4 Canadian Incubators for Startups

Startups are hot right now, and those that succeed are what the rest of us model our business plans upon. But like anything, even if you’ve got a stellar idea, it comes down to having the right tools and connections. That’s where incubators come in. Business incubators originated in 1959, but they’ve definitely burgeoned in the last decade. US-based incubators like YCombinator and The Founder Institute have paved the way for others globally. Here in Canada, we’ve got our fair share of incubators that are making superstars out of startups.


GrowLab offers incubators in Vancouver and San Francisco. Those that are accepted to the program receive up to $25,000 at the start of the program, and up to five of the five to seven chosen for each round will receive $150,000 follow-on financing from Business Development Canada. The incubator looks for startups in:

  • Internet based
  • mobile
  • social gaming
  • e-commerce
  • SAAS
  • enabling technologies

Extreme University

Toronto-based Extreme University provides weekly sessions with world-renowned entrepreneur mentors, as well as collaborative office space. The 12-week program also offers shared expertise in mobile and web development, as well as fantastic networking opportunities. They primarily look for startups in web or mobile-based technologies.

Year One Labs

Year One Labs in Montreal uses the Lean Startup methodology to help its startups ramp up quickly to operation. Participants who meet the milestones will receive $50,000, as well as access to angel investors and venture capitalists. Workspace (and free coffee) is provided in Year One’s offices.

Bootup Labs

Vancouver’s Bootup Labs takes startups from an idea to traction. Its experts provide marketing, strategy and finance advice, and participants are eligible for a $100,000 line of credit. Participants also have the opportunity to demo their products for investors. The program accepts startups in:

  • consumer internet
  • mobile
  • gaming
  • enterprise internet

How to Get In

Competition is fierce in incubators. After all, you’ll get the knowledge that only a handful of entrepreneurs have, as well as the contacts to make your startup succeed. Use these tips to maximize your chance of getting in.

  • Have a strong idea. Even if it’s not fully developed, incubators like to see innovation.
  • Sell yourself. More important than your product is your ability to prove you are a strong founder and business partner.
  • Be humble. You’ll get kicked around if you get accepted, so don’t assume you know everything. You don’t.
  • Quit your day job. Most incubators require a great deal of time and mental energy. Few that work full time make it through the more rigorous programs.

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