Ottawa shines at Startup Canada gala

An Ottawa-based company that uses groundbreaking laser technology to restore sight to people with impaired vision has been named the latest winner of the Startup Canada Innovation Award.

The firm, iBIONICS, was one of two local winners at Startup Canada’s awards ceremony in Toronto late last month. Veteran tech executive Eli Fathi, who is now CEO of analytics firm MindBridge AI, was named winner of the Startup Canada Senior Entrepreneur Award.

They were among 16 companies and individuals honoured at the third annual event sponsored by Startup Canada, a national organization that offers advice and resources to entrepreneurs. 

Earlier this year, the founders of iBIONICS – which is developing a bionic eye system to restore vision in people with retinal degenerative diseases using a diamond retinal implant and laser-beam glasses – told OBJ they believe the business will eventually take in revenues of up to half a billion dollars per year.

The company is currently in the process of optimizing the product’s design and is conducting pre-clinical trials of the surgical technique in Montreal. It hopes to reach the in-human clinical trial stage within 24 months with the goal of bringing a product to market in the next five years.

“The technology is almost perfect,” chief operating officer Michel Pigeon said in an interview last summer. “It has all these beautiful properties, and the technology is really disruptive … If you have something that’s highly differentiated and best-in-class, then you know you have something big.”

Mr. Fathi’s award caps off a momentous couple of months for the serial entrepreneur. In October, the Israeli immigrant who came to Ottawa as a student in the early 1970s received Algonquin College’s Alumni of the Year Award.

Among Mr. Fathi’s many achievements is co-founding survey software startup Fluidware, which grew into a thriving company that employed more than 70 people before it was acquired by California-based SurveyMonkey in 2014.

Yet the tech veteran told OBJ in a recent interview he gets even more satisfaction out of helping young entrepreneurs become successful businesspeople in their own right.

“To me, you cannot have corporate success without giving back,” said Mr. Fathi, who has been a mentor to up-and-coming entrepreneurs at organizations such as Kanata’s L-Spark accelerator.

“If you’re a smart person, it’s very easy for you to shine and to move on. But in many cases, people are smart but you don’t notice them. You have to give them the opportunity. Throughout my career in high tech … the interest that I have is to look at people that other people overlooked for a variety of reasons. It’s the most fulfilling thing when you see somebody excel.”