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Business education

GrowLab: Accelerating the success of smart companies Add to ...

A recently launched business accelerator for tech start-ups will put entrepreneurs through four months of intensive business training and provide seed funding in an effort to improve their chances of success.

Vancouver-based GrowLab selected five companies from more than 300 applications to participate in the inaugural class of what one founder calls “a start-up university.”

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“GrowLab is for digital media entrepreneurs who need guidance and mentorship in a condensed program,” says Boris Wertz, CEO of W Media Ventures and one of Canada's top angel investors. “We are helping them transform their ideas into businesses that are ready for the market and can attract additional investment.”

The five companies will each receive up to $25,000 in seed funding, four months of mentorship, free office space and the opportunity to pitch investors at the end of the program for follow-on funding. They started their program in August.

The program is divided into three months spent in Vancouver and a final month in San Francisco where the entrepreneurs will pitch Silicon Valley investors. “We felt this was the right amount of time to focus on getting a product defined and built,” says Leonard Brody, President of Clarity Digital and co-founder of GrowLab. “It will also give them an opportunity to get a team ready to take the business to the next level.”

BDC Venture Capital, iNovia Capital and the BlackBerry Partners Fund are GrowLab’s lead financial partners.

“What drew applicants were the program, the founders and the availability of capital,” Brody says. “Having BDC step up to the plate and offer support was hugely important.”

“BDC feels that the ability for accelerator graduates to secure follow-on financing is very important,” says Michael Mahon, Director VC Strategic Initiatives & Investments at BDC. Successful graduates will have the opportunity to receive up to $150,000 in follow-on funding from BDC Venture Capital to finance their immediate business plans and help secure additional angel/seed funding. “BDC believes strongly in GrowLab’s model and the follow-on financing program demonstrates our commitment to this initiative,” says Mahon.

GrowLab’s main strength compared to other business accelerators is the use of smart capital—combining financing and mentorship, together with a direct connection to Silicon Valley. “Accelerators mentor entrepreneurs. They also provide them with the introductions and global connections they need to hasten the time to market,” Mahon says.

“The non-tangible assets are as important as the money,” Brody says.”One of the reasons you apply to Harvard is not just because of the education, but also because of the people you will be working with.”

During the 4-month discovery phase, entrepreneurs will answer crucial questions such as: Where is my market? Who are my customers? What are the product features I need? How am I going to make sales?

To help find answers, the program provides intensive mentorship to the five companies through a global network of 30 successful start-up veterans.

“Peer learning and peer pressure is a huge aspect,” Wertz says. “Each of the start-ups is at different stages in its life-cycle, but they see how fast the others are moving and want to keep up.”

The other two founders of GrowLab are Debbie Landa, founder of Dealmaker Media and creator of GROW Conference and Jason Bailey, founder of Super Rewards and currently CEO of Eastside Games. GrowLab's Executive Director is Michael Tippett, a successful entrepreneur with nearly two decades of experience with start-ups. Tina Schomburg rounds out the team as Program Director.

The four founders and executive director will also act as lead mentors to the five start-ups. They will share knowledge, provide tips and keep a close eye on the entrepreneurs’ development.

A second group of companies will start the GrowLab program in spring 2012.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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