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With too few Canadian institutions allocating money for venture capital, the federal government and a growing number of provinces are filling the void because they believe supporting startups will drive economic growth and development.

One of the more interesting and grassroots initiatives is Coral CEA, which has received more than $9-million in funding from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation. Coral was founded by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, Carleton University, IBM, GENBAND, the Eclipse Foundation and ITAC.

The not-for-profit agency has a mandate to support the development and commercialization of new communication applications and services. A key part of its activity is partnerships, which includes $30-million of in-kind services and cash from private sector companies.

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Coral CEA's investments are limited to $30,000, which means it makes early-stage investments or provides go-to-market support for more mature companies.

Brian Forbes, Coral CEA's executive director, said a particular interest is companies building platforms that can nurture and build an ecosystem of other companies providing supporting services and products.

"We see the interconnection of data in terms of communications to create new value," he said in a recent interview. "CEA is a platform play so we are interested in that but also a business concept around [an]ecosystem called open innovation."

Coral CEA made a big splash last month when it invested $120,000 in four companies located at Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone.

The DMZ companies include:

ARB Labs which has designed a software application that allows any video display to create an immersive 3D effect – without the need for goggles or glasses

Greengage Inc which provides a software tool for smartphones and the Web that blends mobile technology with the green movement, allowing monitoring of corporate social responsibility efforts.

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HitSend Inc., which has an online platform to enable and enhance community-based change by tapping into the community's collective voice.

ViaFoura Inc., which created a cloud-based plug-and-play user engagement and gaming platform for online content sites.

Mr. Forbes described the relationship with DMZ as "pretty informal," but also a "bold step forward."

"It's an innovative step for a university to have open innovation lab called DMZ and have a number of companies cross-pollinating within it," he said. "What we like about the DMZ is it is taking a learn within a business or engineering environment and applying it in the real world. It is that learn by doing model that we like."

Mr. Forbes said Coral CEA has invested in 40 companies, and has an aggressive mandate, highlighted by expansion across the province, with members in Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo and Thunder Bay.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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