Building Accessible Ecosystems: Neha Bahl, General Partner at Renew VC, Shares her Vision for Toronto's Startup Scene

Building Value In Innovation Ecosystems Conversation Series OneValley

In the premiere episode of OneValley’s Building Value in Innovation Ecosystems podcast, host Sabah Baxamoosa sits down with Neha Bahl, partner at Renew VC and former leader of the Toronto Business Development Center (TBDC), to discuss her journey in the Canadian startup ecosystem, the evolving landscape of innovation support, and strategies for empowering entrepreneurs on a global scale.


As the episode unfolds, listeners are treated to Bahl’s wealth of insights and anecdotes that illuminate the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders alike. 


An Unconventional Journey in Ecosystem Building


  • Starting in India: Bahl's entrepreneurial support journey began in India as a co-founder of an accelerator and pre-seed fund backed by Accel Partners.
  • Transition to Canada: Moving to Canada in 2018 was an accidental but pivotal step, leading Bahl to run TBDC's Startup Visa program, a fast-growing immigration initiative for international entrepreneurs. 
  • From Support to Empowerment: Transitioning from TBDC to Renew VC marked a shift from the support side to the empowerment side of the ecosystem, recognizing the need for both mentorship and funding. 


Navigating Challenges in Public and Private Support


  • Policy Limitations: Government policies aimed at supporting entrepreneurs can sometimes be restrictive due to limited on-the-ground feedback and engagement with founders. 
  • Funding Hurdles: Entrepreneurs often struggle with accessing and navigating the complex landscape of public funding programs and grants. 
  • Collaboration Imperative: Private support systems, built by entrepreneurs themselves, can help bridge gaps and foster a more connected, accessible ecosystem. 


Lessons from a Post-COVID Innovation Landscape


  • Embracing Pivots: The pandemic forced businesses to adapt and pivot, leading to increased remote work, new entrepreneurial ventures, and a greater emphasis on innovation hubs and support systems. 
  • Avoiding Duplication: As more cities establish incubators and accelerators, it's crucial to collaborate rather than reinvent the wheel, leveraging existing resources and networks. 
  • Building Bridges: Ecosystem organizations should focus on providing entrepreneurs with access to markets, talent, and resources beyond their immediate geography, fostering a truly global support network. 


The Power of a Global Launch Pad

  • Toronto's Potential: Rather than attempting to replicate Silicon Valley, Toronto can position itself as an accessible, globally connected ecosystem that attracts investors, entrepreneurs, and ecosystem builders from around the world. 
  • Reciprocal Relationships: US-based support organizations can build mutually beneficial partnerships with their Canadian counterparts, enabling entrepreneurs to tap into the unique advantages of each ecosystem. 
  • Impact-Driven Approach: By prioritizing societal good alongside financial returns, ecosystem builders can create a more inclusive, purpose-driven environment for entrepreneurs to thrive. 


Optimism for Canadian Ecosystems

As the conversation wrapped up, Bahl expressed excitement about the future of Canadian ecosystems, particularly the growing recognition that societal good and monetary value can be pursued simultaneously. With a focus on collaboration over competition, treating consumers as people rather than numbers, and embracing the power of progress over perfection, Bahl views the Canadian innovation landscape as poised for significant growth and impact in the years to come.


By fostering a culture of collaboration, empowering entrepreneurs with access to global resources and networks, and prioritizing societal good alongside financial returns, ecosystem builders in Canada and beyond can create a more inclusive, impactful, and thriving environment for startups to flourish. As Bahl aptly put it, "Don't reinvent the wheel... don't compete,

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