When COVID-19 became a growing pandemic, the financial pressures faced by small businesses and consumers became apparent. At the onset of COVID-19, half (49%) of Canadians report that they are $200 or less away each month from insolvency, according to the latest MNP Consumer Debt Index. CFIB reports that 48% of small businesses are making half or less their normal sales, with 50% stating they are most concerned about their business cash flow.
Intuit’s mission is to power prosperity around the world. They are a global financial platform with products including TurboTax, QuickBooks and Mint, designed to empower consumers, self-employed, and small businesses to improve their financial lives. Their platform of products help customers get more money with the least amount of work while giving them complete confidence in their actions and decisions.
At the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020, David Marquis, Country Manager of Intuit Canada, saw an urgent need to do even more to solve financial prosperity challenges for consumers, self-employed and small businesses. This presented an opportunity for the Intuit team to test a bold, first-of-its-kind ‘One Intuit’ program that invested in accelerating adjacent-to-Intuit innovations through the startup ecosystem, powered by our customer-obsessed employees and a partnership with a venture studio and capital fund, Highline Beta. Our shared mission led to a corporate-startup collaboration in the form of a pilot program accelerator model: the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator.
We saw an opportunity to tap into the energy, passion, and talent of the startup ecosystem in this time of uncertainty to help solve real challenges for Canadians. Highline Beta was an ideal partner to launch the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator because of their expertise designing programs, sourcing and selecting the right startups, and ensuring we provided meaningful mentorship and support to the startups along the way.– David Marquis, Country Manager of Intuit Canada
Helping Companies Grow Beyond their Core
Highline Beta helps large corporations identify new opportunities to grow their business through internal and external innovation. We help companies build new ventures, partner with startups and co-invest in growth opportunities.
One of our key approaches is our pilot program accelerator model, which is focused on creating successful pilot opportunities for startups to work with our Fortune 1000 clients. Through decades of experience with startup accelerator models, we’ve designed a tailor-made pilot program accelerator that helps attract and source the best startups, and then accelerate partnership opportunities with corporates.
Each pilot program accelerator is based on a core 6-month program, designed to address the key concerns that both corporates and startups have when engaging in partnerships. Highline Beta provides the framework — customized to the specific needs of each corporate — that increases the quality of startups identified and the speed of successful pilot execution.
How the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator Works
The Intuit Prosperity Accelerator was launched on July 13, 2020. Working closely with Highline Beta, Intuit Canada focused on 6 challenges for startups to solve with innovative solutions, three related to consumer opportunities and three related to small business and self-employed opportunities:
The number of Canadians who are anxious about their financial situation has more than doubled from 19% before COVID-19 to 46%. These money worries were identified as the largest source of stress. Example solutions:
- Understand, manage, consolidate, and pay off debt
- Become aware of cashflow and spending habits
- Commit to a debt paydown
COVID-19 has upended financial health with half (49%) of Canadians reporting that they are $200 or less away each month from insolvency. Example solutions:
- Save money and spend wisely
- Maximize tax refunds and government incentives
- Increase future savings through budgeting
Enable Financial Literacy
40% of Canadians are ready to start thinking more proactively about their finances, yet 57% of them fail a basic financial literacy test and only 1-in-3 actively use a financial advisor. Example solutions:
- Understand financial status and wellbeing
- Curate actionable steps to help reach financial goals
- Provide insight based on progress and steps to course correct
Small Business and Self-Employed Opportunities:
Improve Cash Flow
Since the inception of COVID-19, 48% of small businesses are making half or less their normal sales. When asked what worries them the most during COVID-19, 50% said business cash flow (getting paid, meeting payroll, paying rent/bills). Example solutions:
- Access sources of funding
- Pay bills on time
- Get paid anyway, anywhere, and immediately
52% of small business owners cited a decrease in customer demand for products and services, and 37% are worried that consumer spending will be reduced, even following the COVID-19 crisis. Example solutions:
- Acquire more customers
- Leverage new channels to access alternative streams of revenue
- Change business model to adapt to shifting demands
- Hire and onboard employees as customer demand grows
Asking for help is an inherent part of being a successful small business owner. During these challenging times, it’s important to seek reliable advice and support. Example solutions:
- Access advice from domain experts
- Stay compliant with changing rules and regulations
- Get work done in the best way possible during COVID-19 and beyond
The program received 225+ applications, out of which 8 startups were selected to participate.
Homewise (Toronto, ON) is a digital mortgage provider that uses machine learning and automation to enable home buyers to get their best mortgage from over 30 lenders with a simple, full-service digital experience.
Emma (Quebec City, QC) is a family-centric life insurance platform that makes buying life insurance easy, affordable and accessible. Their solution leverages big data to underwrite their insurance, and a proprietary chat function that allows customers to get on-demand advice from experts.
Willful (Toronto, ON) is an estate planning platform that makes it easy, affordable, and accessible for Canadians to plan for and deal with death in a digital age.
Paper & Coin (Toronto, ON) aims to transform the way young adults think about and handle their money through financial coaching, courses, and content that helps millennials eliminate debt, build wealth, and live the life of their dreams.
Dryrun (Edmonton, AB) is a sophisticated cash flow management tool that pairs automation of intelligent financial forecasts with scenario planning and modelling, assisting businesses of all sizes to make better informed decisions about their present and future direction.
Otis AI (New York, NY) is an AI-powered app for businesses that strive to connect with customers and generate results. Their solution allows anyone to launch data-driven digital ad campaigns on Facebook, Instagram and Google in minutes.
Rivvi (Toronto, ON) is an autonomous payroll platform that incorporates AI to remove manual processes and enables small businesses to offer their employees the benefit of choosing when they get paid, depending on their own personal circumstances.
Sparcblock (Toronto, ON) streamlines B2B transactions, reducing data entry and paperwork and eliminating reconciliation that helps small businesses reduce processing time, increasing efficiency, and save money through invoicing approval posting and payment
The key to a successful accelerator program is in its design. Highline Beta’s pilot program accelerator starts with a standard 6-month approach, customized for the specific requirements of each client and the participating startups.
Highline Beta worked with Intuit Canada to design a robust mentorship and training program. Due to COVID-19, program delivery was done remotely. The mentorship and training program was uniquely curated for the needs of the startup cohort. For example, many of the startups were interested in understanding how to track the right metrics, and so we delivered two webinars on Lean Analytics.
Additional programming, provided by Highline Beta and Intuit Canada employees included:
- How to conduct user research interviews
- Accelerated learning through experimentation
- Customer acquisition (from demand generation to conversion and onboarding)
- Raising Capital & Fundraising
- How to hire top talent
9 all-hands meetings:
- Included product feedback sessions for each startup
- Active collaboration between startups
One of the key highlights of the programming was Design for Delight (D4D), Intuit’s take on customer-driven innovation methodology, refined over years and initially developed by Intuit’s co-founder Scott Cook. It’s rooted in three key principles:
#1 Deep Customer Empathy: Fosters shared understanding, insights, and motivation to improve the lives of customers. You gain empathy by observing people where and when they are experiencing pains or problems.
#2 Go Broad to Go Narrow: Focuses one’s energy on what is most important. You “go broad” by using your creativity to explore a variety of potential solutions. You “go narrow” by focusing on bold solutions most likely to delight your customers.
#3 Rapid Experiments with Customers: Test solutions with customers quickly. When you run experiments with real customers, you quickly learn what works and what doesn’t, saving valuable time and resources when making your next decision.
The programming and training was designed to cover as many key topics as possible to help the startups succeed beyond the scope of working with Intuit Canada.
Startup Sourcing & Selection
The startup recruitment process lasted 2 months. Highline Beta used their extensive network of investors, founders, collaborators and more to identity potential startups. Startups were shortlisted for review, and we received feedback frequently from Intuit Canada to constantly improve our targeted sourcing efforts.
Each startup was assessed on a number of criteria to determine their fit for the program. These criteria are based on Highline Beta’s experience as accelerator operators and investors, and Intuit’s assessment of each startup’s adjacency to their products and compatibility with their values. Together with Intuit’s internal experts, the final selection of eight startups was made.
A concerted marketing effort was executed with Intuit Canada to generate as much awareness and buzz in-market as possible, which helped attract startups and drive applications.
In order to facilitate a strong working relationship and engagement with the startups, Intuit paired each of them with two Innovation Catalysts (ICs), employees at Intuit trained to champion and implement the Design for Delight (D4D) principals. These ICs worked closely with the startups to help them design experiments and apply a test and learn mindset to their businesses. The ICs met regularly with the startups and provided ongoing support and mentorship throughout the program.
Along with regular webinars, Highline Beta and Intuit Canada created an office hours program. Office hours were held monthly with Highline Beta’s founding partners and senior Intuit managers. Startups signed up for office hours to dig deeper into key topics such as fundraising, scaling internationally, hiring and sales.
Each week, the cohort got together as a group to meet, discuss challenges and share progress with each other. This is a key component of a successful accelerator program because it provides the startups with opportunities to learn from and help each other. Numerous introductions, ideas and collaborations emerged from these all-hands meetings. For example, Willful and Emma partnered in order to provide Willful with exposure into the Quebec market, prior to their launch.
I love solving problems through design. And this was a great opportunity for me to bring that element and make a difference for a startup. It’s been a fun ride with lots of new challenges and excitement for me. I loved every moment of mentoring the Homewise team. It’s all about working and learning together. Jesse and the team are so motivated and open to learning.– Sanjay Sen, Senior Product Designer
Throughout the program, Intuit and Highline Beta worked to promote the startups. When the startups were initially announced, we drove media attention through a variety of channels.
Several startups had an opportunity to present at CIX 2020 (Canadian Innovation Exchange) alongside David Marquis.
We created two videos highlighting the SMB startups and the Consumer startups, and promoted them on social channels.
We shared parts of the journey publicly, such as the kick-off week, to highlight how Intuit Canada and the startups were collaborating.
In every pilot program accelerator, it’s important to encourage successful relationships between corporations and startups, as well as tell their stories to the broader audience and community.
I found this program to be an amazing step towards streamlining the vision and product development strategy for our company. From the office hours with Highline Beta’s founders, to working closely with our corporate partner’s Innovation Catalysts on experiments and testing, to getting advice on raising, pitch decks, and investment rounds, it was a valuable time of learning and growth for myself and my team. We’ll definitely be taking everything we learned during our time in this accelerator on to future endeavours for our company.– Octavia Ramirez Co-founder Paper & Coin
The Prosperity Accelerator Demo Day was done in partnership with TechTO, a media company focused on building the tech and startup ecosystem in Canada. Highline Beta and Intuit saw the opportunity to work with TechTO to increase exposure for the startups and share our collective learnings gained throughout the accelerator program.
Scott Cook, Intuit’s co-founder, participated in the Demo Day through a fireside chat with David Marquis. Scott shared a number of incredible stories from the early days of Intuit, and how he adapted to different circumstances while growing the company.
Each startup had three minutes to present their business and share their experiences participating in the accelerator. The startups did an incredible job explaining their businesses, with a focus on the problems they’re solving, their solutions and traction.
The entire event was made available on video to watch:
Over 380 people attended Demo Day on March 2nd 2021, and were able to see the startup presentations, network and celebrate the incredible work put in by everyone involved in the program. Additional key metrics: 360 networking sessions took place between participants; and 68 introductions (to the startups) were requested.
A public Demo Day is an effective way to generate attention for the participating startups, and interest in meeting the startups was captured throughout the event.
David Marquis also announced plans for a second cohort, with more information coming in the next few months.
When the playbook is not working, you’ve got to find a new play, and that means you’ve got to learn something new. So go find the best wheel maker and have them teach you. That’s one of my key learnings on resilience and adversity. I wish we had an accelerator when we started. One of the great benefits of a program like this one, and Highline Beta, is that it provides ‘experts on tap’ so you can be learning the next play you need to master.Scott Cook, co-founder at Intuit
There were many success stories that emerged during the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator. We’ve shared a few below.
Homewise — The easiest way to get the best mortgage
Tested different integrations with Mint to evaluate segmented customers’ interest in a mortgage. Goal was to determine if they could identify when a user would be looking for a mortgage, and how they might want to receive recommendations through a Homewise integration.
Seed financing raised during the program
of users said they would recommend Homewise
Working with Intuit Canada was great. They were open-minded and flexible as we navigated how to collaborate with them in the best way possible. Their willingness to test new ideas with us, and the way they challenged our assumptions, really allowed us to think and act quickly to improve our company.Jesse Abrams, Homewise
Emma — Life insurance for moms and their families with no medical exams, blood samples or urine tests
Leveraged their Baby Names tool to assess whether expecting parents would also be interested in learning about personal finance and insurance. Designed a “Money Cheat Sheet” to help expecting parents better plan for their financial and insurance needs.
MoM growth throughout the program
800 ↗ 2500
total customer growth
Dryrun — Cash flow forecasting for accountants
Built a cash flow scorecard feature and tested it with CPAs. The feature was rated 10/10 by CPAs, which helped Dryrun better understand this key target market, as well as provide value through integrating the cash flow scorecard into their core product.
Launched a full insights tool for CPAs
Got into Connection Silicon Valley: Access to Global Capital program during the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator
The insights panel we developed during the program was huge for us. It was a problem we were thinking of in the back of our minds and we said let’s try to figure it out during the program. And it went from something that was just an idea to a beta to now something that is actually in Dryrun today, this was a bit of a surprise but a super welcome surprise. We weren’t expecting this to come all the way through and activate like that so that was terrific.Blaine Berscht, CEO/Co-founder Dryrun
A Challenge Worth Accepting
It can be challenging for large corporations to navigate the startup and innovation ecosystems and drive meaningful change quickly. With the right partner, companies such as Intuit can design, launch and run successful programs that are designed to last.
Working together, we were able to create a program that tied back to Intuit Canada’s overall corporate mission and vision, and demonstrated real results.
Many of the personal and professional relationships that emerged from the Intuit Prosperity Accelerator will continue beyond the program. And throughout, everyone learned a great deal, which is paramount for growing and succeeding in the future.