Inside Ottawa’s newest startup accelerator

La Cité’s La Factorie Desjardins is already attracting some of the city’s hottest early stage companies

An Ottawa biotech startup that’s finding new ways to regrow skin, bones and even spinal tissue has found a new home in La Cité’s accelerator program – the latest addition to the college’s entrepreneurship program.

Spiderwort recently moved into La Factorie Desjardins – an area designed for entrepreneurs in the newly constructed Excentricité pavillion.

The bioengineering company started at the University of Ottawa in 2015, studying how to regenerate body parts using non-synthetic materials such as plant-based tissues. 

“La Cité has tapped into a definite need here in Ottawa.”

While the university had sufficient lab capabilities, the business side of Spiderwort was operating out of Invest Ottawa, which created a disconnect for the company, says CEO and co-founder Charles Cuerrier. La Cité had the solution and was able to provide the company the space, equipment and mentorship it needed to be successful.

“La Cité created that environment where we can all be together in the same place and interact day-to-day,” says Cuerrier. “The new lab is also there to support startups ... It’s just perfect for where we are at right now.” 

The accelerator space has eight workstations currently occupied by Spiderwort, which has access to resources such as assistance from professors, students and funding grants. 

“We needed access to labs and expertise, but as a startup we couldn’t afford to hire loads of people with the specific knowledge to help us with studies,” says Cuerrier. “La Cité has tapped into a definite need here in Ottawa.”

From inspiration to implementation

The idea for an onsite business accelerator program at La Cité came after the college saw how relatively few of its applied research projects ever made it to market, says Danika Bourgeois-Desnoyers, manager of entrepreneurship and innovation at La Cité.

“(Teams) just didn’t have the help to bring it to the next stage,” she adds.

The entrepreneurship program is designed to help pre-startups, startups and scale-ups through three major phases: inspiration, innovation and implementation. Through mentorship and free hands-on workshops, participants advance their business from conception right through to market readiness.

La Factorie Desjardins is also looking to help local Francophone startups by offering programs to help them through the growth process. La Cité recently participated in a French workshop in Toronto and will be hosting one on the college campus in November.

“Our niche is really Franco-Ontarian entrepreneurs because it is rare to find multiple workshops or training offered in French,” says Bourgeois-Desnoyers, highlighting how the college focuses on producing bilingual, entrepreneurial graduates.

As Spiderwort continues to settle into its new workspace, La Cité is gearing up for a new expert-in-residence program that will begin in November. Entrepreneurs will receive free advice from a variety of industry leaders in sectors such as financing, marketing and business leadership coaching. 

“We are very new, but even within the last two months the interest is there,” says Bourgeois-Desnoyers. “We’re going to grow, and there is a need, so we just have to get the word out that we’re here to help.” 

Five things to know about La Factorie Desjardins:

1. The building housing La Factorie Desjardins is a recent addition to the campus and opened in September 2018

2. There are four main fields of focus in the entrepreneurship program: Bio-innovation, Smart prototyping, AgriFood and Social innovation

3. La Factorie Desjardins offers corporate training for both private and public enterprises

4. The main room at La Factorie Desjardins is the Ideation room, which was designed for entrepreneurs to brainstorm and problem solve during product development

5. The accelerator program is open to all startups – not just La Cité students