Overcoming growth hurdles

- Québec, Quebec

Signage at Inno-centre's office within Québec's municipal incubator Le Camp.

Everyone needs a hand now and then, including business owners and investors. For them, this is especially true when it comes to finding time to plan for growth, and obtaining the skilled help needed to get there.

Enter Quebec-based Inno-centre. Inno-centre provides technology entrepreneurs and venture capital (VC) investors with individualized, in-depth coaching to prepare them for growth. Added value resides in the quality of Inno-centre's sectoral expertise and its business intelligence for client success.

In 2014, Inno-centre received federal funding through a national, competitive process called the Canadian Accelerators and Incubators Program (CAIP). The National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC's IRAP) oversees that funding and helps recipients like Inno-centre stay on track in meeting client needs.

Gaps to fill

Claude Martel at his office

Inno-centre's CEO Claude Martel takes pride in his own coaches and those of his partner organizations: Altifica (human resources); BCF (corporate law); Décarie (executive search firm); Emergex SR&ED Consultants (tax credit expertise); EPSI (personnel evaluation); Fasken Martineau (business law); Goudreau Gage Dubuc (intellectual property); Léonard (web and design agency); Lg2 (branding and content marketing); NRC's IRAP (industrial technology advice and connections); PWC (Price Waterhouse tax, advisory and assurance services); and Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton (credit counselling).

The day-to-day responsibilities of running companies keep many entrepreneurs too busy to explore approaches for growth. Others may have the time, but not the necessary cash or skill sets to develop strategies for pursuing new markets, hiring talent and boosting business. To gain the confidence of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs must be prepared on all those fronts.

NRC's IRAP has supported Inno-centre in filling those gaps. Most recently, CAIP funding allowed Claude Martel, Inno-centre's president, to extend services to investors and SME executives at different business phases. CAIP also made it possible for him expand the incubator's in-house professionals by partnering with additional coaches from respected companies to directly support SMEs.

Coaches range from lawyers and accountants to seasoned entrepreneurs and professionals with extensive experience in specific industry sectors, trademarking, organizational development, intellectual property, finance, marketing and recruiting. As coaches, they donate at least half of their time in-kind, and IRAP covers the remaining fifty per cent. What a deal: unparalleled access to quality guidance, at little to no cost to Inno-centre's clients.

Qualifying companies are typically on the verge of receiving venture capital (VC) funding, but unable to close deals without professional assistance. Companies fit within an industry sector of economic importance, such as advanced manufacturing, clean and industrial technologies, aeronautics, information technology and new media, agri-food processing, or medical devices.

For VC investors, the CAIP program translates into ready access to sector-specific and strategic advice. That aids investors in optimizing assessments of potential investments during the due-diligence phase, ultimately strengthening their portfolios.

"With the CAIP program, NRC's IRAP empowered Inno-centre to develop a suite of unparalleled services," said Martel. "In my 30-year career, I've never seen a program that responds so well to the needs of investors and innovative SMEs, and creates value for both those groups."

Done deals

Inno-centre's model works. From 2014 to the close of 2016, Inno-centre has shown compelling results: 77 completed projects with companies. As added proof, those companies collectively obtained nearly $200 million in investments, directly attributable to the program's impact.

Access to Inno-centre equipped AddÉnergie to earn $13-million in capital. Thanks to support provided by CAIP, Inno-centre's professionals helped AddÉnergie form and execute a business plan to win investors and North American clients. The company shifted from the manufacturing and sales of commodities – battery chargers for electric vehicles – to becoming an infrastructure supplier and service provider for "smart" electric-charging stations. Again, a development resulting from CAIP support.

AddÉnergye charging station in use.

An artist's rendering of electric taxis refilling by using mobile services and physical infrastructure from Inno-centre client AddÉnergie. (source: AddÉnergie)

"Inno-centre's team has proven to be agile, effective at implementing services and negotiating agreements to gain the right partners and quickly make a positive difference for entrepreneurs and investors," said NRC's Julie Guay, an innovation and network advisor with IRAP, who works closely with Inno-centre.

Most of the entrepreneurs are also IRAP clients. And, venture capitalists and IRAP staff are among those who refer companies to Inno-centre. Referrers recognize that without dedicated, hands-on attention, the entrepreneurs cannot get their businesses to the next level as quickly.

Yet, with Inno-centre in the picture, everyone wins. Investors face lower risk to grow their portfolios. Partners earn corporate goodwill by "paying it forward." Entrepreneurs gain knowledge and financing deals. And, companies grow.

Martel sums it up that the "practical and collaborative nature of CAIP and IRAP are vital" for organizations like his, "those dedicated to innovation, to strengthening synergies for investors and entrepreneurs on the path to business growth."

"In my 30-year career, I've never seen a program that responds so well to the needs of investors and innovative SMEs, and creates value for both those groups."

Claude Martel
CEO , Inno-centre

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