Guelph’s startup ecosystem is real, it’s expanding, and it’s focused on civic tech

 Applicants to the City of Guelph’s Civic Solutions Accelerator stand to benefit the most

By Jeff Campbell, Innovation Guelph Mentor

They say it takes a community to raise a child. Communities have been doing this since we started becoming social animals. The communities that realize one of their most important functions is to help each individual become the best they can be for the betterment of the whole are the ones that raise more successful kids.

Guelph has become one such community as it relates to civic tech startups.

Anyone interested in starting or expanding a business in civic tech should take a close look at the ecosystem that is developing in Guelph. The catalyst for this development is the City of Guelph’s Civic Solutions Accelerator.

Civic Solutions Accelerator logo

The Civic Solutions Accelerator is a pilot project that invites entrepreneurs, startups and companies to apply for the chance to work alongside City managers to better understand intractable problems and engage in open innovation to co-develop solutions that can be commercialized in the global $6-billion civic tech market.

How does a municipal government help startups compete in a global market you might ask?

The simple answer is by using their role in the community to create an environment that will accelerate a company’s development. Allow me to explain:

  •  They buy lots of stuff – Guelph’s Civic Solutions Accelerator is leveraging the City’s purchasing power and procurement process in a way that directly helps startups obtain their first sale and then invites other municipalities to “piggy back” on the contract, helping facilitate further sales.
  • They’re tight with the University of Guelph – The Guelph Lab, a civic tech incubator on the campus of the University, is a joint venture between the City and the University that just happened to instigate the Civic Solutions Accelerator. The Lab and its facilitator, Sam Laban, are key contributors to the design and ongoing operations of the Accelerator. They will broker the relationship between the successful applicants to the Accelerator (known as Solution Partners) and the resources that the University has to offer.
  • Then there’s close friends like Innovation Guelph, a Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) that is part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs. The role of the RIC is to foster growth and prosperity in the region by accelerating the commercialization success of new businesses and the growth of established ones. As such they have lots of smart, experienced people providing mentorship and a robust program of services and supports to help businesses gain market footing and then grow and expand.
  • The Guelph Chamber of Commerce is like a first cousin – The City and the Chamber are close family. They care about each other’s success and overall well-being. Kithio Mwanzia, the Chamber’s president and CEO, and his team provide the connection to local businesses that helps assure the success of the project as well as facilitating appropriate interactions with individual companies for the Accelerator’s participants. The Chamber further promotes private-sector participation in the Accelerator through volunteer mentorship, sponsorships and perhaps even local participation as a Solution Partner.
  • The City has youthful friends like the Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBaSE) – This University of Guelph institution connects young leaders with opportunities for growth. The Hub at CBaSE is an active and successful business incubator on campus that assists young entrepreneurs with all stages of company development from initial idea through the first customer acquired and beyond. The resources of the CBaSE Hub will prove invaluable to youth participating in the Accelerator.
  • And they have a new friend in the Canadian Open Data Exchange (CODX) – The CODX is a business accelerator that encourages governments at all levels to open up data sets to the public and also facilitates and accelerates businesses that use that data in commercial activities. The CODX has services and supports that will assist Accelerator participants in using public-sector data for business purposes. They also have a national mandate and can provide priceless value in making connections to other municipalities and provincial governments.
  • Guelph also has the most awesome neighbors – In the Golden Triangle area of southwestern Ontario, we have the Waterloo Accelerator Centre and Communitech in Kitchener who are part of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) and who will invite us over from time to time. Both organizations have well developed, extremely robust programs and training courses designed to accelerate the growth of world-class tech companies. Our Solution Partners will be able to participate in selected programs and events. Additionally, we are developing connections with appropriate programs in the MaRS Discovery District and Ontario Centres of Excellence that will benefit both the Accelerator and its Solution Partners.

Currently, the Civic Solutions Accelerator is in the pilot phase and we are extremely fortunate to have the willing and active participation of the full business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in Guelph and neighboring areas. As we look past the pilot and forward to an ongoing program, we expect to attract attention and add more private sector involvement. We’d like to see local companies providing sponsorships, partnerships and involvement. We’d also like to appeal to investor networks like the Golden Triangle Angel Network and institutional investors interested in civic tech startups.

Guelph and the Civic Solutions Accelerator have catalyzed and are galvanizing a community that is aligned and coordinated to encourage civic tech innovations and to assist the innovators in creating companies that will be successful in the global civic tech market. This is a natural complement to our current success in fostering social entrepreneurship and growing social enterprises.

If you are interested in starting or growing a civic tech business, Guelph may be just the place to do it. Learn more about Civic Solution Accelerator opportunities at open.guelph.ca/accelerator/. The RFP closes on July 11.