Dobson Centre surpasses $1-billion milestone in startup seed funding

The entrepreneurship centre's economic impact also includes 450 active startups and 6,000 new jobs.
The McGill Dobson Centre student committee 2019-2020

The McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship has reached a remarkable milestone: The startups it has supported have now raised more than $1 billion in seed funding (source: Crunchbase).

“To sustain a steep growth curve, startups often need to burn capital before achieving profitability. This new milestone demonstrates the strong momentum that our startups are experiencing,” says Marie-Josée Lamothe, Director of the McGill Dobson Centre and Professor of Practice at the Desautels Faculty of Management and the Bensadoun School of Retail Management.

“Reaching $1 billion in seed funding is a significant turning point for the McGill Dobson Centre and our startups,” adds Lamothe. “It’s a sign that investors are being persuaded by our entrepreneurs’ vision and see meaningful opportunities to contribute to our economy.’’

Founded in 1988 by the late John Dobson, BCom’49, the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship supports entrepreneurs from all 11 faculties at McGill University. The Dobson community has grown to include 450 active startups, which have generated more than 6,000 new jobs. More than 40 per cent of Dobson startups are cofounded by women and the Centre engages with 24 partner universities around the world.

Lamothe emphasizes that this success is a direct result of the seminal work of John Dobson, the Dobson Centre’s founding director Professor Peter R. Johnson, and former director Professor Gregory Vit who established the signature Dobson Cup competition and McGill X-1 Startup Accelerator program. “I have the privilege of building on that foundation,” says Lamothe.

Peter Johnson recalls meeting John Dobson in 1990, when Dobson asked him to lead the new Centre for two years. “I ended up staying for 15 years,” says Johnson. He built on his previous 25-year career as a business consultant and each year led international trips with his students. In 2006, Johnson was honoured with a Career Achievement Award for his outstanding teaching and mentoring. He then served as Vice-President of the Dobson Foundation until his retirement in 2008.

“John Dobson would have been unbelievably delighted by this $1-billion milestone,” says Johnson. “He was extraordinary — a founding funder of entrepreneurial programs at many universities.”

The McGill Dobson Centre has also been recognized as one of the Top 20 University Business Incubators by the UBI Global World Rankings of Business Incubators and Accelerators for 2019-2020.

And in 2020, the PitchBook University Rankings named the Dobson Centre second in Canada for undergraduate programs for entrepreneurs — and first in the country for developing successful female entrepreneurs.

Azadeh Dastmalchi is CEO and cofounder of VitalTracer Ltd., a medical startup that designs smart wearable medical devices. In 2019, she and her cofounders were accepted into the McGill X-1 Accelerator, an intensive summer program offered by the Dobson Centre that prepares promising startups for investment readiness and launch.

Recently named one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence, Dastmalchi credits her Dobson Centre experience with helping her hone her public speaking skills, so that “the pitch became part of my DNA.”

“It was the first accelerator that believed in our idea,” she adds. She praises the McGill X-1 Accelerator program for teaching her and her engineering colleagues the skills they needed — everything from writing a business plan to preparing for investor meetings. “It was the first step in our entrepreneurial journey.”

The McGill Dobson Centre’s mission is to help entrepreneurs across the University to build innovative companies with purpose. The Centre offers programs tailored to the different stages of the entrepreneurial journey, as well as mentorship opportunities and access to a wide network of resources.

The Centre has recently completed its first McGill International Startup Tour to promote its most promising startups to potential investors in 16 cities across North America and Europe.

Since 1988, the Dobson Foundation has continued to provide financial support, including a $2-million gift in 2017 and $3 million in 2020. Others who have stepped up to support the Dobson Centre include the National Bank of Canada, the Zeller Foundation, Peter and Joan Monk, the Murdoch Family, Rene Cayouette, Steve Kokinos, Steven Pal, Tim Tokarsky, and the Mastercard Foundation, among others.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without our community of donors, judges, mentors and industry partners,” affirms Morty Yalovsky, Interim Dean of the Desautels Faculty of Management. “As our University enters its third century amid a critical time for the economy, we look forward to fostering the McGill entrepreneurial ecosystem as a driver of future job creation and strong, sustainable growth.”