Kings Distributed Systems, Nurenyx, Spectra Plasmonics and WaiveTheWait participate in programs made possible with support from the Government of Canada to Queen’s University through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and the Scale-up Platform Project.
For four Kingston-area startups, a (virtual) voyage to Boston is opening doors.
Creating a startup from scratch is tough. But so is growing one. This is especially true in a smaller centre, even one like Kingston that boasts a fairly developed innovation ecosystem. There comes a time when the fledgling company needs not to relocate, but to start looking beyond its local community or region to seek out advisors and potential partners, to tap into more money than it can raise locally.
For companies involved in the healthcare sector, that tends to lead them to Boston, Massachusetts. Thanks to the presence of major academic institutions such as MIT and Harvard, and numerous spin-offs from them, the city has become the world leader in the biotech sector. To help develop our own high-tech sector, the federal government has created the Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA), located globally in areas identified as hotspots of innovations and developments such as San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong -- and Boston.
In the last few years, Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation (QPI) has been developing a relationship with the Boston Canadian Technology Accelerator. This year in March, for the first time, four young Kingston tech companies that are part of Queen’s innovation ecosystem got the chance to gain some first-hand exposure (if only virtually) to the Boston entrepreneurial ecosystem and what it has to offer to startups through the CTA’s Market Testing Lab.
All four are active in the healthcare sector, which makes them a good fit for Boston. Nurenyx is pioneering an exciting AI-powered software platform that will help researchers to conduct decentralized clinical trials efficiently. Primarily involved with distributed computing, which allows people to harness their idle computing power in a way that gives them the power of the cloud for research but cheaply and more securely, Kings Distributed Systems is currently developing an AI-based system that will allow hospitals to better schedule surgeries. WaiveTheWait has created software that helps clinics provide patients with accurate wait times while reducing no-shows and controlling patient flow in their waiting rooms. Spectra Plasmonics has developed a portable drug analyzer that can detect trace amounts of chemicals, useful to police forces and on-site injection facilities.
As its name suggests, the idea behind the Market Testing Lab – is just that, a test, a way to dip a toe in the Boston waters, so to speak. Serban Georgescu, the Canadian Trade Commissioner who oversees the Lab program (although he is quick to share credit with the other Canadian Trade Commissioners in Boston), says the idea is to take these early-stage companies, “ones that have an innovative technology and some proof of concept,” and guide them on taking the first steps in making the connections that will help them later on. Some companies, he says, may discover that Boston isn’t a fit for them. That’s fine; they’ve still learned something.
The week-long process involved a mixture of online seminars and one-to-one virtual mentoring that covers the fundamentals of doing business in Boston’s competitive environment. Local entrepreneur Bobbie Carlton provided participants with a virtual guided tour of the Boston innovation ecosystem, and the opportunities there. “Basically, why Boston is right for health-tech startups,” says Salman Sohani, co-founder of WaiveTheWait. Participants were also lucky enough to have a two-part seminar with business professor and serial entrepreneur Kent Summers, who has created or had a hand in four successful startups in the Boston area. Summers teaches a similar business-to-business sales course for startups at MIT and knows what it takes for a startup to sell in the Boston area. “I’ve been to a few sales workshops over the years,” says Malcolm Eade of Spectra Plasmonics, “and quite frankly this was the best I have ever attended.” “It was full of tidbits of gold,” says Dan Desjardins of Kings Distributed Systems. “It just made so much sense.” To help them further on their scale-up journey, participants also worked individually with pitch coach Linda Plano, who has helped numerous startups (including many from Canada) to raise more than $1.3 billion in funds. While they worked together virtually, Plano reviewed and revamped their pitches, changing the focus, poring over their PowerPoint shows, dropping slides even creating new ones as they worked together. “Over the course of three-four hours, she just completely reconstructed ours from the ground up,” says Eade, “It was really, really useful.” John Okello of Nurenyx is equally enthusiastic. “She’s a pro.”
Thanks to the connections the Canadian Trade Commissioners have developed over the years with the local entrepreneurial community, the Boston CTA also connects the fledgling companies in the Market Testing Lab program to people in their large pool of mentors who can give them advice and help them open doors. “We have close to 100,” says Georgescu. “The vast majority are Canadian ex-pats. They’re successful serial entrepreneurs, investors, researchers who volunteer their time and their expertise” to help Canadian startups break into the Boston market. With any luck, the participants develop relationships with mentors who understand their business that will endure after the end of the Lab.
The connections are already paying off. Nurenyx has been paired with Laurie Halloran of Halloran Consulting Group. “She is excited to be mentoring us, says Okello, “and she has already made some valuable introductions.” Spectra Plasmonics connected with Colin Brenan, a Boston-based, Canadian life-sciences entrepreneur. “He has a lot of entrepreneurial experience in the biotech industry and also comes with an investor lens because he was an angel investor as well,” says Eade. Brenan has asked to be kept in the loop about any of their future developments.
“This was our first experience with Queen’s, and we feel it was successful,” says Georgescu. “That’s what we heard from the companies and the university, and we’d like to continue the relationship.” Ultimately, he says, maybe these young companies will progress to the point where they can join the CTA’s global business development program, a six-month accelerator program that gives startups in-depth exposure to the Boston market.
“For our side,” says Shreyansh Anand, co-founder of WaiveTheWait, “It was a fantastic trip. Even if it was virtual.”