Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

Wings Acceleration summer 2020 cohort graduates!

In the air force, getting your wings means that you are finally ready to soar aloft alone.

Thanks to a Queen’s accelerator program called Wings, six fledgling Kingston and area tech entrepreneurs are similarly poised to take flight. 

Group photo of Wings Acceleration program via Zoom

The flight metaphors might seem a little overwrought, particularly when you also learn that Wings is part of an incubation program named the Queen’s StartUp Runway, but they suit the program’s ambitious goals: To work with companies that are in the very early stages of their entrepreneurial journey, at the point where they have a product or a solid idea for one, and help them take the key next steps to turn an idea into a solid business opportunity.

This August saw the second cohort of Wings companies graduate from the program, offered by Queen’s Partnerships and Innovation. The Wings Accelerator and the Queen’s StartUp Runway are 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)). The participants included a company developing an app to encourage restaurant and hospitality industry sustainability, another working on a methodology to separate oil and water using a patented filter system and one focusing on an exciting improvement to the internal combustion engine. Some participants were first time entrepreneurs; others were seeking a second career pursuing a long-nurtured passion or interest. To cope with COVID-19, the participants met virtually but collectively with course creators and leaders Elza Seregelyi and Andrew Jackson and Rick Boswell, who manages the Queen’s StartUp Runway and worked with Seregelyi and Jackson to refine the program. Beginning in June, they met four more times over the course of the summer.

Wings is different than some other early stage accelerators. As Jackson points out, there are plenty of programs and people out there today who are willing to give would-be entrepreneurs their opinions on their idea and tell them what they should be doing.

“Where Wings chooses to differentiate itself,” says Jackson, “is that it’s not about our opinion of your idea. It’s about teaching you the tools and processes for you to decide whether it is worth proceeding with and building on.”

Both Jackson and Seregelyi have extensive backgrounds in the tech sector and in working with entrepreneurs to help them realize their dreams.

Every entrepreneur with a product has an idea, however vague, of who their customer might be. Wings teaches them to refine that, to, as Rick Boswell puts it, “test their assumptions about what they thought the customer was looking for against what customers are actually looking for.” Customer identification is key, and to uncover this, Wings helps participants to work out who in a company they should contact, and how, and, says Boswell, “the best questions to ask.” Being armed with this information gives them a head start on other companies who are starting more or less from zero. From it, participants can begin to develop the know-how that will help them take their next steps.  Beyond identifying potential customers, the program includes developing a go-to-market strategy , a revenue model and a value proposition -- a succinct statement, says Seregelyi, ”that describes what value or benefit you’re providing, who you’re providing it to and perhaps how much of it they might expect to receive.”

Developing all this isn’t simply an empty exercise. “Wings is not a program where the participants are doing things that are somehow separate from their business,” says Seregelyi. As well as participating in the group Zoom sessions, participants also work independently with the instructors to focus on their particular business, not simply pick up some generic tools. Perhaps most importantly, participants are expected to get out there and start applying the lessons learned.

“For example,” says Seregelyi, “one of their activities on leaving the first workshop was to spend the next four weeks working on customer discovery. They were reaching out to potential customers, talking to them and then bringing their learnings back,” for the next time they all met. The gaps between workshops varied depending on how much time was needed to complete the tasks assigned. For the fifth and final session of Wings, participants took what they’d learned and presented a pitch to an audience that included Jackson, Seregelyi and Boswell as well as other members of the QPI team and their partners in the local innovation ecosystem.

Now they are ready for the next level – more than ready, in fact, they’re already on their way.

Participant feedback has been good. “One of the things I’ve heard,” says Seregelyi, “is that they really appreciate how practical the course content is and there are tools that they are able to apply directly.”

“This program is in demand,” says Boswell, “and we are already lining up companies to take part in the next cohort, tentatively scheduled for May/June 2021.”

And again, as he speaks about the potential entrepreneurial journey they will undertake, those airborne metaphors rear their head. “Wings will serve as their pre-flight program,” he says, “before these companies can truly take off.”

 

Tags: