Ontario accelerators: Where they are, how they work and how they perform

Ontario accelerators: Where they are, how they work and how they perform

Accelerators. If you’re an entrepreneur, you might be considering applying to one. If you’re an investor, you probably have attended at least one Demo Day or maybe even invested in a graduate. And if you advise or work with startups, accelerators are almost certainly on your radar.

In less than a decade, beginning with Y Combinator’s founding in 2005, seed accelerators have taken hold in communities around the globe. Offering a combination of competitive entry, mentorship, education, seed capital and/or other support in an intensive, time-limited format, these programs have graduated over 2,000 companies to date and continue to proliferate[1]. Seed-DB, an online database of accelerators, lists almost 150 active programs from Dubai to Cape Town.

At MaRS, we offer JOLT, our own digital media accelerator, which is now hosting its second cohort. Many of our partners in Ontario’s innovation ecosystem also offer accelerator programs—think Extreme Startups, HYPERDRIVE, INcubes and Driven to name just a few.

Here at MaRS Data Catalyst we were interested in learning more about Ontario’s accelerator landscape and, in particular, how accelerators measure their impact. As seed accelerators are now part of our province’s innovation ecosystem, the need to understand where they are, how they work and how they perform has become increasingly important to policy-makers, funders, support organizations and entrepreneurs themselves.

Photo by Darwin Bell

Being data hounds, the team at MaRS Data Catalyst started by capturing descriptive data about accelerator programs in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada (plus a few in San Francisco and the Valley that are exclusively for Canadian startups) that replicate or come close to the standard accelerator model as defined by Nesta and as exemplified by Y Combinator, TechStars and 500 Startups.

Thanks to the exceptional work of former MaRS intern Jalesh Melwani — as well as to Andrea Hamilton, who contributed to the initial planning behind this initiative, and Sarah Ali, who helped update the spreadsheet —we were able to develop a strong list on which to base the next phase of our research. We are pleased to share this spreadsheet here. Please email any updates, additions or comments to datacatalyst@marsdd.com.

Stay tuned – more findings to come

As our next step, MaRS Data Catalyst is now developing a report about startup accelerators in Ontario and across Canada. By interviewing and collecting data from accelerator managers, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders we hope to answer the following questions:

  • What does the accelerator (versus incubator) landscape look like in Ontario and across Canada?
  • How are different accelerators defining and measuring success?
  • How do founders benefit from participation in accelerators? Does their definition of success differ from the definition of those who manage accelerators?

We are fortunate to have Elizabeth Caley to help co-produce this report. Elizabeth is a well-known member of the startup community who is currently conducting doctoral research into accelerators. Over the next few months she will be conducting interviews, analyzing transcripts and data, and co-leading the development of a report that we hope will be the start of an ongoing discussion around impact and measurement in this space.

Calling all accelerators – we want to hear from you!

If you are an accelerator interested in being involved in this project, please contact datacatalyst@marsdd.com. And if you’re interested in the results, we will be publishing our report in early summer—stay tuned!

[1] In its 2011 report, “The Startup Factories,” Nesta proposes that the accelerator business model has the following five features: 1) an open but competitive application process; 2) provision of pre-seed investment, usually in exchange for equity; 3) a focus on teams, not on individual founders; 4) time-limited support, with programmed events and intensive mentoring; and 5) group progression of participating startups via “cohorts” or classes.