Emerging Leaders of NEXT Canada
NEXT Canada is an organization with a focus on increasing national prosperity through innovation and entrepreneurship. NEXT Canada was formerly known as The Next 36, a program founded in 2010 by a group of business leaders and academics. NEXT Canada’s philosophy is to invest resources on exceptional individuals. With a strong belief in founder development, NEXT Canada uses a blend of mentorship, education, capital and networking that inspires driven Canadians to disrupt industries and build globally relevant companies.
Andrea Matheson is the Interim CEO of NEXT Canada, and a driving force behind the launch of their newest program, NextAI.
Q. NEXT Canada runs three programs. Andrea, can you tell us a little about them?
Perhaps our most well-known program is Next 36. The premise of the program is that, through a rigorous selection process, we find 36 exceptional young people who are currently studying or have recently completed their studies and give them the mentorship, guidance and resources they need to build disruptive companies. Teams receive up to $80K in funding and learn from award-winning faculty and Canada’s top entrepreneurs.
Next Founders, another program of ours, focuses on entrepreneurs who have a little more experience and venture traction, but might be missing that one key element to take their startup to the next level; and we provide that through a flexible curriculum and key events tailored to their specific needs.
Our newest program, NextAI, does all of these things with an intense focus on artificial intelligence, particularly on how we can commercialize research and technology and begin to make it available to Canadians and Canadian businesses. This is a program that recruits internationally and provides teams with up to $200K in seed capital, plus workspace in downtown Toronto for the program duration.
Q. As the year closes, what’s coming up for NEXT Canada?
Currently, we’re in full recruitment mode for next year’s programs. This past weekend, for instance, we hosted a Startup Sprint at Lighthouse Labs, bringing 100 of the country’s brightest minds together to hack, design, and prototype projects around the theme of “national disruption.” We’ve also been travelling the country and popping up at top universities as part of our national campus tour to let students know about the programs.
Going forward, you can expect NEXT Canada to explore expanding the scope and reach of our programs, both in Canada and abroad.
Q. How do you ensure that there is a diverse & inclusive representation throughout NEXT Canada’s programming?
I think like most organizations in the technology and startup arena, we’re never satisfied with the number of women participating and we’re always pushing for more female founders. From the mentor and advisor perspective, we have exceptional female leadership lending their expertise to the programs including entrepreneurs and investors, including Janet Bannister, Candice Faktor and Nicole Leblanc.
Some of the top companies to come out of NEXT Canada have had at least one female co-founder, such as Kira Talent, Bridgit, Sampler and Nymi. And when we look at the faculty of NextAI, over 50% are female, which is a significant number in a field that has been seen to be male-dominated.
I think the team has done a tremendous job at ensuring that diversity is top-of-mind for everything that NEXT Canada does. There’s always room for improvement, which for NEXT Canada can happen at both the application and governance levels. The last three additions to the NEXT board have been women and we are committed to ensuring there are strong female role models on our leadership team.
We have traditionally seen more male applicants than females, despite females often outperforming their male counterparts once in the program. We’re hoping that the light that is being shed on the systemic issues we face with gender diversity will lead to more women getting involved in technology earlier in their lives. At NEXT Canada, we’re hoping that by creating strong partnerships with organizations like MoveTheDial, we can begin to have conversations with female entrepreneurs who have perhaps thought about applying to NEXT or a program like it but because they haven’t seen themselves reflected to the degree they would like, they’ve decided against it.
Q. As Interim CEO, how are you hoping to stay involved with NEXT Canada after Sheldon Levy takes over on October 30th?
NEXT Canada has been my home for the last year of my life and I served as a mentor for three years before that. While I’m passing the torch off to Sheldon Levy, our incoming CEO, I plan to continue being engaged. I’ll be sticking around as a board advisor, mentor, and working on initiatives specifically for female founders, which I’m very excited about. I launched a networking event series for our female founders last year, and that will be one of the specific initiatives I’m looking forward to continuing in 2018.
Q. What does MoveTheDial mean to you?
To us MoveTheDial is all about moving the dial for women generally, asking the tough questions and starting the conversations that have been too often pushed to the back burner, especially in technology and business. For us at NEXT Canada, it means moving the dial to get more women into our programs and leadership. We’re committed to hosting programs that reflect the diversity of our country, and, as most of us know, it’s been proven many times over that diversity can be a key differentiator between the businesses that succeed and the ones that don’t.