Why fast-growing AC grads are leading Canada’s new technology generation
From lean thinking, to product market fit, to simply great timing, there are any number of reasons young companies graduate from startup to scale up. However, for many of the Canadian technology companies now showing up on the Profit 500 and Deloitte Technology Fast 50 lists, there is one common denominator — the Accelerator Centre (AC).
AC graduates Magnet Forensics, Top Hat, TextNow and Sortable all showed up on the 2016 Profit 500 list this year, with Magnet Forensics and Top Hat appearing in the top 20 companies listed. Both companies exhibiting 5,000+% growth rates. On the Deloitte Technology Fast 50, list, Accelerator Centre graduates Sortable, Axonify, Clearpath Robotics, Top Hat, and Magnet Forensics all took positions in the top 20.
So what is it about the AC that fuels long-term business growth and success?
“Companies that come through the Accelerator Centre’s programming are truly built to scale. We ensure that from even in the very beginning, the idea phase, companies are building a strong foundation for long term business success,” says Paul Salvini, CEO of the Accelerator Centre. “Even in our intake process, we are looking for companies that have an impact in areas that matter for the world. Through our close relationship with the university system and my dual role with the University of Waterloo, we have our finger on the pulse of the research occurring today, in areas such as the Internet of Things and the Smart City revolution, and can foresee how that research will translate into the companies and jobs of the future. So we can nurture our client companies to become leaders in those spaces”
Salvini goes on to say, that the Accelerator Centre’s selection process is tuned to identify those companies who exhibit the capacity to scale in size and in global presence. “If that is the case, and the company has a good alignment with the research capacity of one of our local universities, we know that company has the capability to grown and won’t be starved on the talent side,” says Salvini.
The Accelerator Centre’s programming, unlike many other incubators, delivers its high quality programming through a core team of mentors, each business executives – each with decades of experience in building and growing global companies, over time. The average company spends on average two years in the program.
Salvini notes that one cannot speak of the Accelerator Centre and its graduates’ success without acknowledging the surrounding technology ecosystem in Waterloo Region, supported by academic institutions such as University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College. “Our success is absolutely set up by the great success of our academic partners,” he says. “Companies setting up a business and growing a business in Waterloo Region know they have access to world class research and talent.”
Clearpath Robotics, which graduated from the Accelerator Centre in 2011, has experienced exceptional growth over the last six years, transforming from a four person startup at the AC into a profitable, 200 person organization with a research division (Clearpath Robotics) as well as an industrial division (OTTO Motors). In October 2016, Clearpath announced a $30M US in funding to expand its OTTO Motors division.
“The Accelerator Centre allowed us to transform our project into a viable business. We were able to break even within 18 months of inception, in good part due to the mentorship and financial support we received from AC,” says Matt Rendall, Clearpath Robotics CEO. “Entrepreneurship has its own set of challenges and the AC was able to alleviate many of the simple overhead growing pains so we could focus on growing the business. (ie: not having to worry about toilet paper or paying the bill for hydro or electrical was a blessing in disguise!).
We learned what worked and what didn’t work at the AC – it was a safe space to experiment with our technology and our business processes to identify and leverage best practices for Clearpath. A tree can’t grow unless it has strong roots and is part of a supportive ecosystem. The AC provided us with a foundation to transform our passion into a thriving business.”
Axonify graduated from the Accelerator Centre in 2014. Since departing the program, the company, which provides a gamification solution for corporate learning, has experienced significant growth, closing out 2015 with >$10M in recurring annual revenue and a customer roster that includes Bloomingdales, Ceridian, Toys R Us Canada and The Pep Boys. In November 2016, Axonify announced $27M US in funding to further expand its business operations.
“The Accelerator Centre is a different kind of environment than the typical early stage tech incubator, and in a good way,” says Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.
“There’s something a little more serious about the way in which the programs and mentoring make you feel — like the organization is working in concrete ways to help your company succeed. Consistent mentorship and meaningful programming plus the ability to reinforce sound principles over a stay of up to two years (versus a typical incubator experience of 3 – 6 months) give each company a better shot at making it.
I know Axonify took advantage of everything the Accelerator Centre had on offer and thoroughly enjoyed getting its start in that environment.”