Faced with a rapidly spreading pandemic and increasingly strict regulations on public gatherings, Kanata-based accelerator L-Spark has opted to take its SaaS Showcase virtual rather than cancel or postpone the annual event.
L-Spark’s showcase series is a graduation of sorts for its cohort of software-as-a-service startups after months of work refining and accelerating their businesses with the Kanata-based team of mentors and SaaS experts.
The event usually features founders taking the stage to pitch their businesses to a crowd of investors and peers – a gathering that had been scheduled to run out of the Brookstreet Hotel on March 31.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified in recent weeks, L-Spark’s team saw the writing on the wall, even before provincial government regulations came into effect prohibiting events with large groups and ordering the closure of non-essential businesses by Tuesday night.
Other events faced with similar circumstances have opted to postpone – Ottawa’s annual AccelerateOTT conference, for one – in hopes that venues will still be available once the threat of the virus has hopefully subsided later this year.
But L-Spark managing director Leo Lax tells Techopia that waiting even a few months would defeat a key purpose of the SaaS Showcase, which is to show exactly how far the startups in the cohort have come after just a few months of rigorous programming.
To cancel or postpone the event they’ve been building towards since October would stall their momentum, Lax says.
Rather than wait for ideal conditions, L-Spark will practise what it preaches and forge on with an entrepreneurial spirit, fully prepared to accept any technical glitches or unforeseen circumstances that might arise.
“We adapt quickly. We will experiment. We fail sometimes – and hopefully this is not going to be one of those – but we fail sometimes, and in our view failing is not the end of the world,” Lax says.
The other plank in the SaaS Showcase formula – rallying the community around the graduating cohort – can be achieved through social media engagement with founders during the event. L-Spark’s planned keynote speaker, Axonify CEO Carol Leaman, will also contribute her talk remotely.
In planning and replanning the organization’s marquee event – Lax says plans are changing week to week as the novel coronavirus situation continues to evolve – the L-Spark team has found new meaning in continuing the event despite overwhelming odds.
“One of the key elements that I think our showcase has to highlight is that innovation doesn't stop,” Lax says.
“We are under crisis. I think our entrepreneurs will continue to persevere; they are going to continue to innovate. And what we need to do as a community, as a nation, as a world even, is to support our innovative individuals.”
Leo Lax’s advice for surviving the COVID-19 epidemic:
“Let's keep our eye on the ball. Survival – survival of our employees, survival of our community – is paramount. So first and foremost, let's make sure that we focus on doing whatever we need to make sure that we survive. Then, we will be ready to look at how we can grow and expand so that once the crisis has gone and is over, or it has diminished sufficiently, that we'll be able to attack the opportunities and be ready to do that.
We need to make sure that we've got all of our eyes open and continue to be agile. This is not business as usual.
Hopefully, the government is going to step up and recognize the threat and recognize how this community needs to be rescued and be willing to put in place the necessary tools to do that.”
What should the government response be?
“I would just highlight a couple of existing programs today that are in direct support of the innovation community: IRAP, the regional development agencies, BDC; these are all financial tools that the government could deploy to rapidly engage with the community without having to build a new supercluster or a new something.
I would encourage the government to focus on the existing deployment methods they have directly into those companies, not through intermediaries, not through others, but directly into these companies so that they can focus on survival and be able to actually put themselves in the best possible position.”