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Propel Cohort Under Way In St. John’s

One of the greatest recent advances in the startup community in St. John’s is the fact that nine young companies have entered the first PropelICT cohort in the city.

Company formation has been a concern in the country’s most easterly startup community, so it’s encouraging that more than 20 companies in John’s applied for the cohort. Gary Dinn, CEO of the regional accelerator PropelICT, would have liked to see more but he’s heartened by the group he has.

“Mostly it’s gelling well,” said Dinn, sitting in his office Tuesday in the Common Ground co-working space in downtown St. John’s. “There are some people who are really digging in, which makes my job a lot easier.

“Of course, some of the companies that are more advanced need to go back through the lean canvas again, but that should always be the case.”

Propel announced this spring that it would offer a three-pronged version of its Launch program, which aims to teach early-stage companies the basics of lean methodology, such as using a lean canvas and conducting customer discovery. The program is being held in St. John’s for the first time as well as cohorts in Halifax and Fredericton, where they’ve been offered before.

The St. John’s sessions are being held at Common Ground and being led by Dinn and Common Ground Executive Director Peter Gifford, formerly the head of ExtremeOcean Innovation. (I’ll have the privilege of guest-hosting the fireside chat with the cohort tonight, when I will lead a talk on communications.)

The participants I spoke with have found value in the program.

“The experience has been absolutely invaluable to me,” said Lisa Gillam, the Founder of Melecho Music, a musical education venture that is in the cohort. “To have all this mentorship with Peter and Gary, well, I haven’t had an experience like it to date.”

Dinn said the group is strong, as more than half have working businesses already. Asked about the outlook for them, he said 74 percent of the Propel cohort in the summer of 2013 were still in business a year later and he hopes this cohort will exceed that historic measure.

As well as Melecho, the St. John’s cohort comprises: Vish Solutions, Order App, Pearus, CRE, Sulis, Team Startup, SocialCircle, and SolSports.

A 10th Newfoundland startup, HeyOrca, is attending the Build cohort for more advanced companies, which is taking place in Moncton.

Dinn hopes this will just be the beginning and there will be an even larger response in future years. “When the value is more recognized, we’ll have an easier time both in recruiting and in keeping the quality high.”