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It takes more than bricks and mortar to build a regional economy

By Denzil Doyle

A few years ago, a group of hockey enthusiasts from southwestern Ontario embarked on an ambitious campaign to establish an NHL hockey club in their area. A nasty comment that went around at the time was that it would never happen because if it did, Toronto would want one as well.

That joke came to mind when I was asked to comment on the enthusiasm for the MaRS Centre, a Toronto-based innovation centre, only this time the shoe is on the other foot; MaRS appears to be a successful business accelerator that is being emulated across the country. In fact, it appears to have been looked at in some detail by the people who played a key role in the planning of the Ottawa Innovation Centre, to be located at the Bayview yards area.

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Accelerated: Waterloo’s culture of collaboration

This is the 18th article in a continuing series that examines the state of the ecosystem necessary to successfully bring technology to market. Based on dozens of interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, angel investors, business leaders, academics, tech-transfer experts and policy makers, this series looks at what is working and what can be improved in the go-to-market ecosystem in the United States, Canada and Britain. We invite your feedback.

By Francis Moran and Leo Valiquette

Throughout this series, we have often referenced startup accelerators and the important role they play in the commercialization ecosystem, as well as where government support fits into the equation. So we thought it was time to take a closer look at these entities by profiling three different ones from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.

This week, we start with Waterloo’s five-year-old Accelerator Centre. We recently spoke with Tim Jackson, COO of the AC, about the role that this kind of organization plays in the process of getting technology to market, what makes it tick, the culture required to support it and how it measures success. What follows is an abridged transcript of our conversation.

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Lean startup: It’s the Canadian way

As part of our ongoing series examining the ecosystem necessary to bring technology to market, we asked serial entrepreneur Jason Flick to share some of his insights on getting tech to market with lean thinking. This is the first of his commentaries and we welcome your feedback.

By Jason Flick

You would have to be living under a rock not to have heard about the billions in venture capital flooding into the Valley. Venture firms raised over $60 billion in Q1 2011 alone. Some companies are ramping from zero to billions in revenue in years rather than decades. Students fresh out of school are being offered six-figure salaries, four-month signing bonuses and iPads to come on board. (VentureBeat summed it up well in this recent story.)

Of course, these stories seldom report that for every company like this, there are 99 others that flounder and end up as large financial craters.

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Canadian bacon sizzles in the Valley

By Leo Valiquette

Last night, I had the honour of attending the Canadian launch of the C100 in downtown Ottawa at Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.

What is the C100? It’s a group of those ex-pat Canadians who we refer to when we lament the “brain drain.” They have stepped up to put their time, money and Rolodexes into helping our strongest early-stage companies acquire the mentoring, business contacts and exposure to potential investors they need in North America’s hottest technology nexus — Silicon Valley.

Or to say it another way:

C100 is a non-profit, member-driven organization dedicated to supporting Canadian technology entrepreneurship and investment, comprised of a select group of Canadians based primarily in Silicon Valley, including executives of leading technology companies, experienced start-up entrepreneurs and venture capital investors.

There are Canadians that fit that bill all over the Valley said Chris Albinson, one of the founders of the C100 and co-founder and managing director of life sciences and technology investment firm Panorama Capital.

Last fall, overwhelmed by stories from disheartened Canadian entrepreneurs who were struggling to stay afloat as investment dollars dried up due to the economic downturn, as well as the demise of Nortel Networks and the impact this would have on the entire Canadian innovation ecosystem, the founders of C100 decided to do something. They looked to the examples set by other ex-pat communities in the Valley, notably the Israelis, and the networks they had set up to help start-up companies from back home make a name for themselves in the Valley.

At a dinner where 65 guests showed up despite only 50 invitations having been sent out, the audience was challenged to step up and commit to doing something. By the end of the night, 64 guests had endorsed the idea that would become the C100 and each had committed $800 to its creation.

Five months later, the C100 has earned the support and sponsorship of government, economic development agencies and technology incubators across Canada, from EDC and DFAIT, to OCRI, MaRS and Communitech in Ontario.  Seventy Canadian companies have been introduced in the Valley and provided with crucial mentoring and exposure from those who have been there and done it first.

After only five months, five of those 70 companies have secured venture capital investment — a total of US$45 million. And this is just the start.

Incidentally, one of the companies that has benefited from C100′s help is cloud data governance specialist PerspecSys of Waterloo, a new inmedia client. Only last week, PerspecSys was one of 20 Canadian companies that were part of 48hrs in the Valley, a C100 initiative carried out in partnership with the Consulate General of Canada. 48hrs is a fun and intense two-day mentoring and business development program designed to help Canadian entrepreneurs connect with the advice, resources and networks they need to grow their businesses.

While on the junket, PerspecSys competed in the elevator pitch sessions before a judging panel of hard-nosed Valley investors and other tech sector players at the Plug and Play Spring EXPO. It beat out about 40 other U.S. and Canadian companies to take top honours due to the strength of its go-to-market strategy and an innovative solution that lies at the confluence of two key growth markets – cloud computing and securing sensitive corporate data to meet compliancy requirements.

So, hat’s off to the C100 — yet another example of how adversity breeds creative leadership and opportunity. It is this kind of grassroots community effort that will drive a bright future for Canadian entrepreneurship and innovation.

Recent Comments

  • Francis Moran : I'm so glad to see you warming to this idea, Luc. Not that you were ever one of those mindless critics who automatically opposed the proposal; you were properly skeptical and demanding that it contain more of what folks like you and I believed was necessary for success. Looks like the city is listening.

  • Luc Lalande : Hi Francis, thank you for the steady and keen eye on the development of this important project for the City. I share your view that open spaces in the building’s design will be critical components for encouraging spontaneous interactions between people. Integrating such spaces in the Innovation Complex sends the right signals to the community-at-large and not just the local startup ecosystem: everyone is welcomed! With respect to Patti’s comments about the arts sector, it would be worth bringing back to light that the Hintonburg-Mechanicsville area has emerged as the first Arts District in the City of Ottawa, housing many artist studios, performing arts studios, and media groups. While the 7 Bayview located Innovation Complex may cater to the entrepreneurial set, there is still considerable property on these lands that could, one day, be developed and capitalize on the area’s sizable artistic community. But perhaps the open spaces at the Innovation Complex can be equally accommodating for anyone who embraces creativity and entrepreneurship: artists and innovators alike.

  • How can we foster culture of entrepreneurship? | Waterloo Innovation Summit : [...] Velocity also provides hands-on workshops for anyone at the University to learn about becoming a successful entrepreneur, and awards over $300,000 per year through the Velocity Fund to promising early startups, to help launch their success financially. We keep finding really good problems that are worthy of solving and that we think we’d be good at solving. - Mike Kirkup, Director of Velocity and Student Innovation Waterloo’s Velocity accelerator is 5, and growing fast [...]

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