In an announcement published to its website last Wednesday, Toronto tech incubator OneEleven announced that it would be permanently ceasing operations due to the impact of COVID-19.
The announcement, which noted the decision came via the OneEleven board, was signed by board chair and former OneEleven CEO, Dean Hopkins, and executive director, Siri Agrell.
“The difficult decision to cease operations was communicated to me by the Board.”
– Siri Agrell, outgoing executive director
In an emailed statement today in response to questions submitted by BetaKit, however, Agrell confirmed that she does not sit on the OneEleven board, and was not privy to the shutdown decision prior to it being made.
“I do not sit on the Board of OneEleven Inc. As of today, I am no longer an employee of OneEleven Inc.,” Agrell told BetaKit in a statement.
The announcement posted to OneEleven’s website last week noted that “a number of scenarios and models were presented and carefully assessed” by the OneEleven board to sustain operations. “The goal was to minimize impacts on our member companies, our vendors and partners and, of course, to our wonderful and hardworking team,” the statement reads.
In response to a question regarding the scenarios and models discussed by the OneEleven board, Agrell provided this statement: “I am not privy to the discussions that the Board had or the factors considered in making the decision. The difficult decision to cease operations was communicated to me by the Board.”
In addition to being the board chair and former CEO of OneEleven, Hopkins is also the chief operations officer of Oxford Properties. Oxford is the real estate arm of Canadian pension fund OMERS, one of OneEleven’s founding partners along with Ryerson University and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OneEleven’s Toronto location was housed in an Oxford-owned building). Hopkins has not responded to requests for comment from BetaKit regarding OneEleven’s shut down.
BetaKit has yet to confirm if any OneEleven employee sat on its board.
A statement provided to BetaKit last week by Oxford claimed that it was OneEleven that determined its business was no longer viable, with closing being the only option available, “notwithstanding our offer to provide additional support and subsidies.”
Agrell’s emailed statements to BetaKit mirror an email sent by the outgoing executive director to OneEleven startup tenants today. Obtained by BetaKit, the email notes:
In response to some of the questions you’ve asked: as a basic governance principle, any fundamental decision such as the one to cease operations could only be done at the Board level.
In response to questions related to any offered subsidies and supports: I am not a board member of OneEleven Inc. so I am not privy to the discussions that the Board had or the factors considered in making the decision.
My last weeks at OneEleven were spent advocating for government actions that could help ensure your continued success, working with my talented team as they remotely supported the community and checking in with all of you.
In an emailed response to BetaKit, Agrell declined to confirm OneEleven’s current board members. BetaKit has yet to confirm if any OneEleven employee sat on its board.
A story by The Logic in June of last year on the departure of three key OneEleven executives listed four OneEleven board seats: Hopkins, at the time still OneEleven’s CEO; Allison Wolfe, Oxford chief financial officer; Mark Shulgan, OMERS Growth Equity managing director, and one unnamed Growth Equity seat.
Publicly available records obtained by BetaKit list the following directors and officers of OneEleven Inc.:
- Dean Hopkins (Director)
- Allison Wolfe (Director)
- Warda Shaheen, OMERS Private Equity director (Director)
- Nancy Prenevost, Oxford head of legal operations (Officer)
- Alysha Valenti, Oxford lawyer (Officer)
- Nicholas Joseph Staubitz, Oxford VP legal (Officer)
- Siri Agrell (Officer)
Shulgan in absent from any current version of OneEleven Inc. corporate filing documents obtained by BetaKit. Notably, corporate directorships do not typically directly correspond to board seats. BetaKit has reached out to OneEleven, OMERS, and Oxford to confirm if any of the above-listed directors and officers hold board seats, and if any board seats were held by a OneEleven employee.
The sudden and dramatic shutdown of a tech incubator backed by one of Canada’s largest pension funds and its real estate arm in the middle of a global pandemic has drawn public ire from Toronto’s local tech community.
Chris Rickett, the City of Toronto’s newly returned Director of COVID-19 mitigation for businesses, has been one notable figure to make a public statement on OneEleven’s shutdown. Also the City’s liaison for local incubators, Rickett confirmed to BetaKit that neither OMERS nor Oxford reached out to discuss potential funding for OneEleven as part of Toronto’s incubator grant program prior to the shutdown. Claudia Krywiak, president and CEO of OCE, also confirmed that no requests for aid were made to her provincial organization.
Hard to believe @OMERSVentures and @OxfordPropGroup gave up that quickly on @oneeleven_111. Not sure what that says for their commitment to the startup ecosystem. Pretty sad they thew in the towel so quickly. https://t.co/CWXGBuTi4u pic.twitter.com/SbtA2S0oFP
— Chris Rickett (@rickett_chris) April 23, 2020
Multiple sources have also told BetaKit that Toronto Mayor John Tory was angered by news of OneEleven’s shutdown. When reached for comment by BetaKit, Mayor Tory offered a more measured response.
“OneEleven was a huge force in our city’s technology sector and produced some of Toronto’s best new companies, innovations and employers,” Mayor Tory said in a statement. “I’ve always been hugely impressed by what they do and the fact that Oxford was placed in a situation to close this hub speaks to the urgent need for the federal government, investors and corporate clients to step up and further support Toronto’s tech sector, which is a huge driver of Canada’s reputation and competitiveness.”
OneEleven was founded as a non-profit in 2013 by the Ontario Centre of Excellence, Ryerson University, and OMERS Ventures. It was incorporated as a for-profit entity in July 2018 by Oxford and OMERS.
“We have nothing more to add and our statement speaks for itself.”
– Oxford Properties spokesperson
2018 began a tumultuous two-year period for the fledging for-profit organization. In April of that year, founding CEO Bilal Khan abruptly departed the organization, to be quickly replaced as CEO by Hopkins. Hopkins had already been acting as an advisor to OneEleven prior to Khan’s departure, and was a key figure in constructing an international expansion plan for the incubator, with plans to open as many as 10 additional locations around the world.
“I said to John [Ruffolo – CEO of OMERS Ventures and director of OneEleven Inc. at the time] and the board, ‘Why don’t we take this show on the road?’” Hopkins told the Globe and Mail.
The expansion was not successful, with OneEleven’s Ottawa and London locations shutting down within a year of opening in 2019, and Boston, Vancouver, and New York failing to materialize.
Shortly before Hopkins departed as CEO in July of 2019, OneEleven lost almost half of its executive team, with CTO George Eichholzer, Pearl Chiu, chief people officer, and Sandy Perlman, chief marketing officer departing from their respective roles. Agrell, then managing director of OneEleven, took over as executive director, while Hopkins became OneEleven’s board chair.
Hopkins has not responded to multiple requests for comment related to OneEleven’s shutdown. OMERS has directed all requests for comment to Oxford Properties. An Oxford spokesperson told BetaKit at time of publication, “we have nothing more to add and our statement speaks for itself.”