Accelerators. If you’re an entrepreneur, you might be considering applying to one. If you’re an investor, you’ve probably attended at least one Demo Day or maybe even invested in a graduate. And if you advise or work with startups, they’re 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. 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. And many other of our partners in Ontario’s innovation ecosystem offer similar programs—think Extreme Startups, HYPERDRIVE, INcubes, and Driven, to name just a few.
Here at Data Catalyst we were interested in learning more about Ontario’s accelerator landscape and, in particular, about how they 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 becomes increasingly important to policy-makers, funders, support organizations and entrepreneurs themselves.
Being data hounds, we started by capturing descriptive data about programs in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada (plus a few in San Francisco and the Valley that are exclusive for Canadian startups) that replicate or compe 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 Jalesh Melwani, former MaRS intern, we were able to develop a strong list on which to base the next phase of our research.
As our next step, we are 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 questions such as:
- What does the accelerator (vs. 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 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 we hope will be the start of an ongoing discussion around impact and measurement in this space. If you are an accelerator interested in being involved in this project, send us an email. And if you’re interested in the results, we will be publishing our report in early summer—stay tuned!
2. In its 2011 report, The Startup Factories, NESTA proposes 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. (2011. NESTA. The Startup Factories. Accessed online.)