Techopia Live: The evolution of Kanata's L-SPARK

The deck is stacked against technology startups. Success is an unsure bet. To boost their odds of success, some startups join incubators and accelerators, programs that can speed the pace of growth and overcome common hurdles. In this episode of Techopia Live, OBJ publisher Michael Curran talks with Leo Lax and Stef Reid of L-SPARK, the SaaS accelerator based in Kanata. Lax talks about how corporate accelerator programs are becoming more central to its mission, specifically with companies such as BlackBerry and Calian Group.

This is an edited transcript of the beginning of that conversation. For the full episode, check out the full video or podcast.

OBJ: If you think about it, any technology ecosystem really needs lots of different players. You need university and colleges. You need people that are gonna fund people. You need economic development officials, and for those really high-potential entrepreneurs, you need programs that will help boost them to the next level. So today, we're talking about a very successful technology accelerator based in Kanata it's called L-SPARK. Let's welcome the executive managing director of L-SPARK, a man who has devoted 40 years of his career to advancing Ottawa's technology sector, the one and only Leo Lax. Our second guest is responsible for telling the story, and it's a great one of L-SPARK, and responsible for all other marketing responsibilities, Stef Reid. Welcome to you both. Looking forward to this discussion, and, Leo, we're gonna start off with you. We could probably do 10 episodes, Leo, on your career and everything you've achieved, but I hope everyone watching and listening has heard of you and is aware of your great accomplishments, but give us the one minute bio, if you don't mind, Leo.

LL: Thank you, Michael. Yes, I've been in the Ottawa area for quite a while and participated in a number of activities here. I started my career as an engineer at McGill University, became a Signals Officer with the Canadian Army, and then once I left the army, I started my own company, and then eventually joined Mitel, later on joined Newbridge, worked with Terry Matthews for many, many years, and one of the elements of working with Newbridge, we created an ecosystem of smaller companies around Newbridge, which is really some of the foundation of what we similarly did later on at L-SPARK with a corporate accelerator. After that, I started Skypoint Capital, and once that sunsetted, I decided I still was enthusiastic about helping companies grow and become more successful, and together with Pat and Terry, we launched L-SPARK.

OBJ: That's really neat, by the way, Leo, that you kind of bring this back from L-SPARK to the Newbridge Affiliates, right? Just forming the connection that some of the talents and experience and knowledge you acquired there is brought to L-SPARK. That's very cool.

LL: Thank you. Yeah, that connection was really one of the ways we started L-SPARK because we thought that was missing in the ecosystem today.

OBJ: I don't think I put one on one together in that, so thanks for saying that, Leo. Stef, we want to give you a chance to introduce yourself. You're playing a big, important role, as I mentioned before. You're responsible for marketing. Tell us what you're working on at L-SPARK.

SR: Absolutely, so I'm the Director of Marketing at L-SPARK. I'm responsible for not only marketing the programs that L-SPARK offers to the tech ecosystem Canada-wide, but also working closely with the startups that are in our accelerator programs to help them refine their marketing strategies as well as execute on them.

OBJ: That's a great point. So you're not only working on L-SPARK, but you're working on some of the companies that are participating, and let's stick with you for a second here, Stef. For those people who aren't aware of L-SPARK, give us a sense of its purpose and what you're trying to achieve.

SR: So L-SPARK is a startup accelerator. We offer four accelerator programs to startups Canada-wide, and that's something that I love to reiterate because we are located in Ottawa, but we work with startups from coast to coast. The accelerator that we're best known for is our SaaS Accelerator. We're currently recruiting for our ninth cohort, and then we've introduced a number of other accelerators, corporate accelerators. So we have an autonomous vehicle accelerator in partnership with BlackBerry IVY. We're also working with Ottawa-based Calian on a med tech accelerator, and we have a partnership with Queens University for women-led technology businesses in the Kingston, Bellville, and Brockville regions. So, you know, it's so much fun to get to work with companies in all of these different industries from across the country.

This is an edited transcript of the beginning of the episode. For the full episode, check out the full video or podcast.