In his new role as a diplomat, David Alward was relaxed and jovial as he welcomed a busload of startup founders to the Cambridge Innovation Centre, just across the Charles River from Boston.
The former New Brunswick premier is now Canada’s consul general in the Massachusetts capital, and part of his job is overseeing the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Boston. New Brunswick politicians understand the economic potential of technology startups better than their peers in the other Atlantic provinces, and Alward beamed as he greeted his guests from Fredericton last Friday.
“What you’re going to see today is going to blow you away,” Alward told about 50 entrepreneurs who had joined the trip organized by the Pond-Deshpande Centre at the University of New Brunswick.
The CTA@Boston is one of 12 tech accelerators operated by Canadian embassies and consulates around the world. The idea is to offer a three- or four-month program for Canadian entrepreneurs in an environment that would be most beneficial to their companies. Ideally, they receive unparallelled mentorship and are surrounded by potential clients and funders. For example, Boston is a favourite destination for life sciences because of its massive health-care base. New York City is ideal for companies with corporate clients, and San Francisco for those selling to the information technology world.
The Boston accelerator, which takes in about 25 companies a year, is especially popular with the Atlantic Canadian community because of proximity and the cultural links. It has hosted such companies as Sequence Bio of St. John’s, N.L., Mindful Scientific of Halifax and IPSNP of Saint John, N.B.
Sean Sears, a serial entrepreneur from Halifax whose ventures include sageCrowd and Abridean, has been working at the accelerator for two months and said he has had about three breakthroughs that will help his business grow.
“One of the biggest problems I have down here is deciding what to do with my evenings. It’s not that there’s nothing to do. It’s that every night there are about four or five events and they’re all great.”
One of the things entrepreneurs rave about with the Canadian Technology Accelerator is the massive wealth of talent and experience at hand in Cambridge. The accelerator operates out of the Cambridge Innovation Center, a highrise structure that opened in 1999 and now houses 800 companies, including 500 startups. (By comparison, there are about 300 startups in all of Atlantic Canada.) That’s just in this one building. There are about 1,400 startups in all of Cambridge, which is home to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Every Thursday night, there are get-togethers called Venture Cafes, where funders and entrepreneurs mingle and chat.
As well as interaction with other startups, the Canadian Technology Accelerator relies on mentorship from Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England, whose members are Canadian expats, including entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and leaders at large corporations. The overall goal is to bring a sense of community to Canadian entrepreneurs trying to break into the United States market.
“You’ve got to remember you’re not in it alone, and if you are in it alone, you will not succeed,” George Kenny, a Canadian Entrepreneurs in New England member, told the Pond-Deshpande students. “You need a team to get where you’re going.”