The Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame has honoured six influential founders who have contributed significantly to the tech ecosystem over the past three decades.
This year’s inductees – known as “laureates” – include the five co-founders of Sandvine and serial entrepreneur Joseph Fung.
The six tech leaders were honoured this week by Junior Achievement of South Western Ontario, which has sponsored the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame awards since 2015.
The Hall of Fame “celebrates local business founders who have made a positive, lasting impact in our community,” according to Junior Achievement.
This year’s laureates have demonstrated “incredible vision” and “strong leadership” within multiple organizations, said Karen Gallant, President and CEO of Junior Achievement of South Western Ontario. Moreover, “a common thread for all of the inductees was their mentorship of others within the community – helping to raise those within and outside of their organizations to success.”
When he thinks back to the creation of Sandvine more than 20 years ago, Dave Caputo points to one fateful phone call. He had just told more than 200 employees of PixStream, which specialized in the delivery of video over phone lines, that they were losing their jobs. The Waterloo startup had been acquired by internet equipment giant Cisco just four months earlier for a whopping CDN$554 million. But as the air went out of the internet bubble in 2001, Cisco decided to pull the plug on PixStream.
“We were all thinking we were going to take some time off,” Caputo recalls.
Then his phone rang. It was Terry Matthews, founder of Mitel and Newbridge Networks, who, along with several partners, had invested more than $20 million in PixStream. In a scene that has gone down in local tech lore, Matthews demanded to know what Caputo was going to do next.
The shell-shocked PixStream executive protested that he had just fired 200 people and needed time to recover. Matthews shot back, “Well, you’ve got their (expletive) phone numbers don’t you?”
Matthews challenged Caputo to a launch a new startup with PixStream staff. To back up his challenge, he said he was willing to invest $10 million in whatever new venture Caputo came up with.
The timing of the seed capital, later bumped up to $20 million, proved to be critical. Sandvine, as the new company was called, launched just days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, an event that shook the world and shut down the venture capital industry for the next year.
The initial funding for Sandvine was based on the team rather than the product idea. The five founders were all PixStream alumni: Caputo, Don Bowman, Tom Donnelly, Marc Morin and Brad Siim. They wanted to create something similar to PixStream’s product line, but weren’t sure what. In the end, they chose value-added services for carriers and internet service providers.
Over the next 16 years, Waterloo-based Sandvine would go on to become a world leader in providing intelligent networks for internet carriers. Its hardware and software was deployed in more than 100 countries and used by hundreds of millions subscribers.
“We were relevant wherever the internet flowed and that was everywhere,” says Caputo.
In 2006, Sandvine completed an initial public offering on the London AIM stock exchange. Later that year, it listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
By 2017, the company had reached the point where it needed more growth capital to move up to the next level. The controlling shareholders opted to sell Sandvine to Francisco Partners, a Silicon Valley private equity firm.
The sale prompted the five co-founders to move on to other things. Morin, who had left in 2007, went on to start Auvik, a network management company. Caputo launched Trusscore, a sustainable building materials firm; Bowman founded a cloud security company called Agilicus; and Donnelly spent time at D2L. Siim is enjoying retirement.
As Caputo thinks back on the history of the company, one of the highlights was securing its first customer – Cablevision, in New York City – just as broadband internet was taking off. At the time, there were 600 million dial-up subscribers but less than 20 million broadband subscribers on the planet. “It was a different time but we were always building our company for broadband on the belief it would come.”
As well as their business achievements, the five Sandvine co-founders have all made contributions to the local community. Caputo, for example, has been active on the Communitech board for years, and he helped start Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region, a non-profit that links those with the means to give to community organizations that need funding.
For Caputo, the induction into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame is a welcome tribute. “I’m super-excited to be included in there, and really happy for all the guys more than anything. Very proud to be going in with the Sandvine guys.”
Joseph Fung is humbled and somewhat surprised to be inducted into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, especially since he is just 42 years old.
“I still have a lot of work left to do,” he says, adding that the honour is an incentive to do more. “They are putting ambitious goalposts out for me.”
The entrepreneurial spirit has coursed through Fung’s veins for years. Before he finished his engineering degree at the University of Waterloo, he started his first company. Since then, he has launched five more – the latest being Uvaro, an online learning platform that trains clients for careers in tech sales.
Fung stresses that he has never launched a company alone. There was always a co-founder or two to help along the way. His sister, Donna Litt, helped him to start Uvaro and his two previous businesses, Kiite and TribeHR. Derek Hall has also been a frequent partner in enterprise creation.
Fung traces his love for entrepreneurship to his parents. His father ran a mechanical contracting business while his mother had her own financial planning firm. “They were always very entrepreneurial. I got to see the ups and downs they went through.”
If there’s a common thread running through Fung’s career, it’s been a focus on the people side of business. “If you build really great places to work, people will do their best work.”
Yet he has also shown a knack for innovation. TribeHR, for example, created one of the first social-media HR platforms. Employee profiles resembled Facebook pages.
Kiite, launched in 2017, created a chat platform based on AI to answer questions for sales teams. Asked about his early use of AI, Fung notes that businesses have been using artificial intelligence for years. The current focus on generative AI platforms such as ChatGPT is part of an evolving technology that’s been in use for some time.
He views entrepreneurship as a chance to try new forms of technology. “Anytime you found a company, it’s an opportunity to build on the shoulders of others.”
Fung says he has learned from each of his startups and used those lessons in subsequent launches. “As you get success under you, it makes it easier to seek more ambitious goals.”
Uvaro, with a workforce of about 60 people, is his first foray into the business-to-consumer sector. His previous startups were business-to-business companies. “A lot of the fundamentals are the same, but it’s so rewarding and energizing to see the impact on the individual.”
A keen community builder, Fung is active in a number of charitable endeavours and is a longtime member of the Communitech board.
Encouraging employees to volunteer and do charitable work has always been a big part of his work philosophy. Clothing and food drives are held regularly and staff are given paid volunteer time. “If we want a successful country, we have to build the next generation of donors,” he says. “The best way to do that is to normalize that behaviour.”
Uvaro has established an endowment with the Waterloo Region Community Foundation and participates in a program to donate one per cent of earnings to charity through the Upside Foundation.