A $10 million bet on 100 startup founders

WATERLOO REGION — Jay Krishnan is looking for the right chemistry among founders and their teams for a new startup incubator.

The chief executive officer at the Waterloo Accelerator Centre has just launched the Venture Studio program — the first incubator of its kind in the country, he said.

“You really focus on the individuals,” said Krishnan.

Traditional incubators usually focus on new technology that solves a problem. The Venture Studio approach will focus on the entrepreneurs first: the ones that show more potential get more resources as they move through the program.

With $10 million in federal funds, the studio program wants entrepreneurs to focus on three areas of technology with the potential to effect big changes in people’s lives — medtech, nanotech and cleantech.

“At a very high level the avenues for bringing change to communities come down to sustainability, cleantech and healthtech,” said Krishnan.

Interesting ideas are necessary, but the right chemistry among the team is absolutely vital and the main criterion for selection.

Each startup accepted into the Venture Studio program receives $20,000. Another $30,000 will be invested in the 50 startups that survive the first phase of the program. After three years, the 25 startups that are most ready for massive growth in multiple markets will each receive a further $50,000.

The aim is to support 25 new tech firms employing more than 500 people three years from now

“The classic analogy — do you bet on the horse or do you bet on the jockey? Often times the market bets on the horse, but really it is jockey. It is the same things with founders,” said Krishnan.

“The solution takes a bit of a back seat, it is usually always people,” he added.

Southern Ontario has an “insane amount” of patents among universities, colleges and innovation hubs. The Accelerator Centre will oversee the Venture Studio Program but work with five other tech organizations: Waterloo Region-based Uvaro, WEtech Alliance, Innovate Niagara, SnapPea Design, Conestoga College and others.

Those organizations will steers founders and their teams to the Venture Studio Program, provide mentors, marketing, advice on patents and industry connections.

“We have the ingredients,” said Krishnan.

The deadline for applications is July 1.

“Think of an opportunity when a venture or an idea from Niagara sees an opportunity to scale up through Waterloo, expand around Ontario and become the next big Canadian tech story,” said Krishnan.

“There is no model today that allows for it,” he added. “If it happens, it happens organically through the journey of the individual. This platform has a script that allows for it.”