Invest Ottawa launches business acceleration program

Invest Ottawa

Invest Ottawa has launched a new program aimed at paving the way for more scaleups in Canada’s capital city.

“It was a natural evolution for Invest Ottawa, given the way we have built up the way we’ve supported companies,” VP of venture development, Nick Quain, told BetaKit.

“Looking at the size of the number of companies we’re supporting and the way we’re supporting them, we’re getting spread too thin across too many companies, and this accelerator program allows us to focus,” said Quain. “This isn’t exclusively how we support companies, but it will be core offering of how we support early-stage tech companies.”

The hope is to have more homegrown success stories like Farmlead and MindBridge AI.

The economic development agency provides startup services to help entrepreneurs start their companies, including workshops, market intelligence and consultations, and connections to talent. Late last year, the organization unveiled a five-year strategic plan to bolster the city’s innovation ecosystem after eight months of consultations with local business leaders.

Invest Ottawa already launched an incubator program in September 2017 with the Ontario Centres of Excellence and IBM Canada. The launch was part of IBM’s $24.75 million incubator project, which received $22.75 million from the Ontario government. However, this only provided a physical space for companies with an entrepreneur-in-residence and access to startup services.

While they brand the program as an accelerator, it is not an accelerator in the traditional sense as Invest Ottawa does not take equity or invest capital. However, the program will take a milestone-based approach, providing mentors based on the needs of the startups. Topics covered include product development and design; sales and marketing; and accounting and finance.

The program runs between 12 to 18 months, a longer length of time than most accelerators, Quain admitted. “This type of methodology, with us having a bit more prolonged support for companies across all these different domains, would give a better foundation to companies coming out the other end in terms of their readiness to scale,” said Quain.

Farmlead COO Alain Goubau accepting a Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence.

The program is open to companies with less than $2 million in revenue, have an MVP (or are in the process of developing one) and a clear market. The agency stresses that it’s open to tech entrepreneurs, and excludes non-tech companies, service companies, and lifestyle businesses.

The hope is to have more homegrown success stories like Farmlead, which raised an $8.6 million Series A in March 2017, and MindBridge AI, which has raised $15 million to date and bullish goes to reach $100 million in revenue by 2021.

As first reported by BetaKit, 10-year-old IoT and mobile tech incubator Wavefront shut down operations, owing $2.1 million to creditors that included the National Research Council of Canada and its Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research program, and Crown agency B.C. Innovation Council. Asked by BetaKit how Invest Ottawa would ensure success employing a similar model, Quain would not comment specifically on what happened to Wavefront, but said that “every non-profit organization faces challenges in securing funding and achieving a sustainable model that meets the changing needs of those served.”

He also pointed to the organization’s five-year strategic plan as guiding their activities and programming.

“Our new accelerator builds on best practices and results achieved to date with companies such as FarmLead and MindBridge Ai,” he said. “As Invest Ottawa benefits from a diverse mix of public and private funders, we believe we have a strong value proposition and sustainable operating model, which is well-positioned for the future.”

Applications are open on an ongoing basis, but companies looking for a space within Invest Ottawa must apply by June 8.