Looking to grow your startup in the US?
For many Montreal-based businesses, New York City is a natural starting point due to its proximity and strong vertical markets in retail, fashion, finance, media, tourism and e-commerce. In the last 10 years, New York has also developed an increasingly vibrant startup ecosystem rivalling Silicon Valley’s hegemony.
The Canadian Technology Accelerator initiative in New York City (also known as CTA @ NYC) was established in 2012 by the Consulate General of Canada in New York to help Canadian digital media companies access key resources to accelerate their growth.
The CTA @ NYC is geared to supporting start-ups looking to achieve the following business objectives in the NYC market:
- Strengthening angel / VC investor networks
- Landing a marquee client / strategic partnership
- Exploring expansion of business development operations into NYC
Many Montreal startups have participated in the program so far, such as clothing e-tailer Frank & Oak and location-based marketing startup SweetIQ, as well as Datacratic, Guestful, Buyosphere and WhereCloud. Local startup entrepreneur and FounderFuel alum Charles Brun (Now In Store) is participating in the current cohort, alongside Claude Théorêt (Nexalogy).
MY EXPERIENCE AT CTA
I worked for several months at the General Assembly co-working space, where I was able to connect with other US entrepreneurs and attend events at GA. (Note that the co-working space has changed to Grind this year, which is equally great). This was quite helpful to kickstart my network in the US. I was also able to attend many startup community events in NYC during my stay, such as NY Tech Day, Start conference by the f.ounders group, and NY Tech Meetup. During my time at CTA, we also attracted attention from US-focused media that resulted in some press coverage too. Our participation in CTA was also a catalyst to helping to raise our seed round with Canadian and NYC-based investors.
The program itself is well-structured and relevant. These panels, sessions and conferences have helped us refine our pitch in advance of CTA’s demo day (also a great venue to connect with potential investors) and generally better understand the NY ecosystem. Guests have included great entrepreneurs and investors such as Alexis Ohanian of Reddit & YCombinator and Jim Estill of CanRock Ventures. CTA also provides mentoring sessions, pitch clinics, business development support and legal/immigration help. More than anything, it was fun to meet startups from across Canada participating in the program. There was a definitely good vibes among peer entrepreneurs. The alumni network is also a huge value and I have regularly been in touch with a few other alum entrepreneurs.
TIPS AND TRICKS
A few useful points of clarification for interested entrepreneurs:
- Format: While the program is about 3-4 months, most activities are generally clustered over two 3-days periods approximately at the start and midway points, so it it definitely to participate while continuing to run your business as usual. (That’s the idea!)
- Living: You do not need to move to New York to participate in CTA, but I would say full immersion is the best way to get the most out of the experience. I lived in NYC for most of the duration of the program and felt it was helpful. There’s nothing like saying to a potential client/partner/investor: “Sure. I’ll be there in 1 hour”.
- Growth stage: Although the program does not have specific guidelines around startup stage, I would highly recommend to be post MVP and ideally at the seed round stage. Most if not all of the participants in my cohort had raised at least a seed round and some had raised an A round. You should have a solid production foundation and a good idea of how you want to leverage this experience to bring the business to the next level. Read about exact eligibility criteria on CTA’s website.
- Expenses: Living is NYC is notoriously expensive. One drawback of the program is that it does not re-imburses fees for participation. This can add up to a significant amount for those choosing to live in NYC full-time to maximize their experience. That said, the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN) does offer its Outbound soft-landing program to help cover costs for such displacements across the world. Personally, I applied to this CDMN program but was not able to recuperate any expenses (the competition is fierce for the available grants), so ultimately I chose to assume these costs out-of-pocket.
- Who to send: I would highly recommend that the CEO or a co-founder participate. In my cohort, all the participants were co-founders or CEOs. For teams with multiple co-founders that would like to participate, that may be possible, although the co-working membership is typically available for only one person. You should inquire directly to CTA about such questions.
What’s next for CTA? The CTA@NYC has so far helped 50+ companies! The plan now is to expand to other US cities and have program for various verticals. CTA Cleantech NYC and CTA Silicon Valley, as well as chapters for Boston, Denver and Philadelphia, are examples of current expansion efforts of the program. The larger CTA program has now helped 170+ companies!
What’s next for me? Building on many contacts made at CTA @ NYC, I’ve recently been selected for the Venture Fellows program earlier this year. Past participants of the program headed up successful US startups such as Foursquare, Etsy, CodeAcademy and Songza. So I’ll be again be sharing my time between New York and Montreal every month in 2014. If you’re in town, feel free to drop me a line to connect!
In closing, I’d like to give a special shout-out to Miriam Bekkouche and Irena Harris, who have worked tirelessly over the years to make this pioneering program happen for Canadian entrepreneurs, under the leadership of Consul General John Prato and Senior Trade Commissioner Allison Young. Good job to all of you! This is a great government-led initiative that will generate tangible for the Canada economy in the coming years.
Looking for an efficient way to break in to the US market? Look no further – CTA is it!