Welcome to Startup U
January 9, 2017
The Accelerator Centre’s Unique Accountability-Based Programming Sets Startups on a Pathway to Long-term Business Success
Since it first opened its doors in 2006, the Accelerator Centre has continuously invested in its programming and mentorship, ensuring the young companies who enter through its doors receive the most current and world-class guidance when building their businesses.
“The Accelerator Centre’s main value proposition lies in the fact we provide a very hands-on, accountability driven approach to incubation over a two year period,” says Clinton Ball, Director, Client Programs & Initiatives at the Accelerator Centre. “Similar to an accelerator, we really look to be efficient and strategic in the way we deliver programming over set time periods, so that we, and our clients always have an end goal in mind.”
With a decade of experience under its belt and 55 graduates out the door the Accelerator Centre is now refining its programming and accountability structure, to embrace all generations of startups, breaking its proven model into four distinct accelerator phases.
“We want to assist companies at every stage from ideation through to scale up,” explains Ball. “The main differentiator of this program is that it sets out very clear objectives and goals for companies in each of the four phases, so there is built in accountability, and so startups clearly understand the value of participating in our program. On the flip side, this model holds the Accelerator Centre accountable as well.”
The breakdown of the program into four phases also dictates how the Accelerator Centre dedicates its resources. “Unlike the typical incubator, we have a paid mentorship program, with mentors serving as a “virtual executive team,” available on demand to clients,” explains Ball. “Our mentors are responsible for driving the programming alongside our client experience team with the client companies. In addition to that dedicated style of mentorship, we also have milestone and advisory board meetings for each of our clients, staged quarterly where we can examine the company’s progress.”
Where in the past, the program was focused on slightly more mature startups with solid business plans, the new four-phase acceleration program has been expanded to assist entrepreneurs with the early ideation phase. “For big ideas, in Phase One we provide a safe environment where entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs can determine if they have the organizational and financial competencies to make the business happen, and the market knowledge to assess problem/solution fit. It’s perfect for researchers, struggling start-ups, and corporate employees”
Market knowledge is acquired through primary and secondary market research, guided by the AC Pathfinder methodology, an Accelerator Centre-developed lean canvas and framework built upon Steven Blank’s principles. “At the end of the day, we and our clients need to know if this an idea that can make money,” says Ball. “We aim to cultivate sustainable revenue-generating companies through our program.”
Companies are stage-gated through the accelerator phases using a red light, yellow light, green light model. Not all progress. “After Phase One, we need to know if the product has a market, and if it is sizeable enough to allow the business to generate revenue organically or attract funding,” says Ball. “If those indicators of investment readiness and market are there, then the company proceeds forward into Phase Two.”
Like any university or college, each accelerator phase has a defined curriculum, which is mastered by clients over approximately two years – comparable to the duration of a typical graduate program. Each client is provided at the outset with an AC Program Guide, so as they progress they can benchmark themselves against the curriculum, against the experiences of the Accelerator Centre’s 50+ graduates, and the expectations of the Accelerator Centre’s mentors and advisory network. “From day one as a client, you can see what the expectation of a graduate looks like and work towards it,” says Ball.
Along with the new program refinements, the Accelerator Centre has implemented an extensive Advisory Network to supplement the knowledge and skills provided by the incubator’s seven core mentors. This provides clients with a range of viewpoints from industry experts, serial entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, and those involved in venture capital.
In Phase Two to Four, companies focus on product market fit through to scalability. Phase Two curriculum addresses core aspects of growing a business, such as defining the entry market, organizational structure, long-term brand strategy, product strategy and sales process. In Phases Three to Four, companies are focused on constructing a repeatable sales model, expanding their management team, and exploring markets beyond their entry point – including foreign markets.
In the six months prior to graduation, the Accelerator Centre brings in Ernst and Young to prepare the exiting companies for going global, investment preparation, and understanding employee incentives. Companies also refine their management structure and brand proposition.
Graduates from the program are defined by clear criteria. They have a repeatable scalable business model, they are globally relevant or have plans for globalization, and have a monthly recurring revenue to stay bootstrapped or adversely are positioned to attract late seed stage or series A investment.
The Accelerator Centre’s graduate wall, displayed in the incubator’s main networking area clearly illustrates that the incubator has proven its ability to produce high calibre graduates. The Accelerator Centre’s 55 graduate companies now represent a portfolio of over $2B dollars and enjoy a long term success rate of >90%, which is actually the inverse of the rest of the startup world. Many graduates have recently raised significant rounds of investment (Axonify $27M, Intellijoint $11M, Clearpath $51M, KIK $50M, Miovision $30M). There have been several mergers and acquisitions, and several Accelerator Centre graduates appeared on the 2016 lists for Deloitte Fast 50 and the Profit 500.
“The main mandate of this program is to create real revenue generating companies that can produce real impact not only for our community, but also for the Canadian economy,” says Clinton Ball. “With the recent refinements of our program and model, we hope to continue this success, and produce more companies of this kind of calibre even faster than before.”