As virtual operations break down geographic barriers, Techstars Toronto doubles down on international startups in 2021 cohort


Global accelerator Techstars Toronto has revealed the 10 companies joining its 2021 accelerator cohort.

Of the 10 companies joining the latest cohort, eight were founded outside of Canada, from countries including Nigeria, Vietnam, India, and the United States.

Of the 10 companies joining the 2021 cohort, eight were founded outside of Canada.

This represents Techstars Toronto’s fourth cohort. The accelerator was launched in 2018, and was previously run in partnership with Real Ventures. Real is no longer a partner of the Techstars Toronto program. The program typically runs for 13 weeks and provides funding, hands-on mentorship, and access to the Techstars global network. This year’s cohort will culminate in a demo day on July 1.

Though Techstars Toronto’s previous cohorts have featured many international companies, the increased international makeup of the 2021 cohort comes at an interesting time. Over the last year, Canadian startups have been increasingly gaining access to international accelerator programs as remote operations break down geographic barriers.

This virtual programming, paired with the increasing presence of international startups in Techstars Toronto’s cohort, indicates many accelerator programs are becoming more globally accessible.

Google, which runs a number of accelerator programs, this year opened access to its typically US-focused programs to Canadians. The software giant also launched its first Canada-focused accelerator in 2020. Y Combinator, one of the most renowned accelerator programs, has also seen a number of Canadian startups enter and graduate from its batches in recent years. This year’s Winter 2021 batch included a total of 13 Canadian companies.

RELATED: The 11 Canadian startups participating in Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 demo day

Sunil Sharma, managing director of Techstars Toronto, told BetaKit the pandemic’s impact on global remote work has given Techstars greater access to international companies and has given these startups greater access to global support.

“There are more startup ecosystems thriving around the world than people may realize,” Sharma said. “We’re a relatively small country, but we have the advantage of having conditions that can attract those companies, and they will quickly realize that this might be a great place for them to end up permanently.”

Some of the startups in this year’s Techstars Toronto cohort are already looking to move their headquarters to Canada. One such startup is TalentQL, founded in Nigeria. TalentQL is a talent recruitment startup that aims to provide African tech talent with more job opportunities.

Adewale Yusuf, co-founder and CEO of TalentQL, told BetaKit there is “a high possibility” the startup will move its headquarters to Toronto.

“The move will give us unfettered access to the North American market,” Yusuf said. “Additionally, Toronto is the tech hub of Canada and will offer our business a favourable climate for growth and expansion.”

Yusuf noted, however, the pandemic has slowed down TalentQL’s moving plans. With its primary market still in Africa, he said the company is in no hurry to move, and his hope is that with the vaccine rollout, the startup’s move to Canada will speed up.

Sharma has also claimed that international founders hoping to bring their startups to Canada via the Startup Visa Program are struggling with long wait times and travel restrictions.

Canada’s Startup Visa Program targets immigrant entrepreneurs with the skills and potential to build businesses in Canada that are innovative, can create Canadian jobs, and can compete on a global scale.

RELATED: With the US turning away talent, can Canada grab the global lead on innovation during COVID-19?

“The best way to bring startups to Canada is through that [program]. That’s what it was designed to do,” said Sharma. “Whether it’s doing it or not, is another question.”

“I think this is really the moment of truth for countries around the world to make a statement about how eager they are to bring innovation and innovative entrepreneurs to their countries,” he added.

In addition to making its cohort more global, Sharma told BetaKit Techstars Toronto has also focused on making its operations and mentorship base more global. He noted that this year, the accelerator has added many new international mentors, notably another way remote operations are changing accelerator programs like Techstars.

The Toronto accelerator program is also timing its cohort’s runtime with Techstars accelerators in Israel. Sharma also noted the Toronto outpost is collaborating with Techstars’ accelerator in the United Arab Emirates. Sharma said having a more collaborative model between different accelerators around the world will expose cohort companies to new potential investors or corporate partners.

“We’re going to create a triangle and that will lead to awareness and it may become a tech corridor that can last beyond Techstars,” he said.

The full 2021 Techstars Toronto cohort includes:

Cameraah (Mumbai, India and San Francisco, USA)

Cameraah offers a no-code, browser-based tool to create augmented reality experiences.

EQUO (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam)

EQUO products are designed using “raw nature” to replace single-use plastics.

Mine’d (New York, USA)

Mine’d is a solution for self-help, allowing users to interact with top emotional wellness experts.

MixPose (San Francisco)

MixPose offers an AI-powered platform for delivering the in-studio yoga experience virtually.

Plentywaka (Lagos, Nigeria)

Plentywaka connects 20 million daily commuters in Nigeria’s largest transport hub with an app that allows them to purchase local bus tickets.

Roll (Toronto)

Roll offers smart mobility solutions by providing dock-less electric scooters and bike-share services to cities and campuses. (Los Angeles, USA) automates indoor waste and recycling management with the use of technology that alerts users when bins are full.

TalentQL (Lagos, Nigeria)

TalentQL connects top global technical talent with jobs, with an initial focus on African tech talent.

Whelp (Baku, Azerbaijan and New York, USA)

Whelp utilizes an AI-based chatbot to automate online customer support and unifies customer communication across multiple platforms into one interface.

Zerv (Toronto)

Zerv is a digital marketplace for health, wellness and beauty services.

UPDATE 05/04/2021: This article has been updated to reflect the role of Real Ventures in the Techstars Toronto program.

Image source TalentQL via Instagram.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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