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University Resources for SME Start-Ups

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Startup resources from Canadian universities.

When searching for resources to develop their startups, many entrepreneurs don’t think to look at what’s available at their local universities.

Startup founders across Canada can access funding, research, equipment, and mentorship from their industry's top-tier experts through Canada’s public universities. While some programs are limited to enrolled students or recent alumni, many are open to the public. 

Check out some of the most promising initiatives for startup owners from Canada’s top-tier universities.

The University of Toronto 

The University of Toronto has a number of incubators, accelerators, and diverse brainstorming and training resources available to students, alumni, and public entrepreneurs from diverse sectors looking to start a business.

The Health Innovation Hub has a variety of programming for health tech entrepreneurs in the early stages of development. Their mission is to “educate, enable, partner, and facilitate” founders through business development, including help with fundraising, product design and eventually scaling for growth.

One key program is Accelera, a roundtable discussion group hosted by various academic and industry experts. These experienced entrepreneurs talk about some of the core challenges in starting a new business to help new startup owners succeed in an ever-changing business landscape. 

  • Provides access to equipment, people, patients, and places

  • Mentorship program

  • For health startups

Creative Destruction Lab

Affiliated with the University of Toronto, the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) is a not-for-profit think tank and entrepreneurial hub with extensive creative programming for startups at all stages of development.

The entrepreneurial hub services 20 sectors from agriculture and biotech to Web3 with support for raising capital and access to intensive mentorship programs from top-tier experts like former astronaut Dr. Chris Hadfield.

  • Mentorship program with angel investors

  • Funding opportunities

  • For scalable, early-stage science and tech-based startups

The Hub

Part of UoT’s Scarborough campus, The Hub is an incubator and “innovation center” that gives recent alumni access to workspace, mentors, and investors to help grow their early-stage startups. While The Hub welcomes entrepreneurs of all disciplines to use their space, the organization focuses on “the validation of business concepts leading to both innovation and commercialization,” and is framed around a design-thinking philosophy.

ICUBE UTM

For the UoT Mississauga-campus students, this entrepreneurial hub concentrates on social entrepreneurship and early-stage startups with a “values-driven” approach to designing new companies. ICUBE provides access to grants, investors, and mentorship, as well as a student workforce to help employ your business ideas. 

UTEST

This lab-to-market accelerator helps health innovators from UoT and its affiliated hospitals bring their research-based companies to launch. The organization provides investment capital of up to $150,000, along with mentoring on business strategy and other incubator initiatives. 

One male student and one female student working on a machine at a university.

 

York University 

Venture Catalyst

The Venture Catalyst program is a free 6-week program that supports early-stage technology ventures to develop, test, validate, and refine their ideas from idea to proof-of-concept. Participants have access to programming, mentorship, workshops, a network of industry experts and peer support, a community, and other resources to help transform their ideas into successful businesses. The program is currently accepting applications until October 2, 2022, for its Fall 2022 cohort. 

York University, also in Toronto, has a range of useful programs for Canadian startup owners. The YSpace Technology Accelerator is a free digital accelerator program that takes entrepreneurs through a 4-month preparatory course to help them find a “product-market fit, build traction, and unlock their roadmap for scale.” The program includes boot camps and workshops, 1:1 mentoring, and access to $60,000 in funding, along with $30,000 in awards. 

The York University Regional Food & Drink Accelerator Program focuses on entrepreneurs with high-growth, consumer-packaged goods ventures through feedback sessions, networking opportunities, workshops, and mentoring. 

Queens

Ontario isn’t lacking in university resources for Canadian startup founders. With some of the largest universities in the country, the province has an abundance of incubators, accelerators, and initiatives offering support for entrepreneurs.

A partnership between Queen’s University’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team and several external partners, the WE-CAN (Women Entrepreneurs Can) project delivers programs and services for women-identifying entrepreneurs in Kingston and the surrounding region. This project is targeted at women entrepreneurs in technology sectors, women entrepreneurs who identify as Indigenous, and women entrepreneurs from diverse and underrepresented groups. It offers legal services, sales coaching, marketing support, funding opportunities, financial services, operations, growth, and succession services, and provides resources, mentors, networks, and community building to help women-identifying entrepreneurs expand their existing businesses and launch new ones. 

In addition, the Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) team offers three other projects based on partnerships for entrepreneurs in Eastern Ontario who are developing and pursuing science-based, technology-based, and software-based solutions.

First, the Queen's Startup Runway Incubator, a physical incubation program at the Seaway Coworking building in Kingston, for entrepreneurs, startups, and small companies. Participating entrepreneurs have access to work and event spaces, meeting rooms, and teleconferencing facilities along with free coffee, tea, snacks, reception, and mail services. 

Second, the Market-Focused Research Program is a series of half-day workshops for faculty members, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students conducting healthcare-related research, covering topics such as market/technology assessments, design thinking, intellectual property, effective communication, and commercialization strategies.

Lastly, the Foundry Program connects students who have an entrepreneurial drive with research-based intellectual property with commercial potential through a licensing framework. Graduate student teams create a proposal to commercially develop the technology and create a business around the research. 

University of Western Ontario

Western Accelerator

The University of Western Ontario's Western Accelerator is a four-month program for recent alumni that focuses on ventures ready to launch. The accelerator offers immersive education, mentorship, and workshops on value proposition, marketing, legal, accounting, and more. Accepted founders will receive up to $12,000 in funding. Applications open in October 2022. 

University of Ottawa

Startup Garage

At UOttawa's Entrepreneurship Hub, the Startup Garage program offers recent alumni in any industry access to peer-to-peer networks, mentorship, advisory services, capital, space, and resources. There are four programs with varying lengths and intakes, from the 8-week Rev-Up circuit for people looking to transform their idea into a business with access to education and mentors, to the Acceleration Circuit which offers incorporated startup founders mentorship, advisory services, and investor meet and greets. Participants can also take part in pitch competitions, panels, and social events. 

Toronto Metropolitan University

The DMZ at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) is a leading startup incubator equipping the next generation of leading tech entrepreneurs with the tools needed to build, launch, and scale highly impactful startups. It provides access to capital, world-class coaching, and mentorship, marketing strategies, customer playbooks, sales, operations support, financial management, sourcing strategies, networking, community, and, introductions to investors! 

McGill University

As one of the top-tier research universities in the country, McGill has a large platform of resources for entrepreneurs. The Dobson Center for Entrepreneurship is a flagship entrepreneurial hub where startups can access specialized programming for each stage of their development. 

Their ideation programming includes workshops on lean startup methodology, while the acceleration stream gives entrepreneurs access to the X-1 Accelerator and mentorship programs. Some open access resources from McGill include an Entrepreneurial Toolkit for Intellectual Property Commercialization, a library guide to reading resources on entrepreneurship, and McGill also hosts these more specialized entrepreneurial programs:  

Other universities in Quebec like the Université de Montreal and Sherbrooke University have extensive entrepreneurial programs and resources accessible in French. These include startup toolkits, a life sciences entrepreneurship development program, as well as the following initiatives: 

Entrepreneuriat

At the non-profit organization CEuMONTREAL (Le Centre d’entrepreneuriat de l’Université de Montréal) students, graduates, researchers, and employees can access concrete support for their business ideas. Participants are able to access workshops and conferences, get help creating a business plan, coaching, and mentoring re: marketing, sales, operations and finance, acceleration, and growth. 

UMontreal offers the Life Sciences Entrepreneurship Development Program, an experiential training program for management employees in the life sciences sector, young researchers, and university students. It consists of 10 intensive two-day modules where you learn cutting-edge managerial techniques, providing you with strategies to speed up the growth of your business. Modules cover design thinking, business modeling, customer journeys, value propositions, finances, marketing and sales, and pitching among other topics. 

In addition, UdeM also has the Millénium Québecor program, funded by a $20 million donation by Quebecor and the Fondation Chopin-Péladeau, in a soon-to-be-constructed Innovation Centre where the program will be housed. The Millénium Québecor program is intended primarily for the UdeM community (students, faculty, staff, and alumni), and aims to build entrepreneurial skills through credit and non-credit courses to develop entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. It is intended to be a one-stop-shop that offers a full complement of services including training, mentoring, coaching, and start-up financing, a business incubator, and an accelerator.

The Entrepreneurial Center at the Université du Québec à Montréal

The Entrepreneurial Center at the Université du Québec à Montréal is a non-profit organization whose mission is to contribute to the development of entrepreneurship on campus and to provide business start-up support services. UQAM business professors with specializations in finance and business serve as mentors and coaches. The organization offers entrepreneurs seed round funding, and 1:1 coaching, and is known for the annual My Business contest, which offers scholarships totalling more than $20,000 to winners.

A professor of business teaching a class at a university.

Concordia University

Montreal’s second English-language university is a hotbed of startup accelerators and funding opportunities for all entrepreneurs, not just students. The District 3 Innovation Center is a one-stop shop for startups who want to turn their ideas into reality. Concordia alumni who are experts in their fields serve as mentors, fostering a community of entrepreneurship to “create a hub for all players in the Montreal innovation ecosystem to collaborate”.

Wilfrid Laurier University

The Laurier Launchpad

LaunchPad Brantford, in the Community Innovation Hub at Laurier's Brantford campus, is an incubator that supports recent alumni or community members living in Brantford, Brant County, or Six Nations. It offers an online curriculum, coaching, mentorship, workshops, coworking space, resources, expertise, networks, and potential funding you need to launch your venture. 

McMaster University

The Forge Business Incubator

McMaster's The Forge is a business incubator for entrepreneurs in Hamilton, Greater Toronto, and Niagara Regions of Ontario. It offers mentorship, non-dilutive seed funding, angel and VC investor introductions, entrepreneurial workshops, dedicated office space, help from a network of mentors and advisors, and other services for early-stage entrepreneurs to help them build successful startups. The Forge offers several programs including Startup Survivor, a 4-month program for startups culminating in a pitch competition, where 10 finalists are awarded $75,000, and the Experience Ventures Program for McMaster students to gain work experience with companies at The Forge. 

University of Alberta

The Alberta Business Family Institute (ABFI) at The University of Alberta offers research-based education, seminars, programs, workshops, and other resources for family businesses and entrepreneurs that provide practical insight and expertise. Programs focus on communication, management, leadership, conflict resolution, succession planning, mentoring, and negotiation, within family businesses. 

The University of British Columbia

For recent alumni of The University of British Columbia, HATCH Venture Builder (formerly the HATCH Accelerator) provides entrepreneurs with advisory teams, regular quarterly check-ins, and programming. With a focus on early-stage ventures, HATCH ventures are offered introductions to investors, funders, advisors, and senior executives. There are workshops for team building, revenue and business modeling, development, sales, fundraising, people management, and more. In addition, entrepreneurs at HATCH are offered the use of office space, maker space, and wet lab space to support the testing, development, and launching of new and innovative products.

Takeaway

Regardless of your status, from alumni, current student, or if you are simply starting your own business, there are resources for everyone across Canada to access. From funding initiatives to expert guidance to office space, Canada’s higher education sector is a hotbed to source from, and available for almost everyone to get. While many of these initiatives are aimed at current students, many also have programs offered by these Universities which provide classes making all entrepreneurs who join, students of the university. From the offered courses to the engagement with faculty, experts, and experienced mentors, all these resources are to help any Canadian SME take off with the proper guidance and support.

Summary

Across the country, SMEs and student entrepreneurs have access to countless programs that offer funding and guidance on how to start and grow a business in Canada. From science-based and ethically minded businesses to innovative and for-profit ventures, regardless of the province, you may be living in, there is an institution in your area that most likely has some kind of program that will help your growing or fledgling business take off.

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