A month immersed in the Kitchener-Waterloo tech community is an exhilarating and educational experience. Here are three things I learned from spending the last month among the greatest concentration of startups in the country.
•Twenty-five million is the new hundred thousand.
I was interviewing the founder of a six-month-old startup last week when he mentioned he would apply for the Rev accelerator, which operates out of the Communitech, the largest startup complex in Kitchener. Rev takes companies with sales and teaches them structured sales processes so they can accelerate revenue growth. When they graduate from the six-month program, they have to outline publicly how they plan to achieve $25 million in revenue in four years.
Rev will soon announce its next cohort of five companies, and with overlapping cohorts it will mentor 20 companies a year. But already its impact is extending beyond the companies that will be accepted. A lot of the young companies I spoke to want to get into Rev, so they’re already thinking about the strategy to get to $25 million in sales by Year 4.
The takeaway: To be taken seriously nowadays, startups are going to have to gain better customers more quickly than they did a few years ago.
•Corporations are fundamental to startup ecosystems.
One of the remarkable things about the Communitech hub is the corporate presence right at the heart of the facility. Google, Canadian Tire, Deloitte, TD Financial and Thomson Reuters have full-time staff on site. Let me repeat: They don’t just have banners saying they sponsor Communitech; they have people working there with the startups.
That means the founders and innovators in the complex learn the real problems of these companies and their corporate clients. That helps immeasurably as the startups develop products because they have customers there to test and shape the product.
Meanwhile, Kitchener-Waterloo is a short drive — assuming traffic isn’t a problem — from the corporate capital of Canada in Toronto.
The corporate presence is one of the great strengths of the Kitchener-Waterloo startup community.
•Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto form the Canadian startup portal to the wider world.
Kitchener-Waterloo has incredible links with the global corporate and technology world — astonishing links when you consider the region has a population of less than 500,000.
Google is expanding its presence there, and other major multinationals are active. What’s often forgotten is that many of the programs and facilities in Kitchener-Waterloo are open to startups in other parts of the country.
Hack the North, the massive hardware hackathon sponsored by about 60 corporations, had participants from around the continent. Women from across Canada participated in the Women Entrepreneurs’ Bootcamp.
Before they ask “How can we catch up with Kitchener-Waterloo?” startup organizations across the country should be asking, “How can our startups benefit from the things that already exist in Kitchener-Waterloo?”
The overall lesson of the trip is that there is a tremendous national resource that can help startups from other parts of the country. It is an open, engaging community. Startups can benefit from what it has to offer even without moving to southwestern Ontario.