Canada’s technology sector is best known as the birthplace of BlackBerry, but there’s a lot more happening in the industry than what makes the headlines or is discussed on Twitter. From search-engine optimization and agriculture to augmented reality and news reporting, Canucks from across the country are developing groundbreaking products.
So just who are these innovators? We looked for a broad mix of both veterans and newbies who are doing big – and inspirng – things in the the technology arena. Here are 10 Canadian tech titans making a big splash at home and abroad.
1. Michael De Monte, Co-Founder & CEO, ScribbleLive
Company founded: 2008
Number of employees: 50
Don’t be surprised if the corner of Tecumseth Street and Queen Street West in Toronto gets rechristened Michael De Monte Way one day. After all, it was here that De Monte and colleague Jonathan Keebler would stand after a long workday, hashing out a business idea – one that would eventually be used by many of the largest media organizations worldwide. It took months of street-side chats but, in July 2008, ScribbleLive was born. De Monte and Keebler’s software allows companies to publish updates to their websites in real time. If you’ve ever followed the scrolling, vertical, breaking- news feed on CBS.com, Guardian.co.uk or Macleans.ca, you’re watching the twosome’s product in action.
De Monte and Keebler’s program is quickly changing the way news is report- ed. Their media-rich product allows re- porters to share photos, video and tweets quickly and effortlessly, from wherever they are. But De Monte hopes everyone – not just media companies – will use his product. “It’s really about telling engaging stories,” he says. “We want to be the technology at the forefront of that.”
2. Martin-Luc Archambault, Founder & CEO, Wajam
Company founded: 2009
Number of employees: 45
If it weren’t for a simple Google search, Martin-Luc Archambault’s latest venture might never have come to pass.The Montreal-based entrepreneur had just launched an angel-investing company and needed to look up information about start- up financing. He and his partner both searched online and ended up finding the same links.“We wasted so much time,” he says. That’s when the light bulb went off.
If his Google search could reveal the links his partner had found, then he wouldn’t have to scour the internet himself. Wajam software essentially does just that. Install Wajam on your computer and any link recommended by a friend on Twitter, Face- book or another platform will show up in your preferred search engine’s results.
The 33-year-old Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year Award-winner thinks “social search” is where the world is headed. At some point, he believes, you won’t need to download his software. It will just be part of Google, Amazon,TripAdvisor and other search engines. “This is much bigger than just search.”
3. Brenda Gershkovitch, Co-Founder & CEO, Silicon Sisters Interactive
Company founded: 2010
Number of employees: 9
Brenda Gershkovitch doesn’t mince words when talking about the video- game sector. “It’s an industry dominated by guys who build games they want to play, not games their sisters want to play,” she says. This Vancouver-based entrepreneur is breaking down stereotypes – and creating popular video games in the process.
In 2010, Gershkovitch started Silicon Sisters Interactive, Canada’s first wom- an-owned-and-operated video-game company. She wanted to create video games that women of all ages would like. However, not everyone thought that was a noble calling. “There were people in the industry who thought there was no need to build ‘girl games’,” she says.
Silicon Sisters released its first mobile game, School 26, about a year after launching. Players have to help the main character make friends at her new school. It’s about using empathy and kindness, says Gershkovitch. She expects the game to reach its one-millionth download by year-end.
The company is still in its infancy, but more games – and more broken barriers – are coming. “Ideas of who should be mak- ing games is already changing,” she says.
4. Chris Arsenault, Managing Partner, iNovia Capital
Company founded: 2007
Number of employees: 12
Chris Arsenault could be considered one of the first internet entrepreneurs. When he was 20, back in the early ’90s, he started a company that networked computers together. He then developed a business translating the then-popular Netscape Web browser into different languages, and later sold AOL-like dial-up kits designed to get more people online. After selling one of his companies for about $57 million, he started working with Charles Sirois, one of Canada’s most important tech investors.
It was then that the Montreal- based entrepreneur realized what he really wanted to do with his life: help other companies succeed. So in 2007,Arsenault created iNovia Capital, a $112-million venture-capital fund that invests in internet-focused startups. The companies he’s bought into could become major game-changing tech operations, he says. That’s his hope, at least.
One business, New York’s Lenddo, uses social-media data to help facilitate loans to people living in developing countries. Another firm, LightSpeed, based in Montreal, sells back-office management software unlike anything else on the market.
Arsenault loves the rush that comes with fixing problems and finding new businesses, but he al- so thinks his portfolio is filled with world-leading firms. “Canada will see a few multi-billion tech companies in the next few years,” he says. “We own all but one.”
5. Mike Pascoe, President & CEO, Magor Communications Corp.
Company founded: 2007
Number of employees: 32
Most tech entrepreneurs can only dream of having the sort of career Mike Pascoe has had. In 1992, he was asked by Sir Terry Matthews to run Newbridge Networks, one of Canada’s most successful technology companies. It was sold, in 2000, for $7 billion. Pascoe was also CEO and president of U.S.-based PairGain Technologies, which was purchased by ADC Enterprise Solutions for several billion dollars the same year.
Now part of another Matthews venture, Pascoe is president and CEO of Magor Communications Corp., a firm destined to forever change the video-conferencing industry. The company’s technology allows people to better interact and collaborate via video. Imagine stopping by a colleague’s office to say hello. His products allow people do exactly that, but over video. “We wanted to create an environment where people can work together and see eye to eye,” he says.
What has he learned in his three decades in the business? “To be successful, your technology has to be disruptive,” he says. “And it can’t be duplicated.”
6. Chris Ye, Co-Founder & CEO, Uken Studios INc.
Company founded: 2009
Number of employees: 65
It didn’t take long for Chris Ye to taste success. One week after the Toronto-based game developer created his first program – a Halloween-themed Facebook game – it had already racked up more than one million users.
Not surprisingly, he knew he was onto something. Alongside the game’s co-developer, Ye, 26, quickly founded Uken Studios Inc., a company that began by making Facebook games but is now more focused on the mobile space.
Since 2009, his company has created nine titles that have been used by more than 20 million people around the world. He’s also grown the company from a two-man operation into a 65-person business. While he won’t dis- close revenues, he says Uken is “growing pretty fast.”
Recently handed a FuEL Award for being one of Canada’s best young entrepreneurs, Ye feels he’s just getting started. He thinks he can become a mobile-gaming giant. Based on his track record, there’s no reason to doubt him. “There are opportunities for someone to become a Blizzard- or Electronic Arts-type of company on mobile,” he says. “We’d like to be that company.”
7. Bassil Slim Jones, Co-Founder & Creative Director, Merchlar
Company founded: 2011
Number of employees: 16
Bassil Silim Jones is only 26, but he’s already making waves in the mo- bile community. His company, Montreal-based Merchlar, develops apps with augmented-reality technology, which, say many industry watchers, is the next big thing in the mobile space.
Augmented reality allows a person to look through a smartphone camera and see things in the frame that aren’t really there. For example, hold up your device to a movie poster and the trailer will pop up on your screen. One of his apps allows Maryland University recruits to see videos of the school whenever they place their phone in front of its logo.
Jones, Merchlar’s co-founder and creative director only started the com- pany in 2011, but it’s growing quickly. It generated about $500,000 in revenue last year, but should hit $1 million by the end of 2013. Jones also won a 2012 FuEL Award as one of Canada’s best young entrepreneurs. “We’re just at the beginning of this,” he says. “It’s going to keep growing.”
8. Dan Debow, Senior Vice-President, Work.com
Company founded: 2007
Number of Employees: 45
It’s hard to not be a little jealous of Dan Debow’s success. When he was just 32, he sold his $100 million-a-year, 700-employee public company for a whopping $227 million. He then built another business, which he’s since sold to Salesforce.com, for a hefty sum.
It might be surprising to see someone so young do so well, but Debow admits that he’s more shocked than anyone. “It’s fair to say that I had no idea this would happen in my life,” he says.
Debow is now working at Salesforce.com as the senior vice-president of Work.com, which is the company he sold (formerly called Rypple) to the CRM giant. It’s a Web- based, performance-management system that makes it easy for managers to give employees feedback in real time. Or, as he puts it, it’s the opposite of the yearly performance review.
The company, which has altered the way some businesses evaluate employees, was successful almost out of the gate, with Face- book, LinkedIn and Mozilla as early clients.
For now, Debow is happy to be an employee, but it’s likely he’ll be making his own game-changing software again. “Being an entrepreneur is about solving problems,” he says. “At some point, I’d love to solve more problems.”
9. Krista LaRiviere, Co-Founder & CEO, gShifts Labs
Company founded: 2009
Number of employees: 16
Krista LaRiviere didn’t intend to
become a search-engine-optimization evangelist. Her first company, started in 1999, was a web-design firm. She didn’t know much about SEO back then, but her clients kept asking about it. When she created her second business, a sophisticated content-management system, she incorporated SEO into her product. In 2006, after selling her business, she decided to dedicate her career to under- standing the world of search. “SEO is mysterious, and it’s difficult to prove ROI,” she says. “We needed to fix that.”
As CEO and founder of Barrie-based gShift Labs, LaRiviere’s mission is to change the way people think about SEO. It’s not just about trying to top Google’s ranking, she says. Companies need to continuously monitor keywords and make alterations depending on what people are looking for. Her Web Presence Optimizer software scours the web, including social networks, and collects and analyzes data to find out what search terms people use most frequently.
This information is not only helping companies achieve optimal search results, it’s also helping inform people about the types of things potential customers are looking for.
LaRiviere, whose company grew by 100% in 2012 over 2011, thinks it’s only a matter of time before everyone approaches SEO the way she does. “This is just the beginning of the shift,” she says. “We’ll see some massive changes in the next couple of years.”
10. Wade Barnes, Founder & President, Farmers Edge
Company founded: 2005
Number of employees: 75
When we think of agriculture, most
of us imagine farmers toiling in the fields and driving tractors – not state-of-the-art technology. Wade Barnes hopes to change that perception.
The founder and president of Winnipeg’s Farmers Edge has developed a product that’s slowly revolutionizing the centuries- old agriculture industry. His web-based software uses satellite technology to help pinpoint exactly where in a particular field a crop will grow best, and uses historical data and weather information to predict future yield.
The data, which Barnes says is 95% accurate, allows farmers and agricultural companies to be more efficient planters. Farmers avoid using fertilizer on a section of a field where crops won’t grow, but might add more on a promising area. Companies can become 30% more efficient with his software, he says.
Major companies have started to take no- tice. In March 2012, Barnes signed a deal with Viterra that will allow all of their farmers to use his technology, and he expects more businesses will follow suit. “There’s a lot of pressure from good companies to cut costs and produce more,”he says.“We feel like we’re in a really good position.”