Invest Ottawa taps Waterloo counterpart to inform new accelerator program


Invest Ottawa is leaning on some Waterloo expertise as it rolls out the latest version of its accelerator program.

The regional economic development agency officially launched its IO Accelerator last week alongside the Waterloo Accelerator Centre. The southwest Ontario accelerator acted as Invest Ottawa’s strategic partner as the local organization reshaped its approach to supporting startups.

The Waterloo AC has an international reputation among university-linked accelerators, with UBI Global ranking the organization fourth in the world from a crop of more than a thousand similar programs. It’s given rise to well-known Canadian tech firms such as Kik and Magnet Forensics, the latter of which expanded to Ottawa in recent years.

Nick Quain, Invest Ottawa’s vice-president of venture development, tells Techopia that the organization leveraged the Waterloo AC’s expertise for everything from the overarching structure of the program to minute details such as the cadence of meetings.

One of the key takeaways from the partnership is the approach to mentorship. Rather than the traditional entrepreneur-in-residence model, the IO Accelerator uses a dedicated team of specialists in business areas such as marketing, sales and product design – a concept picked up from Waterloo’s program.

“We just looked at that and said that's a more logical structure in terms of supporting the companies that we have in Ottawa,” Quain says.

The idea sharing goes both ways, with Waterloo AC picking up a couple tips from Invest Ottawa. Specifically, the local organization’s global trade initiatives and market insights services, whereby Invest Ottawa helps its startups identify potential customers, were of interest to the Waterloo-based accelerator.

The official IO Accelerator launch, which comes a few months after the program began and the inaugural cohort was first announced, came with the news that four more companies have joined the program. The addition of CybernetIQ, FranchiseBlast, Phzio and ToroChain Financial brings the total number of accelerator companies up to 44.

Eight of those firms are led by female founders, a point of pride for the Invest Ottawa team. Alongside the accelerator launch, the organization and Bayview Yards released gender, diversity and inclusion guidelines aimed at promoting the representation of women and visible minorities on its boards of directors and committees.

Quain notes that the accelerator’s screening team looks for the presence of either a female founder or women on the team when evaluating a startup’s potential.

“That's one of the things that you're always looking at, because a diverse and well-balanced team is something that will lead to higher probability of success,” he says. A report last year from Deloitte backs up Quain’s claim, noting that inclusive organizations are more likely to succeed.

The new accelerator format comes with a lofty goal for its startups: $100 million in revenue. The program’s high goalposts reflect a concentration of Invest Ottawa’s resources, hoping to focus on startups with the most potential.

“We’re really doubling or tripling down in terms of the amount of energy and resources and support that we're putting behind the companies in the accelerator,” Quain says.

“It’s more of a focus on creating, that next big, great company. Or a bundle of them, a whole cohort of them, ideally.”