Hinnovic » The Business Acceleration Program : a virtual accelerator in Ontario

The Business Acceleration Program : a virtual accelerator in Ontario

sales_accelerationAmie Sergas is director of the Business Acceleration Program Network (BAP) for MaRS in Ontario. In this interview, she explains what is the BAP and why this province-wide network can be seen as a « virtual accelerator » for ventures.

 

 

What is the Business Acceleration Program (BAP). Why and when did it start?

The MaRS Business Acceleration Program (BAP) is a platform program aimed at advancing the growth of technology entrepreneurship and dedicated to developing early-stage ventures across Ontario. It does this by working collaboratively through a network of 17 regional support organizations (Regional Innovation Centres), providing free resources, programs and services to entrepreneurs directly through these partners. The program also provides funding to enable these centres to carry out their local venture support services and outreach programs in their communities. Our team also acts as a connector for this province-wide network of organizations as well as a central coordinating body. This network forms somewhat of a “virtual accelerator” with a truly provincial reach.

The MaRS Business Acceleration Program initially started in its first form, the Business Mentorship and Entrepreneurship Program, in 2007. This came out of a need to create capacity that supported knowledge-based economic development through the creation and support of innovation ventures. It was envisioned originally to provide high-calibre programs and services that were accessible to entrepreneurs regardless of their location within the province of Ontario. In 2010, upon further review of the programs and services created, a larger network of the Regional Innovation Centres was formalized as delivery partners along with the creation of more structured programming. Today, the program and its partners support ~ 4500 technology ventures on an annual basis.

 

How is the program funded and what ventures can access the resources?

The MaRS Business Acceleration Program (BAP) and Regional Innovation Centres are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science / Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, as part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE). The program aims to support and grow early-stage technology and innovation-based ventures that span Digital Media and ICT, Life Sciences and Health, Cleantech and Advanced Materials and Manufacturing. LogoMaRSBroad-base programming, such as entrepreneurship education, online tools, or community-based workshops and events, however, are often used by many different other types of entrepreneurs in addition to this core venture client base. This includes social entrepreneurs, or those from traditional sectors that might be looking for new models to more rapidly advance their growth.

 

What kind of services and resources are provided by the BAP?
The MaRS Business Acceleration Program and Regional Innovation Centres support the early stage of the individual entrepreneurs and then as they transition to a fully-formed and operating venture that is raising its first rounds of funding as well as beginning to generate revenues.

Support programs and services cover this full spectrum of development by providing open access to online courses and tools available through the Entrepreneur’s Toolkit and MaRS Library, experiential workshops that tackle key business challenges like B2B Sales, Marketing Communications, or Business Modelling based on Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas principles, Market Intelligence services that provide access to a wide variety of secondary market research resources and the ability to submit queries to our team of analysts, one-to-many and one-on-one advisory services with industry experts and experienced entrepreneurs. The program also runs competitive funding programs, upwards of $2M a year, focused on engaging and securing talent required to reach a key growth milestone through Embedded Executive Funding ($50,000 grant) and the Embark Funding program ($20,000 grant).

 

What types of ventures does the BAP seek to support and why? (size, stage of development, domain, etc.) 

The program and Regional Innovation Centres are best suited to support early-stage technology ventures that are either at the pre-seed, seed stage or A-round of funding, or generating less than $1M in annual revenues. Ventures continue to work with Regional Innovation Centre advisors based on their potential for growth, general coachability of the founding team, and progression through established goals or milestones.

As venture clients have grown and matured over the last 5-6 years of the program, we have naturally stuck with them and are now looking at more ways to support these growing and scaling ventures. Further, through MaRS Venture Services, the advisor team is deepening their expertise through sector clusters and the engagement of ventures of various sizes that all align to a specific area of focus, like finance technology, for example.

 

Some ventures may take years to support. How do you monitor progress? What counts as success? When does the BAP consider the firm to be mature enough?

Since the program does not operate through a traditional accelerator model, the focus is really to provide access to a platform, or suite, of programs and resources throughout the venture’s early stage development process. Venture clients then access these program resources as needed. As engagement deepens with an advisor after 1 or 2 years, then the venture client might choose to disengage, or revisit when a new problem or challenge arises. Venture clients typically dip in and out of their engagement depending on their needs. Progress and success is typically monitored through growth of revenue, employee size or funds raised, in addition to other stage-related business milestones that the venture may seeking specific help with.

 

Guest : Amie Sergas
Director, Business Acceleration Program
MaRS
Journalist : Jérémy Bouchez
Hinnovic.org

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