Scale-up program visits Ottawa in quest for 'great startups' to go global

A new program at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University is looking to turn some of Canada’s best startups into global businesses.

By Jacob Serebrin

On Wednesday night, representatives from the program were in Ottawa looking for companies that might have the potential to go global as part of a cross-country recruitment tour.

“We are looking for the top 10 most promising young tech companies across Canada,” says Kim Morouney, an associate dean at Laurier’s School of Business and Economics. “We have developed a program that we believe addresses the problems that are preventing Canada’s most promising startups from scaling up into larger companies.

“We know that we have a vibrant tech community, tech ecosystem, across Canada and that we’ve got world-class startups. But we don’t have as many enterprise-sized tech companies as we should, considering the vibrancy of our startup community.”

The Lazaridis Institute Canadian Scale-Up Program wants to help companies that have completed the accelerator program to take the next step and continue their growth.

“We take the graduates of accelerators and help them move their companies to the next level,” Ms. Morouney says. “Where we see ourselves filling a gap is at the large end of the spectrum. We’re focusing on companies who have the potential to scale significantly, even exponentially.”

Ms. Morouney says the program has identified problems in three different areas.

“We think the first problem is access to people with experience,” she says. “We just don’t have enough founders in the tech community who have the experience of building a billion-dollar company.”

There are also problems with access to markets and access to capital.

The program will put founders in touch with people who have overcome these challenges and aims to help them “build networks that span the globe,” Ms. Morouney says.

It also looks to help startups access markets and capital in the United States.

So far, at least one Ottawa-area company has applied for the program, and Ms. Morouney says she expects there will be more by the time applications close on Sept. 16.

“It was a really terrific event,” Ms. Morouney says of her visit to Ottawa. “We walked away thinking, ‘Wow, we’ve got some great startups who are exactly in our target market, so we’re pretty excited.’”

“We don’t have strict parameters because everybody who’s looking like they have the potential to scale, that means, pretty much by definition, they’re almost one of a kind,” she says.

In general, she says, “we expect them to look very much like a graduate of a top-quality accelerator, like L-Spark.”  

Ms. Morouney says she expects the average company in the program’s first cohort to be three to five years old, with a run rate of around $100,000 a month or another strong sign from the market that the company has the potential to go global.