MaRS gives entrepreneurs JOLT to aid startup

Technology innovators will have an opportunity to jump start their ideas with a new accelerator program from MaRS Discovery District. Called JOLT, the program is focused on building high-growth Web and mobile companies in the information, communications and entertainment sectors.

JOLT will shortly begin its inaugural selection process for up to 16 high-potential startups. Selected applicants will be provided with space at the MaRS facility, seed financing ($30,000 each) and mentorship, as well as access to partners, business leaders, angel investors and venture capital investors. Mentors for the program include more than 60 executives and entrepreneurs from top investment, technology, communications and entertainment companies in Canada, including Polar Mobile, Spark59, Kobo, and Google, Zynga, LinkedIn and Virgin Gaming.

“JOLT is all about recognizing really amazing entrepreneurs and helping them develop great companies,” says Susan McGill, executive director for the program. “Giving them the opportunity to tap into community resources in the early stages translates into faster validation and testing.”

The program will run two cohorts made up of eight startups for each four-month session. The customized sessions will take participants through the planning process (defining problems, opportunities and value propositions, etc.) to product development and execution, branding and marketing. In the final stages, candidates will have developed an operations, financing and talent acquisition plan. On graduation day, companies will have the opportunity to pitch to leading angels and venture capital investors.


JOLT has taken a page from the books of leading accelerator initiatives such as TechStars to support technology innovators in the Web and mobile space, says Ilse Treurnicht, chief executive officer of MaRS Discovery District. “With JOLT we are amplifying what is strong in our community based on how the world’s best acceleration models are working. The aim is to put as much gas we can in the tank of high potential companies.”

What differentiates JOLT from other accelerators is that it is embedded in the MaRS platform that has been built in the past seven years, she adds. “It’s not stand-alone. They don’t fall off the cliff when they graduate. Rather, they remain a part of the MaRS ecosystem where we can help them through subsequent stages of growth.”

Beyond traditional business expertise, JOLT entrepreneurs will also have access to creative, design, product development and media resources. Collaborative partners on the creative and media front include The Working Group Web and mobile development shop; Media Profile public relations, Global Accelerator Network and Postmedia Network Inc.

“This industry is not just about business and technology design. The creative side of the process is equally important, and that’s what partners are bringing to the table,” Ms. McGill says.

Given the rapid pace of change, business models have to change to enable rapid adoption and lower cost development cycles, Ms. Treurnicht says. “Regardless of the sector, people are looking for faster, more cost-effective and leaner startup and development models.”

While there is a wealth of entrepreneurs in Canada, their journey is often a very lonely one, she adds. “By bringing innovators together, creating a place where they can access support and learn from each other, and developing new technology and business models, we see a huge opportunity for Canada in general. Talent is so mobile; these people can go anywhere. But there are lots of great reasons for them to grow here, and we want to take advantage of that opportunity. We think we can make a real difference.”