Under the Radar
Of the many Waterloo Region startups to make news in recent years, TextNow (formerly Enflick) has scarcely been among them, owing largely to the low-key approach of its CEO and co-founder, Derek Ting. As others have trumpeted funding rounds, key hires and office openings, Ting has been quietly building his low-cost mobile phone offering into a high-growth business with 50 million users, 75 employees and big opportunities ahead.
The TextNow story, our most-viewed post on Communitech News since we launched in September 2014, seems to fit the broader narrative of a tech community that has traditionally punched above its weight but below the radar, with a few exceptions. Leaders have been looking to change that narrative – which caught the attention of BNN’s The Disruptors last month – by building a globally competitive innovation region anchored by Waterloo Region and Toronto.
Touting the corridor
To that end, Toronto Mayor John Tory, along with the mayors of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge, are headed to Silicon Valley this week, where they will pitch the virtues of the Toronto-Waterloo Region Innovation Corridor to venture capitalists, U.S. tech companies and Canadian expats. Tory, who recently spent an entire day in Waterloo Region meeting with tech leaders and touring facilities, said it’s time to raise the profile of what he called “the undisputed centre of Canada’s knowledge-based economy.”
While the wisdom of Canadians “sucking up” to foreign tech companies was questioned in a Macleans article in February, Lars Leckie, a Canadian venture capitalist based in San Francisco, penned a lengthy rebuttal, arguing that Canada’s tech ecosystem can only benefit from the experience, winning culture and investment that world-leading companies like Google bring to the table when they open offices here.
Whatever form the corridor takes, its builders can’t presume to copy Silicon Valley, though they can learn from the factors that made the Valley the world’s pre-eminent innovation region. These were among key points made by design expert Barry Katz, a professor at Stanford University and the California College of the Arts, who delivered a talk and learning sessions at Communitech last month. We sat down with Katz for an in-depth podcast interview.
Of course, talent – its creation, retention and attraction – will be critical to building the corridor. As the mayors prepared to visit the Valley, talent-hungry Waterloo Region startup Sortable raised the spectre of a Donald Trump presidency in making a pitch to American developers and Canadian expats.
Cheeky as that pitch was, it points to the need for a more streamlined immigration process to allow high-growth Canadian companies to hire top talent from abroad, as highlighted by the Globe and Mail.
Closer to home, Communitech hosted another successful After School event, aimed at exposing post-secondary students from across southern Ontario to opportunities in the tech sector once they graduate.
Meanwhile, Vidyard, the high-growth video marketing-intelligence platform, reached south of the border to hire Steve Johnson as its new President and Chief Operations Officer. Johnson, based in Maine, most recently served as Chief Revenue Officer for Vancouver-based Hootsuite, where he helped scale the social media platform from 27 to 800 employees. As it aims for similar scale, Vidyard was featured on BNN’s The Disruptors last month.
March found several of Vidyard’s fellow growth-stage companies making headlines, including Clearpath Robotics, which took the wraps off its OTTO 100 autonomous warehouse vehicle, and named Tesla Motors co-founder Marc Tarpenning to its advisory board.
The Globe and Mail took a look at Kik’s drive to compete with its larger rivals by building its platform far beyond mere messaging, while the Toronto Star profiled Kik CEO Ted Livingston.
Jad Saliba, the ex-cop who founded Magnet Forensics and serves as its Chief Technology Officer, was the subject of a lengthy Globe and Mail profile. Magnet’s software is now used by close to 3,000 agencies in 90 countries, and has been deployed in high-profile cases around the world.
Maluuba has opened a machine-learning lab in Montreal to augment its Waterloo-based operations.
On a solid growth trajectory is MappedIn, the indoor wayfinding company and University of Waterloo Velocity alum, which reported 500 per cent sales growth for 2015. The company employs 24 people and is doing business with nine of the 10 largest malls in Canada, with a U.S. deal soon to be announced.
Aterlo Networks, founded by three former Sandvine employees, raised $1 million to continue building its solution for broadband customers who have difficulty streaming high-definition video.
Fundmetric, a Halifax startup that graduated from the Communitech Hub-based Google for Entrepreneurs program, is setting up a U.S. sales office after becoming one of the first two companies to take advantage of Communitech NYC, a new landing pad in New York for Canadian startups.
Speaking of Halifax, its Volta Labs accelerator has hired Waterloo’s Jesse Rodgers as its next CEO. Rodgers was founding director of UW Velocity and the Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab in Toronto, co-founded TribeHR (since acquired by NetSuite) and most recently served as VP of Business Development at Waterloo-based Boltmade.
Following on the heels of NetSuite’s efforts to connect with people facing income challenges in Waterloo Region, employees at Vidyard launched Plugin, a monthly series of charitable social gatherings for young professionals.
Meanwhile, a local tech leader anonymously pledged $50,000 – and issued a challenge to other tech leaders to match it – in support of The Working Centre’s $1 million fundraising drive to build affordable housing in downtown Kitchener.
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