Making technology and business advisory services more accessible
Accelerating Technology Venture Development Through Intensive Mentoring
August 17, 2011— Burnaby, British Columbia
First published August 17, 2011; updated January 2013
Simon Fraser University
Simon Fraser University (SFU) is a leading Canadian comprehensive university, with a strong belief in contributing to its surrounding communities. To support this mandate, SFU created the Technology Business Mentorship Program (TBMP).
The Technology Business Mentorship Program (TBMP)
From left to right: Bob de Wit (3rd from left), Program Director, with a few of the many mentors who have participated in the program: Basil Peters, Phil Holland and Doug Blakeway.
TBMP was created as a pilot project in 2005-2006 to assist local start-ups from Surrey and the Lower Mainland by providing business advisory services. The major attraction of this program is that it provides a place firms can turn to for insight and feedback on their business which may already be in the early stages of development. Initially, local start-ups are identified and matched with a customized panel of experts. Angel investors, chief executive officers, venture capitalists and prospective clients are just some examples of the range and depth of mentors on this panel, many of whom may otherwise be inaccessible to most start-ups. The firm’s leaders then participate in a three-hour session with the panel during which they receive focused feedback from the mentors. A few months later, the lead mentor follows up with the firm as they are executing on the advice provided by the panel. The panel also conducts a follow-up meeting with the firm to discuss what has been accomplished, address challenges and define additional goals.
A joint effort to help small businesses
At the beginning of the pilot project, SFU turned to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) for financial assistance and advisory services. Since NRC IRAP is well-known in the community for its employees’ expertise in technology commercialization, and also has access to a nationwide network of technical and business advisors across all industry sectors, SFU saw an opportunity to strengthen its program with NRC IRAP support. Every year since 2005, NRC IRAP has contributed financial funding and advisory services to SFU’s TBMP.
"Ian Hand of SFU’s Innovation Office commented that "The benefits to the client firms are evident, and SFU is pleased to be able to continue to contribute to the development of early stage ventures in the community as an innovative and dynamic institution."
Since NRC IRAP and SFU’s TBMP both support technology venture development and commercialization, they can refer clients and collaborate in supporting venture growth. Working with Industrial Technology Advisors (ITAs) Rizwan Kheraj and Glen Sampson, SFU received continuous advice and supportive feedback on program effectiveness. The ITAs were able to recommend companies who were the best fit for the TBMP program. The ITAs also helped the SFU team spot the important intangibles that can be hard to detect, such as identifying very specific types of business assistance that small- and medium-sized businesses could best utilize.
A successful collaboration with concrete results
"Support from NRC IRAP has been critical in allowing SFU to deliver this valuable program. The benefits to the client firms have been clearly demonstrated, and SFU has contributed to jobs creation and a expanding technology economy in Canada." — Mike Volker, Director, SFU Innovation Office
TBMP has seen solid success since its inception. Between 2008 and 2012, it assisted 33 companies, with 23 achieving an increase in their sales. More specifically, among the 33 companies who were assisted between January 2008 and December 2012, 23 have increased their sales and 29 raised new financing totalling $78,125,000 (NOTE: One company alone raised $49 million in an exit transaction). Since the creation of TBMP in 2005, 50 companies have gone through the program and approximately 18of them came from NRC IRAP referrals. These achievements would not have been possible without the assistance of NRC IRAP and its advisors.
It is expected that SFU’s TBMP will continue to expand its network in order to better identify local, community-based companies eligible for assistance and useful technologies. By drawing on its connections with NRC IRAP and other organizations, SFU is able to offer the companies more face time with mentors and establish important connections that have, in many cases, radically accelerated the growth cycle of the early stage companies admitted into the program.
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