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Mentoring globally relevant, successful startups

The Accelerator Program for startups at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada is ranked the fourth best in the world. Dr Paul Salvini, CEO, Accelerator Centre, who was in India recently, speaks about what makes the program so unique and their interest in India

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Established in 2006, the Accelerator Centre headquartered in Waterloo, Ontario is renowned for its flagship Accelerator Program for startups, which is considered one of the best in the world. The two-year program boasts of 84 per cent survival rate for these companies. “Our program is quite unique, we have the luxury to be very selective about the startups that we work with. The reason we are able to do that is because there are other incubators and accelerators within our ecosystem that have a broader mandate to serve all the other companies. This allows us to focus on those startups that have the most potential to grow and scale, to be globally relevant, successful companies,” says Dr Paul Salvini, CEO, Accelerator Centre, who was in India recently for the Canada Investment and Innovation Forum, organised by The Consulate General of Canada in Mumbai.

According to Dr Salvini, the second factor for the high success rate, is the program itself. “The Accelerator Program that we have developed is something that we have refined over the past 12 years. It has a curriculum delivered by a number of in-house mentors. We work with companies for a very long period of time for an accelerator, which is two-three years,” he states, adding that those mentors provide guidance in virtually every area of business, like sales, marketing, product development and product design, human resources and leadership. Most of the mentorship is outside of technology, because the selected startups have technical expertise. “So the technology mentorship that we would provide would be in areas of intellectual property protection, design for manufacturing, design for scalability because what has been developed on a small scale needs to be modified in some way in order to be able to scale successfully. The startups are held accountable for meeting the milestones of the program,” he adds.

Explaining the four phases of the program, he says, “In the first phase people come with just an idea and we validate the market; next phase two/three and four is now that you have a company, getting the product in the hands of the first customer, getting a feedback, building and scaling and growing your company.” The Accelerator Centre has some themed incubators like Hardware, IoT, Cleantech, Advanced Manufacturing, and B2C/B2B Software. Recently a Cleantech Incubator was started as a lot of cleantech companies are looking at how people are living in more sustainable ways.

The selected startups pay about a third of the cost of the program, and two-thirds is funded by the government and corporate sponsors. “We don’t take any equities, we are just there to help the companies. The amount they pay just offsets the cost of the program. It is similar to what they would pay for the space that they are occupying so it is a very good deal,” remarks Dr Salvini.

Because of the success of the program – the high survival rate for the startups, and about three billion dollars in corporate value generated from the graduates, it means that there are many companies trying to get into the Accelerator Centre. “Sometimes we have to turn down 50 companies for every one that we take in. We are privileged to have that position,” affirms Dr Salvini.

While the maximum number of applicants are from the local region itself, in recent times they have started getting applications from across the world. Under the Startup Visa Program, companies can come to Canada, set up shop there and get permanent residency in Canada for the founders. “It does not mean that they are leaving their home country, but that they are getting a new base and accessing new markets and getting expertise,” says Dr Salvini. He mentions that while they do not have any company from India directly coming and setting up shop, but there are a number of founders who are of Indian origin. “This is partly because our university system is attracting a lot of students from India. India is now our second largest source of students, outside of North America,” he points out.

In the future, because of the growth that is happening in India, Dr Salvini is looking at more opportunities to connect with accelerators and incubators in India. “We do have some programs as a part of our ecosystem that has a connection to India so our companies are able to participate and get access to the Indian market,” he says.

Dr Salvini believes that India is in many ways similar to Canada, in terms of growth opportunities and young people looking at entrepreneurship. He remarks how technology is impacting every sector of the economy, for instance, technology for healthcare, technology for environment, etc., it is attracting a lot of people who are passionate about making a huge impact on one of those sectors.

The Accelerator Centre offers additional supplementary programs, such as its seed funding program, AC JumpStart and Startup Visa Program as well as other services such design and creative services through its Startup Studio.


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