Jan Kelley launches incubator

Housed at Communitech, the digital agency wants to help clients get innovations off the ground faster.

Full-service digital agency Jan Kelley has launched a new tech incubator aimed at helping clients get new innovations off the ground rapidly, get insights faster and optimize their products.

The Jan Kelley Idea Incubator is housed at the Communitech tech hub in Waterloo, Ont. It uses a workshop methodology to efficiently develop viable products for its clients, be they new physical products, services or processes within the company.

The agency will have a head of creative, technical lead and several developers working out of the space, who will rapidly iterate on the ideas developed in the space as soon as they come through the workshopping process.

Chantel Broten, president of Jan Kelley, says creating the Idea Incubator was partially created to change the way the agency itself works, but found the “minimum viable product” approach (which values fast development of basic products over long-term development of more advanced ones)  can sometimes be better suited to the needs of innovation-hungry clients.

“Historically, agencies and clients worked together on planning cycles with long lead times with a view to create a fully developed product and then launch it and wait and see what happens,” she says. “Our experience has been that those lead times are just too long, and there’s not an opportunity for learning as they are developed. What we are trying to do is shortcut that process and get something out quickly, so we can get learning and behavior data and insights to drive and improve the next iteration.”

Agencies launching incubators and accelerators to help spur innovation is nothing new, but Broten says one thing that makes Jan Kelley’s different is its location at Communitech. Communitech has been fostering tech innovation in the Waterloo region since 1997 through training, talent recruitment, support programs and working with corporate partners to foster their own innovation. Past brands that have worked with Communitech include TD, General Motors, Canon, Canadian Tire and Manulife.

“It’s one thing to set up an incubator with your own four walls, but the decision we made was to go where the action is,” she says. “The Kitchener-Waterloo area is a hotbed for tech activity, and there are more tech startups there than anywhere else other than Silicon Valley. To join an ecosystem that is already really active, where there’s academics and enterprise and startups working, helps us leverage lean startup methodology and rapid problem solving to help us track, analyze and optimize and continually iterate. That’s a more nimble and agile way to work between agency and client, and the more effective way going forward.”