Canada’s Got Talent. But We Need More Of It

An Executive Perspective on Mentorship by Natalie Dakers.


I don’t need to tell you that Canada has an impressive track record of health innovation. We’re known around the world for our cutting-edge research and our robust universal health care system. That said, there’s still more work to be done. According to the Government of Canada’s recent Economic Strategy Table report, Canada has a skills shortage and a lack of access to executive-level talent in the health sciences sector.


Accel-Rx is helping to address these issues through our premiere, national Accel-Rx Mentor Program (AMP). We just completed a successful pilot phase in Vancouver and are now expanding to Ontario with plans to follow later in Quebec. AMP’s purpose is to support and nurture growth and development of entrepreneurs within the Canadian health sciences community with the aim of increasing the likelihood of success of seed stage companies.


How does it work?  We thoughtfully pair together teams of two to four seasoned mentors with entrepreneurs leading early-stage companies. The program has been modelled with the principles and methodology licensed from the highly regarded Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Venture Mentoring Program and focuses on entrepreneurial development. What differentiates it from other programs is that it has been tailored specifically to deal with the unique aspects of drug and device development. As development timelines in this sector can be quite lengthy, there’s no time limit on participation in the program. In order to provide ongoing value over the long term, members of the mentor team shift as the needs of the venture evolves.


The success of our program would not be possible without high calibre mentors willing to make the time to provide counsel and support.  AMP Mentor Alistair Duncan, CEO at Vida Therapeutics, explains why he takes part in the program: “I fully believe in the value of mentorship and feel it’s important to contribute my time and expertise the same way others did for me along my own journey. This program is fulfilling in numerous ways—interacting with other mentors, keeping current on upcoming technologies and treatments, and most importantly, the reward of seeing entrepreneurs grow and develop and their companies flourish.”


A key component of the program is to ensure the entrepreneur receives objective advice.  Our volunteer mentors are typically serial entrepreneurs as opposed to potential investors or consultants, so they don’t have any other motivations to participate other than to help the venture.


Michael Midmer, CEO of Zucara Therapeutics, and participating entrepreneur in the program, says involvement in AMP has provided a unique sounding board. “I’d recommend AMP to any CEO. The mentors chosen are excellent and the discussions provide for an open environment to talk through challenges in commercializing a technology. They have all been there, done it or are living it in real-time so they can provide invaluable insight on a range of issues CEOs have to deal with from financing strategy, human resources, corporate governance or anything that is keeping you up at night.”


Elayne Wandler, Director of the Program explains, “AMP is our way of giving back to the sector. It operates independently from Accel-Rx’s core business and investments. We focus on providing a safe space and platform for entrepreneurs to gain valuable feedback on their professional development and their ventures. When entrepreneurs embrace their mentor group as an extension of their team, magic can happen.  It’s very exciting to see and we can’t wait to offer it to more companies across Canada.”


The AMP program is just one way of tackling the talent and skills deficit head on. There are others in the sector that are also doing great capacity-building work.


Natalie Dakers is the CEO and Founding President of Accel-Rx.