Jon French, who has long held a senior leadership position at NEXT Canada, has left his Toronto-based accelerator role. The Frenchman is now director of the University of Toronto Entrepreneurship.
“His contributions are difficult to quantify and we will miss him very much.”
French left NEXT Canada after more than nine years with the organization, where he recently served as senior recruitment director, community and former global students. Over the years, the Frenchman has held various roles in the accelerator, including the main marketing and communications department of NEXT Canada.
BetaKit recently met (virtually) the Frenchman to discuss his time at NEXT Canada, his new role at the University of Toronto and his thoughts on how COVID-19 will affect Canadian startups and the accelerators that support them.
NEXT Canada was founded in 2010 as The Next 36 by a group of entrepreneurs and academics. The Frenchman joined NEXT Canada in his early days as one of the first full-time hires for the young organization. Today, the national nonprofit offers three streams of accelerators, NextAI, Next 36 and Next Founders.
The Frenchman was heavily involved in recruiting talent in NEXT Canada’s accelerator programs, collaborated with former students and helped expand NextAI in Montreal.
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Jenn Patterson, Chief Marketing Officer at NEXT Canada, called the Frenchman “instrumental” in recruiting and “changing the trajectory of some of Canada’s most talented entrepreneurs.”
“His contributions are difficult to quantify and we will miss him very much,” he told BetaKit.
For its part, the Frenchman told BetaKit:[It] I have come to a point after the past six months or a year when I feel like the organization is in a fantastic place. There is a good leadership team there. I achieved a lot of what I wanted to achieve and started looking for new challenges. “
“There is no doubt that there will be difficult times and difficult decisions that must be made for a number of accelerators and incubators across the country.”
– French Jon
During NEXT Canada, to help recruit startups for his programs, the Frenchman was responsible for building relationships with universities and startup communities across Canada. He told BetaKit that his new role with the University of Toronto is like being on the other side of that process, calling it “synergistic”.
“[I’m] be the glue, the lawyer, the champion for the different acceleration and incubation programs at UofT and supporting them and helping them to obtain funding and free time, not only within the university, but also throughout the country and supporting them at the level international, “he said.
France’s departure from NEXT Canada comes when accelerators, incubators, startups and businesses in general are facing a difficult time due to the ongoing economic impacts of COVID-19.
Like many startup organizations in Canada, NEXT Canada relies heavily on events and in-person scheduling for its operations. When COVID-19 hit, many of these organizations were left to figure out how to move forward. While the Toronto-based OneEleven incubator has been closed, many other accelerators and incubators have worked to offer a virtual model.
NEXT Canada has had to make its own tough decisions. “We at NEXT have taken steps to ensure that we can continue with our mission,” said Patterson. “Although it has not been easy to get here, our virtual doors are open to the public.”
Patterson explained that when COVID-19’s commercial implications became clear, NEXT Canada “took a very hard look” at its spending and forecast.
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“By going through this grueling exercise, we kept an eye on keeping our talented team so that we can continue to carry out our mission at the highest level. Ultimately, we managed to stabilize our organization (and our team) thanks to various cost-cutting measures. “
NEXT Canada has begun to offer virtually its accelerator programming and recently hosted a virtual version of its NEXT Venture Reveal day. The Frenchman said that running in this way allowed the accelerator to work with speakers who would normally not be able to travel to participate in programming in person.
In mid-March, just as COVID-19 was forcing remote work, the accelerator also closed applications for Next Growers’ growing program. French noted that, given the caliber of startups that have applied this year, NEXT Canada has decided to open up a handful of extra points, despite COVID-19.
In order to ensure continued operations, NEXT Canada has eliminated discretionary expenses in all departments (such as travel, events and discretionary sponsorships) and applied for Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), with Patterson expressing the hope that this will allow NEXT Canada to retain its employees.
Patterson told BetaKit NEXT that Canada has also been able to obtain support from its business partners and donors. RBC, Scotiabank, Magna, EY and Flybits have all provided help to help NEXT Canada, in addition to the support that the accelerator receives from the provincial government and through the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
“[NEXT Canada has] has created a sustainable revenue stream for the next 2-5 years. “
“Our donors continue to play an important role in providing financial support to support our mission,” said Patterson. “Our current revenue model is based on commitment and therefore we have created a sustainable revenue stream for the next 2-5 years.”
After spending nearly a decade in the accelerator and startup space in Canada, the Frenchman told BetaKit: “There is no doubt that there will be difficult times and difficult decisions that must be made for a number of accelerators and incubators. all over the country”.
“We know that there will be startups and large established companies and non-profit organizations that will fail or have financial profitability problems,” he said. “I suspect, given the proliferation of accelerators and incubators in Canada and around the world, which will be no different.”
“I think they are making decisions right now,” he added. “We are all making decisions right now that are no different from the advice we are giving to the entrepreneurs we support.”
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By praising Canadian governments of all levels for the programs they implemented under COVID-19, the French encouraged accelerators and incubators to take advantage of these measures. “Wherever possible, accelerators and incubators should tap into those programs … and find ways to cut costs so that they can continue to support entrepreneurs these days,” he said.
“Organizations that support and fuel entrepreneurship – and connect them to the network and help them make no mistakes – that will help the Canadian economy and help us size the economy to get to the other side,” said French.
NEXT Canada has no immediate plans to fill the now vacant French role with the accelerator, however, Patterson called the position “an integral part of the continued success and growth of our future entrepreneurs”.
“We plan to find someone exceptional to lead hires, communities and alumni when the time comes,” he said.
Image courtesy of Jon French