Real Ventures-led venture-backed startup accelerator FounderFuel is returning this spring for the first time in three years.
The longstanding, traditionally in-person Montréal-based program paused in 2020 following one virtual cohort.
FounderFuel is now coming back and going nationwide with the support of two other notable Montréal-headquartered Canadian venture capital (VC) firms with a presence across the country: Panache Ventures and Inovia Capital. This time, the tech accelerator program will be in hybrid form and cater to more than just Montréal-based startups.
“FounderFuel was launched during a time when the Canadian tech ecosystem was almost non-existent, it was a precursor to many of the ecosystem pillars that we take for granted today.”
– Scott Loong, Panache
Applications for FounderFuel’s 2023 cohort are now open and set to close on March 12, with the program set to run from mid-April to July. Demo Day is slated for July 11 in Montréal, the day before Startupfest begins.
In an interview with BetaKit, FounderFuel general manager and Real Ventures partner Katy Yam said the accelerator program will continue to be run by the Real Ventures team. FounderFuel plans to admit eight startups to the four-month 2023 program, with Real Ventures, Panache Ventures, and Inovia Capital collectively making $120,000 CAD investments in each participating firm in exchange for an equity stake. Yam declined to disclose how much of this amount will be provided by each firm.
The relaunch of FounderFuel comes during a tumultuous period for Real Ventures, which faces an uncertain future after swapping managing partners and pausing fundraising for its next fund last fall.
Asked about whether Real Ventures has resumed fundraising for a new fund, Yam did not say, emphasizing that her focus is on FounderFuel.
As to where the re-launch of FounderFuel fits into Real Ventures’ broader strategy and what the mood inside the VC firm is like today, Yam noted: “For Real Ventures, we take this as a great vote of confidence in what we’ve done, and it’s at the core of what we do best.”
“The feeling at Real right now is excitement about bringing FounderFuel back and delivering a great program for the ecosystem,” she added.
According to Yam, FounderFuel has made a few adjustments to its investment terms in light of the market but declined to share them, noting they are still being worked out. Yam said the size of the equity stake FounderFuel’s partners will take in each firm also remains to be determined. Since FounderFuel has been gone, other North American accelerators such as Y Combinator have increased their standard deal size following founder pressure.
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Founded by Real Ventures in 2011, FounderFuel has seen more than 100 companies graduate from its program across 13 cohorts to date, producing a list of Canadian tech alumni that includes BenchSci, Paper, Sonder, and Unsplash.
“FounderFuel was launched during a time when the Canadian tech ecosystem was almost non-existent, it was a precursor to many of the ecosystem pillars that we take for granted today,” noted Panache Ventures general partner Scott Loong.
Yam became general manager of FounderFuel in early 2020, replacing former Real Ventures partner Isaac Souweine, who has since joined Pender Ventures. According to Yam, the “high-quality, high-touch” program typically garners around 200 applicants. FounderFuel’s last cohort took place virtually, with participation from a group that included Waverly, Stamped AI, and QuoteMachine.
Asked why FounderFuel went on hiatus, Yam said, “We took a step back because we didn’t necessarily want to run it all virtual again in 2021, and a lot of the landscape of accelerators was changing a little bit.” She described this as “the principal reason why we took a pause.”
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According to Yam, the move to bring back FounderFuel was spurred by community conversations lamenting the absence of the accelerator and the “creative collisions” it had facilitated in past years. The decision also comes at a time when early-stage startups could use more support as market conditions have deteriorated.
“This is definitely the year where we all kind of said like, ‘let’s do this,’” said Yam. “‘Let’s do this with the community, and let’s bring it back in a big, big way.’ So the three of us are really excited about it.”
From a program standpoint, Yam noted that FounderFuel’s 2023 edition will be similar to the 2020 cohort, when it expanded from three to four months. According to Yam, FounderFuel’s programming focuses on a number of pillars, including product, financials, and go-to-market, with an emphasis on founder development and ensuring participating firms are connected with and guided by other experienced entrepreneurs as mentors.
Previous iterations of FounderFuel also required participating founders to be based in Montréal for the entirety of the program. This time around, to better cater to entrepreneurs across Canada, Yam said FounderFuel is exploring a hybrid model with an in-person component.
“There’s a lot of really great diverse founders,” said Yam. “Since we’re doing it across the nation, when we say you have to be here in Montréal for five months, it really limits the pool of great applicants that perhaps might want to apply but probably can’t, due to personal reasons, just get up and move to Montréal.”
Feature image courtesy FounderFuel.