Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s new Growth Accelerator helps growing companies determine "What’s Next"

"What’s next?" That’s the question companies are always seeking to answer. You’ve got your prototype or your product and potential or real customers – now what? How do you find new markets and customers, innovate to expand your product line, grow your operations and inventory in anticipation of increased sales, find investors, build your team, and market as well as monetize your products and services?

Seven Kingston and area firms can confidently answer and execute on these questions now, thanks to Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation’s (QPI) exciting new Growth Accelerator program. Aimed at small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups that have reached the stage where they have a product and investment or have repeat customers and sales, the three-month program gives them practical tools to grow their business and take it to the next level of success. (The Growth Accelerator is part of a larger initiative known as the Scale-up Platform led by Invest Ottawa in Eastern Ontario and supported by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario)).

From the beginning Janice Mady, QPI’s Director, and her colleagues wanted to create a program that would not simply duplicate what similar accelerators offered, but would give its participants unique advantages. To achieve that, QPI issued a Request for Proposals and selected Laura O’Blenis and her colleague Ariella Lukach of Stiletto, a market research and strategy firm specializing in the business and commercialization opportunities created by science and technology. Working together, QPI and Stiletto developed the program that the company delivered.

“There are many accelerator programs out there,” says O’Blenis, Stiletto’s CEO. “They all follow similar structured paths and cover very similar types of material.” But where participants are concerned, she says, “they do not necessarily give them something tangible.”

“Because we work so closely with companies and help them with their go-to-market strategies, their commercialization strategies, and other ways to innovate and grow,” she says, “we are able to leverage this experience and expertise and teach the participants to think strategically about growing their business.” That included uncovering export opportunities, monetizing the data their firm may have collected in the course of doing business, building a diverse team, tackling the challenges of cold-calling potential customers, and other practical topics important to growing innovative businesses. The eclectic selection “forced people to drill down into specifics that they might not have otherwise,” says participant Daniel Desjardins, CEO of Kings Distributed Systems, a local company that is introducing a platform for harnessing affordable, secure computer resources.

Through seminars, one-on-one counselling and assignments to be completed either during the weekly meetings or on their own time, the participants (ideally the two top people for each firm, working together as a team) developed, says Mady, “a growth strategy and a growth plan that will guide the company’s decisions for the next one to two years.” The companies enrolled were diverse, and included a biological instruments manufacturer, a firm that builds devices to test disposable electrodes, another working on biodegradable plastics for use in commercial fishing, and others. Some had been in business for decades; others were relatively new.

Flexibility and practicality were a key part of the program’s approach, says O’Blenis. “Mid-way through the program, the companies were saying they didn’t know what to do about pricing. We wanted to keep the program relevant, so we added pricing to the curriculum.”

That flexibility began during the six-month iterative program design process between QPI and Stiletto and extended to the decision in March, a scant week before the program was scheduled to start, to take it entirely on-line to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Fortunately,” says O’Blenis, “we had designed the program as a hybrid, to provide the maximum flexibility for the program’s participants. This made the transition to fully virtual fairly straightforward.” Participants were able to meet weekly via Zoom, working under the direction of O’Blenis and her colleague Ariella Lukach, and engage with top experts in different fields right across North America virtually, such as Purdue University’s Scott Hutcheson on strategic teams and Sidewalk Lab’s Nicole LeBlanc, an expert on venture capital and strategic investments and partnerships.

In the end, Mady says, participants left the program with “a clearer view of the opportunities for their companies and strategies to pursue those opportunities.”

The new graduates are uniformly enthusiastic. “The program really helped me solidify what my goals are and how we want to take our company forward,” says participant Lisa Hallsworth of Rillea Technologies. “The team from Stiletto were great,” says RentalGauge’s Shawn Leclaire, “unbelievably professional and insightful. They’re still checking in on us.” Says participant Steve Hunt of Qubit Systems, “I think it’s something that any technology company should engage in if they want to grow their business.”

QPI plans to run the program again this fall again with Stiletto’s involvement, either in its fully virtual or mixed format – it’s too soon to say – a good chance for other Kingston-area technology companies to answer their own “What’s next?” questions. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please send an email to Janice.Mady@queensu.ca.

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