Sunil Sharma is a powerhouse of energy and support across the Canadian startup ecosystem—in particular for the city of Toronto and Waterloo regions. As the Managing Director of the Toronto Founder Institute and the first Techstars accelerator in Canada, Sharma has directly helped to launch more than 200 companies across the greater Toronto startup ecosystem.
Sunil Sharma’s own endorsement of his home startup ecosystem is a ringing one:
Toronto has the ideal conditions for entrepreneurs to launch and grow amazing technology companies. Toronto is a diverse city; it is rich in technical talent; its entrepreneurs are ambitious and driven; and it is a leader in artificial intelligence, fintech, blockchain, mobile applications and more.
As the Chair to the Board of Canada’s Accelerator and Business Incubator (CABI), Sharma has also helped lead the passage and adoption of Canadia's Start-up Visa Program, which helps startup founders and investors immigrate to Canada through a fast-track program. In fact, Sharma's work to elevate Toronto as an open and welcoming hub for immigrant-powered technologiy companies deliberately positions Canada in stark contrast to tightening US immigration. This effort builds upon Sharma’s prior diplomatic career as the Head of the Canadian Consulate in San Diego, a position within the Canadian Space Agency, and a representative of Canada at the United Nations.
Today, Sharma serves as the Managing Director of Techstars Toronto, a joint venture between Techstars and Real Ventures, Canada's most active venture captial fund. Prior, he also served as the Managing Partner of Extreme Venture Partners (EVP), and was also the co-founder and Managing Director of Extreme Startups.
During his time leading Extreme (now known as HIGHLINE), Sharma invested in more than 40 companies, some of which he still remains active with as a Board Member. Most recently, Sharma has also taken on the co-organizer role for one of the largest tech and startup conferences in the world, Collision.
While Toronto is home to companies of all stripes, Sharma's industry expertise as a startup investor specifically include:
- Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data and Bots
- B2B and B2C applications and marketplace disruption
- Fintech including blockchain technologies
- Vertical SaaS
- IoT, hardware, and embedded system
Mentor, investor, and leader, Sharma has worked with so many startups in helping founders bring their visions to life.
When I look back to some of the companies in my early day, I always think about the founder,” Sharma stated in a recent Techvibes report. “It’s that competence and style that the founding team has. Their vision, adaptability and team complement. If it’s just one or two people founding, they need to have incredible domain expertise or really strong technical skills, and then they can build and launch a product.
Here’s a sampling of just a few of the fast-growing companies Sunil has worked with:
- Vacation Fund: Founded by Erica Pearson, Vacation allows companies to offer the benefit of travel for their employees. Like a 401k, Vacation Fund allows employers to match a certain amount from each paycheck, allowing employees to dedicate specific savings towards their travel and vacation plans.
- SmartHire: Founded by Sergey Kalnish, SmartHire embraces blockchain technologies to make hiring more data-driven. The startup uses a feedback loop that compiles data from key decision points in the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and retention processes, with a goal of extracting key internal findings that ultimately lead to better quality hires.
- DestinAI: Founded by Nargiz Mammadova, DestinAI offers a chatbot-based AI solution to help immigrants move to Canada. The solution answers common questions, and even presents users with necessary forms and documentation to move their cases forward.
- Wagepoint: Founded by Shrad Rao, Wagepoint offers simplified payroll automation for small businesses. To date, they have raised $4 million in venture funding.
- StorkSupply: Founded by Matt Cass, StorkSupply is one of the most recent local portfolio companies. The startup rents baby gear, and is designed to make the parenting journey both more simple and sustainable. StorkSupply ensures new parents get the gear they need when they need it, and out of the home once it’s served its purpose.
- World of Angus: World of Angus is a popular dog owner lifestyle and pet grooming product provider. Their founder, Jeremy Potvin, was a mentor to the inaugural program.
- Flixel Photos: Flixel Photos allows users to create cinemagraphs, which are still photos with a portion of the picture featuring a seamless and infinitely looping motion graphic, somewhat similar to a GIF. To date, the startup has raised more than $3.2 million in funding. Several of their team members were mentors for the inaugural program.
You can learn more about and connect with Sunil Sharma on his LinkedIn page or follow him on Twitter @sunil_extreme.
If you are interested in joining the Toronto Founder Institute, you can apply here.
The Founder Institute is the world's premier pre-seed accelerator, with chapters across 180+ cities and Graduate companies that have raised over $800M in funding. The company's mission is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” and empower communities of talented and motivated people to build impactful technology-enabled companies worldwide.
Learn more about running an FI program at FI.co/lead, or apply to build a business with the Founder Institute at FI.co/join.