The Founder Institute, a worldwide early-stage tech accelerator that works to empower talented entrepreneurs to build companies, believes that Toronto is one of the strongest cities in the world when it comes to the quality and quantity of its entrepreneurs and startups.
“Founder Institute is in more than 90 countries around the world,” says Sunil Sharma, Canadian director of the Founder Institute. “And the one in Toronto is the largest ever in the world. Toronto is standing out.”
“There are more entrepreneurs building startups, and good ones, in Toronto than in any city that Founder Institute has worked in.”
Founder Institute holds an 18-week accelerator program that provides entrepreneurs with company-building curriculum to guide them through the process of building a company from the ground up.
A “mentor progress review” takes place at the 2/3 point of the program and is a “checkpoint” where program mentors provide feedback on founder progress, company financial models, product development, and scalability. Every company that passes the mentor progress review is eligible to receive a $5,000 equity-free grant to help build their startup.
The grants issued are a result of a partnership between the Founder Institute, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto, as a part of the Ontario government’s Starter Company Plus program. This program is focused on connecting entrepreneurs with mentorship, training, and fundraising resources with the goal of building business ideas into viable businesses.
In the ninth week of the Founder Institute program, the founder needs to legally incorporate their company. Right now in Toronto, the current cohort has passed this stage and there are still 29 founders in the program, which is quite rare.
“I think it’s the highest number that the Founder Institute has ever had at this stage,” says Sharma. “Everybody has had to legally incorporate at this point, so we believe this is probably the largest single incorporation exercise of new tech startups in Canada’s history.”
Out of the 29 participants still in the class, there are 26 actual companies that have been formed, since three participants are co-founder pairs. Dentons LLP has been instrumental in helping this large-scale tech incorporation happen.
Among those in the program is Sergey Kalnish, whose company SmartHire is focused on HR tech recruiting. SmartHire is a data-driven talent marketplace where tech startups are matched with the talent they need to scale. The recruitment solution uses a feedback loop system, which takes data from every key decision point in the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retention processes with the goal of leading to a better quality of hire. The company is launching a crowdfunding campaign on July 24th and the Beta is scheduled to be released in September.
Another program participant, Erica Pearson, has formed a fintech company called VacationFund, which is designed to help millennials save towards vacation goals. The platform is the first online savings tool specifically dedicated to people’s travel goals and allows users to set realistic goals and make automatic payments into segregated travel funds. The platform aligns users’ travel goals with their personal finances, helping them manage their money better and reach their goals.
Nargiz Mammadova’s startup Destin AI Inc. has created Ontario’s first AI chatbot for immigration. The Facebook-based chatbot helps prospective immigrants get answers about their admissibility into Canada without having to hire expensive lawyers to find details that are often already publicly available. The chatbot also provides just-in-time answers to immigration-related questions, and provides assistance with the visa application process, even walking people through each step of the application.
The Founder Institute is based in Silicon Valley and first launched in Toronto in 2014. Since then, it has held six cohorts in Toronto and two in Kitchener-Waterloo. Recruitment is now open for the next batch and information can be found at https://fi.co/mentors/toronto.
The City of Toronto has pledged to continue its support for the program. Founders who complete the program will be eligible for a $5,000 grant as part of the Starter Company Plus Program.