While Canada isn’t lacking in excitement and eagerness for startups — Waterloo has the second largest startup density after Silicon Valley — tech communities across the country lament the fact that scaling up is another story entirely. Entrepreneurs have publicly expressed the struggle of finding support as a growth stage company, while firms like iNovia have pointed out a lack of executive talent.
Lazaridis Institute is attempting to take all of these concerns and fill a gap in support with its Scale Up Program, which is looking for 10 Canadian startups to join its inaugural cohort. Over six months, the startups will receive mentorship and support from entrepreneurs who have scaled their companies.
“Early on there was a lot of money put into science and technology research, and then the question becomes ‘how do we monetize that?’” said Michael Kelly, dean of the Laziridis School of Business and Economics. “We know that we can’t build a globally competitive tech industry on startups alone, so we really have to find a way to start scaling these startups and create the next level of enterprise level technology companies that can create wealth and jobs here.”
“We want to be able to create muscle memory over time of working and identifying these gems as early as possible.”
The Institute conducted a cross-Canada tour over the past few weeks encouraging startups to apply. The program kicks off in Waterloo and will span one weekend a month working in different cities across Canada — including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver — and ends with a week spent in Silicon Valley. Each weekend will focus on a specific aspect of the company, since as product, leadership, customer acquisition, and funding.
“We produce fantastic startups but we aren’t producing as many scaleups as we think we should with our number of small companies and fantastic technologies,” said Kim Morouney, program director of the Lazaridis Institute. “So we researched that question and we talked to tech communities, and we decided that the problems fall into three categories: One is access to people with experience in scaling a company, access to markets that will support exponential scale of a company, and access to capital.”
The startups will receive one-on-one mentorship to receive connections to resources companies need to scale and build a network. While there Scale Up program isn’t looking for a specific kind of startup, companies should be headquartered in Canada and generally at least three years old.
“You can miss a window where you don’t want to be left too long in a certain stage, you want to capitalize on when you’re ready and take advantage of that readiness, but do it on a global footprint and not only on a Canadian footprint,” said Carlo Chiarello, CEO of the Lazaridis Institute.
For Chiarello, though, evaluating how each startup should approach global expansion is a multi-faceted question. “The global question has a bunch of dimensions to it. It could be sales-oriented on a global scale, channel development, or it could be product fit,” he said. “One other important thing is to even have the funding you need to go global. A lot of times, you’re not thinking through establishing small offices and regulatory things, and you do need supplemental funding when you’re thinking of taking on new markets and new areas.”
While the program is not directly funding startups, accommodation is free — though startups are responsible for travel. In the future, the Scale Up program will also look at partnering with accelerators across the country. “We want to be able to repeat this. We want to be able to create muscle memory over time of working and identifying these gems as early as possible, and get them onto broader platform and stage as quickly as possible,” said Chiarello.
The deadline to apply for the program is September 16. Participants will be selected by October 1.