By Sandra Desrochers
NOVEMBER 21, 2013
Having spent several years in the natural gas and hydrogen storage industry, Erick Girouard couldn’t help but notice insufficient solutions for growing safety requirements. And, he was determined to do something about it. Girouard founded his company, Emcara, to design and manufacture innovative safety solutions for natural gas and hydrogen storage systems.
To help kick-start his company, the new entrepreneur accessed VentureStart, a program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). VentureStart received $7.5 million in funding through FedDev Ontario’s Scientists and Engineers in Business (SEB) initiative. The program provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies.
“It’s been so exciting to see the practical, real life applications of FedDev programs like VentureStart come to life in Mississauga,” said Stella Ambler, Member of Parliament for Mississauga South. “Entrepreneurs have so much to offer but this program provides that nudge of support, which our government is delighted to provide. The result for our community is high-quality jobs and a better quality of life.”
Through FedDev Ontario’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants increase their business and management skills and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities. The program is co-ordinated by the RIC (Research, Innovation, Commercialization) Centre in Mississauga and delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in southern Ontario.
Girouard received mentoring at Mississauga’s Altitude Accelerator, where Tim Scott was the start-up’s assigned Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR). Scott is an established business management professional with over twenty-five years experience in international business and advanced manufacturing.
“I came from a technical background, with almost no experience in running a company,” said Girouard. “Tim shared a great deal of knowledge about managing a business, provided me with valuable contacts, and steered me in the right direction to seek funding.”
VentureStart funds helped provide the company with state-of-the-art production testing equipment, and in turn, helped Emcara land key supply agreements. “The upfront funding of equipment was crucial because Emcara was new and small,” explained Girouard. “Having leading-edge test equipment made our production process reliable and positioned us as a serious player.”
Emcara’s innovative, safe and cost-effective pressure release devices are becoming the industry preferred choice for protecting compressed natural gas (CNG) and hydrogen tanks in vehicles powered with these alternative fuels.
Since incorporating in 2011, Emcara has grown in leaps and bounds. In the past year, the company moved from early production sales to high volume. “We’ve signed two major customers to long-term deals and have gained several other production customers, “said Girouard. “We’ve also landed a new product development contract with a major European original equipment manufacturer (OEM).”
Girouard would like to see his company grow into a leading supplier of innovative fuel products that will improve safety for all users while reducing system costs. Emcara is well on its way: All its product families are targeted solutions to problems that had not been previously addressed. Recently, Emcara launched a new product family and has developed a third which is about to launch.
“This is a high-growth industry,” said Girouard. “As much as we might like the reduced environmental impact of CNG and hydrogen cars, and the domestic fuel supply, this is mostly driven by the fact that CNG now has big economic savings for large fleet operators.”
The self-described innovator had his company on solid financial footing a little over a year after getting out of the garage “Frankly, I want to shake things up a bit,” said Girouard. “It’s time for new solutions and new growth.”