Off to a roaring start
For many, the holidays are followed by a January lull, as people shake off the effects of overindulgence and struggle to get their heads back in the game. Not so in the tech community, where the innovation conversation picked up again quickly – assuming it had slowed down at all. The Globe and Mail’s Barrie McKenna kicked things off with a New Year’s Day column calling on the newly elected federal government to put innovation at the top of its agenda. Days later, marking the new government’s first visit to the Communitech Hub, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested she and her cabinet colleagues will do exactly that. Freeland, accompanied by Small Business and Tourism Minister Bardish Chagger, announced a $50-million program to boost small business exports.
Six days later, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Chagger returned to the Hub for a roundtable discussion with Waterloo Region tech entrepreneurs. And then, just three days after that, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to town to help Google celebrate the launch of its newly expanded Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener. The self-described “geek PM” was unequivocal in his enthusiasm for the Waterloo tech community, and in committing his government to maintaining a strong focus on innovation.
Adherence to that commitment will no doubt be watched closely by many Canadian tech leaders, who have been increasingly vocal about the need for more robust federal policy to support entrepreneurs as they compete in an ever-more-global knowledge economy. Among the most vocal has been Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of Waterloo-based Research In Motion (now BlackBerry), who raised further concerns around how the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will affect Canadian innovators.
Funding and acquisitions
In other news, the Kitchener-based rocketship that is Vidyard continued its ascent with word it had raised a US$35-million Series C investment round, which it will use to scale revenue and double its headcount to 200 in the coming year. In an interview with Communitech News, CEO Michael Litt gave a detailed account of how the round came together, which was instructive on how to go about building relationships with venture capitalists.
Of course, the plunging loonie meant Vidyard’s latest round equalled about $50 million in Canadian funds, a phenomenon that is expected to benefit other Canadian startups as American investors look north for opportunities.
Maluuba, a Waterloo-based machine-learning startup and former Communitech Hub tenant, raised a CAD$9 million Series A round to develop natural-language processing software, and pursue business in the automotive and Internet of Things sectors.
Also in January, Sentinel Alert, a Newfoundland-based software company that won Communitech’s Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp pitch competition last October, closed a seed financing round of $525,000.
On the acquisitions front, French aviation giant Airbus announced it is acquiring Navtech, a flight operations software company headquartered in Waterloo’s David Johnston Research + Technology Park, for an undisclosed sum. Navtech has annual revenues of $42 million and 250 employees in Waterloo and Cardiff, Wales.
Christie, the projection and display technology company whose engineering operations are based in Kitchener, sold one of its lines to U.S.-based Rockwell Collins. Christie’s Matrix line will continue to be built in Kitchener, while Rockwell Collins will provide system engineering, integration, service and support.
Drone maker Aeryon Labs opened a second office down the road from its Waterloo headquarters, to accommodate significant growth following its $60-million funding raise last fall. Meanwhile, police in Sussex and Surrey, UK bought five SkyRanger drones from the company after a successful trial. We also caught up with Aeryon’s Content Marketing Manager, Taylor Jones, to talk about his new role five years after the viral success of his website, Dear Photograph.
Also taking flight is Sortable, which is hiring 20 engineers after seven months of 40-per-cent month-over-month revenue growth as it helps publishers make more money from online ads. In a detailed post on Medium, founder Chris Reid wrote about why he bought his company back after he’d sold it to Rebellion Media in 2012.
Waterloo’s Magnet Forensics, which in five years has grown from a free software program developed by a local cop to a key crime-fighting tool for 3,000 agencies around the world, was the subject of an in-depth Financial Post profile.
BigRoad, whose software has helped bring truckers’ log books into the 21st century, is looking forward to a potential four-fold growth in business this year, and doubling its staff to 70.
Communitech’s first hackathon, held over a weekend in the University of Waterloo’s new Velocity Start space, was not your typical code-to-deadline event. The difference was a focus on B2B applications relevant to large companies like Manulife and Thomson Reuters, who sponsored the event and had boots on the ground throughout.
The weekend kicked off with a Teds Talk – a fireside chat with Kik CEO Ted Livingston and Perk.com’s Ted Hastings – who spoke about why they choose to work in Waterloo Region. And it ended with a winning pitch from Group 536, who created the Myo Muse, an app that changes the tempo of a song to match your running speed.
A home away from home
Growing a tech company requires fuel, and when it comes to landing investment and big customers, Silicon Valley remains the undisputed Mecca for entrepreneurs. With that in mind, the C100, in partnership with Communitech, University of Waterloo Velocity, MaRS and RBC, opened Canada House in San Francisco.
With desks for more than 20, the workspace will provide a landing pad for Canadian startups looking to build relationships with key California contacts.
In other news
- Waterloo-based Intellijoint Surgical received FDA clearance for the latest iteration of its Intellijoint HIP product.
- Eric Peterson, co-founder of Mitra Imaging – the Waterloo company acquired by Agfa in 2002 – was profiled for his philanthropy around marine research on British Columbia’s central coast.