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Paying it forward pays off

At a glance
The challenge

Up-and-coming entrepreneurs face many challenges

The solution

Pay-it-forward with seed money and coaching

The outcome

Ideas transformed into profitable businesses

What's next?

Create more value for Canada

We’ve all heard of the idea of “pay it forward” — someone does you a favour, and you pay it back by helping another person. In the case of Montreal-based startup incubator TandemLaunch, it’s a principle that’s being applied to business. Now dozens of university graduates, new companies, Canada’s business environment, and TandemLaunch itself are reaping the rewards of a system built on helping others get their first big break.

It all started when TandemLaunch’s founder, Helge Seetzen, was given a chance to participate in the Mitacs Accelerate program while he was a PhD student at UBC’s Structured Surface Physics lab. In 2002, Helge and a team at the lab developed a new way to control the brightness of visual screens and sold it to audio and cinema giant Dolby Laboratories.

By 2010, he’d formed TandemLaunch, a company that takes young scientists and entrepreneurs in universities and gives them seed money and coaching to transform their ideas into profitable businesses.

Rebecca Reich, Mitacs’ Quebec and Atlantic Canada team lead for Business Development, says Helge came back to the Accelerate, Elevate, and Globalink programs — this time as an internship provider, mentor, and potential employer — after they met through a startup fair in 2011. “I really liked how TandemLaunch was trying to stimulate innovation, growing real companies that create interesting products, wealth, and jobs.”

“Mitacs has been phenomenal,” says Matt Smith, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at TandemLaunch. “Its programs help us develop better long-term relationships with graduates and their professors, which gives us access to more ideas and talent that we can develop in the future. The streamlined and easy-to-use grant process is also a breath of fresh air.”

Over the years, TandemLaunch has recruited dozens of interns and post-doctoral fellows from Concordia, École Polytechnique, and McGill, in fields ranging from engineering to life sciences to the arts.

“The success of this relationship speaks for itself,” says Matt. “And when we develop something into a product or new company, that creates value for the researchers, for us, and for innovation across Canada as a whole.”


Mitacs gratefully acknowledges the Government of Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program, Western Economic Diversification and the Government of British Columbia for their support of Mitacs Accelerate in the province.