Techopia Live: University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage scales up after 10 years

After 10 years of supporting early-stage companies at the University of Ottawa, Startup Garage is taking its program to the next level.

Techopia Live stopped by the Startup Garage Rally, where seven startups from the latest cohort of the pre-accelerator program battled in a rapid pitchfest. We heard from the winner of the best business opportunity award, MyPitboard!, and learned about a new program focusing on scaling up the university’s student and alumni companies.

First things first: what’s a pitboard? CEO Kibby Pollak, who spent four years as a professional motocross racer, told Techopia Live that riders set people along the track to hold out simple whiteboards to give them up-to-date information on their lap times. That’s a problem for anyone practising solo, who may not have a designated person to hold out a pitboard.

MyPitboard! solves the issue with a screen embedded on the bike itself, which can give real-time analytics on lap times and other relevant stats.

While Pollak acknowledged that the opportunity seems very specific, he noted that racers of all kinds, including kart drivers, can make good use of the company’s embedded pitboard. 

“It’s really a big market, it’s not so niche. We can branch out into many different areas,” Pollak said.

After just a few weeks on the market, MyPitboard! is already picking up speed. The firm sold 19 pre-orders in its first two weeks in business, and struck broadcaster deals with the likes of TSN and Fox to feature MyPitboard! Analytics on-screen during upcoming motocross events.

Pollak said that with a team comprised wholly of engineering students, the mentorship provided by Startup Garage on sales strategies was especially relevant.

“When we first entered the program, we were still figuring out how to build our product. We didn’t even have any sales,” he said. “I have nothing but amazing things to say about Startup Garage.”

From startup to scaleup

Pollak is likely not alone in that sentiment. Some 85 companies have run the ropes with Startup Garage over the past decade, including well-known Ottawa firms such as The Growcer, Hoppier and Welbi.

Kathleen Kemp, manager of the University of Ottawa’s Entrepreneurship Hub, told Techopia Live that the program’s staff are proud to see their alumni founders and companies continuing to thrive in Ottawa, with many moving further down the pipeline to accelerators at Invest Ottawa and L-Spark.

In the next 10 years, Startup Garage will move beyond its pre-accelerator roots. A new program called Scaleup Garage will launch this fall, aimed at student or alumni startups that are ready for scale.

The eight-month program, expected to begin after Thanksgiving, is funded through FedDev Ontario’s scaleup program, a partnership between the federal agency, Invest Ottawa, Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and Waterloo’s Communitech. This is one of the first official initiatives announced through the scaleup program, which allocated $16.9 million for Invest Ottawa this past spring.

Kemp said the Scaleup Garage, run out of uOttawa’s STEM building, will provide similar mentorship and support to the Startup Garage program, but with programming specifically geared for later-stage companies.

Applications for the inaugural Scaleup Garage cohort are open now, while those interested in the Startup Garage program can apply in November.