Exits, schmexits! The truly compelling news in the New Brunswick startup community late in 2011 involves entrances.
McKenzie College of Moncton will soon open an accelerator for pre-seed companies, and Propel ICT has announced its Launch 36 program, designed to develop 36 seed-level companies through an advanced accelerator in three years. (Accelerators are similar to business incubators in that they help mentor and often capitalize young businesses, preparing them to survive on their own. As the name suggests, they intend to get the new enterprises off the ground quickly.)
And Mariner Partners Chairman Gerry Pond will announce Wednesday that he and Boston billionaire Gururaj Deshpande will finance the Pond-Deshpande Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UNB, according to a report in the Telegraph-Journal. Pond was a cornerstone investor in Radian6 and Q1 Labs, both of which announced exits this year, and he has the depth of both vision and pockets to do something special for Atlantic Canadian startups.
The McKenzie College and Propel initiatives in themselves reveal incredible ambition and will help launch dozens of businesses. What’s interesting is the way they work together.
Dale Richie, the President of McKenzie College, a private art and design school in Moncton, said in an interview the McKenzie College Accelerator will put pre-seed companies (i.e., those at the conception stage) through a 90-day accelerator program beginning in November. The college will accept applications from its own students and other entrepreneurs until Oct. 28.
Once accepted into the program, entrepreneurs will receive $15,000 per person (so a two-person partnership would receive $30,000) to cover expenses through the three-month duration.
The first session, which will end in February, will feature five companies and two have been accepted already.
Just as the first McKenzie session ends, the first session of Launch 36 will be getting under way, which means pre-seed companies could go through the McKenzie accelerator and graduate in time to feed into Propel’s new five-month program. (They would have to plan the progression properly though as the applications for the first Launch 36 session will be due in November.)
Propel President David Baxter, whose day job is Vice President of Innovation at IT services company T4G, said Launch 36 will show a preference for companies to be incorporated in New Brunswick, though it could accept other applicants as long as they can commit to attend all the sessions.
Launch 36 will begin with six companies engaging in an intensive two-day session under the tutelage of Wendy Kennedy, an Ottawa-based commercialization expert whose program is called “So What? Who Cares? Why You?”
Baxter said Kennedy’s program “ takes individuals through the process of entrepreneurship and then finds out what the business’s value is.” It is designed to bring entrepreneurs to the point at which they can thoroughly explain the ins and outs of their business.
The entrepreneurs meet a few weeks later for what is called the Mentor-Up Day, at which all six enterprises meet a range of about 40 mentors . At the end of this day, each of the seed companies should have identified the mentor who will lead them through the program. The aim is to have one mentor assigned to each company, though specialist mentors will be brought in to address certain aspects of the business.
As of now, Launch 36 does not include seed funding per se, but each participant will be introduced to Propel ICT’s extensive network of entrepreneurs, mentors, angels and organizations, which often helps good companies find funding.
Propel is planning to hold two sessions per year, and at the end of the first year the organization will discuss whether it has the capability to arrange seed funding for Launch 36 participants.
What’s most impressive about both the McKenzie Accelerator and Launch 36 is their ambition. Propel ICT now has six companies in its accelerator and they’ve been there for quite a while. It is now planning to take what it has been doing over a period of years and do it twice a year. It will be exciting to watch.