From class project to world-class start-up
Exigence Technologies began as a project in the Asper MBA program and is making national news headlines
Winnipeg startup Exigence Technologies is poised to revolutionize the global fight against infection with an anti-microbial compound that renders fabrics and other materials impervious to bacteria. The company is now conducting applied research to develop the technology for commercial purposes. Exigence is also making national news headlines – and attracting significant investment dollars and development partnerships.
Not bad for a company that began as a project in the Asper MBA program.
“When I joined the Asper MBA in 2012, I hoped the program would propel me from aerospace process engineer straight into the director’s office,” says Exigence co-founder Zach Wolff. Only two years into the program, and still a few courses away from graduating, he’s already CEO of the company he helped create.
Co-founder Sheri Governo (MBA/14) took on full-time COO duties at Exigence in November. She says the MBA program gave her and Wolff the “courage to build the company, stand on our own,” and pursue a personally and professionally fulfilling future “beyond the relative safety and security” of careers in corporate management.
Exigence began as a business plan developed in the Asper MBA’s Business Venture Analysis class. Taught by Stuart Henrickson, I.H. Asper Executive director of the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship, the course challenges students to commercialize new technologies developed by researchers from the University of Manitoba and around the world. In this case, the technology was an anti-microbial compound patented by Dr. Song Liu from the U of M’s department of textile science in the Faculty of Human Ecology.
“The Business Venture Analysis project was, for me, really the capstone of the entrepreneurship/innovation theme of the Asper MBA program,” Governo says. “You have to apply what you’ve learned in marketing, market research, finance, accounting – every area of business – while working with people from very different backgrounds and skill sets to create a viable business plan.”
As they got more involved in the project, the fundamental business knowledge, analytic skills and confidence they were gaining in the Asper MBA armed them with the courage to take the plan beyond the classroom and pursue it as an actual business venture.
In addition, the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship at the Asper School of Business opened doors to mentorship, resources and support they would have found nowhere else. The Centre’s goal is to encourage the development of new businesses and entrepreneurial thinking among Canadians by encouraging them to consider entrepreneurship as their life’s calling.
“Stuart Henrickson was – and still is – our coach and mentor,” says Governo. “He connected us with patent agents, lawyers, funding organizations, commercialization specialists – anyone and everyone who could help us take the next steps. He really opened doors to us.”
The Centre also introduced Exigence’s founders to Winnipeg’s growing start-up community, which helped accelerate the company’s momentum. With the Stu Clark Centre’s support, Wolff and Governo soon found themselves drumming up actual investors, validating the technology, securing intellectual property and regulatory approvals, incorporating the company, and sharpening the scope of the business.
Courage to Succeed
Wolff and Governo are now hard at work preparing Exigence for full-scale operation. As full-time entrepreneurs, they say they’re both exactly where they wanted to end up in their careers – but thanks to the Asper MBA, they’ve reached their destination much sooner than expected.
Wolff, who left a promising career to take on the role of full-time CEO, says going through the Asper MBA program transformed his thinking about success. “I learned that you can define it however you want – there are no boundaries, and there is nobody holding you back but yourself.”
Governo agrees: “I’ve worked for large organizations with lots of opportunity to move up, but this is really what I’m made for. My desire to pioneer things and grow things from nothing has always driven me. With Exigence, all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.”
She adds: “On my first day on the job full-time, I brought a picture into my office that says, Write your own story. The opportunity to chart our own course is what got us here, and will continue to drive us to achieve our vision.”