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 four 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:
“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.
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.
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.
“RevUP adds mentorship not just for the CEO, but also for the senior leadership team," says Brea Retzlaff, Acting CEO 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.
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.”