OneEleven, the Toronto-based technology startup accelerator backed by OMERS Ventures, is expanding to Ottawa and Vancouver this year, and aims to open in Boston and in Europe soon after.
OneEleven provides services and office space to small technology companies that have several million dollars in revenue or funding and are poised to grow. It was created in 2013 by OMERS Ventures, the venture-capital arm of the pension fund for Ontario municipal employees; the provincial government’s Ontario Centres of Excellence; and Ryerson University.
OneEleven currently houses 34 companies at its 325 Front Street West office, five of which joined in the past month.
Over the past several months, the backers of OneEleven started to see an opportunity to grow, like the small companies they are helping.
“We really zeroed in on OneEleven being a scale-up community but how do you have real credibility saying that when we aren’t doing that ourselves?” said John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures, and a director of OneEleven. “There is a desire for a scale-up community all over the place.”
The board has signed on Canadian technology veteran Dean Hopkins as an adviser. “I saw a huge opportunity immediately,” said Mr. Hopkins of the potential to expand OneEleven to other cities. “We’re being ambitious. We want to show scaling companies what it is like to scale, too.” Mr. Hopkins will soon take on a more formal role with OneEleven and has been a tech adviser for Thomson Reuters since 2002 and previously founded Cyberplex Inc. in the mid-1990s.
OneEleven’s expansion in Canada comes amid a surge of venture-capital investments in the country. In 2017, VC firms invested $3.5-billion, the eighth successive year of growth. The number is up about 10 per cent from $3.2-billion in 2016 and about 50 per cent higher than the $2.3-billion of venture financing in 2015.
Startups at OneEleven pay for space and services, rather than hand over equity. Companies range in size from a few workers to several dozen, and generally stay at OneEleven for a year or two.
OneEleven alumni include Toronto-based Tulip Retail, which makes mobile software for store clerks and raised US$40-million in venture financing last summer from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley’s top financiers. Borrowell, which provides free credit scores and lending advice, and Big Viking Games, a mobile game developer, are also veterans.
The first step in OneEleven’s expansion will be establishing an office in Ottawa, where it has space downtown at 66 Slater Street, a block away from the headquarters of Shopify Inc., the capital’s hot tech company. OneEleven will open there in July and has one floor in the building with an option to expand.
Alongside OMERS Ventures, Oxford Properties, the real estate arm of OMERS, works with OneEleven. In Toronto, Oxford Properties owns OneEleven’s space, and in Ottawa, the Slater office was found through an Oxford Properties connection. In Vancouver, where OneEleven plans to open later this year, it is looking at a possible initial office in the Marine Building, owned by Oxford Properties.
It is the same blueprint for Boston, where OneEleven is also looking to establish itself by the end of this year, Mr. Hopkins said. The plan is again likewise for London and Berlin, where Oxford Properties does business. OneEleven could open in those cities early next year.
“I said to John [Ruffolo] and the board, ‘Why don’t we take this show on the road?’” said Mr. Hopkins. He named a dozen or so cities in the world that have a vibrant market of startups, places OneEleven is now scouting, such as Boston, London and Berlin, and other cities such as Austin, Singapore and Beijing.
“Let’s get as many of the top startup ecosystems in the world to have a OneEleven in them,” Mr. Hopkins said. “We’re taking this to global markets.”
As it expands elsewhere, OneEleven is also looking to grow in Toronto, where it is at capacity at 325 Front Street West. It moved there in early 2017. It has one big floor, with 50,000 square feet, some 500 people over its 34 companies. OneEleven wants to double its Toronto size. “We’re bursting at the seams,” Mr. Hopkins said.
Oxford Properties had renovated the Front Street building for tech companies – Vancouver’s Hootsuite Media Inc. has about 90 people there – and Oxford plans to eventually redevelop the site and other land it has in the area, all of it near Rogers Centre. OneEleven isn’t sure if it will expand where it is or move nearby.
In Vancouver, a long-term location is also a question. Oxford Properties is opening a new building downtown in 2020 that Amazon.com Inc. is taking for its second Vancouver location. Oxford Properties is also looking at an unusual idea for a new building by the convention centre on the water.
The Vancouver tech industry is dispersed, with various operations dotting downtown, Yaletown, Gastown and Mount Pleasant. One option for OneEleven is the downtown nexus where Oxford and Amazon are.
A second option is Mount Pleasant, where Hootsuite is based. Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes and developer Ian Gillespie have purchased land there and have submitted a proposal to the city to establish a tech hub, several new buildings as well as some redevelopment. The tech hub would house Hootsuite and others. OMERS Ventures is a major Hootsuite financier and OneEleven has talked with Mr. Holmes about possible space in the tech hub. The facility is slated to open in 2020.