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From strangers to funded co-founders in a global pandemic – Entrepreneur First Toronto’s first cohort

Rachel Zimmer reflects on Entrepreneur First Toronto's first cohort
Author:
Rachel Zimmer
Posted:
3 June, 2021

Last September, over 50 of Canada’s most ambitious individuals left lucrative positions in industry and academia to found their own impactful companies.

This week, I’m incredibly excited and proud to share six companies that we pre-seed funded from our first cohort.

When we first set up in Toronto mid-last year, Entrepreneur First was already active in 5 more sites across the globe. We boasted a community of over 2500 alumni, and a portfolio valued at over $3B. We had seen that the ‘Entrepreneur First method’, of bringing together the world’s highest potential individuals and giving them the tools they needed to build companies, worked. It was time for it to take to a new stage.

Canadian technology and entrepreneurship has been having a huge moment over the last few years. Even in the face of the pandemic, VC investment in Canada closed last year at CAD $4.4B [1], and we’ve seen growth in the number of accelerators, investors and innovators in our space. 

Entrepreneur First, however, is not an accelerator, or even your typical investor. 

What we offer is a unique opportunity that ensures Canada’s best future founders are not bound by the status quo. We give them the network to find the right co-founder, the capital and the expertise to support them to realise their potential. 

We make sure the world does not miss out on Toronto’s best founders. And we will make sure that this moment for talent in Canada keeps momentum for years to come. 

An exited founder myself, and deeply passionate about the talent we have here in Canada, I joined to lead the expansion of Entrepreneur First into North America. We created a team of talented advisors and mentors to build a path for Toronto’s tech talent to become global winners.

Over 1000 applications and 250 interviews later, we had TO1.

But even as an advocate for our talent pool, I couldn’t have anticipated the calibre of this cohort. The ideas, the productivity, the buzz, was mind-blowing. Our founders included early employees from the ecosystem’s high growth companies (Wealthsimple, Properly and more) and world-class technical experts from hubs like the Vector Institute and MILA.

A month in, I reflected on the journey so far – how our cohort felt that they had found their people, how our founders begun to make and break partnerships, how they spoke about their visions and ambitions for what they wanted to build.

The journey continued at the same rocket pace, with teams making and breaking, speaking with prospective customers to hone down their ideas, and turning these insights into game-changing solutions.

On our team we were lucky to have some of the world’s best advisors, including Alex Norman and Milad Alucozai, supporting the cohort. When I spoke with Milad about his time with the programme, and his personal highlights, he shared an anecdote:

“There were a lot of times when we kept instructing the cohort members to trust the Entrepreneur First process. You can imagine how difficult that is when it comes to forming teams and breaking up. Each time I can see it being difficult for people and frustrating.

I remember there being 2 cohort members who I met on Day 1. I worked with them in their teams, and had to encourage them to break up in favour of more productive partnerships multiple times. Several breakups later, they eventually came together and found that they were the right partnership to push their ideas and insights, all the way through to being funded.”

That to me, summarises the Entrepreneur First journey. While challenging and fast-paced, bringing transparency and the cultural norm to just ‘try things out’, and break up when it doesn’t work, is what ultimately will create innovative outcomes.

Building a company is a challenging process at the best of times – but these founders did it in extraordinary circumstances. Canada’s COVID-19 situation continued to fluctuate and create barriers to founders meeting in person. But the best entrepreneurs are infinite learners – and will always find new ways to innovate and work around a solution. Our founders proved that to be true.

We held our Investment Committee – where teams pitch to receive their first pre-seed investment from Entrepreneur First – 14 weeks in, and out of an outstanding cohort, we funded 8 companies to level up their operations, 6 of whom we’re revealing this week as they kick off fundraising.

Since that point, these companies have begun generating traction and are signing on their first customers. They’re now pitching for their Seed investment, ready to take their company to the next level. 

Now, they’re sharing with you their pitches, and the innovations they’ve created. Expect to see enterprise software for meaningful virtual interaction, applied AI to better capture customer insights, frontier tech for industries like agriculture and more. 

I’m as in awe of them now as I was on Day One. I’m fired up to introduce you to 6, brand-new, funded companies.

Meet Toronto 1

[1] Source: https://www.cvca.ca/research-insight/market-reports/year-end-2020-canadian-vc-pe-market-overview/

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