the region and offer potential partnerships with interesting mobile developers.

At a time when creative mobile developers are in hot demand and yet struggling to stay alive in a challenging economy, it seems that Wavefront has exactly the right idea at the right time. Instead of launching hundreds of developer contests and developer programs in hopes of attracting the best and the brightest, perhaps the U.S. wireless industry should take a close look at what Wavefront is doing. --Sue