Techstars Toronto tapped for second cohort as early-stage accelerator expands

In an effort to expand the capacity of its early-stage startup accelerator program, Techstars Toronto is increasing the size and frequency of its cohorts. The accelerator will now run two cohorts of 12 companies each year.

Toronto is one of only two cities the Techstars organization has selected to launch two cohorts, the other being Tel Aviv, Israel.

Sunil Sharma, managing director of Techstars Toronto, told BetaKit the decision to more than double the program’s capacity in Toronto was made, in part, due to “the performance of the companies that have been part of Techstars Toronto over the last four years.”

“We are really outperforming globally as a country, and it’s a mix of homegrown and international inbound expansion.”

Sharma said that Techstars Toronto is one of the highest performing of any Techstars accelerator in recent years, but offered no data to support the claim. Unlike venture funds, accurately calculating accelerator performance is often difficult due to the complexities of cost and value surrounding both the equity investment and accelerator programming.

“We are really outperforming globally as a country, and it’s a mix of homegrown and international inbound expansion,” Sharma said.

Techstars Toronto previously ran one cohort annually, which took in 10 startups per year. Now, the program will support a total of 24 companies annually through two cohorts. As part of the expansion, Techstars Toronto’s cohorts will run in the spring and fall.

The accelerator is accepting applications for its next cohort, set to commence October 18 and culminate in a demo day on January 3.

Techstars runs two programs in Canada: an artificial intelligence-focused program in Montréal and the Techstars Toronto accelerator, which selects startups from any industry vertical and any geographic location. Techstars also previously ran a Toronto proptech accelerator in partnership with Colliers International, which ended in 2020.

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The expansion is a significant move for Techstars Toronto, which has run its 13-week accelerator since 2018, providing startups with funding, mentorship, and access to the Techstars global network. Formerly funded by Real Ventures, the program is now backed by Techstars’ $150 million USD global fund, which closed in July.

Sharma said the program has made strides since first entering the Canadian market. According to the managing director, Techstars Toronto has invested over $6 million USD across 40 companies to date. Sharma claimed these 40 alumni companies now have a cumulative valuation of over $500 million USD.

Four Techstars Toronto alumni companies have exited to date, including Toronto-based Inkblot, which offers virtual mental health services. Inkblot was acquired in March by Green Shield Canada for an undisclosed price. Other exits include Toronto-based Doorr, Toronto-based Genie Healthcare, and Netherlands-based

Besides the increased capacity, little else will change about the Techstars Toronto program. The accelerator will continue to provide startups with $120,000 USD in investment in exchange for eight percent equity. The program’s geo-agnostic and vertical agnostic approach will also remain the same.

The program has operated virtually since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Sharma said he plans to keep the program remote until spring 2022. For many accelerators, the broad shift to remote operations has opened opportunities to support a broader set of startups, particularly those in other countries.

RELATED: As virtual operations break down geographic barriers, Techstars Toronto doubles down on international startups in 2021 cohort

Sharma said the move to virtual operations during the pandemic has allowed Techstars Toronto to focus on enticing more high-potential companies to set up shop in Canada. Though the program has always accepted companies from outside of Canada, most of Techstars Toronto’s spring 2021 cohort companies were founded in other countries, such as Nigeria, Vietnam, India, and the United States.

Techstars Toronto has also made efforts to make its mentorship base more global, and has looked to align itself with other Techstars programs globally. This year, it initiated a partnership with Techstars Tel Aviv to foster collaboration between Canada’s and Israel’s tech ecosystems.

“By more than doubling Techstars Toronto, the biggest benefit is that … more entrepreneurs that will get the support of the funding and global network that Techstars provides,” Sharma said. “A second benefit will be the increased awareness of Canada to startups around the world.”

Also notable for Techstars Toronto is the upcoming departure of Tariq Haddadin, who has served as program director for the Toronto program since its inception. Haddadin, who will be departing at the end of the month, told BetaKit he will pursue an operating role at an early-stage startup.

“I am incredibly proud of setting up and operating the first Canadian accelerator for Techstars and of what our founders have been able to accomplish over the years,” Haddadin told BetaKit.

Techstars Toronto recently hired Gabrielle Rudd to co-pilot the next cohort with Sharma. Rudd was previously a senior operations associate for Techstars’ Chicago program. With a current team of two people, Techstars Toronto is looking to add up to two more team members, including a director of platform and a venture principal.

Applications for Techstars Toronto’s upcoming cohort close on September 20. Sharma said he has been actively attending pitch competitions and speaking with innovation hubs to identify startups for the next batch.

“The opportunity to double-down on the tech scene in Toronto is proof that Toronto places at or near the top of the world in relation to startups and entrepreneurs,” Sharma said. “We are excited to be part of the local tech ecosystem and also to use our unique global network and brand to attract more startups to Canada.”

Image courtesy of Sunil Sharma.

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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