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What we learned from launching AcceleratorFest and ScaleupFest

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BDC’s relationship with Startupfest began over six years ago. At that time, the event was known as Startup Camp Montreal—a beer and pizza gathering of tech start-ups. The three-day happening is now Canada’s largest start-up conference—over 3,000 people from the start-up scene all over the world attend every year.

So why did BDC serve as catalyst by backing this idea since inception? Simple. BDC Capital and Startupfest have a common goal: to support the start-up ecosystem by bringing together key players in the venture capital space from around the world for knowledge building and networking opportunities.

Launching AcceleratorFest and ScaleupFest

Through our involvement in the accelerator space, we realized there was an opportunity to build an event to help Canadian accelerators connect with and learn from global leaders in the space.

In 2015, we reached out to Startupfest to create AcceleratorFest, an international platform for peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and networking. The goal was to raise the bar for Canadian accelerator programs. Our thinking was simple:

Better accelerators = Better companies

A year later, in 2016, BDC founded and launched ScaleupFest alongside Startupfest. This invitation-only event brings together founders or C-level executives of successful Canadian tech companies with emerging start-ups to exchange and network.

The goal is to help seed-funded technology start-ups learn what it takes to raise a Series A. We all know that starting a new venture can be confusing: raising capital, identifying customers, hiring talent, accelerating growth, etc. ScaleupFest aims to help founders by exposing them to the do’s and don’ts of scaling up a tech business in Canada.

Running these two festivals simultaneously has provided us with a unique opportunity to gather everyone from the Canadian tech innovation ecosystem alongside global leaders to share experiences and best practices. It has also been an opportunity to showcase Canada as THE place for innovation.

Along the way, we’ve had the chance to learn a few things that we now want to share with the community.

Accelerators are here to stay, but they need to evolve

Accelerators play a key role in developing the next generation of start-ups. However, their models need to improve. Accelerators have to innovate to become sustainable and attract best-in-class entrepreneurs and mentors. This evolution should include:

  • Alumni programs that build out the peer-to-peer experience beyond the accelerator program
  • The ability to generate fund raising opportunities beyond demo days

Recycling talent

Accelerators should encourage repeat entrepreneurs to start new companies or join new start-ups. This is especially important given the deficit of experienced talent (i.e., repeat founders, C-level executives) in the Canadian tech space.

Accelerators need better connectivity with angel investors and corporates

Better connectivity between angels and accelerators can increase the likelihood of high potential companies to have adequate seed capital and enough runway to scale their business for a Series A.

Closer ties between accelerators and corporates also increase the chances that start-ups will find a product-market fit (i.e., satisfying a strong market demand).

What we’ve learned from ScaleupFest

Seed rounds have to be the right size

Raising a seed round in Canada has never been easier, but getting to a Series A is where the challenge remains.

Unless ventures are significantly de-risked (i.e., companies complete certain meaningful milestones), there generally won’t be a Series A. Therefore, it’s crucial that founders get the right-sized first round they need to achieve their milestones and get to a Series A.

Money, advice and connections

When choosing investors, start-ups should not only look at the size of their pockets and their capacity to fund them throughout their lifecycle, but they should also consider their expertise and connections. Investors also need to be aligned with the start-up’s vision.

Start-ups need talent + product-market fit

The chances a start-up will achieve exponential growth increase when it has:

An experienced and talented team + A product-market fit

Investing to build talent and improve management skills is as important as growing the customer base.

Angel to VC “hand-off” can be streamlined

Just like other investors, angels want to see their portfolio companies grow and raise a Series A round—hopefully from an institutional investor. But getting past the seed stage doesn’t only involve money, it also requires readiness from a corporate governance perspective, for instance.

It’s vital that both angel investors and start-ups have a deep understanding of:

  • The investment criteria of targeted institutional investors
  • How to establish the right valuation and terms

In short, they need to know well what makes or breaks companies.

Knowledge exchange and collaboration: Key elements for a healthy ecosystem

We are very proud of the work we have done with Startupfest to launch AcceleratorFest and ScaleupFest.

The success of these two events has reiterated our belief that peer-to-peer knowledge exchange and collaboration among start-up founders, accelerators, investors, corporates and other VC players are key elements for the creation of a healthy VC ecosystem.

In the years to come, we hope to continue our collaboration with key industry actors to provide Canadian start-ups with the support they need to become global champions. I look forward to hearing your ideas about the different ways we can achieve this goal.

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