The nearly 10-month-long search for OneEleven’s next managing director came to an end today, as the Toronto-based innovation hub revealed the appointment of Chris Greenfield to the role.
The position had been filled on an interim basis by Angelo Casanas until the end of last year following former managing director Matthew Lombardi’s decision to step down in May. Casanas has since become director of innovation at Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, while Lombardi is now at TELUS Ventures.
The lengthy search amassed over 1,000 applications on LinkedIn alone. Sources familiar with the process indicated to BetaKit that a handful of candidates had been offered the role prior to Greenfield, extending the search beyond its original target of Fall 2023.
“I’m in it to help these guys scale. Their success is my success, and I’m completely focused on that.”
For his part, Greenfield brings decades of experience working within and around Canada’s startup ecosystem, including as a founder of FinTech startup TipTap, as the head of Canadian Tire’s Innovation Discover Group, as well as an advisor to startups of all shapes and sizes.
He also joins OneEleven following a period of significant change for the innovation hub. This included a temporary closure that was feared permanent at the start of the pandemic; an acquisition by the Ontario Centres of Excellence (now the Ontario Centre of Innovation, or OCI); and a relaunch and broad transformation effort under Lombardi’s leadership.
BetaKit recently sat down with Greenfield at OCI to discuss his vision for OneEleven’s future, what interested him in the role, and why he believes it’s time for Canada’s startup ecosystem to incubate itself.
How would you like to introduce yourself?
I’m Chris Greenfield, and I’m from Milton, Ontario. I started my career in packaged goods with P&G and Unilever and worked in a number of leading advertisement and technical development firms, predominantly leading creative, innovation and development teams.
I created and launched the innovation division of Canadian Tire, largely leading design thinking coming to Canada in its early development, and then I ended up coming back and doing the same for FinTech. I worked with major brands while supporting the FinTech startup community all those years, which kind of led me to this, which feels like a perfect accumulation of my skill set and what I have to offer to help these guys scale.
Did I mention I was excited?
You did not, but please tell me why you’re excited about this opportunity.
I have officially and unofficially participated in most incubator and accelerator programs that are available, whether it’s MaRS or NEXT or MLSE or Comcast, so being able to bring that learning and coaching to other startup and scale-up entrepreneurs like I have with prior companies— that excites me. Seeing these guys grow and succeed is what gets me up in the morning.
What have you learned from working with other incubator programs and how will that inform your approach to leading OneEleven?
What they gave me was the opportunity to go and see the global accelerators that are out there for some of the largest brands and businesses in the world. Running these innovation groups before I was able to bring that thinking and those approaches back to my team.
Some were really good at allowing the corporate community to connect with the startup and scale-up community; a 100-year-old company can learn just as much from an entrepreneur who’s 100 days in business.
Others have really good academic programs, like NEXT Canada with the University of Toronto in having academic programs for founders. VentureLAB was great in terms of hardware development, having a massive testing facility. I think they all have great attributes and benefits, and there are obviously opportunities to improve as well.
Where do you see OneEleven fitting into that ecosystem?
We all have the same goal, so collaborating with each other through complimentary programming and learning between the different groups, they already do that quite well but I want to make sure that continues and that OneEleven remains a part of that.
We’re focused on scale-ups — Series A and beyond — so it’s different guidance, advice, and programming than most of the other incubators. The ideas are proven, they just need assistance in growing, finding customers, scaling their technology and teams. I would hope that founders who have been through the other programs see us as the logical next step.
What would you consider OneEleven’s top priorities for 2024?
We’re still facing a pretty rough investment and economic market, and I think everyone is going to be subjected to the same pressures. So first is just making sure OneEleven is as strong as it has been since COVID, and focusing on the members. My first and foremost focus is going to be on making sure they get everything they need from OneEleven, and that we’re helping them progress.
Then I’ll start looking at the other areas, whether within the space, or the programs, within the content that we develop, to see whether there are opportunities for OneEleven to grow further.
How might that vision differ from that of former managing director Matthew Lombardi? What do you want to do differently, or keep the same?
Matt and Angelo and some of the advisors, I still have to have conversations with them, but I think there’s a lot they’ve done to grow the ecosystem and pull OneEleven forward, which I think we’re going to have to maintain. There’s also going to be things they had on their plan that they weren’t able to achieve, that I’ll want to help champion. We’re all interested in seeing OneEleven succeed and continue to move forward.
Do you have any sense as to why this role remained vacant for so long?
I don’t have a purview into that process, but in general, you’re trying to find a visionary to lead a pretty incredible organization, and I think they probably wanted to find the right person, and there isn’t always an obvious choice. Sometimes searches at this level do take a bit of time, based on my experience trying to find really good people for leadership positions. I’m glad it took that long, because it ended up going this way.
Why do you think you were ultimately selected?
I’ve done it before, multiple times. Building teams, building innovation groups — whether it’s the startup community or within corporations — and that’s a pretty unique skill set.
I also do think I bring a non-traditional way of thinking to the community that compliments what the scale-ups already have, and just being in it for the right reasons. I’m in it to help these guys scale. Their success is my success, and I’m completely focused on that.
Do you have any messages you’d like to share with the current crop of OneEleven companies?
Just apply, we love to see it. Persevere, and continue to push for the dream. The help is out there for you, whether it’s OneEleven or another program, to evolve the company. And apply.
Overall, what can the tech community expect from the next chapter of OneEleven?
A step-change. The ecosystem has definitely gone through different phases, and I think we’re at the beginning of a new phase, and I’m hugely excited about it. It’s time for the ecosystem to scale up itself, and to grow itself, so let’s take the ecosystem through the same process we have our founders go through. I think we’re well beyond Series A now, so let’s prove it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Feature image courtesy OCI.