Narwhal Project creator looks to apply unicorn research with new accelerator

Charles Plant talks Unicorn Math.

The Narwhal Project is publicly sharing details for the first time about its new accelerator program after operating in stealth over the past year.

The Narwhal Project founder, Charles Plant, told BetaKit that he began helping a small group of companies through the program following demand from companies for his research experience.

“We have been getting ready for this for six years by doing tons of research.”

The Narwhal Project was established to conduct research on the underlying factors essential to creating world-class technology companies. This led to Plant creating his annual Narwhal List that tracks the Canadian companies on their way to unicron status, as well as workshops based on his data that he would give to various companies.

It was at these workshops where Plant was approached by companies that wanted to actively tap his knowledge on creating unicorns to become one themselves.

Starting the accelerator program also led Plant to begin ranking accelerators. He noted wanting to measure the success of an accelerator largely from the point of view of entrepreneurs who are making decisions on which programs are best suited for their startup.

When it comes to officially launching his own accelerator, Plant noted: “We have been getting ready for this for six years by doing tons of research. We’ve looked at the growth trajectories of thousands of companies, written one book and over 40 research papers, created the Narwhal List, developed a framework for understanding the elements of growth, and have another book coming out called Unicorn Math.”

Plant said all the research has been carried out so he could be confident that the accelerator’s advice to companies is based on data, benchmarks, objective criteria, and not opinions.

The Narwhal Project Accelerator has around seven clients currently, according to Plant. The accelerator accepts emerging technology companies at any time with no fixed entry dates. The program does not operate in the typical cohort style; rather, Plant works one-on-one with each company. He likened the model to that of venture funds that have expanded to provide mentorship and support beyond capital, pointing to Andreessen Horowitz and Georgian in Canada as two examples.

RELATED: Narwhal Project Canadian accelerator ranking shows need for improvement compared to US counterparts

He said the organization goes into a company and helps with things like strategy development, business plan creation, pitch decks, valuations, and monthly reporting.

The accelerator takes on the CFO role, Plant said, getting the startup ready for pre-seed, seed, or Series A funding. “Instead of going and getting funding before results, we want to show results, and then get funding,” Plant said.

The Narwhal Project has also gathered groups of angel investors together as a network to fund companies within the accelerator.

To support the accelerator, Plant has expanded his one-person team to two, adding Marielle Voksepp as managing director. Voksepp is set to join in the new year, and brings with her experience as an advisor and startup coach at the University of Calgary, and as director of venture experience at MaRS Discovery District.

Some of the companies Plant has been working with in his accelerator include Steadiwear, where he serves as board chair and has equity in the company, and Happenin, for which he is listed as a co-founder and board chair. Other companies include ExactBlue, Pharos Platforms, and three more that are in stealth mode. Plant works closely with the companies, often acting as CFO.

Along with the accelerator and rankings, Plant has been working on a book based on his research called Unicorn Math.

For the book, Plant looked at literally thousands of companies. He said he was “completely surprised” one day after reading through the prospectus of a couple of hundred companies and researching the size of the markets they served.

RELATED: 2021 Narwhal List tracks Canada’s notable exits, raises, valuations during pandemic year

“It completely reoriented my thinking about how big a market needs to be, and what percentage of the market you can actually get to within 10 years,” Plant said. As an example, he cites the ride-sharing company, Uber. Uber was playing in a $2.5 trillion market, according to Plant, who said that in 10 years, the company only got to .45 percent of the market, or $14 billion in revenue.

“This is an example of Unicorn math,” Plant said. “The average company gets to about .8 percent of its total addressable market in 10 years. That’s why having a huge market is essential if you want to have a world-class company.”

He said that Canadian founders are now figuring out how to create unicorns. Plant noted that the country had a couple in 2020, but unicorn creation this year is above 10. “We figured out how to do it but we’ve also had the influence of US capital,” he said.

“If you look at the Canadian unicorns, I think every single one of them has US capital in them now and they’ve had that capital for a long period of time so they’re able to benefit from the knowledge that’s gained from US investors and probably accelerate their growth through that.” Plant added.

The 2021 Narwhal Project list showed a total of 51 companies on track to become unicorns, more than a 20 percent increase from the 2020 list, which tracked 42 unicorn status-bound firms.

A number of companies on that list, which was released in March, have since reached unicorn status, including ApplyBoard, PointClickCare, and 1Password, with Coveo going public to the tune of $247.4 million.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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