L-SPARK accepting incubator applicants

With the L-SPARK accelerator now in full swing, the Kanata-based group began accepting applicants for its incubator program late Tuesday.

L-SPARK – a partnership between tech incubator Wesley Clover and Invest Ottawa – focuses on enterprise software firms. Its director of accelerator partnership development, Bob Huggins, says it is looking for applicants that are a little more evolved than “two guys in a dorm room with an idea.”

“When we say incubator, we are incubating companies that are SaaS (software-as-a-service) or cloud-based enterprise focused and generally are much more mature and do not focus at all on the consumer,” he said. “These are B-to-B, so it is a little bit more advanced.”

L-SPARK will accept applications for the incubator program until Feb. 27. Based on the response to the accelerator program – more than 330 applications were received – Mr. Huggins said he doesn’t expect any shortage of applicants for this program either.

In a perfect world, Mr. Huggins said, the incubator would have preceded the accelerator, but since there were already some more mature companies ready to enter the accelerator program, they decided to launch it first. The hope is that the successful companies in the upcoming incubator may be ready to enter the next accelerator.

“In some cases, we hope they supercede that and are actually out to the market a little bit quicker,” Mr. Huggins said.

Mr. Huggins called L-SPARK “high touch,” meaning he and other members of the group will actually meet with some of the interested applicants and provide mentorship throughout the application process.

“Ultimately, the selection process will fall on venture capitalists and investors who will look at these things and go, ‘I would invest in that,’” he said. Mentors and L-SPARK partners will also play a role in the final decision.

Those decisions will happen following a pitch fest on March 24.

In the meantime, the accelerator program is up and running with four successful companies “deep into it,” Mr. Huggins said.

The four companies will be announced once all the legal paperwork is complete.

“As true entrepreneurs,” Mr. Huggins said, “you let the paperwork follow and get on your horse and go.”

That means those companies have already been matched with mentors and are working on setting and meeting goals through the nine-month process. While there will be opportunities for more funding throughout the term, Mr. Huggins says the real value is in the mentorship.

“When surveys are done, the absolutely highest tick box is always mentorship and that’s probably followed by capital,” he said. “It’s never the other way around. The entrepreneurs appreciate the blood, sweat and tears and all the scars on our back.”

Since 2003, he noted, there have been just two $1-billion companies launched in Canada – Ottawa’s Shopify and Vancouver’s Hootsuite – compared with more than 50 in California, which has a similar population.

“We’d love to see these companies grow to $100 million in sales and become those billion-dollar-valuated companies,” Mr. Huggins said. “It’s great that we have people like (Shopify CEO) Tobi Lütke and some of the Shopify folks on our board of advisors and so we get to tap into all that experience and knowledge.”

At the end of the day, L-SPARK is driven by a desire to help the community, he said.

“I sit in a room right now that is surrounded by buildings that have the legacy of Terry Matthews and all of the people that have grown the businesses of Mitel and Newbridge and Alcatel and there’s probably 50 companies that are here. It’s all coming out of an ecosystem, it all creates wealth, and it all makes life very good for our community and this is what we’re trying to do.”