When Andy Best became the Open Guelph Manager at the City of Guelph, he was tasked with developing an accelerator that would help solve municipal challenges while, at the same time, fostering technological innovation in the business community.

Working with Guelph Lab (a partnership between the City and Guelph University) he began developing a model based on similar projects in San Francisco and Amsterdam. As the idea took shape, Andy brought in Canada’s Open Data Exchange (CODX) and reached out to experienced tech entrepreneur and Innovation Guelph (IG) Mentor, Jeff Campbell, for additional input.

In 2016, as the project moved into the stage where commercialization and business acceleration expertise were paramount, the team realized that the depth and breadth of business and commercialization experience at IG would be key to ensuring that startups could meet the rigors required by a government client, while developing the capacity for successful business growth.

As the Regional Innovation Centre (RIC) serving Guelph and the surrounding area, the project was right up our alley, and we were excited to participate. Over the next few months, the City of Guelph‘s Open Government team, Guelph Lab, CODX, Innovation Guelph and an extended team of community partners, collectively mapped out the model for a pioneering Civic Accelerator that would encourage innovative new companies to respond to RFPs addressing specific municipal challenges, and allow for the resulting solutions to be procured by the City at the end of the process.

IG Mentors Don Thompson and Stacey Curry Gunn were also brought to the table and, together with Jeff Campbell, contributed to multiple aspects of the project including:

  • designing the commercialization plan and accelerator aspects of the project,
  • participating in the selection process,
  • contributing to the communications plan, and
  • providing expert innovation mentors to support participating companies from selection through the embed period.

In the final analysis, Innovation Guelph was instrumental to the success of the project in three very important ways:

  1. Supplying the commercialization and business acceleration capacity that de-risks startups, making a program like this viable for a traditionally risk-averse municipal government.
  2. Providing direct business mentoring to participating companies to ensure that projects were delivered effectively for the City, while developing the business capacity they required to leverage the opportunity into international business growth.
  3. Planning fund-raising strategies, providing direct seed funding, and facilitating connections to external investors and funders for the participating startups, to ensure they would have the capital required both to deliver the on the project and to grow commercially. In fact, for Milieu Cities, one of the selected startups, seed funding from IG`s Fuel Injection program together with IG Mentor support was critical to their continued involvement in the project. Moreover, IG`s support was instrumental in helping them secure a deal with the City of Guelph, win subsequent pitch competitions, and create a viable business with recognized brand partners.

The Guelph Civic Accelerator’s first round came to a successful conclusion in February of 2017. Now, the pilot project has been flagged as one of the most effective and innovative initiatives of its kind in an in-depth case study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where it is described as “one example of what can happen when a city government reimagines how they do procurement within the existing regulatory context, in order to provide better services to citizens, on one hand, and create commercialization opportunities for early stage businesses on the other.”

The City’s objectives at the beginning of this project were highly ambitious* and yet, great progress was made toward achieving them within this first round. In the case study, the Brookfield Institute highlights the City’s collaborative approach as a key reason for this success, stating: “The City’s external delivery partners, including Guelph Lab and Innovation Guelph, were also integral to the program’s success…By accessing the wider innovation community, the inaugural round of the program has laid the groundwork for a proliferation of co-created solutions, developed commercialization opportunities for early-stage companies, and emphasized lessons that are transferable to other municipalities.”

From our perspective, the most important aspect of this project is the way it exemplifies how collaborative communities can mobilize creativity across sectors to solve complex problems and create sustainable value for all.

Innovation Guelph is proud to have contributed to the success of Guelph’s Civic Accelerator and we look forward to continued involvement in the next phase!

*For more information about Guelph’s Civic Accelerator, including the pilot project’s goals, read our earlier blog post: https://innovationguelph.ca/uncategorized/civic-accelerator-shows-why-guelph-is-one-of-canadas-top-entrepreneurial-communities/