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Libro, StarTech.com gift drives Western Accelerator

by Keri Ferguson | January 2, 2018

Libro President and CEO, Stephen Bolton, EMBA’07

It’s full-speed ahead for the Western Accelerator, thanks to a pair of $250,000 investments from Libro Credit Union and StarTech.com.

Launched in January 2017, the Western Accelerator provides students, faculty and recent alumni with an intense, rapid and immersive education in entrepreneurship. Its goal is to accelerate the lifecycle of high-potential ventures and compress a year’s worth of learning into a few months.

Entrance to the Accelerator is highly competitive, with no more than 12 teams accepted annually through two intakes. Each cohort, selected based upon their future potential for fast growth, has four months to scale their enterprises for a successful launch.

It is a key part of Western Entrepreneurship, a campuswide initiative that harnesses the university’s collective expertise to arm tomorrow’s leaders with crucial entrepreneurial and leadership skills in order to develop great ideas that excite the world.

For Stephen Bolton, Libro’s President and CEO, the Accelerator aligns with his organization’s philosophy of supporting people, businesses and communities, while making investments that help the region thrive.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about growing prosperity and inspiring people,” Bolton, EMBA’07, explained. “Entrepreneurship is tremendously important for broader prosperity, whether it’s in the City of London or Middlesex County or southwestern Ontario. The heart of the economy is driven by small business and, as coaches to small business, we think it’s really important to engage with institutions of higher learning, like Western, to see how we can help them be more successful.”

Over the next five years, the gifts will provide stipends to cover expenses of student teams and programming that includes mentoring by established entrepreneurs and half-day educational sessions on sales, investing, pitching and leadership. They also support bi-monthly networking events to connect students with industry experts, investors and service providers, and a Pitch Day at the end of the program where teams deliver their business plans to an audience of entrepreneurs and representatives from local business and investment communities.

“We currently have 10,000 self-employed customer/owners who do business with us and we’ve lent $1.6 billion in loans to help them grow their business, grow jobs, grow the economy,” Bolton said. “But we’ve also seen the flip side, when businesses don’t always survive. So, seeing how future entrepreneurs can gain a ‘leg up’ through this experience is something we’re highly interested in.”

As partners and high-profile investors, representatives from Libro and StarTech.com will be members of the Western Accelerator Advisory Group, with the opportunity to help shape and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

“We have some ideas on how to support small businesses better in the future, so the Accelerator came along at a really interesting time for us. We look forward to hearing from the businesses going through the process – what works really well for them and what doesn’t work so well – and to learn how Libro, as a financial cooperative, can do a better job to support small business.

“I’m really looking forward to the Pitch Day and asking really good questions, based on some of my own experiences. Asking those questions creates more value – sometimes – than giving the answers. I’m also excited by the venture capital aspect around supporting ideas generated by people that maybe don’t have traditional sources of financing, and how we go about helping them through those initial, very tough days in getting that business up and running, so that years later, when they look back, they can say, ‘Wow, I did it.’

Eric Morse, Chair of Western Entrepreneurship, welcomed both firms to the university’s team.

“We’re fortunate to have Libro and StarTech.com as our first partners in this venture,” said Morse, who is also Executive Director of the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at the Ivey Business School. “Libro brings great strength in supporting economic development and connections, especially in southwestern Ontario, and StarTech offers its perspective as a London-based company with operations across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.”

Bolton sees supporting the Accelerator as a win for all involved.

“The partnerships universities can create are the ones that are really going to matter,” he added. “Our communities need access to the ‘thought leadership’ coming out of Western.”

For more information, or to support Western Accelerator, visit uwo.ca/accelerator/ or contact Dana James, Associate Vice-President (Principal Gifts), at 519.661.2111, ext. 85585 or
djames24@uwo.ca


This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Impact Western
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