Silicon Valley (very) early-stage accelerator comes to Ottawa

A high-profile Silicon Valley accelerator has come to Ottawa, and its first cohort is ready to pitch.

Globalizing Silicon Valley is a local accelerator by Founder Institute, a California-based startup launch program that has expanded to around 90 cities worldwide including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Waterloo.

Relevant Social Media founder Shawna Tregunna and Startup Garage coordinator Nolan Beanlands are the local directors of the program that began its first cohort in September of last year.

Founder Institute targets very early stage startups and entrepreneurs with little more than an idea. Beanlands says supporting entrepreneurs at this stage of development is something Ottawa’s ecosystem was missing.

“There are a lot of accelerator programs popping up, and most of them… are consistently going upstream and looking for companies that are a little more advanced,” he says.

The program is designed to fit around entrepreneurs who are still working a day job, adding 20-30 hours of work to their week to simulate the average entrepreneur’s rigorous schedule.

“You can think of it like the best university course you’ve ever taken in your life, the most demanding one for sure,” Beanlands says.

To that end, the program is designed to be tough. It is meant not only to validate participants’ ideas, but also their readiness to be a successful entrepreneur.

“It really tests their passion level. It shows who’s serious and who’s not.”

Part of the application process includes an aptitude test for entrepreneurship. Candidates’ personalities are tested for levels of narcissism, stubbornness, and other qualities that are unbecoming of entrepreneurs.

“It sounds kind of harsh to judge you on a personality test, but they have the data to back it up,” Beanlands says.

The Ottawa program can be considered a “franchise” of Founder Institute, but is also funded by local sponsor Welch LLP. Participants pay a small fee to join the accelerator, and those who completed the 14-week program also give 3.5 per cent equity in their company.

That equity, however, is split not only between the executives at Founder Institute, but also the mentors and the other members of the cohort. Beanlands says this helps to reduce any sense of competition between participants and gives everyone involved a sense of community and a stake in the collaborative success of the startups.

More than 40 mentors are already involved in the Ottawa program, including Mistral Venture’s Code Cubitt, Better Software Co.’s Steve Cody and MindBridge AI’s Eli Fathi.

Beanlands says he’s impressed with the ideas that have come out of the first cohort, which will pitch their ideas to a crowd of local investors and entrepreneurs on Thursday night.

These include an artificial intelligence application to give small-time investors access to the same tools that big banks use, and a product for digitizing receipts and warranties to simplify the process for consumers, manufacturers and insurance companies alike.

Applications for the second cohort, to begin in March, will be announced at tomorrow night’s showcase at the Red Lion Public House at 6:30 pm.