How Canada’s High-Tech Accelerators Stack Up.

Al Leong
Al Leong
Feb 8, 2014 · 5 min read

Angelist is a top start-up content aggregator for VCs, Angels, entrepreneurs and now job seekers for these firms and the connections. With connections, come knowledge and experience. is an application and community platform for accelerators and incubators. However, Angelist has recently started syndicating deals of investors which means a group of investors pool their resources and fund start-ups similar to a VC consortium. Syndicating means an Angel or Fund can lead the syndicate with $10,000 to $500,000 per investment. Investors back the syndicate and invest alongside the lead. This is similar to crowdfunding, which is less structured.

The top ranked US accelerators from this site were: YCombinator (now just turned into a VC), 500 start-ups (also now call themselves a VC with 20,424 followers), Techstars, and Angelpad. Smaller accelerators with high quality industry focus include:

· Mindsnacks, i/o ventures, Founders Den, MuckerLab, AngelPad, Be Great Partners, Firestartr, and Science.

· Angelist ranks are based on qualitative measures (signal), qualitatively (followers or jobs created).

· In Canada, Extreme Startups is top ranked on this list that is also on Techvibes 2011 top Canadian list.

These firms have access to capital up to venture capital of about $100-250 million for R&D with an average of firm valuation of $3.8 million. York Angels, for instance, becomes worried or dubious with valuations over $1 million because of addressable market, and their ability to make deals happen.

Recent Changes to the Top US Accelerators

YCombinator’s and 500 Startups are both now categorized as VCs (not accelerators). YCombinator has also changed their portfolio companies to become incubators. For example, AirBnB is now considered a technology incubator and has acquired, Crashpadder. This down line growth-building, almost like an apprenticeship program, facilitates direct fast knowledge and relationship transfer to further drive growth. This approach results in faster technology innovation and talent acquisition because these guys are already programming for free. It is exponentially driving growth in this way through early M&A.

This approach also delays hiring talented B-school MBAs because hacks have a singular focus: deliver disruptive technology and make money. They dispense with the rest (economics, human resources, finance, strategy, and marketing) believing they can be hired later.

What Canadians Accelerators Must Do

Canadians are a behind in this regard and we need to execute this concept faster and better to leapfrog our US neighbours and add value and change the game. Accelerators and investors must build strong relationships with R&D arms with global 500 innovators directly. We must reach out beyond the US and drive international relationships in Asia and Europe.

B-Schools like Rotman, Ivy, the University of Waterloo are not far behind, but need to catching up to entrepreneurial training and started Rotman’s Creative Destruction Lab in 2012. These b-schools just need to be more intense with their creative-destruction / constructive-conflict paradox. As for entrepreneurs, if you’re serious, you need to move to one of these 3 locations. It will be much harder if you don’t.

Canada’s Best Innovation Clusters

1. Waterloo

Hands-down the best of the best. Google has confirmed this by setting up shop on Campus beside the accelerators. You have to move 2 hours outside of Toronto. It shows you’re serious. Enough said.

Our accelerators need to be actively engaged in funding as well as knowledge management and support—smaller amounts of seed capital for proof of concept and traction and lots more start-ups since one in 10 will fair or pivot.

· Waterloo has the best accelerators and ICT researchers with Hyperdrive, Communitech, and Velocity because of proximity to world class researchers and their students.

So for Canada, it’s Waterloo, Waterloo and Toronto. Unfortunately, Vancouver didn’t make the cut. However, of note, SFU and UBC have PhD programs and curriculum in family-run businesses as Asian firms are now making headway in innovation. These firms have a different mentality (social and family networks) with incredible spending power (Huawei and Lenovo, for example).

2. Toronto

Toronto is a great city. Lots of distractions but it means you might get less done as a cohort start-up. MaRS underperforms compared to US YCombinator, Techstars, and 500 Startups. Better than Montreal’s FounderFuel and Vancouver’s GrowLab, for now. But Toronto has 2 well-regarded accelerators ranked by Angelist: Extreme Ventures and Creative Destruction Lab at the University of Toronto (Rotman School of Business). I met with both of these teams and they are welcoming, friendly, helpful and serious.

MaRs has great backers, and programs but starts their entrepreneurs too slowly. With classes and sessions called “Entrepreneur101” the programs appears to be targeted at pre-college youngsters, and assumes their incubation teams are relative “noobs.” In this regard, MaRS has misses the mark.

Hacks are brilliant and will learn as fast as MBAs and will challenge those who try to hold them back. They get bored and agitate teachers, cheat, take corners to one-up others and drop out of school because they want to change the world and make a billion dollars. We need teams that are willing to take calculated risks, without breaking serious laws, and cut in front of the line.

Mars programs are 6 months, double the time of some others in the US. It should consider also doing a 3 month program for extreme acceleration. They give out $50,000 for 9%.

Extreme Startups is a 6 month program, and delivers $200,000 for 10%.

Zuckerberg, Jobs and Gates all dropped out of school. These innovators may have used ‘mental accounting’ and calculated their opportunity cost of an MBA and chose to lead blindly. They ran hard, hired talent and developed patents later. And, just wanted to make a ton of money.

Certainly, that’s what their VCs wanted.


Al Leong is formerly a writer for TechVibes. He earned an MBA from the University of Toronto in Global Management, Strategy Consulting and Innovation. And, a certificate in Product Management from MIT/Sloan. If you found this article useful, go ahead and “recommend” or share it. And, feel free to view some other articles in this collection. His website is found at

For the full lists, visit or, for a 2014 Printed PDF list:

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