Surf’s up

A decade ago, a fresh wave of startup activity began to rise on the tech horizon. As the world shook off the 2008 financial crisis and capital began to flow again, the internet became a blue ocean of opportunity, thanks to the ascent of smartphones, cloud computing, smart devices and the on-demand economy.

A new generation of founders stepped up to catch the wave, and now, the results are coming ashore in the form of ever larger investments in high-potential companies, including many in Waterloo Region and across Canada.

November was no exception, and by the middle of the month, founders of Communitech member companies had raised north of $2.7 billion in venture capital in 2021 alone – more than they raised during the entire 2010-20 period preceding it. Nationally, venture capital hit an all-time single-year high of $11.8 billion after just three quarters, according to the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.

Topping the charts locally last month was Faire, the online wholesale marketplace for independent retailers. The company, co-founded and launched jointly in Waterloo Region and San Francisco in 2017, announced a US$400-million Series G round at a valuation of US$12.4 billion. The raise means further growth for Faire’s team of 700, 250 of whom are based in Canada.

November also saw a pair of $12-million raises – one in Canadian funds, the other in U.S. dollars.

EnPowered, whose platform makes it easier for companies to adopt energy-saving cleantech solutions, announced a CDN$12-million seed round as world leaders were convening at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland.

Meanwhile, online tech sales academy Uvaro closed a US$12-million Series A round as demand for qualified sales talent continues to surge throughout the tech industry.

In other investment news, edtech platform D2L officially began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Nov. 3 after raising $150 million in an initial public offering.

At the early-stage end of the spectrum, Assel Beglinova and Vadim Lidich, co-founders of Paperstack, shared with Tech News the story behind their fintech startup, which recently secured $250,000 in angel funding and placements in three sought-after programs for founders.

And bidmii, a platform that connects homeowners with reliable contractors, raised $1 million in pre-seed investment led by HGTV host Scott MacGillivray.

On the acquisitions front, Waterloo Region’s already large footprint in cybersecurity grew another size in November when enterprise information management giant OpenText announced plans to buy Zix, an email encryption firm based in Dallas, for US$860 million.

And fast-growing Roadmunk, a product roadmapping software startup that launched in Communitech’s former Hyperdrive accelerator nearly a decade ago, announced an agreement to join Tempo Software, headquartered in Boston. Roadmunk co-founder Latif Nanji credited the company’s involvement with Communitech for helping set it up for success, saying, “They’re not just your cheerleaders; they’re your coaches, they’re your physiotherapists, they’re your strength-training coaches. They are the full-service gym you go to when you need to get your body in shape for a startup . . . and having that motivation of the community behind your back at all times is how you build entrepreneurial Olympians.”

Fast 50

When it comes to the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 roster of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies, Roadmunk scored a three-peat when this year’s edition of the list surfaced in November (subscription required). It landed in the 45th spot, along with local firms ApplyBoard (seventh), Auvik Networks (36th), Rapid Novor (39th) and Bonfire (41st).

Speaking of ApplyBoard, a platform for international students to apply to post-secondary institutions, the company’s rapid growth has it running to keep up with talent demands, the Waterloo Region Record reported. The company, valued at more than CDN$4 billion after its latest raise in June, aims to add 300 employees to its staff of 1,500, about half of whom are based in Waterloo Region.

In a column published by the Torstar news service, ApplyBoard CEO Martin Basiri pointed out that Canada itself is facing an acute shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) talent as the baby boom generation leaves the workforce, a gap that international students can help fill.

Tech for good, good for tech

Talent, talent and talent are the top issues facing founders across Canada, a point Communitech CEO Chris Albinson made on several occasions throughout November, including in a chat with Accelerator Centre CEO Jay Krishnan and on a podcast with BetaKit’s Douglas Soltys.

Then, in a panel discussion called Spoiler Alert: Canadian Tech is Winning, hosted by Communitech and CityAge, Albinson made the case for meeting the talent challenge by leveraging Canada’s global reputation for trust to attract the world’s best and brightest.

Among specific steps Communitech is taking to help ease the talent crunch is its Outposts program, which helps Canadian companies to employ international talent no matter where in the world they happen to live, by handling compliance issues and cutting red tape.

Meanwhile, a Communitech Hyperdrive graduate, Plum, was enlisted by Scotiabank to help take a bold step towards diversifying its talent pool – by getting rid of resumés as a requirement for job applicants from its campus hiring program.

And OpenText – whose CEO Mark Barrenechea, as we’ve previously reported, has been a strong voice in advocating for greater corporate social responsibility – announced a sweeping new initiative called OpenText Zero, to remove barriers to diversity, eliminate waste and cut emissions from operations to net-zero by 2040.

Further on the tech-for-good front, Agilicus, a local startup led by Sandvine alumnus Don Bowman, has built technology that secures corporate networks against vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic-induced increase in employees logging in from home or other remote locations (subscription required).

Beyond the surly bonds of Earth, Kitchener-based Clearpath Robotics – which became the world’s first robotics company to sign on to the international Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in 2014 – is making Canadian history again. The company has been tapped to help develop systems to drive the robotic lunar rover on a mission to the moon in 2026, columnist Alex Kinsella reported.

Back here on the ground, Kinsella told readers how Communitech offered a boost to future roboticists with a donation of computer and networking hardware to the First Robotics team at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School in Cambridge.

In another column, Kinsella brought us the story of tiptap, whose touchless, cashless NFC terminals make it easy for donors to make quick donations to charities.

The University of Waterloo’s Critical Media Lab launched its Critical Tech Talk series, with support from Communitech. It hosted a virtual session led by Nicole Aschoff, a sociologist and author with a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, who spoke about the need for humans to take control of their digital future.

Meanwhile, from the good-for-tech file: A perennial challenge faced by Canadian companies is the difficulty in selling their products to governments and other public institutions, which can provide key validation and revenue to those with global ambitions. That issue was front and centre when Waterloo Region tech leaders met at Communitech with Kaleed Rasheed, Ontario’s Associate Minister for Digital Government, for a frank roundtable discussion. 

In other news

This edition of the Roundup compiled by Anthony Reinhart. Sign up to receive the Roundup each month by visiting and scrolling to the bottom of the page.