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May 25th, 2021
10 Years of Scaling Tech & Science Companies in Vancouver

This year marks the 10th anniversary for SFU VentureLabs and there are so many things to celebrate about their contribution over the last 10 years to the startup community! To learn more about them and what companies they helped accelerate, we spoke with Virgina Balcom, the Executive Director at SFU VentureLabs to really dive into what they’re all about!

For starters, tell us what SFU VentureLabs is all about.

SFU VentureLabs is a business accelerator that helps companies go from innovation to commercializing the product. Once a company has formed around an idea, and has the an early version of their product, we help them take their new product idea, find the right market for it, and then scale the business.

So I understand it's your 10th year anniversary at SFU Venture Labs. What are some of the startup companies that have gone through the accelerated program in the last 10 years?

Riipen is a platform that connects students looking for work experience, and faculty looking for projects for their students with companies that need projects completed. Like platforms such as Airbnb, Riipen matches two sides of a marketplace, in this case faculty and their students, and companies with very specific projects, such as a market study.

Semios is another one of the companies that was a VentureLabs member as they started out. They're now well and beyond, and have raised many million dollars. Their platform is a powerful tool that helps growers assess and optimize their response to insect, disease, and plant health conditions in real-time. It provides a predictive analytic solution for permanent crops, which saves time and money.

Fusion Genomics has a technology that lets them identify infectious diseases using DNA testing. Their new test, called ONETest, will be able to take a sample from a patient in a hospital, and within 24 hours, run an analysis of that and tell you if what's going on with that patient is a known infectious disease. It works with machines that are in many hospitals around the world, so this makes testing and analysis fast and accessible.

How do you select the ventures that come into SFU?

We look for companies who are on the verge of, or ready to grow. For our Market Validation program, companies must have a full time founder, an early version of their product, and be working to validate their value proposition. For our Scaleup or Growth program, they’ve got customer traction - either sales revenue, or committed pilots, and they’ve got a solid business plan. Often they’ve received funding from IRAP, and they’ve probably raised friends and family money. Now they are ready to grow, and looking for help reaching the market, raising additional investment, and building out their team.

When reflecting over the last 10 years, in ways has SFU Venture Labs contributed to the startup ecosystem?

Over the last 10 years VentureLabs has grown significantly, much like the Vancouver startup community. From our early days in Great Northern Way, to two floors at Harbour Center to house all our clients and enough meeting space for lots of innovation and collaboration; from a team of two, to a community that includes what we’re calling E2 - Entrepreneurs in Residence and Experts in Residence. Plus many partners such as Vantec Angel Network, Rocket Builders, and Capital, with close to 40 resident companies and virtual members, and 100’s of entrepreneurs attending our workshops.

The support our clients need has evolved too. From the days when it was for a startup to lease space, to today, when shared workspaces are easy to come by. Companies rely on VentureLabs more and more for mentorship and company building advice. Most recently we’ve added a Marketing PowerUp program to address real gap in startups capacity, and help companies build the skills and the tools to reach their markets.

But some things stay the same. Our founders value the opportunity to connect with other founders, people with similar lived experience, and they continue to. Today, it's just going to be more challenging to create these opportunities, as people work from home.

What do you think some of the biggest challenges startups are facing in today's society, whether about COVID or not, but just in general?

We all know that building a new venture is challenging. After you find a solution, and validate that it makes sense, you’re fighting to find money, customers, and good talent. During COVID, this got harder for most startups. And as companies grow, these challenges remain. One of the toughest challenges is when you’ve got customers excited about your product, but you don’t have enough revenue to fund product manufacturers and build your team . It's a delicate balancing act.

What’s needed from the ecosystem to better support startups?

One of things we hear from our clients, and we’re building is stronger investor networks - to make it easier for venturers to find the right investors. One of the things COVID has done is it's allowed investors to locate in many more markets - beyond Silicon Valley , and they’re more open to investing in companies that invest outside of home. So then the trick for companies is how do I find them? And who are the right ones for me? Who are the investors that understand my market and can bring more than money to the table?

I understand VentureLabs is hosting three different panels during Vancouver Startup Week. Could you tell us more about what those panels will be about? What can people expect to learn from them?

We will be hosting 3 different panel discussions including:

Meet Vancouver’s Angels & VC Funds | Wed May 26, 2021 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

“Meet Vancouver's angels and VC funds” is where we talk about who are the people you would go to for investment in VC? And what are their sweet spots? We're trying to do the landscape of investment, the strategies and things that work in terms of international trade, and strategies and things that work in terms of the healthcare worker.

Startups Going Global with International Expansion, Targeting new Customers | Thu May 27, 2021 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

We're inviting people out of the Canada trade ministries to talk about successful case studies of companies that are exporting, particularly we're talking to the US and getting insights from them about what it takes to export products to the US.

Set Up Your Health Startup for Success: Learn from experts in the health and life sciences startup ecosystem | Fri May 28, 2021 11:00 AM - 11:00 AM

This session will focus on how to lay out the path early in health / life sciences early, what you need to think about when building into it.

So the goal is to allow new founders and currently operating health startups to say:

  • What are the things I need to be thinking about for the next steps in my business?
  • And what do I need?
  • What are the bumps in the road I need to think about?

Part of the VSW approach is to celebrate the community, and we’re excited to celebrate SFU VentureLab’s 10th anniversary! If you are interested in the startup community, or you’re a starting founder, be sure to check out all the things happening at SFU VentureLabs during this year’s VSW!

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