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Startup YMM: Start Something That Matters

Startup YMM
BY Startup YMM
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Startup YMM is building a community of inventors, entrepreneurs and mentors to inspire you to scale your idea to success.

Startup YMM is a gathering place for thinkers, inventors and doers across the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We want to bring together people from all disciplines, communities, and industries, as well as be a place that other resource providers can activate their programs and events.


Growth + Innovation

What happens when you put innovators and entrepreneurs together? The short answer is – anything. What happens when there are an entire team and space to support these like-minded people? A longer answer, and it’s wonderfully complex; the creation of Startup YMM and its small business incubator and technology Makerspace, operated by the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development & Tourism (FMWBEDT).

The purpose of Startup YMM is to help entrepreneurs navigate challenges at each stage of their ventures through educational programs, building community, and creating spaces where entrepreneurs can work on their idea and be inspired by each other.

Originally slated to open in the summer of 2020, the pandemic and the flood pushed the opening back. But as any entrepreneur would rise to the challenge, the organization launched virtually last July. The physical space in the downtown core, across from the Bob Lamb Building at Keyano College, will open as soon as it is safe to do so.

FMWBEDT’s Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation Natasha Hartson has been working with the municipality since 2013. She sheds light on the creation of Startup YMM.

“Startup YMM is a gathering space for thinkers, inventors and doers. It’s really about three things, delivering programs, bringing people together in our space and creating community,” she explained.

“The concept was identified by the Wood Buffalo Regional Innovation Network as a key priority to accelerate the growth of businesses in the region. In 2019 FMWBEDT was tasked with the responsibility of bringing the concept of Startup YMM to life and is currently managing the programming and day-to-day operations of this space.”


Programs + Entrepreneurs

Building capacity is the cornerstone of Startup YMM, which has 140 virtual members and counting. Its successes come through workshops and multi-week programs, which will expose people to new ideas and practices for starting and scaling their business.

Membership is open to people from all disciplines and industries. The idea is to be a hub of resource providers who can activate programs and events for members. Think hot desks, meeting rooms, workstations, then think – the exact environment to get your idea turned into a reality from a napkin sketch.

“We are for everyone; students, entrepreneurs, service providers, mentors, investors and the general public. The more people who are curious about starting something new or solving problems, the more support we will have for our locally-created businesses. The idea is to bring people together in a flexible, creative, inspiring space that encourages collisions across the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This includes a drop-in workspace, dedicated meeting rooms, educational space and a technology Makerspace,” Hartson explained.

“We’re creating a community by bringing together like-minded individuals who can provide each other with inspiration, support, or resources throughout their entrepreneurial journey. Starting a business or pivoting to something new can be scary, lonely and confusing and having access to resources and a community of entrepreneurs can really help along that journey.”

Startup YMM is also helping by bringing together existing resources and identifying and filling gaps along the entrepreneur’s journey, such as mentorship, funding, and space. And finally, the Makerspace. This space provides access to unique equipment and software to play, explore and build, giving people a place to turn their ideas into reality.


The Makerspace

A first of its kind in the Wood Buffalo, concisely described, Makerspace is a “place to roll up your sleeves and learn, tinker, and create… It’s a space (being built) with the community, for the community.”

“Originally, we considered buying the equipment, setting up the membership model, and opening the doors to the public. After many conversations, we realized that if we want to build an active and usable space for the community, then we need the community deeply involved in helping us build it,” said Hartson.

“We flipped the concept on its head and decided to create a founding members group. The goal of this group is to get dedicated volunteers together that have expertise in areas such as coding, robotics, 3D printing, engineering, software and hardware development. Together this group will help us pick the right equipment, decide how membership will work and help us keep the space secure and safe for members.”

Miguel Borges is one of those volunteers. With expertise in data networking, servers, virtualization, and computer systems, he’s been helping develop some of the digital infrastructures for Makerspace.

“Makerspace is a great way to encourage a community to use different technologies, make stuff and launch potential businesses. The goal, for me, is to have technology that is flexible and can be quickly reconfigured to suit the Makerspace members’ needs. Rather than having a dedicated server running a typical operating system, we’re setting up a virtual infrastructure. So, we can spin up servers on an ad hoc basis. I’m hopeful that I can pass along this kind of expertise to other Makerspace members as well,” explains Borges, who is an Educational Technology Coordinator at the Fort McMurray Public School Division.

Makerspace not only stands out as a unique resource due to its fresh concept but also gives the community “an opportunity to use technology and tools that they normally wouldn’t be able to access,” continued Borges. “For example, if a member wants to launch a web server for a couple of weeks, we can do that for them. Or, try out a laser cutter, 3D printer, edit a video, as well as how to make a remote-controlled vehicle. They can come to use our equipment and we can help them. Maybe that turns into a business idea or a hobby, and the member can then contribute back to the Makerspace. No two Makerspaces are the same, because they cater to their members and their communities,” he added.

Hartson agreed and noted the Makerspace concept has several benefits for users in addition to a major one, not having to invest personally.

“There is no other space in the region where people from the general public would be able to gain access to this type of equipment and additionally the training we plan to offer with this space. The other benefit of community space is the expertise and experience of other members, these connections can help support further development of an idea,” she said.

With this unique space coupled with programs that support entrepreneurship, another great benefit of the space is the opportunity for more ideas to be commercialized.

“The Startup YMM Makerspace is a place to turn an idea into something tangible. But you don’t need to be an expert to be part of this community. We’re looking for: the tech-curious - people who are excited by technology and want a place to learn and safely experiment with new equipment. Technology enthusiasts with moderate to advanced skills in computer science, coding, mechanics, robotics, engineering etc. who want to play, explore, and build using tools they can’t easily find anywhere else.”

At 17, Krish Shah is already a huge fan of Makerspace. The Grade 12 Westwood Community High School student started as a summer intern with the FMWBEDT through CAREERS Next Generation. He helped create Makerspace and is currently an intern with the group.

“I help the team in all things tech. Whether that means to build websites, automate tasks or, my personal favourite, working to create the Makerspace. It’s there where I get to do all the things I love, research and set up cool tech like 3D printers and servers, and meet with aspiring innovators. When a community as ambitious as Fort McMurray gets access to such leading-edge equipment and resources, I know those big things will happen.”

Working for Startup YMM has even changed Shah’s perspective on what a career should look like.

“I’ve learned so many things at Startup YMM. Most important is that it redefined what I thought a job was. Doing the things I love while being surrounded by other passionate people is a perfect recipe for fun. Other than that, I’ve worked on my networking skills, where I got to practice my jokes and office banter. I’ve also learned a lot more about the logistics that go into creating something such as Startup,” he said.

“From working at Startup, I know that I want to work with passionate people, regardless of where I end up. I’ve already had a love for technology for a long time, but meeting all these founders and entrepreneurs motivates me to create my own startup one day--I think it would be a lot of fun. I love working at Startup YMM.”

Mark Searra is another fan of the group. He moved to town in 2018 and is a third-year heavy-duty mechanic who has been volunteering to launch Startup YMM and create Makerspace.         

He views Makerspace as a place where “community, friendship, comradery, and collaboration are at the fore.”

“My aspirations for the Makerspace would be to see it fully utilized, twenty-four-seven, with people starting businesses and running them from the space and the creation of prototypes that can be patented and eventually put into the market. But mostly, I would aspire to see the community grow and become something dynamic and amazing as I believe it will with the amount of potential in our city,” said Searra.

“This Makerspace will be really unique in the sense it’s part of Startup YMM and one would have access to the wealth of skills and advice through the team to take ideas and prototypes and turn them into something real. I am so excited to see this Makerspace get off the ground and become a reality. I would really like to see our community get involved and participate in this incredible opportunity. We all have so much to teach and learn from one another.”


Startup YMM Quick Facts


What is Startup YMM?

Startup YMM is an entrepreneurial hub for students, entrepreneurs and mentors looking to start, grow or scale their entrepreneurial idea. Our goal is to help make Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo the best place to start a business.


What do you do?

We help arm aspiring and existing entrepreneurs with the tools and resources they need to start to grow, and scale.

  • Space to gather and work (co-working space/technology makerspace).
  • Programs to help build specific skills (Venture Mentor Services, LEAP Program, technology workshops, general business seminars, Ask an Expert session, etc.).
  • A more connected entrepreneurial community (networking, access to capital, provide guidance and links to resources that support businesses).


Is this only for entrepreneurs?

It is for entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, students, and anyone who wants to learn more about

what it takes to start, grow and scale business. We will also have events that invite the general public to see what people are building in our community.


Who runs Startup YMM?

Startup YMM is operated by Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo Economic Development Corporation & Tourism (FMWBEDT), as one of our strategic priorities of accelerating entrepreneurship in Fort McMurray. The Regional Innovation Network (RIN) has been involved in guiding the strategic intent of Startup YMM and FMWBEDT is now fully responsible for operating and resourcing this initiative.


As of December 2019, the Canadian economy totalled 1.23 million employer businesses. Of these, 1.2 million (97.9 percent) were small businesses, 22,905 (1.9 percent) were medium-sized businesses and 2,978 (0.2 percent) were large businesses.

Source: Stats Canada



Startup YMM virtual membership is currently free. Membership includes a welcome kit, access to a private Slack (digital workplace) community, exclusive member events and preferred pricing on programs and events. Additional membership types will be launched once the space is physically open.

Startup YMM is located on 8026 Franklin Ave, directly across from the Bob Lamb building at Keyano College. Visit for more information.



If you would like more information about Startup YMM email, find us on social media at @startupymm or visit us online at

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