Inovia Emerging Managers Portrait Series: Special Edition With FounderFuel

Over the past months, we’ve introduced you to the next generation of VC funds backed by Inovia’s Discovery Fund. Today, we’re taking a detour and spotlighting FounderFuel, the well-known Montreal accelerator that made a comeback in 2023.

We sat down with
Katy Yam, FounderFuel General Manager and Investment Partner at Real Ventures, to discuss what sets the program apart, what it takes to get in, and how three major Canadian VCs, including Inovia, joined forces to relaunch it. 

Katy’s insatiable curiosity led to several careers. She managed several bread brands while at Maple Leaf Foods. She ushered in innovation and oversaw a team of data scientists at Loto-Québec. She supported Element AI’s fast expansion as its first marketing director. And for the past decade, she’s been leading TEDxMontréal in her free time.

In 2020, Katy brought that wealth of experience to FounderFuel, the accelerator launched by Real Ventures in 2011 that counts Sonder, Mejuri and Paper among its alumni. The program, emphasizes mentorship and personal development, and aligns with her passion for self-improvement, connecting people and helping them succeed. 

Since the virtual edition in 2020, FounderFuel had been on pause until last year when Panache Ventures and Inovia partnered with Real Ventures to revive it, an effort that won them the 2023 Startup Community Award for best collaboration in December. Seven companies, picked from 210 applicants, participated in the four-month program.


The three firms came together and said, “We believe in early-stage. How do we send a beacon in the darkness to this ecosystem when inflation has skyrocketed, all the money is tightened and everyone’s feeling so uncertain?”

Inovia and Panache agreed to fund it, and our team sought sponsors and ran the program. We made the decision on February 3, kicked off the program on April 17, and hosted Demo Day on July 11! This massive undertaking was made possible by hundreds of people leaning in with good intentions: founders helping founders, accelerators across Canada hosting us and promoting our call for applications, and seasoned mentors worldwide rolling up their sleeves to listen and support founders. There has never been three VC firms collaborating to bring a community initiative together like this before. Many of my U.S. friends have joked that it’s so Canadian of us to come together when times get tough instead of going after each other!


There are very few venture-backed accelerators in Canada. At FounderFuel, each company selected for the program receives a $120,000 check. But what makes our program unique is the work we put into transforming our founders into leaders. We work extensively with coaches from MIT and other professionals with extensive experience and tools to manage high-stress environments, they guide founders to become more aware, practice conflict resolution strategies to maintain sustainable relationships, and ultimately build stronger companies. We believe company culture starts at the very beginning.


We invite about 25 companies to Montreal to pitch in-person to a very diverse selection committee. The day before the pitches start, we have them come into a room, and we do a series of exercises. For instance, we do an “ask and offer” exercise, asking all founders to share one ask and one offer with the group. It’s truly inspiring to see that in a competitive environment, some people are still willing to help others because that’s what it takes to succeed in startup land. But some people are not actually offering help; they’re selling and they’re trying to flex and those are not the collaborative qualities to succeed in the long run. Another element we’re assessing is the ability to learn and take feedback. During the session, we provide criticism, and we’re observing how it is being received. If a founder isn’t open to feedback then we’re all wasting our time and energy.


Say what you’re going to do and do what you said you would do. It’s very simple. A lot of people say things and don’t follow up. From fundraising to hiring, to closing clients, trust builds when you do the things you said you were going to do.

Visit our website to learn more about the mission and leaders of other exceptional emerging managers in our portfolio: Boon, Front Row Ventures, Garage Capital, Luge, Maple, N49P, Northside Ventures, Roar Ventures, The51, and Two Small Fish Ventures.