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Mashup Lab Launches Virtual Incubator

Mashup Lab, the Nova Scotia organization dedicated to nurturing startups in rural areas, is about to launch an online incubator to any Atlantic Canadian entrepreneur, regardless of where he or she lives.

The group headed by former regional development exec Andrew Button will launch the Mashup Lab Virtual Incubation Program on Sept. 8. It’s presenting the program in collaboration with Spring, a group based in Vancouver that provides mentorship to startups via online seminars.

“The thing I really love about the program Spring is offering is its inclusivity and accessibility,” Button said in an interview. “It is entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. They pitch the program as being for everything from high-growth tech companies to bricks and mortar, for-profit and not-for-profit. I thought that was a really important component.”

Button started Mashup Lab last year in the hopes of providing to rural entrepreneurs the type of support that is available to their urban equivalents. He was experimenting with various mentoring formats when he was contacted out of the blue by Spring, which describes itself as a “purpose-driven activator.” It works with groups, whether for-profit corporations or not-for-profit organizations, that have some purpose beyond simply making money.

Spring has already produced a series of webinars that it has used to mentor entrepreneurs in the Yukon, and these will be the basis of the new program in Atlantic Canada.

“The process is geared toward helping people understand who specifically will buy their product or use their service and how they will make money,” said Keith Ippel, co-founder of Spring.

This year, the virtual incubator will offer two programs.

Starting Sept. 8, the six-week Spark program will take about 20 entrepreneurs with ideas and help them validate or reject the ideas. The goal is to take them from a concept to a validated business model.

Then, on Oct. 20, the Ignite program will help 10 entrepreneurs with these validated models develop their ideas into products or services. Button said the Ignite cohort will likely include some Spark members, but completing the first program is not a prerequisite to entering the second.

All the programs feature two three-hour online seminars per week for six weeks. If there is sufficient demand, there will be a third program, Fuel, in 2016. It would continue the process, taking companies with minimum-viability products and helping them to achieve scale.

Button said the Spark participants will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis, regardless of where they are based in the region.

“We’re going to be geographically neutral, and I will let the market dictate who the best are,” he said. “But based on my customer discovery, I suspect this is something that will resonate with entrepreneurs sitting in small towns and feel that can’t get the kind of support they’re looking for.”

He added the program will select coaches for the teams based on the types of companies that sign up. The coaches in the Spark program will simply have to shepherd the entrepreneurs through the program and help them decide whether there’s a market for their proposal. Button will try to find coaches close to the entrepreneurs with the hope they can meet weekly face to face.

There will be a greater emphasis on mentorship for the Ignite coaches, and they could come from outside the region.

“We may find the best thing is tapping into Spring’s mentorship networks in Vancouver,” he said.