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How uOttawa is helping companies like Welbi and Noibu find the secret to success

The university’s #MissionEntrepreneurship helps turn innovative ideas into market-ready solutions

uOttawa startup Well CEO Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau

The University of Ottawa has a rich history of fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem on its campuses, which supports turning great ideas into powerful tech solutions. At the heart of this mission is uOttawa’s Entrepreneurship Hub (eHub) which provides the opportunity and support to uOttawa students, staff, faculty, researchers, as well as alumni to explore entrepreneurship.  

“Over the past four years, we’ve intensified our efforts in providing the very best environments and the right programs to allow entrepreneurship to flourish at uOttawa. We are on a #MissionEntrepreneurship,” says Guy Levesque, associate vice-president, innovation, partnerships and entrepreneurship at uOttawa. 

uOttawa’s longest standing entrepreneurship program led out of the eHub, Startup Garage, launched in 2010. Startup Garage is a year-round accelerator providing entrepreneurs with space, access to capital, mentorship, group coaching, advisory services, and peer-to-peer networks to help entrepreneurs get from idea to launch to growth. 

Startup Garage breaks its program into four circuits, which enables the eHub to target entrepreneurs at different stages of their journey. Since its inception, Startup Garage has launched over 125 businesses, with 35 per cent still active today. Some notable alumni include Growcer, Spiderwort, Ekidna, Gift Better Co. and many more. 

“We are really proud of the work we do with the Startup Garage program, as a launch point for many entrepreneurs within our university community. As an alum of the program myself, I can speak to the benefits that the Startup Garage network brings to its entrepreneurs, while giving them a solid foundation to start and grow,” says Kathleen Kemp, manager of uOttawa’s eHub.

“We are proud to serve such a diverse group of companies tackling a wide range of problems in our society, and to create a positive environment for them to thrive.”

uOttawa is on #MissionEntrepreneurship

One of uOttawa’s Telfer School of Management grads knows the impact of Startup Garage all too well.

Elizabeth Audette-Bourdeau is CEO and founder of Ottawa-based Welbi, a data gathering platform that supports patient recreation care in retirement homes and long-term care facilities. 

Since participating in Startup Garage in 2017, Audette-Bourdeau – as well as Welbi – haven’t lost momentum. On top of securing several rounds of seed-funding, Audette-Bourdeau is one of OBJ’s Top Forty under 40 recipients this year and was featured as one of Ottawa’s 10 next gen companies to watch. 

While the Startup Garage program teaches entrepreneurs like Audette-Bourdeau key business building skills – like how to pitch to funders and manage growth – there is also a focus on developing and leveraging networks, especially in a business community like Ottawa.

“I’m a big believer in networking,” said Audette-Bourdeau, who built on her networking skills through her time in the Startup Garage program, and leveraged those newfound skills to grow her team and source investors.  

“In one case, out of an initial introduction we got three investors, a new sales director, and a client that helped us open up a new market,” she said, adding that Welbi’s is currently hiring to fill a number of roles, including an HR director.

Noibu, a startup from uOttawa's Startup Garage

Noibu, an Ottawa-based SaaS company that provides profit-saving bug-detection services to e-commerce platforms, is another Startup Garage success story. 

Rob Boukine and Kailin Noivo are long-time friends with Kathleen Kemp, the eHub Manager, having all graduated from the Telfer School of Management together. 

“When Kathleen contacted us, we had just exhausted our personal savings in the pursuit of making something useful for others,” said Noibu CTO Filip Slatinac. “We were thrilled to find out we were accepted to Startup Garage — it gave us another shot at staying alive.”

Through the program, the Noibu team were able to refine their pitch, network with founders and advisors and eventually expand their team.

Since participating in the eHub’s accelerator program – as well as uOttawa’s other accelerator programs, MakerLaunch and Scaleup Garage – Noibu has continued to find success, landing themselves on OBJ’s Fastest Growing Companies list two years in a row, recording triple digit year-over-year growth. 

And like Audette-Bourdeau, the Noibu founders are still in touch with key members of their Startup Garage network.

“What’s also great about Startup Garage is how their graduates go back to mentor the next round of entrepreneurs,” added Audette-Bourdeau, which is a key focal point for the program going forward.

What’s next for Startup Garage?

Kemp expects eHub programs, like Startup Garage, to keep evolving to meet entrepreneurs’ needs – especially with growing demand. 

In the last five years, eHub has seen 700 per cent growth, having served 500 students in 2018, to now close to 4,000.

The eHub has also gone from offering three flagship programs, to 11, as well as evolved into a year-round program due to rising demand and success of the program. 

“To continue to enhance impact and accessibility, the eHub has also diversified its program offering for students to learn about entrepreneurship in several environments, including curricular course work, internships within startups, hackathons, bootcamps and accelerator programs. This allows us to meet the needs of students and researchers, while also increasing our reach for entrepreneurship programs to under-represented communities,” says Kemp.    

One of Kemp’s most important roles is keeping the mentorship network strong through networking at innovation events and bringing new mentors into the fold.

“We’re always open to having conversations with folks about how their background and skills could support our program,” she said.

Click here to learn more about how to share your business know-how with uOttawa’s entrepreneurial programs.