Here’s an interesting idea: take a city that is experiencing high-tech job loss, create a program that helps laid-off workers create startups, run it like a summer school program using local experts, charge nothing for the program and take no equity stake in the businesses. Oh, and Open Source all of the learning materials used!
It sounds too good to be true and it is, unless you live in Ottawa. Lead to Win is an accelerator program created by Dr. Tony Bailetti. Currently underway with about 50 participants, this is actually the second time such an accelerator has been run in Ottawa, the first one being in 2002 during the last tech downturn. That program created about 15 new companies, 300 new jobs and a significant amount of investment dollars. More importantly, it created a new cohort of tech entrepreneurs that have gone on to found new companies.
Here’s a taste of some of the things covered in the agenda:
- Design your business for success
- Define compelling customer and partner value propositions
- Lever ecosystems, open source projects, and open APIs
- Identify customers most likely to buy from new company
- Price and brand with confidence
- Build team and organization
- Define clear agreements, term sheets, and sales contracts
- Protect intellectual property
- As well as pitches and discussions with experts and LTW alumni
Since we all love to classify things, is Lead to Win a startup accelerator? Tech accelerators (remember, we don’t use the term “incubator” anymore…) are on the rise. StartupCFO has a nice post on the subject and First Ascent Ventures has probably the best early analysis of the accelerator space and guesses about early returns (Parts 1, 2, 3). We sometimes describe what we do at Flow Ventures as “acceleration” since we provide a mix of financing and operational services (though no office space!).
What is compelling about Lead to Win is its Open Source business model. It’s not only free (as in beer) but free as in all of their materials are available online. In fact, they’re encouraging other cities to follow suit. This openness allows LTW to easily partner with government, local tech organizations and the private sector. Unlike other accelerators, there is no implied goal of helping the company raise money at the end, e.g. there is no big funding pitch session for graduates. I like this because it emphasises bootstrapping and early profitability. Neither of these is friendly to VC funding models but they’re friendly to entrepreneurs and helping build products that markets need.
I would definitely call LTW an accelerator. After all, they help more people create new ventures quickly while providing some care and limited feeding along the way. Like many other accelerators, Prof. Bailetti has figured out that the most important thing entrepreneurs need is not cash but access to an ‘ecosystem‘ that can support the venture. This ecosystem can provide talent, technology, customers and financing.
Flow will be at Lead to Win later this month providing advice and feedback to entrepreneurs. I strongly recommend you check this program out and if you think this could work in your city, contact Tony Bailetti.