Two of Canada's top business accelerator programs announced a merger at the Toronto Stock Exchange this morning, introducing what they call the country's first pan-Canadian startup platform.
Vancouver-based GrowLab and Toronto's Extreme Startups will unite to provide established entrepreneurs and investors from across the country with a new startup ecosystem called HIGHLINE.
"It's a matter of taking our strengths right across the country, not just in Vancouver and Toronto, but all the other regions," said Marcus Daniels, former managing director of Extreme Startups and HIGHLINE's new CEO and cofounder. "It's almost like we're preparing to "own the podium" in Olympic hockey, trying to find the best collaborators that we can add over the next year to really create a platform that becomes number one globally."
HIGHLINE, the name a nod to the 49th parallel separating Canada and the United States, will focus on providing programing and support to help Canadian startups compete internationally, with the goal of keeping them north of the border.
"The companies we fund can come from anywhere in the world, but they'll realize very quickly after experiencing our platform that they probably want to keep their headquarters in Canada," said Mr. Daniels. "We expect that 90 per cent of the companies that go into our platform will realize that we have amazing access to talent here – phenomenal institutional investors – and will establish their headquarters in Canada."
HIGHLINE will introduce a less conventional style of programming, providing specialized acceleration "products" rather than the one-size-fits-all approach common in today's accelerator environment. It will also provide founders with as much as $200,000 in financing but not upon entry or exit, rather at targeted stages that will best fuel their development.
The new program is financed by a number of major Canadian venture capital firms, including Relay Ventures and BDC Capital, whose funds under management collectively exceed $2-billion. As opposed to attracting startups still in the idea phase, HIGHLINE hopes to attract companies that have some sort of revenue or traction in the market, are close to product-market fit and are looking to grow internationally.
"I think that plays extremely well into what our Canadian institutional investors are looking for, and I see them aggressively stepping up and making investment in companies that graduate from this new platform," said Mr. Daniels, adding that the program will focus on helping founders achieve wide-scale growth, both within Canada and internationally.
"We're giving more access to New York and San Francisco, not necessarily to find U.S. investors, but to help them get U.S. partners and customers and data points to help spur the ambition and get to a profile where we'll get more investment from Canadian institutional investors," he said.
HIGHLINE currently has an active portfolio of 40 companies, which have raised a combined $27-million in institutional follow-on capital (which is money raised outside of initial seed rounds). It will welcome its first new cohort this fall at both Toronto and Vancouver anchor campuses.