The Toronto Star says it has found some inconsistencies in MaRS Discovery District’s claims about how it helps startups succeed.
On Thursday, the Star ran a story by reporter Kenyon Wallace saying the publicly funded organization makes claims about its economic impact that are “confusing and embellished, and [that] its secrecy is preventing the public and future entrepreneurs from learning its true track record.”
For example, the Star pointed to how MaRS said it provides more than $3 billion in economic impact, but that in 2013 that figure was at $2 billion. MaRS officials also refused to release studies showing the impact of the organization’s efforts, the Star said.
The organization currently gets $470 million, or more than half of its funding, from the provincial government. CEO Ilse Treurnicht also made headlines for taking home a salary of about $532,000 in 2013, and a number of MaRS employees earn more than $100,000 every year.
Aside from how MaRS spends its money, the Star also delved into claims from startups that have worked with the organization to build their businesses. The publication reached out to 36 different startups, with 27 agreeing to speak about their experiences with MaRS. Comments were mixed, with some saying they found MaRS immensely helpful for mentorship, funding, and meeting venture capitalists, while others said they found the organization didn’t have much impact on their work.
One was Kirk Simpson, CEO and co-founder of Wave Accounting Inc. When Wave first signed on with MaRS in 2010, the organization gave the startup a great mentor, as well as opportunities to join investment events, but after that, he stopped working with MaRS.
Yet the organization featured Wave as one of its success stories in its most recent annual report.
“For MaRS to point to Wave’s $25 million in capital raised and 65 people employed as a MaRS client success and proof of their good work and justification for their funding is just not fully accurate,” said Kirk to the Star. “I cannot, and will not, say that my time spent there didn’t help me on this road, but I also will not say that they were a crucial piece of Wave’s success.”
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