Launch, Grow & Scale: Cultivator powered by Conexus
Incubator: an organization or place that aids the development of new business ventures, especially by providing low-cost commercial space, management assistance or shared services. (Merriam-Webster dictionary)
On September 12 and 13, a sold-out group of 150 founders, investors and mentors from across the Prairie provinces came together for the first-ever Sask Startup Summit in Regina. Organized by Cultivator powered by Conexus — a local tech incubator — the summit was designed to cultivate the region’s startup ecosystem.
Cultivator is Canada’s first credit union-led incubator and proudly powered by Conexus Credit Union. With an emphasis on high-growth technology companies, Cultivator helps founders and their teams launch, grow and scale startups by providing programming, mentorship, coaching, physical space and access to capital — all in Regina.
Leading the Cultivator team is Jordan McFarlen, Cultivator’s Incubator Manager. A graduate of the University of Regina and a former high school business educator, he also sits on the Audacity Council for Entrepreneurship Growth and cites youth entrepreneurship as a passion.
“I saw my former students founding businesses, but doing it elsewhere — moving to bigger urban centres like Edmonton, Toronto or San Francisco. I wanted people to know they could do great things from right here in Regina,” says Jordan.
According to Jordan, although we see Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem now flourishing, this wasn’t always the case. Just a few years ago, the province’s entrepreneurial landscape didn’t provide a lot of space, resources or funding to help local companies get up and running (which caused many of these startups to leave the Prairies). Conexus saw an opportunity and created Cultivator to help reduce this gap of support within the province’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“We have a lot of talent here in Saskatchewan, and we want to ensure we provide the tools for success. We want founders to be proud to say they are a Saskatchewan company. Cultivator does just that — helping to remove those barriers and providing the right supports at the right time for these companies,” says Jordan.
Not only does Cultivator provide space and resources, but the incubator also hosts events such as monthly Community Nights, job fairs and the annual Sask Startup Summit to help connect local talent with mentors and investors.
Back at the Sask Startup Summit, this year’s lineup included high-calibre speakers from across North America, including Sean Sheppard of GrowthX in San Francisco. Sean comments: “I could not be more impressed with Saskatchewan’s thoughtful approach towards building a successful and lasting startup ecosystem. The community is squarely behind making the region a go-to place for Canadian entrepreneurs, investors and talent.”
Cultivator has incubated 30 tech companies to date. Jordan estimates about 90 per cent are software and 10 per cent are hardware related. Cultivator’s START program is intended for pre-revenue companies, while its GROW program supports companies that already have traction and are looking to scale.
In about eight months, Cultivator will move to a new 15,000 square foot space on College Avenue as part of the Conexus Building Communities project. This space provides a much-needed physical hub for innovative startups, ecosystem events and more.
What’s ahead for Cultivator in 2020? “We’re growing our team and maintaining our Founder First focus. We’ve got a number of companies rapidly expanding across North America and we’re working to ensure they have the tools needed to grow successfully,” says Jordan.
With the huge success of the first Sask Startup Summit, Jordan says the team is already starting to envision what Sask Startup Summit 2.0 will look like in September 2020.
Photos courtesy Conexus Credit Union
“The support of the Cultivator GROW program has provided myComply with an ability to focus on scaling operations and engineering while having the company's core leadership and engineering team be surrounded by like-minded, enthusiastic founders who bring energy day in and day out.” —Lee Evans, CEO of myComply (a Cultivator cohort company)