This summer, two iconic Canadian accelerators merged with the hopes of providing some serious horsepower for Canadian tech entrepreneurs. Vancouver’s GrowLab Ventures and Toronto’s Extreme Startups have combined to form HIGHLINE — the first pan-Canadian VC-backed accelerator.
This merger is part of a strategy to help get Canadian entrepreneurs recognized on the world stage. There are many accelerators and incubators in Canada working to enrich the innovation ecosystem, and GrowLab and Extreme Startups are two of the most successful. More than 90% of their graduates have raised follow-on institutional capital; some have raised more than $1 million.
HIGHLINE aims to be the top global VC-backed accelerator platform outside of the Silicon Valley within the next three years. If that does not sound ambitious enough, the accelerator intends to supercharge 1,000 founders and help create $10 billion in equity.
“The Canadian tech startup community desperately needs a unified open accelerator platform to curate the best digital founders, institutional investors, and ecosystem partners to help Canadian founders win in global markets,” says co-founder and CEO Marcus Daniels. “Top accelerators increase velocity and force key decision outcomes to effectively compete in global markets.”
It seems they have their work cut out for them. Peter Hudson, GrowLab graduate and founder of BitLit Media, is a perfect example. Having already started and grown a successful company prior to founding BitLit, Hudson was not immediately convinced of the value of joining an accelerator. His first visit to Silicon Valley, facilitated by GrowLab Ventures, is what changed his mind.
“There was a huge shift in my mind just to see that there was a place in the world where the paradigm was different. The way to do this was not etched in stone,” says Hudson.
In his experience, entrepreneurs had to fight to get in front of VC and angel investors who weren’t giving them the time of day. This asymmetry between capital and talent was opposite in Silicon Valley; there, investors fought over entrepreneurs. At that point, the choice for Hudson was clear.
“The reality is, companies die without resources,” he says. “One of the most valuable lessons I learned at GrowLab was how to raise money. The only way to get better at presenting and being able to tell your story in 10 minutes — and have it resonate — is to practice in front of people who are actually writing cheques.”
Hudson found tremendous value in presenting to investors and having the opportunity to get honest feedback from them. Any serious entrepreneur should always be working to sell their product and raise money, he says. Being able to do that in a constructive environment is the opportunity accelerators like HIGHLINE want to offer entrepreneurs.
For example, being able to interact with angels and VCs outside of a “pitching” context is the key to truly mastering the ask. Founders need to get their pitch right the first time and get that first cheque signed, says Hudson.
“Windows of opportunity are narrow especially for digital startups and speed is essential to harvest the market opportunity,” says Daniels.
HIGHLINE has set its sights on high-potential digital startups, with minimum viable products, who are looking to enter global markets. The HIGHLINE team will curate the best digital founders Canada has to offer and get them in front of key institutional investors — BDC Capital is already a confirmed partner.
“The creation of a premiere pan-Canadian option in a global environment that is increasingly competitive with regards to entrepreneurial talent and capital will be a key differentiator for HIGHLINE,” says Daniels.
HIGHLINE has a tough road ahead to establish itself as a global accelerator. Bridging the divide between the Canadian coasts won’t be easy — especially when much of the capital is concentrated in Silicon Valley. But, Hudson notes, the Valley has some huge disadvantages of its own. One being that talent is in high demand and expensive to hire.
HIGHLINE presents some promising opportunities for the Canadian innovation ecosystem. Not only will it be a keystone in founder-investor networks, there is an opportunity to disperse concentrated pockets of talent. Daniels says he is excited for what the future holds.
“We also want to drive thought leadership to help other programs raise the quality bar,” he says. “We’re very open to collaborating with others and are excited to engage the community.”
HIGHLINE is currently accepting founders’ applications for their winter cohort through their website. Applications are due December 15.