Infiniti launches a startup lab in Toronto to focus on IoT and smart cities

Nissan’s upscale auto brand Infiniti is putting down startup roots in Canada with a new accelerator designed to help spur growth of companies that focus on internet-of-things and smart city technology. The new Infiniti Lab follows the model of the debut Lab launched by the carmaker in Hong Kong in 2015, and is the first Lab in North America, as well as Canada’s first carmaker-backed startup accelerator.

Infiniti is teaming up with Multiplicity to get the Toronto Lab up and running, and selected Toronto because of its strong startup culture, according to the company. Multiplicity is a non-profit based in the city that offers education and mentorship services to startups and entrepreneurs. It’s a good way to get boots on the ground in a new market, tapping into someone already plugged into the local scene that can help direct Infiniti’s resources to help the automaker best achieve its goal of spotting and fostering talent.

Already, Infiniti Lab has completed two cohorts of startups via its Hong Kong accelerator, and it’s hoping to keep up the pace with its new Toronto location. It’s open to companies who are very early, prior to even accepting seed funding, who are looking at solving problems related to connected devices and smart cities. The participants in the Toronto program, which is open for applications now, will undergo a 30-day program in Mutiplicity’s coworking space, and then they’ll have a pitch day presenting to investors including Techstars, OMERS Ventures, TELUS Ventures and the City of Toronto. A winner will then be selected and fast-tracked to the more intensive three-month program in Hong Kong.

Infiniti isn’t alone among automakers in trying to do more to accelerate the pace of connected city innovation, nor is it alone in fostering startup growth as a means to do so. Honda’s Xcelerator is another example of an automaker accelerator program, albeit one that works with startups across all stages of their growth and funding.

I asked Infiniti Canada Managing Director Stephen Lester about the motivations behind the program, and he said that it’s a mix that includes the potential to spot talent and partners, but that it’s really about alignment between Infiniti’s brand and entrepreneurial values.

“What it comes back to at the end of the day is that Infiniti as a brand is really focused on human daring, and especially that forward-thinking element,” Lester said. “Those are two key areas for us where we really think entrepreneurship is very strongly tied or linked to our brand. So not just to the people that participate in lab, but to the stories behind them, and to the opportunities then to understand how their successes and triumphs and focus and vision mirror what Infiniti is trying to do as a brand.”

Startups can apply to the program starting today, and the program will kick off on May 29, beginning that one month sprint prior to demo day.