Disruptive Canadian startups to pitch at Canadian Tech Accelerator’s First Demo Day

Thierry Lu, the Program Manager at the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA), with startups from the Fall 2019 batch

Earlier this week I caught up with Thierry Lu, the Program Manager at the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA) and Trade Commissioner for Global Affairs Canada. The Canadian Tech Accelerator is a federally funded program created to prepare and catapult high-potential Canadian startups into Silicon Valley. It was enlightening to have this opportunity to hear Thierry’s perspective around developments in tech innovation in Canada. At the end of this month, SkyDeck will be co-hosting the demo day for the Canadian Technology Accelerator (CTA). The event is open to investors and the public. Read on to learn how you can register to join CTA’s demo day…

Sibyl: Thanks for taking time to chat. CTA’s been around since 2009, what motivated CTA to host a demo day now?

Thierry: Due to the global pandemic, connecting in person has become more challenging for Canadian startups. We wanted to make sure there was a direct channel for Canadian startups to be exposed to Silicon Valley investors ,and, since it’s become more of the norm for investors to attend virtual demo days now, we thought it was high time to host our own version.

Sibyl: As CTA is the Canadian government’s officially funded accelerator, I’m curious to know what type of startups you’ve been focused on working with?

Thierry: As Trade Commissioners, we pay attention to what’s going on in Silicon Valley and it seems like many startups have emerged in sectors that have been most impacted by the pandemic. To name a few, retail, education,logistics and supply chain have seen many opportunities for startups to innovate, so we look for Canadian startups that are already getting traction in these sectors and work with them to get them ready to expand to Silicon Valley.

Sibyl: How do you source your startups and what do you look for?

Thierry: We have a network of Trade Commissioners in each province of Canada and work with them alongside institutional partners to source out the best companies that are already making an impact here. For example, the pandemic greatly affected the way restaurants could serve their customers with the rise of no-contact mobile payment solutions and changed the way people ordered food. We were highly interested in startups that had viable solutions to combat these new obstacles.

Sibyl: What should investors look forward to seeing at this demo day?

Thierry: As we’re mainly focused on early-stage companies, I would particularly pay attention to founders that have demonstrated a great understanding of the problem they are solving and the market opportunity their solution presents.

Sibyl: What does the CTA program consist of and how does it work?

Thierry: The current program is 8 weeks long and consists of both group sessions on a wide variety of topics related to building startups and weekly one on one sessions with an advisor. This year, we have partnered with Enjoy the Work,, which is a Silicon Valley advisory firm with a team of eight advisors who have been former founders. They have a deep understanding of how business works in the SV and possess both functional and sectoral expertise.

Sibyl: Do most of the startups in your program ultimately move to the U.S., or do most of them remain headquartered in Canada?

Thierry: In the past, it was important for companies to move their headquarters to the U.S. for VCs to invest in those businesses, but that is no longer the case. There are several companies headquartered in Canada that still have successful operations in the U.S. and anywhere around the world, like Shopify, for example.

Sibyl: What might be some things that American investors may not understand about Canadian startups?

Thierry: I think there are great founders in Canada, but due to the lack of exposure to a global ecosystem and the cultural differences with Silicon Valley, their mindset is a little more on the conservative side. There are several cities in Canada that are starting to emerge as hubs for global innovation. Toronto, for example, has attracted many U.S. companies to open offices. But the reality is that we are not there yet. We are hoping that through our many initiatives, Canadian founders will adopt this global mindset and build their startups for the world and not just Canada.

Sibyl: Where are you seeing the most talented founders or the most disruptive innovation coming from in Canada?

Thierry: It really depends. For example, Toronto and Montreal are well known for AI technology whereas we see a good number of companies coming out of Vancouver for creative industries. As for talented founders, they can come from anywhere but we’ve seen a higher concentration in provinces like Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Recently, Ottawa has also become quite a large tech space as well.

Sibyl: Who else, besides investors, should consider attending this demo day?

Thierry: I think Silicon Valley professionals working in the tech sector would greatly benefit from attending and learning more about the technology coming out from Canada. This event is especially recommended for advisors that either want to work for a Canadian company or already do and would like to represent their organization. This demo day is an opportunity for the local Silicon Valley startup community to learn more about Canadian startups and think of ways to collaborate.

Sibyl: Having been a founder yourself, you know the pains of the journey, what is your number one survival tip for up and coming startup founders?

Thierry: The number one tip is to be able to validate assumptions as fast as possible. When we build a startup we are typically highly focused on the problem and that brings about many assumptions, which we follow to solve that problem. Oftentimes, startups are more wrong than right, so my one tip to a founder in Silicon Valley, for example, would be to just go out there and experiment, experiment, experiment. Continue to iterate on the solution, not just the product, and make sure you can measure the results of those experiments.

For those interested in joining CTA’s Demo Day on June 24th, register here at https://tinyurl.com/CTADemoDay

Sibyl Chen is the Senior Director of Program at Berkeley SkyDeck, UC Berkeley’s premier tech accelerator.

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