Article via The Waterloo Record – WATERLOO — Gov. Gen. David Johnston will be at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo to celebrate its 10th birthday on Tuesday and hear pitches from a selection of the entrepreneurs based there.
Johnston was president of the University of Waterloo when he championed the creation of a research and technology park on the university’s north campus that would feature a startup incubator. The park was renamed in his honour after he was appointed Governor General in 2010.
There is a lot to celebrate.
Miovision, a Kitchener company that produces products and platforms that helps cities manage traffic using data and cameras, was the first startup to graduate from the Accelerator Centre. It went in with six employees and left 2½ years later with 20 employees.
Kurtis McBride, the company’s chief executive officer and one of its founders, speaks highly of his experience at the centre. “I always found that being surrounded by a whole bunch of your peers going through the same thing was really helpful,” he says.
Today, Miovision employs about 120 people in offices at 148 Manitou Dr. and also in Germany and Australia. It has 650 client cities in 50 countries.
Miovision learned about creating and running a business at the Accelerator Centre — everything from sales and marketing to bookkeeping and raising money. “We sort of came in there as engineers and left as guys who were running a business,” McBride says.
Before leaving the Accelerator Centre, Miovision packed 19 people and desks into a 750-square-foot space in the centre. “The last week we were there, we hired our 20th employee, and we had them sitting out in the hallway at one point because we couldn’t fit them into the room anymore,” McBride says.
Other Accelerator Centre graduates include Clearpath Robotics, Kik Interactive, Sortable, TrustPoint, Intellijoint Surgical, BigRoad, TextNow and Magnet Forensics.
The centre accepts applications from all over the world. It started with one building on Hagey Boulevard and expanded into more space across the road in a space it calls Reactor in the Innotech building. There also are satellite offices in downtown Kitchener and Stratford.
Earlier this year, Inc. magazine rated Waterloo Region’s startup ecosystem as No. 1 in the world, ahead of even Hong Kong. One of the reasons for that ranking? The Accelerator Centre.
It is not unusual to have 50 applicants for a single place in the Accelerator Centre. One of the main reasons the centre has such a successful graduation rate is that it is very picky about who gets in, says Paul Salvini, its chief executive officer.
“Our model is to work with a small number of companies in the region, but really those that have the highest potential, in our view, to become significant players in the economy,” he says.
The centre looks for startups with ideas and technology that can be sold around the world. It also focuses on startups that can tie into the research and resources of the UW, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College. “Then that company is not going to be starved of talent as it grows,” Salvini says.
In addition to the talent, the research labs at post-secondary institutions provide a stream of new ideas and innovations for startups.
“We are not admitting anyone that we don’t believe, with the right support, the right coaching, that if we do our piece and they do their piece, there is no reason why those companies can’t be globally successful,” Salvini says.
In the next 10 years, the centre hopes to focus on bringing together technology, business and creative skills from the outset. Those three elements, when properly combined, can disrupt global markets, Salvini says.
Take Uber as an example. The technology behind the ride-hailing app it is not rocket science, but the user experience and the business plan made all the difference. The same is true for Airbnb, the website for finding vacation rentals. It combined low-grade technology innovation with an entirely new user experience.
“Good technology is essential, but it is not sufficient if you want to build a global, successful company,” Salvini says.
The magic happens when technology is wedded to a new, creative use and the right business plan, he says. “The sky is the limit on what those companies can be in the next 10 years, that’s what is so exciting about being here.”
Salvini has been the centre’s CEO for almost a year. A UW math and computer science grad, he came to the centre from Christie Digital, where he had been chief technology officer.
Before joining Kitchener-based Christie in 2011, he had served as a member an expert panel that was advising the federal government about proposals that should be funded for new Centres of Excellence and commercialization of technology. A delegation from Waterloo Region was making a pitch for the Canadian Digital Media Network, which is based in the Tannery building in downtown Kitchener.
Gerry Remers, president of Christie, Tom Jenkins, chair of OpenText, Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, and others told Salvini about what was happening at the Accelerator Centre and the incredible co-operation that was happening in the region’s tech sector. They talked about how Remers helped mentor a young engineer named Kurtis McBride and his startup called Miovision.
Salvini was so impressed he went to work for Christie. Last July, he was appointed CEO of the Accelerator Centre.
He says the Accelerator Centre and the region are just at the beginning of achieving their potential. “There is so much that this region can and will do, I really believe that,” he says. “We are so lucky.”