The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) started in a basement room at Cambrian College in 1995, but has since expanded in physical size – to a multi-million-dollar facility – and scope over its 20-year history.
NORCAT founder Darryl Lake returned to the facility and organization he helped build for the first time since his retirement in 2012, to celebrate NORCAT's 20th anniversary Friday evening.
Lake started his career as an educator, and created NORCAT to keep young talented people in the north.
“We were losing these good people,” he said. “The demographic was moving out.”
In the early 1990s many of Sudbury's youth, he said, moved to Toronto for work and never returned.
He and his colleague Glenn Crombie were inspired by new innovation centres in Finland, and tailored those models for Northern Ontario.
NORCAT's initial focus was to nurture and retain talent in Sudbury's mining sector.
The centre developed a series of training and development programs to serve the mining, manufacturing, oil and gas, health-care, and construction sectors.
Early on, NORCAT had the support of industry partners and government – it launched thanks to the provincial Sector Partnership Fund.
Lake credits former NDP Finance Minister Floyd Laughren, and former Liberal Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci, for much of NORCAT's early success.
In 2009 NORCAT moved to its 70,000-square-foot facility on Maley Drive thanks to $14 million in donations from industry and government partners.
When Lake retired in 2012, Don Duval, a former executive at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, took over as CEO.
Under Duval's leadership NORCAT expanded its scope with an added focus on mentorship for entrepreneurs with programs like Entrepreneurship 101, a free course that teaches people how to build and manage a successful business.
Lake said it was a good for a leader with new ideas to inject his own expertise into the organization he helped build.
“He knows he to do these Entrepreneurship 101s,” he said. “I don't, so I didn't even venture down that road.”
Duval said at the NORCAT 20th anniversary celebration that while he grew up in southern Ontario, he now considers himself a northerner. “I'm fully engaged in the community,” he said.
Now that he leads a mature organization, and has a few years under his belt as NORCAT CEO, Duval said he wants to further expand NORCAT's training and development programs overseas – where they have already worked with mining industry workers in South America, Africa and the Middle East.
He also wants to continue to support and amplify NORCAT's Innovation Mill, which supports entrepreneurs and small businesses as they grow.
In the last year NORCAT has invested around $2 million into its underground training and testing centre so it can better meet the needs of mining supply and services companies that want to test their products underground.