Ottawa’s startup ecosystem received some much-needed support this month as TheCodeFactory launched Government to Startup (G2S), an incubator program developed by the learning centre’s founder and president Ian Graham to address the challenges faced by displaced government workers in Ottawa.
For those of you who have been ignoring the news lately, the Government of Canada has set in motion austerity plans that will see the reduction of 19,200 federal public service jobs over the next three years.
To encourage displaced workers to remain in Ottawa rather than uproot and seek employment elsewhere, the program will provide them with the skills and knowledge to start their own businesses. The program promises, “No startup will be left behind,” with the goal that participants will have fully functional and profitable businesses on exit.
While the program was developed to support the droves of displaced federal government workers, it is available to anyone in Ottawa who wants to start their own technology or technology-enabled business, whether product or service-based, B2B or B2C.
“There is a need for something like this,” said Graham. “I’m an experienced entrepreneur, and, being someone who went through the hard transition from employment to self-employment, I wondered how I could step forward to help my community.”
Graham made the leap from employee to entrepreneur in 2004 when he voluntarily left the relative safety and security of a well-paid product management position at Alcatel Canada.
An advocate for the idea that, “Entrepreneurship is a skill that can be taught,” Graham has been developing this program for the last two years, conducting test runs of certain aspects of the program with some of the senior startups that work out of TheCodeFactory, as well as with participants in TheCodeFactory’s summer school programs. He gathered valuable feedback from these trial runs, and perfected the process of peer-to-peer facilitated learning, which would provide the building blocks for G2S.
The two-year program is based on four broad sections: Foundations, Building, Product/service development, and Validating. The sections are broken into blocks of six to 12 weeks, with specific focus on building part of the business plan, team, systems and product/service. Each block builds on the previous work and adds another essential element to the business. At the end of the first year, participating founders will have a:
- Business plan
- Team (core and support)
And by the end of the program, a profitable business.
The program itself is based on cohorts of founders working together to build their businesses, but will be supported by Graham and other outside experts.
Foundations will primarily consist of peer-to-peer mentorship sessions facilitated by Graham. In the Building section, Graham will pull in experts from business, marketing and financial planning backgrounds to further guide the startups towards success. The Product/service development section will also be guided by outside experts, with backgrounds in web development, mobile and other technology-focused areas of business development. At the end of the program, the founders should receive validation that their startups are profitable businesses and that their learn rate has been improved.
“The curriculum is essentially an unMBA where the focus is practical, hands-on, and useful rather than theoretical and ‘general management,’” said Graham. “One of my favourite quotes goes: ‘In theory there is no difference between practice and theory but in practice there is.’ This is a program about practice not theory.”
The methodologies are based on his personal experience building TheCodeFactory since 2008, working in a mentorship capacity with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation for five years, and the mentoring and coaching that he has received.
But all this aside, does Ottawa really need another startup incubator? Graham says yes, and emphasizes that this one is different from any other out there.
“I don’t know of any other incubator program quite like this in the world,” said Graham. “G2S is principally a bootstrapped, peer-to-peer incubation program, whereas incubators like FounderFuel are based on money and mentorship. To use an analogy, we’re like The Keg and the FounderFuels are like Hy’s. Our intent is to facilitate a group of peers to build a profitable business together where we want everyone to succeed. FounderFuel’s intent is to build high-growth scalable startups that create an exceptional return on investment. You could say we’re different in terms of goals, methodology, intended outcomes, and scope and scale.”
G2S is willing to accept anyone who has the passion to participate, and the commitment to build a business for a minimum of two years. “We are looking for people who want to ‘burn their boat,’” said Graham. “The goal is simple: build a profitable business in two years and increase the learn rate of the founders. TheCodeFactory, when it launched on May 26, 2008, was a unique idea. Its incubation program is also a front-runner in its domain and well ahead of the pack.”
The criteria to get in? Have an idea, really like it, be willing to spend two years of your life building it, and embody the “spirit of the program,” which is built upon trust, commitment, effort and the open source principles: open, transparent and meritous.
G2S will start by accepting one cohort of 6-10 startups. Each founder is obliged to attend a two-hour in-person session every week, and to complete a minimum of two hours of homework per week. G2S will accept founders building their startups full-time and part-time.
As this is a bootstrapped program, founders are expected to fund their own business ventures. The program costs $375 per month for founders spending part of their time on their startups while holding down full-time day jobs. Full-time participants can choose “shared success” and a fixed payment.
To learn more, the next information sessions will be held:
Each information session can accommodate eight potential founders. The program will commence in mid-October.
In other related news, Graham is proud to announce that he is planning to open another TheCodeFactory in Ottawa next year. He also has ambitious plans to open a third facility in another Canadian city.
For more information about G2S, contact Graham at ian(at)thecodefactory(dot)ca