Understanding what your customers need now and what they will need in the future — is a critical skill for any business. For tech startups and scale-ups, it's even more critical as they work to bring innovative products and services to market.
Jay Krishnan, CEO of the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, knows this well. Krishnan was named as CEO in February and is already making his mark on the organization. The Accelerator Centre announced its Vision 2025 plan, which aims to have the accelerator become the #1 full-stack startup hub in the world.
"The biggest driver is to make sure that we stay relevant not just as an organization, but relevant to what startups want," Krishnan said.
Adapting to grow
The Accelerator Centre provides mentoring and programming dedicated to building and scaling sustainable, globally competitive companies designed for long-term success. It's an award-winning organization, too, having been named one of the top five private business accelerators in the world in 2019. Accelerator Centre alumni include notable companies like Miovision, Axonify, Clearpath Robotics, Deep Trekker, and other industry-shaking tech companies.
Krishnan said one significant change the accelerator is making is in how programming is created.
"Our old style of programming was around here's a program, come on board, take it, and then when you graduate, you'll do wonders. Now we're flipping that around and saying the programming is good, but can we customize it based on who you are. You could be in healthcare, you could be working towards Series A or seed stage. How do we adapt and make sure that it's useful for all these different folks," Krishnan said.
Three strategic pillars for success
Krishnan and the Accelerator Centre team are focused on three strategic pillars to drive this change in how programming is adapted and delivered. They're designed to support startups and scale-ups, whether they're early stage or late stage, from Canada or Tel Aviv.
Krishnan said it's important to recognize the importance of community in Waterloo Region. The Accelerator Centre will continue to work hand in hand with other organizations to support the tech community.
As part of this pillar, the Accelerator Centre has several new initiatives planned. These initiatives include an incubator program and new co-working programs in their spaces in the David Johnston Research and Technology Park.
Corporate innovation and partnerships
The second pillar Krishnan is introducing is focused on corporate innovation and partnerships. Krishnan said that the focus has been on the supply side — startups making innovative products — but there hasn't been much work done on the demand side of the equation.
"Oftentimes we look at startups and say, these guys are doing phenomenal things. Let's help them get to the promised land. All of that is focused on supply. With our corporate pillar, we're coming at it from the other end. We're looking at demand and saying, well, these corporations have problems. Can we go find startups from innovators from different parts of the world, put them through virtual programming, and then make an introduction," Krishnan said.
Leading these new corporate initiatives at the Accelerator Centre is Karl Allen-Muncey, a local corporate innovation leader. Allen-Muncey was previously the lab leader for corporate and civic innovation programs for Postmedia and the City of Kitchener at Communitech.
"Karl is going to drive innovation for us with the idea of getting partnerships with corporates and cities from a demand perspective. Here's the problem, let's go solve it," Krishnan said.
Bringing the world to Waterloo
With the third pillar, the Accelerator Centre wants to bring some of the best founders worldwide and bring them to Canada. Krishnan said the goal is to continue to promote Waterloo Region as the best place to start and grow a tech company.
To accomplish this, the Accelerator Centre will continue to push the importance of the Startup Visa Program, build globally-focused milestones into their programming, and run demo days with international investors.
Leveraging diversity and alumni
A significant area of focus for Krishnan is leveraging the Accelerator Centre's incredible network of alumni founders and companies.
"If you really look at the successful accelerators in the world like Y Combinator and TechStars, the thing that they're exceptionally good with is the whole network effect. I don't think we've done a good job of maintaining that. We want to get our alumni back to the community to work with new founders that are coming through these pillars," Krishnan said.
Krishnan said that leveraging their alumni network can potentially attract a more diverse group of founders to generate strong products and companies.
"Disruptive creation is when you put together a bunch of people who are either strangers or they think differently. Because there's a bit of discomfort, they put in more effort. Because of that effort, you have a brand new solution," Krishnan said.
He pointed to the work of researcher Katherine Phillips, who pioneered the concept of how diverse teams create better solutions.
"The more diversity you have, there is a bit of a transient struggle in the early days, but the solutions that you get are spellbinding. How do we create diversity, not just from a race and gender perspective, but also from a science and design perspective. That's one of the goals that we hope to achieve," Krishan said.
Working together for tech leaders
The Accelerator Centre is part of a strong network of support for tech founders in Waterloo Region. Together with Communitech and the University of Waterloo's Velocity program, founders can find the proper support for the stage they're at.
"We're in constant dialogue and there's a lot of intent to do something together. We're focused on how we add value to not just the same startups that go through both our doors, but also to new startups that we can bring to the region," Krishnan said.
He added that the new three-pillar focus helps them appeal to an audience looking for a full-stack hub. It's where founders can access mentors, programs, capital, and help with entering new markets.
"We're flipping it around and saying you don't come to us because this is what we have to offer. We'll come to you because we're going to tailor it to your needs."