As the Okanagan tech community and companies within it continue to grow, so does Accelerate Okanagan’s (AO) support model. Coined ‘Continuous Acceleration,’ AO delivers unique programming for different stages of growth. The reality is, each stage of the entrepreneurial process demands a different set of tools and we are constantly iterating in an effort to meet these needs.
We currently have five options in our program stack designed to support startups, growth-stage companies and everything in between. Here is a quick snapshot of our program stack:
1. Startup Basics
Developed for early stage entrepreneurs and career-changers, The Startup Basics program supplies participants with the tools and resources they need to accelerate. Startup Basics is a classroom style program split into distinct topics. Sessions are presented by Accelerate Okanagan staff, Executives in Residence (EIR), mentors, partners, and alumni. Each session is designed to educate entrepreneurs on the fundamentals needed to transform an idea into a startup.
“We know that entrepreneurship can often seem daunting or intimidating to those first starting out.” says Jenna Stasuk, Program Coordinator at AO. “The Startup Basics Program was developed to arm early stage entrepreneurs with the tools and resources needed to accelerate.”
Through the Startup Basics program, participants benefit from a suite of programmatic elements to support their learning including mentorship, coaching, training, and peer-to-peer engagement. The course is most beneficial for those in the early stages who likely have an idea or are considering building a company and is open to all entrepreneurs and wantrepreneurs, not just those in the tech sector.
2. Venture Acceleration
AO’s most utilized program is the Venture Accelerator Program (VAP). This program is for tech and tech-enabled (think biotech,agritech, or advanced manufacturing) entrepreneurs who are committed to starting a company, are working on a minimum viable product, and can validate that people will not only pay for the product but also a large enough market exists.
The program is designed to keep founders accountable and focused while providing best practices and the mentorship required to support early stage growth and find product/market fit. Participants are paired with an Executives-in-Residence (EIR) who can coach and mentor new business owners.
“VAP connects budding entrepreneurs directly to a one-on-one mentor and a community of other like minded entrepreneurs. Its primary purpose is to help you validate a business model.” says Andrew Greer, Program Strategist at AO.
Although the program was piloted in the Okanagan, it is now run by 15 accelerators across the province. Over 85 companies applied for the VAP program in this fiscal year and 40 early stage entrepreneurs have participated. These 40 companies have generated $1.79M in revenue, $3.75M in investment and government grants, and created a total of 45.5 jobs in the Okanagan.
The Calibration program provides advisory programming that is tailored to tech companies in the post-market-validation phase. This program is customized and designed to address unique business challenges. Each company is paired with a lead EIR who provides support and coaching to the CEO of the company based on a mutually agreed upon scope of work.
“Businesses at this stage are charged with critical tasks like building a repeatable and scalable revenue model as well as identifying inefficient business and operational processes,” says Thuy Tran, Program Manager at AO. “The mentorship and coaching offered through Calibration are designed to support these kinds of challenging tasks.”
As companies hit growth stage with teams of employees, senior leadership teams in place, and global sales, the support from AO and the community increases to match their increased needs. RevUP pairs a team of Executives in Residence (EIRs) with senior leadership teams to provide the needed subject matter expertise and mentorship to support companies in growth mode.
As part of the Discovery Foundation Technology Education Program (TEP), our RevUP Program connects entrepreneurs with peers from companies at a similar stage and a team of experienced executives that can coach and promote growth.
“RevUP adds mentorship not just for the CEO, but also for the senior leadership team,” says Brea Retzlaff, Operations Manager at AO. “Companies at this stage need help to grow predictable, repeatable revenue models, implementing scalable operational processes, improving financial management, and supporting personal leadership development.”
RevUP, designed and built at Accelerate Okanagan, is now also running in partnership with accelerators in Vancouver, Victoria, Kamloops, the Kootenays, and Belleville, Ontario. Bananatag, Two Hat, and Piscine Energetics are champions of the RevUP program and are contributing significantly to the growth in the Okanagan. These along with a cohort of about 30 local growth stage companies have created and currently employ over 450 people in the Okanagan; these companies are companies that didn’t exist five years ago.
5. Access to Capital
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs is access and management of capital. The Access to Capital program is an initiative aimed at improving education, access, and community for the capital ecosystem in the Okanagan. This 12-week program that pairs growing companies with a skilled EIR who can help company leaders focus on education around the capital raising process, valuation, due diligence, and pitch prep.
In addition, there are a series of public education events on diverse topics around access to capital. This education is aimed at both entrepreneurs and investors. Our goal with this program is to provide a highly curated, private approach to matching investors and entrepreneurs.
Regardless of an entrepreneur’s experience or stage of company development, having a mentor to help navigate the entrepreneurial journey is key. Accelerate Okanagan works with a diverse team of executives in residence (EIRs) to help local entrepreneurs. Our accomplished team of EIRs have experience starting, growing, running, and selling companies. Coaching entrepreneurs are their way of giving back to the community that supported their success.
“Mentorship is a key part of an ecosystem and growing a company, no matter what stage you are at.” says Greer. “This happens from seasoned mentors like EIRs but it also happens from other peers, professionals, and service providers. It takes a community to build a company.”