In the world of startups, the University of Waterloo’s incubator Velocity is a giant. Velocity has helped launch over 300 companies with a remarkably vast array of business models and technologies that have received more than $1 billion in investment. It supported the creation of some of 2019s fastest growing startups and most recently launched Concept, a campus-focused pre-incubator to further encourage students to learn about scaling their ideas into a business.

The person who leads Velocity has a huge impact not only on the incubator’s future, but the future of technology and business in Waterloo Region, Ontario, and the country. Adrien Côté is the newly appointed Executive Director of Velocity. A former business advisor there, he has a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry, a MSc in Technology Management and a long history of working to ensure that scientific advancements make their way from the lab bench to markets. Helping companies commercialize and put to use new technologies to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges is what drives Adrien personally, and professionally.

We sat down with Adrien to hear about his plans for Velocity and get his take on the future of startups in the region.

1. How do you feel about being named the new Executive Director at Velocity?

I’m obviously excited, but the greater feeling that I have is humility and an awesome sense of responsibility.  Past leaders built Velocity to be very human-centric. We work really closely with founders and students on some of the things that are most precious to them, which are their ideas and research. As Velocity evolves, I believe it’s a really important that we sustain the trust with we have with students and founders.

2. What do you think makes Velocity so successful? What are your plans to maintain its competitiveness as more incubators begin operation?

We take a student-first and a founder-first approach.  If we work on helping people as a starting point to helping the company, the company will help itself. It allows us to dig in and really get to the heart of the challenges that need to be overcome on the road to building a successful business.

In terms of comparison with other incubators, an important part of our success has been the fuel that keeps us going – which is the University of Waterloo. That entrepreneurial energy and talent from the University is nothing short of remarkable. The University also makes a big financial investment in what we do here. The courage of the institution to do so should be recognized and speaks to its commitment to innovation.

Another part is the Velocity staff and the founder peer group that our entrepreneurs receive support and advice from; together we’re the team backing up every generation of founders through Velocity.

3. What do you think Velocity brings to Waterloo’s startup ecosystem?

Velocity has been the origin of so many companies that have launched and grown in Kitchener-Waterloo. I like to think that the mix of companies we see in Velocity today speaks to the mix of companies we will see growing in the Region in the near future. Companies rooted in biotech, medical technologies, materials science, nanotechnology, AI and deeptech are roughly half of our portfolio - you would not have seen that three or four years ago. As well, more and more graduate students and postdocs are looking to create ‘deeptech’ companies. Kitchener-Waterloo is a burgeoning hub for deeptech and it's going to make for an awesome compliment to the software, marketplace, and hardware and electronics companies we have already growing here.

4. What are your priorities for Velocity for 2020?

Certainly a priority is to continue to bolster Concept and give students more exposure to the world of startups and entrepreneurship generally. Since launching Concept, we now engage with 60 per cent more students than we did before, that’s more than 4,000 students last term.

Velocity is Canada’s most productive startup incubator. I want to see us make the next step to Velocity being recognized as the best incubator in North America.  To do that, we need to make sure that we are supporting talented and informed founders that are building the best business opportunities. As well, over the course of my term as ED I’ll be working to assure we engage a greater diversity of founders to Velocity as a key element of our strategy.

5. What trends do you see coming up for the tech and startup sector in the coming years? How do you think Velocity is positioned to meet the coming opportunities and challenges?

In the next ten years, the world is going to face massive challenges with climate change and human health. With those challenges, unrealized markets could emerge and established markets will likely change. Within all this change will be business opportunities that lead to economic returns and social good. Whether the idea is based in materials chemistry for clean technology, a better way to discover or treat disease, or software that amplifies human productivity, Velocity is adaptable, we can shift and move to where founders seize opportunities that lie ahead in global markets.

Future plans

Moving forward, Velocity has big plans on the horizon. Whether it be the scaling of Concept or the continuation of the $50,000 Velocity pitch competition that allows Canadian investors to invest in Waterloo startups, there are exciting things happening in entrepreneurship on campus and beyond.

With Velocity companies already leaving their mark in the Region and the country after the first decade of the incubator’s operations, it will be exciting to see what the next decade brings.

Velocity doesn’t ever just stand still.