Tech

A Canadian tech pioneer tells us why this Toronto accelerator, backed by Reid Hoffman, is a game changer

  • Entrepreneur First, an accelerator backed by Reid Hoffman, launched a program in Toronto last fall.
  • Canadian entrepreneur Sally Daub says it’s helping Toronto become an international startup hub.
  • In its second year, the program has drawn 2,000 applications from around the world for its 80 spots.

Sally Daub founded a Toronto semiconductor company whose technology helped enable something any

Netflix
subscriber takes for granted today: streaming video smoothly on wireless internet.

But it was an uphill battle for her, she said, as one of the few female CEOs in her industry, far, far away from Silicon Valley. Though she eventually raised funding from NEA and took her company public on the Toronto Stock Exchange, her company was undercapitalized for years, competing against the likes of Broadcom and Intel.

When she later moved to the Bay Area for a few years, she saw firsthand how disadvantaged her company had been.

“I came back from San Francisco with a chip on my shoulder,” she told Insider.

Yet the past few years have shown that the Bay Area isn’t the only place to be for startups. And the arrival of Entrepreneur First to Toronto, an accelerator backed by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, is a game-changer, Daub said. She recently joined the program as a partner.

Entrepreneur First, which began in 2011 in London, launched its first Toronto cohort in September. Six startups came out of the program, launching earlier this year. Three of them have since received additional seed funding, program manager Rachel Zimmer told Insider.

This year, the program, whose application window closes on Sunday, has already drawn some 2,000 applicants from dozens of countries for 80 slots.

Toronto’s tech scene has historically lacked capital and access to Silicon Valley’s deep-pockets network, Daub said. Lately, though, funding has flowed to the city’s startups more generously. Tiger Global Management, for instance, has backed Toronto-based chat bot company Ada and quantum computing company Xanadu in deals of $100 million or more this year.

Now the city needs the networking opportunities that define the scene in Silicon Valley, she said.

That’s where Entrepreneur First comes in, according to Daub. It brings together skilled individuals — many with deep academic expertise — in order to match them as cofounders, provides initial funding and coaching to launch a startup, and connects them with other investors.

“Often the work in an early-stage company is finding that team,” she said. “In San Francisco, there are more networks set up for paths to cross. It’s a matter of creating that environment in other ecosystems.”

Entrepreneur First motivated Jenny Lemieux to branch out on her own after a series of executive roles in product development. Her company, Vivid Machines, is developing computer vision technology to help farmers improve their crop yield and quality by detecting issues that may not be readily visible by humans.

Lemieux grew up on a farm in rural Ontario, but she told Insider she never expected to be working in agriculture. As it turned out, her cofounder, Jonathan Binas, who holds a Ph.D. in machine learning, also had a childhood connection to the industry: his family owned a food business in Germany.

From the moment they met on the first day of the program, Lemieux said, they clicked immediately. The two soon hatched the idea for Vivid Machines, and within two months, they had signed agreements with three commercial farms to partner in developing the technology. Their company has since raised $1.1 million (USD) in seed funding.

Lemieux had considered starting a company years beforehand, but she was hesitant to go it alone. Finding a cofounder at Entrepreneur First enabled her to make the leap, she told Insider.

“It makes the whole journey better,” she said.

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