Prospectus: Next-gen tech firms writing new chapter

Fellow founders
From left, Aydin Mirzaee, Sam Cormier-Iijima and Amin Mirzaee are the founders of Fellow Insights, an Ottawa software firm that landed US$24 million in venture capital late last year. File photo

In true Dickensian fashion, Andrew Waitman has a nice summation for 2021 as it pertains to the overall business climate.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” said the CEO of Assent Compliance.

Think of a business community divided, just like the great work of literature.

In one city, you have mainstreet businesses: restaurants, retail boutiques, hair salons, travel agencies, dry cleaners and the like. In the other city are homebuilders, realtors and, more pertinent to this column, technology companies.

While one city suffers, the other booms.

Even in the boom industries, there are questions. For years, many have wondered out loud about Ottawa’s next generation of technology companies.

Yes, Shopify reins supreme. Yes, Kanata still has its swagger with global telecom R&D centres and local flagships such as Kinaxis and Calian Group.

Besides these notable enterprises, who comes next?

Well, that question was partially answered in 2021.

In the latter half of the year – while some of us at OBJ were bemoaning a lack of investment in next-gen local firms – came a venture capital bonanza reminiscent of the turn of the millennium.

Here are some of the recent recipients (all funds in Canadian dollars): Fullscript at $300 million, GaN Systems at $190 million, ThreeKit at $45 million, Knak at $32 million, Fellow at $30 million, Rockport Networks at $62 million and Gadget at $11 million.

Not to be outdone, Waitman’s firm made the biggest splash of all to kick off the new year, raising a whopping $440 million in what’s undoubtedly one of the largest VC deals in Ottawa history.

These deals alone tally more than $1 billion, and by no means is that list exhaustive.

For example, left off that list is Rewind, which alone raised $100 million in 2021. In a recent Techopia Live podcast, co-founder Michael Potter had this to say about the company’s quick one-two punch when fundraising this year:

“We essentially bootstrapped and raised very, very little capital up until that point,” said Potter. “There's just a ton of demand out there. Obviously, we want to take advantage of the growth opportunity that we see in front of us.”

For his part, Waitman believes the goal in Ottawa should be more companies that hit $100 million in annual revenues. 

“We really need to be looking for that level of resilience, where companies go beyond $25 millon and $50 million.”

With hundreds of millions in investment pouring into the city in 2021, Waitman’s goal seems more achievable. 

Let’s not forget the pandemic. What will it mean?

In the past, those companies might have been restrained by a limited pool of local tech talent. 

“We have been very headquarter-centric,” as Waitman put it. With the onset of remote work, it will be fascinating to see how scale-ups recruit from St. John’s to Vancouver to cope with the ongoing labour shortage.

If these next-gen companies stick to their knitting, the investments will flourish into the most stable and diversified technology sector the city has ever known.

This article originally appeared in OBJ's winter newsmagazine: