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Start, Grow, Scale: Cultivating Tech in Saskatchewan

Cultivator Powered by Conexus

It’s been nearly two years since Conexus Credit Union made its way into the tech incubator space with “Cultivator powered by Conexus” (Cultivator). Industry West has been following Cultivator closely since its birth. Now, as year two comes to a close, it’s time for a check-in.

Seeds

Jordan McFarlen, Business Incubator Manager, Cultivator

Jordan McFarlen, Business Incubator manager, Cultivator.

Jordan McFarlen, Conexus’ Business Incubator manager, has been with Cultivator since before its doors even opened. He oversees the incubator and is heavily involved with the day-to-day goings-on in Cultivator’s programming for companies of all sizes. “Our top-of-the-funnel program is ‘START,’ for companies in their infancy. It’s three months long for pre-revenue and pre-product founders with an idea,” says McFarlen. START lets fledgling founders, guided by 12 mentors, work through problem identification, customer discovery, and product and founder development—with a pitch at the end. START founders have three possible outcomes—fail fast (the idea has no legs), fail forward (pivot from the original idea), or validate (head for raising capital). “START gives hopeful founders a good place to learn from experts, test their idea, and get it done fast,” says McFarlen. “We just recruited our third START cohort and have 17 companies enrolled with programming kicking off mid-July.”

Sprouts

“GROW” is Cultivator’s flagship program, that lasts anywhere from 12 to 24 months for founders past the idea stage. GROW is for companies with a product idea that need some help to find good market fit, build a team, and find traction with revenue. So far, the program has worked with 40 companies that in turn have created 86 jobs and raised $1.7 million in private capital. Founders have done a total of 194 investor pitches and sourced another $2 million in public funding. “GROW is designed for companies in the market with founders working full-time,” says McFarlen. “Entry to the program is rolling, so we accept applications all the time.”

Spread

Cultivator in Regina

Cultivator in Regina

Soon, Cultivator will launch “SCALE”, the next logical step in an incubator. Once companies are established with GROW, it’s time to scale up in an accelerator and “pour gas on the fire,” according to McFarlen. SCALE will take start-up companies with a product, first customers and some revenue into the next stage of growth. They will further develop their product, refine their business model, and connect with investors.

Success

After nearly two years, Cultivator has found its feet in the thriving provincial tech sector with no signs of slowing. Its early experiments with programming—a careful process of build, measure, learn, test, iterate—has led to the creation of a strong model attracting more attention that ever thought possible. “This fall, we’re tripling in size in our new space, adding more teams, and growing our programs,” says McFarlen. “Our first public call for applications was in May 2020, and it was a tidal wave. It showed us that there are great ideas and founders here ready to build. And we’re here to help those start-ups grow up into strong companies.”

Getting involved at Cultivator is a multi-step process that starts with a founder reaching out. Once a query is received, founders have a discovery call with Cultivator to gather more information. After that a deeper, formal application is provided and reviewed by the Cultivator’s Advisory Council. Made up of successful tech entrepreneurs and Conexus representatives, the council determines what companies make the cut. “Our council has excellent founders on it, that have succeeded in Saskatchewan and in larger markets. They know what it takes to get a product to market.”

The Advisory Council

Maggie Sinclair: Executive Vice President Business Solutions, Conexus
Kyle Folk: Founder, IntraGrain Technologies
Deidre Donaldson Meyer: CEO, Vivvo
Dustin Coupal: Co-Founder, GasBuddy
Mary Weimer: Chief Member Experience Officer, Conexus
George Leith: Chief Customer Officer + EVP Sales, Vendasta