Amidst a COVID-driven surge in online retail, Toronto-based tech hub Elevate and payment processing giant Moneris have teamed up to launch eCommerce North, a “digital-first” accelerator for Canadian ecommerce startups. Elevate claims the new hub is “Canada’s first ecommerce accelerator.”
Applications for eCommerce North are now open, and close March 31. The six-month program’s inaugural cohort is set to launch May 12, with strategic partners Sampler, Clearbanc, and BlueSnap. Through eCommerce North, Elevate and Moneris aim to help 50 Canadian ecommerce startups scale over the next three years.
“Helping Canadian entrepreneurs transition to a digital future isn’t just a business goal, it’s the right thing to do.”
-Angela Brown, Moneris
The new accelerator is the second innovation hub Elevate has launched in less than a year. Last July, Elevate cancelled the fourth edition of its popular tech festival, and secured $5 million from the City of Toronto and other corporate partners to create a new innovation hub, partnering with Toronto venue the Design Exchange (DX) to launch the Elevate Social Innovation Exchange (Elevate SIX), which offers year-round programming. Elevate CEO Razor Suleman is also the CEO of DX.
“Last summer we announced that we’d be launching a social innovation hub to support Canadian innovators, and eCommerce North is one of the first programs to rollout as part of that project,” said Lisa Zarzeczny, Elevate managing director.
“It’s the just start of what we’re planning to do to help companies grow and, hopefully, create meaningful and inclusive job opportunities for all Canadians,” Zarzeczny added, who also leads program design for the accelerator.
The program will serve startups across Canada. Eligible startups include “digital-first marketplaces” and “tech enablers with demonstrated traction.” Next year, Elevate and Moneris plan to begin offering a dedicated French cohort.
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The program will include networking opportunities, a bootcamp, progress tracking, and funding opportunities. Participating startups will also have the opportunity to join Elevate’s platform.
“For 20 years, we have seen the strength, resilience and passion of Canadian small businesses, and it has never been more tested than over the past 12 months,” said Angela Brown, Moneris’ president and CEO. “Helping Canadian entrepreneurs transition to a digital future isn’t just a business goal, it’s the right thing to do.”
Suleman will serve as a CEO coach, and Moneris COO Bruce Nanton will serve as corporate-in-residence. Other entrepreneurs-in-residence will include Phillip Gales (business operations), Harp Gahunia (finance and fundraising), and Jyll Saskin Gales, Rokham Fard, and Nicole Murphy (growth marketing strategy).
Moneris plans to open up its network of partners to program participants to help foster growth through partnerships, investments, and customer acquisition opportunities.
The purpose-driven program, which aims to help startups weave their priorities into their business plan before they enter the market, is seeking submissions that will “support the health and wellbeing of key stakeholders.” eCommerce North also aims to provide founders with sustainability, equity, and mental health coaching.
“We’ve come to accept as a startup community that being busy means that we’re successful, and I can personally tell you that this is not true, and it’s certainly not sustainable,” said Marie Chevrier Schwartz, CEO and founder of Sampler.
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Elevate and Moneris have also committed that at least half of participating founders will be female-identifying, and 30 percent will be from other underrepresented groups.
“We know that diversity in tech is an issue, and to fix that we need to start aggressively and intentionally correcting the imbalance of opportunities and access to networks,” said Suleman.
The launch follows a tremendously difficult, closure-laden year for brick and mortar retailers, a pandemic-induced wave of digital transformation, and a significant rise in e-commerce sales. Last fall, amid the second wave of COVID-19, retail ecommerce surged as online sales “became essential to ‘non-essential businesses,’” according to a recent Statistics Canada report.
“In the last year, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to the digital economy,” said Mary Ng, Ontario’s minister of small business. “Tens of thousands of Canadian businesses have gone and added clicks to their bricks, virtually overnight.”
“Startups and the entrepreneurs that this accelerator will support are pushing the envelope for innovation and more inclusion in the private sector,” Ng added.
During the pandemic, Elevate has focused on producing free digital content for the Canadian tech community through Elevate Live. Last July, Suleman told BetaKit that the intention was to hold its Elevate festival again in person in 2021.
BetaKit is an Elevate media partner. Image courtesy of Elevate.