It’s hard to start a company—now there’s an understatement. Finding a great idea, the right mentorship, working space and team members is tough, let alone finding some kind of capital to fund it all.
Luckily Canada has some amazing resources to help entrepreneurs incubate and accelerate their ideas, turning them from a pitch into a real company. These labs, hubs and organizations have grown leaps and bounds this year and helped shape Canada into the tech giant it is now.
Toronto is naturally one of the hotspots for new startups to flock to when they want to begin the journey towards the big-times—after all, the CBRE declared the city as the fastest growing tech market in North America this past summer.
Initiatives like The Big Push help solidify that statement. It is a female-led accelerator that looks to do the “heavy lifting” when it comes to helping women enter the industry. The Big Push focuses on sweat equity and puts time and effort into creating and executing project plans. Up to 10 female entrepreneurs will be supported every year, each picking up to $100,000 in professional services.
PwC Canada got in on the accelerator action with its own digitally-oriented variation as well. A newly-opened 8,000-square-foot Toronto centre (and the second in Canada) will help the firm meet with clients and joins a network of 35 similar hubs across the globe. The team is currently working on blockchain pilots with banks in the country.
The famous MaRS Discovery District in Toronto also made headlines this year by unveiling partnerships with innovation hubs in both New York City and Boston. Companies from each U.S. city will be able to come to Canada and work with MaRS, while Canadian startups can head to Grand Central tech in NYC and Greentown Labs in Boston to do the same, all in the name of international scaling and awareness. Don’t forget about Ryerson University’s DMZ also opening a location in NYC.
The global accelerator Techstars also entered the Canadian market in 2017. Taking a spot in the newly opened WeWork, venture capitalist Sunil Sharma stepped away from Extreme Startups to take the reigns of Techstars Toronto. Selected companies in the first cohort will begin in January 2018.
The Infiniti Lab Canada also announced their inaugural program, welcoming in nine startups including Rover Parking, InnerSpace and Tap Report. The Toronto-based program will help the car company connect new companies with tech partners from IBM and OMERS Partners among others.
Toronto isn’t the only Ontario city incubating startups—Ottawa had IBM launch an Innovation Space as part of a $47-million initiative. Local businesses will gain access to the computing giants’ cognitive business technology and its network of customers. Up to 2,600 jobs will be created by 2020 as part of this project. Communitech in Waterloo also saw an IBM innovation incubator open too.
Quantum computing is on the verge of a breakthrough right now, so it’s no surprise one of the most successful incubators in the country unveiled a program dedicated to the technology. Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) in Toronto partnered with Rigetti Computing to welcome 40 startups into their year-long program. CDL also saw an outpost pop up in New York City this year, the lab’s first location outside of Canada. Companies like Bridgit, Thalmic Labs and Deep Genomics are CDL graduates, and those three have earned close to $140 million in combined financing over the past two years.
Speaking of the DMZ, the accelerator partnered with Facebook to bring the Facebook Journalism Project to Toronto, giving up to $100,000 in seed capital and $50,000 in Facebook ads to five digital media startups. The five-month program begins in 2018 and will run out of the DMZ. The Bank of Montreal also launched a fintech incubator at the Ryerson accelerator, with Viviplan and Furtuna.ai seeing big results.
The Canadian government even got involved with startups this year, earmarking $3.57 million towards three Next Canada-led startup programs: Next 36, Next Founders, and NextAI.
Montreal was another location where the CDL chose to establish a presence. CDL-Montreal will focus on data science-oriented startups and is located at HEC Montréal, a business school in the heart of the city. After opening up, the Bank of Montreal and the Royal Bank of Canada announced plans to invest $4 million into the accelerator, which welcomed its first 28 companies this December.
The Founder Institute is still going strong, having launched over 30 companies over the past three years including Hykso and Logrr. The early-stage accelerator in Montreal supplies between $15,000 to $45,000 to graduates.
The B.C. Tech Cube opened up, marking continued growth in 3D development for Vancouver. Consumers and businesses will be able to collaborate in the space that was designed as an extension of the B.C. Tech Innovation Hub. The Cube will look to stimulate growth in VR, AR and MR.
Wavefront is helping mobile and IoT innovations through its accelerator, and also has variations in Toronto and Halifax. In Vancouver, the RevUP program for high growth companies guides them as they build revenue, develop customer acquisition models and attain operational efficiency. The fall cohort welcomed Koriist, Hyperlight, Rainforest Automation and Routeique.
Okanagan was chosen by Techstars as one of five locations in the world to be a part of a community pilot project. The initiative will help develop a roadmap for a tech startup ecosystem and look to focus on community-building.
Calgary’s District Ventures accelerator—the first accelerator focused on consumer packaged goods—made a plan in late 2017 to invest $3 million into 20 innovative startups in the food and health sector. District Ventures is the brainchild of Dragons’ Den star Arlene Dickinson. Selected companies will dive head-first into a five-month program and receive $130,000 in exchange for a minority equity stake. Two cohorts of ten companies will begin in January and June 2018. District Ventures also teamed up with IBM to launch an Innovation Space in the city.
TEC Edmonton joined with Merck Canada to open up a business incubator that connects Alberta health companies with the expertise of Merck, a pharmaceutical company. The incubator is part of the Alberta Merck Innovation in Health Fund, which is a collaboration between Merck Canada, the University Hospital Foundation and the Government of Alberta Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.
The CDL also had a new location open up in Calgary. The CDL-Rockies, as it is known, opened at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and will attract startups employing technological innovations focused on addressing opportunities in the energy market.
The CDL popped up everywhere this year, and Halifax was no exception. CDL-Atlantic opened its doors at Dalhousie University’s Rowe School of Business and will build on Dalhousie’s strengths, particularly in clean, ocean, and agriculture-related technologies.
Volta Labs helped to prop up Halifax’s innovation district with an expansion this year, growing to 80,000 square feet that will be complete by early 2018. This expansion will be partially funded by the province of Nova Scotia, who recently announced a $2.25 million investment into Volta. More startups, corporate outposts and network members will be able to make use of the incubator, which is great as Volta also announced a new program this year to give up to five startups $25,000 each. The selections will be twice a year and will see fifteen different companies vying for a piece of the Volta experience.
In terms of accelerator news that affects the entire nation, a pilot program that was designed to help foreign talent launch startups in Canada was made permanent in July 2017. The Startup Visa program will be added to the country’s immigration policy in 2018. The Visa grants permanent residency to entrepreneurs if a Canadian venture capital fund or angel investor group invests in their business, or if they are accepted into a business incubator. Since the program kicked off in April 2013, 117 applicants were approved for permanent residency, launching 68 startups with a combined $3.7 million in investment capital.