By Alexandra Reid
Scott Annan is widely known in Ottawa for being a startup champion. He’s an entrepreneur who has strong opinions about the local startup
ecosystem and what needs to change to increase our competitiveness on the global stage. According to Annan, Ottawa punches above its weight when it comes to startup talent, yet we are lagging behind other major cities like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver because we lack the cohesion and organization necessary to drive a vibrant startup community. It is with this mentality that Annan relaunched Mercury Grove, a startup accelerator, to advocate for local startups and provide them with the mentorship and financial support they need to be successful and drive a startup community that is proud to call Ottawa its hub.
This isn’t the first time Annan has tried to build an accelerator in Ottawa. It has always been difficult for
Ottawa startups to get early stage funding, said Annan, and because there wasn’t an organization championing startups and helping them grow into businesses, he reluctantly agreed to build Mercury Launch to help address the need. Mercury Launch, Annan’s first startup accelerator, was “forever grounded” because the format wasn’t entrepreneur-friendly, it was trying to do too much, and there were too many institutional investors involved. In Annan’s opinion, it didn’t succeed because the relationship with its backers became too bureaucratic and the focus was pulled away from the local community.
While Annan said Ottawa’s startup landscape hasn’t changed since the day Mercury Launch was grounded, he has remained committed to the cause and developed a new startup-led approach to building something people in Ottawa and abroad can stand behind to support our local startup talent.
“I’m often approached by organizations and CEOs of large companies and startups looking for ways they can help. Mercury Grove will give these supporters a tangible opportunity to rally behind,” he said. “We are creating a place where we can start championing our people. If we can demonstrate that there are companies here that are fundable, we can bring more funding to the area. When we champion our people, word gets out and it shines a light on our companies. And when local startups are successful, their success makes it easier for everyone else to get on board.”
From a personal standpoint, Annan has wanted to be part of a vibrant, excited, world-class startup community ever since he first came to Ottawa. One of the reasons why he built Mercury Grove was to surround himself with these kinds of people. He spent a long time involving himself in the community to find mentors and startups at the growth stage to be the right fit for the accelerator.
“I’ve been meeting with so many different entrepreneurs to find the right fit for the accelerator,” he said. “The sweet spot are those startups that have a working product and sales and can most benefit from a big push in momentum to swing them into the next stage of growth. We want to help build that momentum to accelerate these startups to build sustainable companies.”
Mercury Grove has recruited a large roster of mentors, including our own Francis Moran, to provide information and support to the accelerator’s startups. These mentors offer both ongoing and one-off mentoring sessions where they provide everything from feedback to guidance to valuable connections to help grow their companies.
“In addition to helping entrepreneurs with business fundamentals, Mercury Grove is really great from a networking standpoint,” Annan said. “Everybody works out of our office and while we don’t necessarily need offices to get our work done these days it is helpful to be around people going through similar challenges.”
What sets Mercury Grove apart from the host of startup accelerators launched in recent years is its hands-on teaching style.
“A lot of the way we learn is passive. We absorb information, process and then apply,” Annan said. “I think the new model for learning is by doing, and that’s especially true for startups. We approach learning more like riding a bike. We don’t learn how to ride a bike from reading books and going to class. We get on, start peddling, fall down and get back on again.”
This is the concept behind Startup Plays, one of the accelerator’s programs. The website works with entrepreneurs who have been hugely successful in a specific area of building their startup to create step-by-step processes that can be duplicated by new companies looking to achieve success in that area. These “workbooks” contain everything startups would need to know, from online resources to information on what they should expect to pay for services, to good contacts for more information. The idea is not to learn all the steps but to work through them.
Annan said the accelerator is particularly strong in providing marketing mentorship. It has recruited a number of people who are experts in marketing and PR who can help the companies on customer profiling, how to identify profitable market channels, and measurement, to name just a few areas.
“Marketing is at the core of what we are providing because customer acquisition is the number one startup challenge at this stage of startup growth,” Annan said.