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The DMZ Incubator Transforms Its Model To Deliver A More Customized Experience To Startups

Ryerson University-based incubator takes a personalized approach to support, emphasizing one-on-one mentorship to address founders’ common challenges

Ryerson University’s DMZ reveals its new Incubator model, which has evolved to take a more customized, hands-on approach in a new 18-month program designed to serve the unique needs of each startup founder.

The DMZ’s program revamp comes as a move to fill critical gaps in the Canadian startup ecosystem. Today, many incubators cap their program length at around four months and still leverage a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to programming. To build a strong business foundation, early-stage startups require more specialized support to address the unique challenges they face – something that the current incubator and accelerator ecosystem lacks.

“When COVID-19 hit, demand for early-stage founder support became more evident than ever before,” said Shane Flynn, Director, Incubator at the DMZ. “In 2020, we saw a 35 per cent increase in applications for our Incubator program. Recognizing the lack of customized support and resources available to early-stage founders, we knew it was imperative to refocus our efforts.”

“All successful startups start out with nothing but an idea and the ambition of a handful of individuals,” said Abdullah Snobar, Executive Director of the DMZ. “To foster a competitive and thriving market, the ecosystem needs to encourage startup development by investing in more tailored support. Otherwise, we risk stunting the ecosystem’s potential.”

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The DMZ’s Incubator model has evolved to offer:

  • Smaller and more intimate cohorts of no more than 15 startups
  • 18 months of support, segmented into three, six-month phases to help founders achieve product-market fit, maximize early sales, and attract investment opportunities
  • A customized approach to addressing a founder’s startup challenges: executing a go-to market strategy, acquiring lighthouse customers, gaining media exposure, exploring global expansion, preparing for the next round of funding, and more
  • 60+ hours of one-on-one time with Entrepreneurs-in-Residence, in-house subject matter experts and additional time with DMZ staff
  • More curated workshops and peer-to-peer sessions to share insights, lessons learned, and best practices on a wide range of topics
  • More support with fundraising strategies, pitch coaching, and getting introductions to investors in the DMZ’s VC and angel investor networks within Canada and beyond

While the DMZ is now formally announcing the revamped Incubator, it has been working with its first batch of startups under the new model since March 2021. “The Incubator program is like a GPS for your startup journey. Getting timely feedback, introductions, and other resources can significantly increase the odds of success,” explained Baba Ajayi, founder of Andie, a current DMZ member. Sarah Rennick, Founder of Alli, described her experience building two startups – one with the DMZ, and one without: “Yes, you can learn how to grow your startup on your own. However, it is much faster and more enjoyable with the support of the DMZ by your side.”

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Beyond its Incubator, the DMZ has introduced other programs, including its Bootcamp, over the last year to support founders who aren’t ready to apply for the Incubator yet. The DMZ’s vision is to support the full entrepreneurial journey of an early-stage founder: from personal founder development, to ideation, to scaling.

Recognizing the additional obstacles underrepresented founders face when growing a business, which the pandemic has only exacerbated, the DMZ has also expanded its programming for Black and women founders, equipping them with an additional stream of tailored resources they can tap into.

The next Incubator cohort begins in September. Applications are open until July 31, 2021. Eligible founders can apply here. To promote the program and share alumni success stories, the DMZ has launched a summer-long campaign, see video here.

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