Kitchener-Waterloo

Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor partners with Silicon Valley to mentor startups

It's now easier for startups in Canada to receive mentorship and training. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, accelerator programs have been taking place virtually and that allows for more collaboration.

COVID-19 pandemic has forced accelerator programs to go virtual, allowing for more global collaboration

Founder Institute has held accelerator programs for Canadian startups before. However, later this month, it will partner with Silicon Valley to provide mentorships to businesses. (Founder Institute)

Two of North America's biggest tech ecosystems, the Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor and Silicon Valley, are partnering to help startups get off the ground.

The latest collaboration is part of a growing trend that's come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, where North American seed accelerators are expanding beyond the cities they are based in. Because many startup founders are working remotely, it is now easier than before to connect with others virtually and network. 

The partnership is taking place within the Founder Institute (FI), an incubator that helps founders create startups and provides entrepreneur training in more than 180 cities across 75 countries. 

While the Founder Institute has held accelerator programs for startups across Ontario, it will be the first time it is collaborating with its counterparts in Silicon Valley.

Jordan Jocius, director of Founder Institute in Waterloo, says before COVID-19, his company has often held programs and workshops in-person. 

"Because of COVID-19 and the fact that we've gone fully virtual now, it has allowed for a lot more collaboration between people," Jocius said in an interview with CBC News. 

Jordan Jocius is the Director of Founder Institute in Waterloo. He says the partnership between the Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor is unprecedented. (Founder Institute)

The accelerator program will begin September 15 and will last for 14 weeks. There will be one session each week, where founders enrolled in the program can connect with other founders and mentors from Toronto, Waterloo and Silicon Valley.

Jocius compares the accelerator program to taking a shortened version of a master of business administration (MBA) program, where participants will learn how to build a company. It will cover everything from coming up with an idea for a startup, growth equity and funding. Founders will also get the opportunity to pitch to mentors and receive feedback from them.

However, Jocius notes that due to the competitive nature of it, it won't be feasible for everyone to complete it. He adds that many people who take part in the program are in school or working full-time.

"We want to do as much validation so that they have a tried, tested and true business plan before they (founders) quit their job or drop out of school or escape whatever situation that  they're currently in because it's a big leap of faith to start a company," he said.

He says the goal is for participants to graduate from the program ready to scale globally, with investor interest and as an incorporated company. 

The Toronto-Waterloo Corridor is the largest tech cluster in North America outside of Silicon Valley. (Founder Institute)

Canada a 'dominant market'

Rachel Sheppard, director of global marketing at Founder Institute in California, says it makes sense to collaborate with Canadian startups because she has seen a lot of growth potential in the country. 

"Canada is a very dominant market as far as we're concerned," she said in an interview with CBC News.

"We've seen so many wonderful companies come out of Canada and I have continued high hopes for what we'll see come out of Toronto and Waterloo in the future as well." 

Sheppard says the new collaboration will allow participants to work with both investors and fellow entrepreneurs in both Canada and the United States. 

"We're here to help however we can at the early stage." 

'Innovation doesn't live in one specific place'

Douglas Soltys is the editor-in-chief of Betakit, a Canadian startup and tech innovation publication.

He says the collaboration happening within the Founder Institute is one of many accelerator programs in North America who are expanding beyond their cities, and partnering with other countries to help founders work on their startups. 

"I think this partnership is a continuation of something that we've been seeing a lot in the last few months, where the geographical barriers between innovation hubs in North America are just breaking down, mostly due to COVID," Soltys said.

Since everyone is now working from home due to pandemic, Soltys says it has become easier for major North American accelerator programs to accept applications from businesses globally because everyone is remote. 

Generally, it's a good thing because, innovation doesn't live in one specific place.- Douglas Soltys, Editor in chief of Betakit

Soltys says programs like Techstars and Google for Startups have expanded globally and have even accepted Canadian startups to take part. Google for Startups also recently announced their inaugural Women Founders Accelerator, which will feature five Canadian startups. 

"Generally, it's a good thing because, innovation doesn't live in one specific place," Soltys said. 

Soltys says for the Founder Institute, it makes sense for them to connect their Canadian program with Silicon Valley to compete with other major accelerator programs run by "tech giants." 

He says oftentimes, accelerator programs are held in-person, and not everyone has the means to physically participate. If everyone is connecting through ZOOM or Google Hangouts he says, it will be easier for people to network with one another and share insights and expertise. 

"I think that's the bigger trend, is that if these programs continue to stay remote, you'll be seeing more and more Canadian companies participating because the major inhibitor for Canadian companies and getting that presence is the geographical restriction," he said.

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