Startup Veteran to Lead Canada’s First Techstars Accelerator

Venture capitalist Sunil Sharma is stepping away from Extreme Startups to head Canada’s first Techstars in Toronto. Sharma announced today he is joining the accelerator as its managing director, a program he called “the best in class accelerator program in the world.”

“Techstars mentorship model is a level up than every other accelerator I’ve worked with. The global network they bring operates more than 30 accelerators. They have an ability to connect startups with mentors and corporate partners across countries,” he said. Techstars announced the launch of its Toronto program in March.

Sharma explained that founders and startups in the Toronto ecosystem will benefit greatly from Techstars’ network of international founders, investors and mentors.

“It’s hard to get that kind of experience in any other accelerator,” Sharma said.

Techstars alumni travel to a yearly conference called FounderCon where they meet with corporate development executives, corporate venturing arms, and technology advocates from fortune 500 companies.

“These large enterprises have a need for innovation and disruption, and they have the belief that the Techstars’ alumni are some of the best in the world,” said Sharma. “I felt that is something that not only benefits Techstars graduates but all Canadians in the tech ecosystem.”

The program is also unique for its joint ownership model. In Toronto, Techstars is partnering with Real Ventures, Canada’s most active venture capital fund.

Techstars is also one of Canada’s accelerator programs recently selected as a “designated entity” in the now permanent Startup Visa program that financially backs foreign tech talent to build businesses in Canada. As such, Sharma said Techstars can select international startup founders to invest in and fast track their permanent residency in Canada.

“That’s huge. Techstars itself is global and we have a unique viewpoint into incredible companies that may be interested in moving to Canada,” Sharma said.

Sharma added that the current political climate in the United States is making people think twice about where they want to build and grow their businesses.

“Canada can leverage our brand as one of the most desirable countries. That is excellent for startups; our engineering and tech talent, government support programs, and high-ranked liveable cities,” he said.

A shadow fell over Canada’s startup scene earlier this month when 500 Startups shuttered its Canadian investment fund after its founder was accused of sexual harassment. While Sharma called the loss disappointing, he assures Techstars comes with a “different code of conduct.”

“We have a diversity-first and founder-first code of conduct that is going to be welcomed,” he said. “I feel that it’s something that is needed and I’m expecting more international models and programs to start to open in Canada.”

Startups looking to be part of the first Canadian Techstars cohort can apply online until October 15. Ten companies will be chosen for the program starting January 2018.