NSCC Launches New Start-up Accelerator

Posted: August 18, 2022

A hallmark of a healthy innovation ecosystem is strong support networks for startups, and a new accelerator offering from Nova Scotia Community College could bolster Halifax’s already considerable bona fides in the area.

Launching in September, NSCC’s 30-week Start-up Accelerator program aims to offer entrepreneurial training mostly to existing NSCC alumni.

“Start-up Accelerator was designed to take students to the next level of entrepreneurship at NSCC,” Sheri Williams, Manager of Entrepreneurship at NSCC, said in an interview. “(We have) lots of different types of programming that allow students to realize their entrepreneurial passion and where they fall on the spectrum.

“So, for some students, it’s about just taking the mindset and applying it to their careers, but to others … they know that owning a business is the direction they want to take,” said Williams who has led a team of about five who developed the Start-up Accelerator.

Next month, the program will be delivered by NSCC’s Ivany Campus team in Dartmouth, who are in the process of pinning down details. Entrepreneurs will gather every Tuesday and Thursday for in-person classes, but much of the material will be online and self-paced.

With this development, NSCC joins a growing roster of Haligonian organizations offering programs that support young entrepreneurs. Both Saint Mary’s and Dalhousie Universities, as well as the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, and provincial venture capital Crown Corporation Innovacorp all run accelerators.

Startup founders and investors, including those from outside Atlantic Canada, often tell Entrevestor the robustness of the community-backing available to local startups is a key reason they do business in the city.

In particular, accelerators can be a source of very early-stage funding for companies that need to pay for prototyping, research and development, and other costs associated with launching a company.

They also offer a structured environment for novice entrepreneurs to connect with mentors, business community members and even prospective investors — offering founders the chance to tap brain trusts they would otherwise potentially struggle to access.

NSCC’s own accelerator takes a broad view of what constitutes a startup, with admission open to any student or alumnus with designs on entrepreneurship.

“We’re not really putting a definition around it,” said Williams. “If it’s a sole proprietorship and a sole employee, then that’s fine. If it’s a cottage industry type business, that’s fine.

“Really we’re just trying to help students realize their entrepreneurial dreams and passions.”

So far, applicants have ranged from photographers looking to scale their businesses to app developers interested in launching information technology companies.

The Start-up Accelerator’s contents are focused on teaching entrepreneurial skills, including financial literacy, integrating technology into businesses, and spotting and responding to market trends.

The program will also include group sessions in which participants will collaborate on developing business ideas, and organizers are planning to integrate networking and mentorship opportunities.

Williams said the Start-up Accelerator is aimed primarily at current NSCC students and alumni. Although other institutions offer similar programs, she said many NSCC alumni prefer to stick with their existing academic community. And, she added, many of the college’s other programs dovetail well with entrepreneurship — health-related training and business certifications, for example.

“That's why this was designed,” said Williams. “What we found is that most of our programming took students to graduation … and then they kind of were left on their own to fend for themselves and figure out ‘Okay, what's next?’ So, this program is designed to be what's next.”

In fact, NSCC’s alumni office is paying the tuition of any former students who want to return for the accelerator during its inaugural session.

The Start-up Accelerator’s conception dates back to 2014’s Ivany Report. Created by the Nova Scotia Commission on Building Our New Economy, the report warned the province faced unprecedented geographic and economic headwinds and urged a rapid transition away from the staples economy towards high value-added goods and services.

NSCC had already been offering entrepreneurship-related programming for several years before the report’s release, but Williams said it prompted the college to shift focus from allowing students to study business in the abstract to a more practical, hands-on approach.

“Thirteen years ago, it was really about exposure,” said Williams. “Now it's about digging in and allowing students to feel and experience what entrepreneurship looks like, what startups feel like and look like.

“Students really want to start companies and marry that up with the programs they’re already taking at NSCC.”



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