Waterloo’s startup engine is in hyper drive
This guest blog is part of a monthly series featuring MaRS’ partners across Ontario and their up-and-coming companies.
Given the strong tradition of bootstrapping in Waterloo Region, it’s fitting that the Communitech Hub is housed in a former tannery.
Not only was the sprawling, yellow-brick headquarters of the Lang Tanning Company the largest supplier of shoe leather (and bootstraps, likely) in the British Empire, but it is an apt symbol of what this part of Ontario is and has always been: an industrious community that constantly reinvents itself and punches above its weight.
Through its many programs, services and events, Communitech has become an ever-larger catalyst in this process since being founded as a member-funded non-profit organization in 1997.
That’s when a small but influential group of local technology entrepreneurs gathered around a common cause: to attract top talent and capital to Waterloo Region’s growing technology sector so that we could compete with the world’s best.
Since then, Communitech has been designated a Regional Innovation Centre in partnership with the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, which offers acceleration support for early-stage companies as part of the Ontario Network of Excellence. The Communitech Hub is also a Sector Innovation Centre, a provincial asset for any company interested in commercialization in the digital media space.
So far, the results speak for themselves. Here are some highlights:
- In 2012, our region saw $300 million in venture capital, private equity and angel investment, compared with $7 million in 1997.
- Communitech’s Venture Services Program recently welcomed its thousandth startup client.
- Waterloo Region is now home to about 1,000 technology companies, including more than 450 startups.
- Waterloo was named among the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems by Startup Genome and Telefónica Digital this year.
- Desire2Learn, an e-learning firm that grew to more than 550 employees on its own steam over 13 years of steady growth, raised an $80-million Series A round this year, the largest ever for a Canadian software company.
- In April, Communitech launched HYPERDRIVE, a $30-million-plus startup incubator that offers seed investment, chances to pitch for venture funding and 24 months of mentoring and support.
- In October, we hosted our first Techtoberfest, a startup celebration that drew entrepreneurs, investors and high-profile speakers from across North America.
- The Communitech Hub, a 30,000-square-foot facility where startups, multinationals, academic partners and service providers collaborate to commercialize innovation, expanded to 44,000 square feet this year.
- The hub is now home to more than 70 companies, including startups in our HYPERDRIVE incubator, the Accelerator Program, the University of Waterloo VeloCity Garage and Laurier LaunchPad; large strategic partners such as Research In Motion, OpenText, Christie Digital and Google; and various service providers.
- Communitech’s Peer2Peer Network is Canada’s largest and continues to grow, with more than 30 monthly groups available to employees of our member companies who serve in similar roles or specialties.
Other offerings include the Apps Factory, in which developers build commercially viable applications; Industry and Capital Collision days, which connect promising startups with larger strategic partners and potential investors; numerous networking events throughout the year; and partnering initiatives with larger established companies including Research In Motion, OpenText, Christie Digital, Google and others.
Here are some examples of recent successes among our companies:
Vidyard helps businesses, bloggers and others post videos to their websites simply and effectively. Real-time analytics allow users to monitor their videos’ performances in detail, issue calls to action and syndicate their content, enabling them to convert viewers into customers. Founded in 2011, Vidyard completed the Y Combinator accelerator program and raised $1.65 million in venture funding from a slate of top Silicon Valley investors. Its platform recently surpassed one million plays per day.
Magnet Forensics (formerly JADSoftware) is a great example of the regenerative power of Waterloo Region’s tech ecosystem. The company’s data recovery software was developed in 2009 by Jad Saliba, a local police constable who had previously studied computer science and worked at software giant OpenText. In 2011, Saliba teamed up with Adam Belsher, a seasoned former executive from BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, to market his Internet Evidence Finder program to law enforcement agencies around the world. Revenue-positive and growing quickly since Day 1, Magnet Forensics has been a key factor in numerous high-profile investigations.
BufferBox is a hardware startup founded by a group of University of Waterloo mechatronics students who wanted to solve the persistent and common problem of missed parcel deliveries. Their kiosks allow online shoppers to have their packages delivered to the company’s green and white PIN-activated BufferBoxes, which recently debuted in five GO Transit stations and will appear in 100 Ontario locations by the end of 2013. Based in the Communitech Hub’s VeloCity Garage, BufferBox made a splash in Silicon Valley when it finished Y Combinator’s summer 2012 program and landed on TechCrunch’s Top 10 startups list.
Note: On November 30, BufferBox announced that it has been acquired by Google and will continue developing in Kitchener-Waterloo under the guidance of Google’s headquarters upstairs from the Communitech Hub.
With new companies coming through Communitech’s doors at a rate of more than one each day for more than a year now, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be hearing a lot more about successes like these in the future—and we look forward to telling them.
Interested in hearing more about Communitech? You can reach Anthony at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ajreinhart.
Anthony Reinhart joined Communitech as its staff writer in 2011 after a 23-year career as a print journalist. He held staff reporting positions at the Guelph Tribune, Waterloo Region Record and, most recently, The Globe and Mail. Tony’s writing has won numerous honours, including a National Newspaper Award. See more…