Invest Ottawa launches new accelerator program

Nick Quain
Nick Quain is Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of venture development. (OBJ file photo)

Invest Ottawa is introducing a new accelerator model that will focus the economic development agency’s resources on the city’s highest potential startups.

It’s the first time Invest Ottawa will run what it considers a formal accelerator. Nick Quain, Invest Ottawa’s new vice-president of venture development, says that while the organization has offered programs such as entrepreneur-in-residence support that are common to accelerators, this more formally structured program will be the “foundation” of how it supports local startups in the future.

The core features of the new accelerator are a more competitive application process, a milestone-based approach and expert support across a range of business areas.

The application is open now to companies that have less than $2 million in revenue but have a minimum viable product, an identifiable market, a vision to build the company and a desire to join and learn from the Invest Ottawa ecosystem.

Quain says the competitive process will ensure that companies in the accelerator program are in the right phase for Invest Ottawa’s help, that the founders are a good fit for the program and that the company has a sizeable potential. In other words, the organization can ensure it’s spending the accelerator’s resources where they’re most likely to pay off.

Invest Ottawa staff will also work with companies to set realistic milestones and timelines to achieve them. While this helps the companies stay on track and meet goals, Quain says it’s also a valuable metric for ensuring that entrepreneurs remain engaged in the program.

“When you have that type of structure in place, it becomes easier to decide whether a company should stay in the program or not,” he says.

Both the application and milestones comprising the program reflect the reality of Invest Ottawa’ finite resources. Desk space inside Bayview Yards’ Incite Incubator is limited, and will now go solely to companies in the accelerator program. Some startups in the accelerator, already with offices of their own, won’t necessarily have a physical spot in the incubator.

“We could probably fill this building two to three times over with all the companies that want to come here and be at Bayview Yards,” Quain says.

The other substantial change is an upgrade to the traditional entrepreneur-in-residence model. Instead of a dedicated generalist, startups in the accelerator will now work with a team of specialists in areas such as sales, design, human resources and understanding legal requirements. Quain says the more focused approach will “propel” firms towards growth.

One of the startups often touted as an Invest Ottawa success story is FarmLead. The firm, which builds an online grain marketplace for farmers, has raised a seed and series-A round and moved out of the Bayview Yards incubator space just last year.

Co-founder and CEO Brennan Turner told Techopia that FarmLead “took advantage of everything” Invest Ottawa had to offer, from entrepreneurs in residence to lessons on raising capital.

Turner says that participants in Invest Ottawa programming will get out of it what they put in. As might be expected for the CEO of an agri-tech firm, he had a suitable metaphor on hand to make his point.

“Higher quality seeds produces a higher quality crop – simple as that.”