OMERS-backed Toronto startup accelerator OneEleven expanding to Ottawa

A Toronto-based startup accelerator that has spawned success stories such as online investment management service Wealthsimple is expanding to Ottawa later this year.

OneEleven – a partnership between OMERS Ventures, the venture-capital arm of the Ontario municipal employees’ pension fund, the provincial government’s Ontario Centres of Excellence and Ryerson University – was launched in 2013. It currently hosts 34 companies at its main office on Front Street in downtown Toronto.

OneEleven provides mentorship, office space and other services to fledgling firms that have already received one or two rounds of VC funding, generally have between 10 and 30 employees and are poised for major growth.

Now, OneEleven itself is set to expand, with plans to add more locations in Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia in an ambitious bid to go global.

It’s starting in Ottawa, where it’s slated to open an office in early July at 66 Slater St., just west of Elgin Street. It will start with one floor and has an option to take more space. OneEleven also plans to open an office in Vancouver later this year.

Tech industry veteran Dean Hopkins, who is leading the expansion drive, said Ottawa was a natural choice when OneEleven was deciding where to go first.

“Ottawa has a history, a long legacy of entrepreneurship dating back to the very early days in tech,” said Hopkins, who was born and raised in the nation’s capital. “When we looked at the markets, we said this was a great market for us to first expand into.”

Rather than referring to OneEleven as an accelerator, Hopkins prefers to call it an “innovation hub.”

Firms under its roof don’t have to leave after a set period of time, but typically tend to stick around for 18-24 months. By that point, Hopkins said, most of them have raised enough capital to stand on their own feet.

"Our job (is) to get them from startup to more or less self-sustaining."

“By the time they reach 30, 40 (employees), they’re really at a point we call reaching escape velocity,” he explained. “They’ve now got the structure, the support and everything to carry on. That’s our job – to get them from startup to more or less self-sustaining.”

Hopkins, who is also a tech adviser for Thomson Reuters, said OneEleven is trying to fill what it is sees as a gaping void in the Canadian tech ecosystem.

He said while there are plenty of tools to help new companies get off the ground in Canada, including incubators and accelerators such as L-Spark and Invest Ottawa that provide mentorship and services, startups are too often left to fend for themselves after a year or two.

“At a certain point in a startup, you reach some traction with customers and you start to really grow,” Hopkins said. “Usually, the startup community at that point sends you off. That’s a very fragile time for an enterprise. There’s a lot that they don’t have yet, especially if you’re not an experienced founder.”

Hopkins was in Ottawa last Thursday and met with L-Spark managing director Leo Lax and Invest Ottawa CEO Michael Tremblay. He credited both organizations with helping “build the base” of tech startups in the capital, and he believes OneEleven can be the next stage of a “feeder system” for L-Spark and Invest Ottawa grads looking to scale up.

“There’s plenty of room for all of us to succeed in our own way,” he said. “We’re new, so we’ve got to come in and earn our keep, but we hope to really collaborate … and really collectively keep our eye on all the entrepreneurs and startups and help them grow.”

Tremblay said he’s eager to sit down with Hopkins and his team to find opportunities for the institutions to work together.

“We’re very active in global markets, so I suspect that there will be a lot of collaboration in terms of helping (OneEleven) companies in markets where we have a presence,” he said.

With investment partners that include RBC, Rogers and Aviva insurance, OneEleven already boasts an impressive list of alumni, including Toronto-based mobile software maker Tulip Retail – which raised US$40 million in venture financing last year – and Wealthsimple, which now manages nearly $2 billion in assets.

Tremblay said OneEleven’s arrival sends a strong signal that Ottawa’s tech ecosystem is on the right track.  

“We’re in a position in the city where we’ve got way more opportunity than we have resources to support all of it,” he said. “I certainly welcome having more investment come in, and I think it bodes well to see this come in the form of private-sector investment because they see the business potential.

“The city is buzzing. We’re really doing well, and I think it’s becoming obvious to investors now that this is the city to spend time in.”