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Merged accelerators to support tech founders about to scale globally


Vancouver-based startup accelerator GrowLab Ventures and Toronto’s Extreme Startups have announced their merger and the launch of HIGHLINE, the first pan-Canadian accelerator platform.

Extreme Startups’ and GrowLab’s respective Executive Directors, Marcus Daniels and Jonathan Bixby, had a vision to create one program that would unite the best entrepreneurs, investors and ecosystem partners living above the 49th parallel – the ‘highline’ that separates Canada and the US – by merging their two top tier accelerator programs. This vision became a reality with today’s announcement. The “merger of equals” creates a new powerhouse accelerator platform called HIGHLINE and is made possible by the financial backing of major Canadian VCs, including BDC Capital and Relay Ventures. BDC Capital, the investment arm of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), was also a shareholder and strategic partner of both accelerators and has been HIGHLINE’s principal strategic backer since the merger was first conceived.

Rising above the accelerator noise

“The accelerator sector is already very mature with over 1,700 programs worldwide,” says Marcus Daniels, HIGHLINE’s cofounder and new CEO. “But less than 60% of them have helped entrepreneurs get funded and 90% have had no exits at all”. Relentlessly focused on evolving the accelerator model, Daniels is a serial entrepreneur and seed investor with 24 years of digital innovation experience.

While Extreme Startups and GrowLab have been among the more successful accelerators (over 90% of their graduates raised follow-on institutional capital totaling more than $27 million, and both programs combined had 3 highly profitable exits over their 30-month existence), Bixby and Daniels saw the merger of their two accelerators as the inevitable next step in order to rise above the noise, evolve the model and attract the very best in Canada. Says Bixby: “I’m really excited that this new entity will not only attract the very best Canadian founders, but that it will also be the best option for many entrepreneurs globally.”

“HIGHLINE’s ambition is to supercharge 1000 founders who will create over $10-billion in equity value outside of Silicon Valley over the next decade,” says Daniels. He expects over 90% of those startups to establish their headquarters in Canada as there are “few better places on the planet to build digital products than the Vancouver-Waterloo-Toronto-Montreal ecosystems”.

“We see this merger as crucial to building off the past strong performance of the two programs,” says Michael Mahon, director, Venture Capital – Strategic Investments & Partnerships at BDC Capital. “The creation of a premiere pan-Canadian option in a global environment that is increasingly competitive with regards to entrepreneurial talent and capital will be a key differentiator for HIGHLINE.” BDC Capital had already invested a total of $5.7 million in 38 graduates of HIGHLINE’s predecessors through its convertible notes funding program. The merged entity will remain a core accelerator partner for BDC Capital, says Mahon, and its startups will continue to be eligible to receive its $150,000 convertibles notes.

World-class co-conspirators step up

In addition to BDC Capital and Relay Ventures, several world-class entrepreneurs and individual investors have stepped up to inject fresh capital and provide strategic guidance to the new entity, including Amar Varma (Pivotal Labs), Leonard Brody (Clarity Digital Group) and Boris Wertz (Version One Ventures). Varma and Brody join HIGHLINE’s Board of Directors, together with Daniels, BDC Capital’s Michael Mahon and Alex Baker of Relay Ventures. Jonathan Bixby will remain involved as part of the Board of Advisors, alongside such well-known players as Paul Singh, founder of Disruption Corporation and formerly of 500 Startups. HIGHLINE is in discussions with other notable potential partners and intends to reveal new “co-conspirators and collaborators” over the coming weeks.