BIA study looks at gaps in regional innovation hotspot - pt. 2

By Lucy Screnci

Last month, the Kanata North BIA released a report on the area’s technology ecosystem outlining the sector’s impact on the overall economy. Not surprisingly, the study found that tech is a major driver of growth in Kanata North, directly or indirectly employing 26,000 of the area’s 30,000 workers and generating more than $6 billion in annual economic activity.

The BIA’s study looked at 10 subsectors of the tech industry and assessed their individual impact on the overall ecosystem. TECHOPIA has zeroed in on four of those subsectors, profiling a leading company in each one. Here are TECHOPIA’s subsectors to watch in Kanata North.

SOFTWARE

Roughly 10 per cent of Kanata’s tech workforce is employed in the software sector, which brings in $576.6 million in annual revenues. Not surprisingly, software providers took up the most spots on the Ottawa Business Journal’s roundup of fastest-growing companies last year.

At the top of that list was Martello Technologies, maker of fault and performance management software for unified communications systems.

Founded in 2009, the company has already achieved a number of major milestones, raising $3 million in funding in 2014 and acquiring French software firm Netvitesse the same year. The firm now has nearly 30 employees, 22 of them in Ottawa.

Martello CEO Bruce Linton credits the company’s software-as-a-service model for allowing it to support a high volume of clients. Martello serves 2,000 customers in 18 countries.

Linton believes that software companies are able to flourish in Kanata because of an influx of “people who understand very complicated, technically advanced large systems.

“The resource pool is terrific, there’s many layers of years of experience, so if you want some junior people, some intermediate people and some senior people, they happen to all be here.”

This range of talent will allow the software sector to continue to gain traction, says Linton.

He predicts that software defined networking – “systems that progressively work better because they identify the revolutionary steps that make them work better” – will become a dominant industry in Kanata “because we get how to do big stuff like that.”

Networking in Kanata: Now versus 15 years ago

“I do think that Kanata is actually very interesting to go to social networking events now, because when you ask people what they do, it’s no longer, ‘What part of telecom do you work on?’ It’s, ‘What is your tech company?’ I’m talking to people who are doing aviation systems to people who’ve got gaming applications to people who are trying to figure out the next trend on consumer behaviour.”

— Bruce Linton, Martello Technologies CEO


DEFENCE, SECURITY AND AEROSPACE

The defence and aerospace sector in Kanata employs more than 1,400 people and generates in excess of half a billion dollars in annual revenues.

One of its leaders is Neptec Design Group. Though the previous Conservative government cut funding to Canada’s space program, that hasn’t slowed Neptec’s growth. The producer of elaborate sensors and robotics technologies for the space market has been extremely successful in securing contracts with international space agencies.

Neptec founder and chairman Paul Nephin says Neptec has developed numerous sensors for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, supporting roughly 40 of NASA’s space missions. In addition, Neptec staff have racked up 30,000 hours or more in Mission Control at NASA.

Nephin says the company, which employs about 100 people in Kanata and another 10 in the United States and England, will likely see at least a 30 per cent increase in revenues in 2016, thanks mainly to a rise in exports.

Most recently, Neptec collaborated with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

“We developed a sophisticated metrology system to align X-ray telescopes on orbit,” says Nephin. The technology will allow scientists to better distinguish black holes and other objects that normally appear blurry.

Neptec’s long history has allowed it to refine its proprietary and in-demand technology, which has also been spun off for use in terrestrial applications. Its sister company, Neptec Technologies, builds sensors for the mining and construction industries.

“We’ve been developing the expertise and intellectual property for 25 years,” says Nephin.

That track record keeps Neptec busy. The company is planning to develop a lunar lander sensor for the European Space Agency and to collaborate with the International Space Station on a multi-purpose sensor.

While Nephin is keen to keep expanding the company’s international reach, he looks forward to seeing what plans the federal Liberals have in store to boost support for the aerospace industry.

“We’re hopeful with the new government that they’ll have better insights by making investments in space and be a little bit more progressive in funding the space agency,” he said.

Manufacturing, Engineering, Industrial and Systems Design

With more than 1,100 employees and annual revenues of $343.5 million, this sector boasts a diverse group of companies.

A standout is Pleora Technologies, a provider of video interfaces that has led the way in defining global standards for video delivery over Ethernet.

Founder and CEO George Chamberlain recognized back in 2000 the potential that the Ethernet posed for video networks.

“At that time it was done using proprietary networks, proprietary hardware and software and cabling,” says Pleora president Harry Page. “George Chamberlain saw how broadly deployed the Ethernet was becoming. It was becoming the global standard, and he believed that there was a need to develop technology to take advantage of that.”

Chamberlain’s work informed the basis of the Gigabit Ethernet GigE Vision standard. One hundred and sixty companies from around the world participate in the standards body, and Pleora continues to co-chair the committee that was created in 2003.

The breakthrough made setting up inspection systems much more accessible, Page explains.

“It allowed these video applications to be managed like an Ethernet network, to allow for broadcasting and multicasting, so it’s built on a lot of the advantages that Ethernet had that weren’t available in the old inherent legacy technologies.”

Pleora’s technology was originally developed for factory automatic applications, particularly for the quality control inspection of electronics such as circuit boards.

“It really was kind of the emergence of what we call ‘intelligent imaging,’ so that’s taking in a high-quality image and using that as a basis to make a decision,” says Page, whose company employs 62 people.

The technology is now pervasive, used for inspection systems in the transportation, medical and military sectors, and Pleora’s interfaces can be embedded into existing imaging systems.

The firm has about 120 customers around the globe, Page says. It generates roughly half of its revenue is in North America, with the other half split between Europe, India and the Asia-Pacific region.

In addition to having a strong channel partners in most major countries in Asia, Pleora also provides video interfaces to three-quarters of the world’s top 10 X-ray panel manufacturers.

The company also maintains a strong presence at international conferences and trade shows for embedded technology, photonics and vision.  

— Pleora president Harry Page

CLEAN TECH

Although the clean-tech sector in Kanata is represented by fewer than 100 employees and produces a comparatively small $18.6 million in annual revenues, the sector was singled out for its growth potential in the technology industry study.

One promising company is Clearford Water Systems, which has refined a proprietary water management and sanitation turnkey solution. Its packaged systems are cost-effective and require less maintenance than conventional sewers, according to Clearford president and CEO Kevin Loiselle.

Normally, sewage systems pose various engineering issues. Pipes need to be built at a particular slope and they need to be able to deal with peak usage, while manholes are required to remove blockages caused by trash and other debris, resulting in very high maintenance costs.

Clearford’s technology allows for treatment of sewage right at the source, placing less of a burden on pipe networks and the treatment plant. Treatment facilities are accordingly built smaller and simpler, significantly reducing costs.

Loiselle points out that de-centralized treatment plants make more financial sense for less developed areas.

“These systems for small towns and peri-urban systems make a lot more sense than trying to pipe them to central locations – it’s a 10th of the price in some cases.”

Clearford has also instituted a “pay-for-performance” delivery model whereby it designs, finances, builds and operates the system and customers pay back the company on a monthly basis. Loiselle hopes the model will change the mindset of municipalities and developers looking to replace or install water infrastructure.

“You could get very good high-tech solutions that may appear to be more expensive on the purchase, but when you look at the lifecycle costs of them they’re actually significantly cheaper.”

Clearford One systems have been installed outside of Canada in Peru and Columbia, and a facility was also recently set up in Kemptville. The company, which has 15 employees in Kanata and 50 worldwide, is also installing a system in India this month.

On Kanata recovering from its lull in tech

“I think over the last five years or so, things haven’t been rosy and companies have had it a little tougher in prior years. I have seen some things starting to pick up now … and I think in general the area is starting to boom.”

— Kevin Loiselle, Clearford president and CEO