McGill’s new X-1 accelerator models itself on MIT program


The manager of McGill University’s new X-1 accelerator program, Thibaud Marechal, had just ten minutes to speak to us before he was due for another meeting on a busy Thursday in July.

Marechal, who grew up in Nice, France, oversees the university’s new accelerator program based out of the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship, and got right to the point in explaining how it all works.

The program, loosely based on the MIT Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator (GFSA) at the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, is debuting its very first cohort of teams this summer. Five student-led startups chosen from the McGill Dobson Cup Start-UP Competition are currently participating in the ten-week program that concludes with a demo day on September 9. On that date the teams will present their ventures to a crowd of entrepreneurs, investors, students and McGill alumni.

The three core pillars of the program focus on customer relations, the product and the business model. Activities range from discussions on user acquisition to intensive lectures on inbound marketing, user profiling, and more.

X1 yeah

Marechal claims the program boasts over 30 mentors from companies like Google, PasswordBox, Frank & Oak, VanHawks and more. If a particular team finds a good fit with a mentor, they can enter into a mentorship program, which spans the entire program.

One interesting facet that immediately stuck out among Marechal’s explanation was funding allocation. Each team is eligible to grab funding from the program’s private funders, but it’s not necessarily guaranteed. It’s an interesting concept that’s rare among accelerators around the country.

When the program starts, Marechal works with each team to set milestones for each pillar of the program, and it’s up to third-parties to decide whether they’ve hit those milestones.

“We get senior executives at startups, angels or those who have strong expertise in the field to go on the boards of the startups and assess whether they’ve actually hit the milestones,” said X-1’s manager. “If they did, the startups get the money allocated to them, and if they didn’t, they don’t get the money.”

Marechal, who previously studied information systems at McGill, is a product of the school’s greater intentions to mimic the success of greater-known university entrepreneurship accelerators, like MIT’s. When he was competing for the Dobson Cup as a student, McGill sent him to MIT’s GFSA in 2013. Upon returning he became VP of events at the Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship. Upon graduating from McGill last year, the centre approached him to replicate MIT’s program.

His startup that he created while at McGill was called Uniiv, an automated software that relies on a visualization algorithm to help student in the course planning process at university.

McGill itself was getting more and more recognition and traction among student entrepreneurship, and Marechal knew from his experience in Boston what it could look like. In February the he began full-time work on the X-1 accelerator, while today he’s overseeing the fruits of his labour.

“The purpose of the accelerator is to build great companies and the byproduct is we’re crafting better first time founders,” he said.

X1 yy

 

Among the program’s goals for founders at Demo Day is to help them receive seed-funding and to help bring their technology from a prototype to a product on the market where they can get real customers. After that, another goal is to help the teams reach goal-specific accelerators that accept more mature teams. “The final thing is to integrate these startups in the Montreal community. We’re creating partnerships with different working spaces and incubator programs to make this happen so they can easily transition to other programs,” said Marechal.

He may be fresh from graduation, but X-1’s  young manager gave a veteran answer when asked which of his five teams he has particularly high hopes for.

“I’m excited about all the companies,” he said. “We selected them because we believed in their teams and their ability. We saw that they had the ability to make things move forward.”

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