Ottawa's Calian buys Regina-based firm in third acquisition of 2018

Ford
Calian Group CEO Kevin Ford. File photo.

During a speaking engagement at the Brookstreet Hotel last month, Calian boss Kevin Ford casually mentioned he’d taken a tour of Regina the week before.

It turns out Ottawa’s CEO of the Year in 2017 wasn’t visiting Saskatchewan’s capital to marvel at its expansive Prairie vistas.

Instead, Ford was in the Queen City to meet with executives from the newest member of the Calian family ​– Regina-based IntraGrain Technologies, an agritech firm that makes sensors that measure the heat and moisture content of grain storage bins. Calian announced earlier this month it officially bought the Saskatchewan company on Nov. 1, its third acquisition of the year.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

In an interview with OBJ this week, Ford said the latest deal meshes well with Calian’s strategy of diversifying its customer base and service lines through acquisitions. Pointing to a Zion Market Research study that is projecting the global agritech market to expand at a rate of 13 per cent annually through 2025, Ford said IntraGrain is a leader in a fast-growing field.

“We just thought it was the right time to enter the (agritech) market,” he said, adding Calian’s global marketing muscle should help the Prairie firm expand its reach beyond Canada’s borders.

That’s good news for a company that’s already one of the country’s hottest agritech startups. IntraGrain landed at No. 19 on Deloitte’s list of Canada’s 50 fastest-growing technology companies in 2017, posting four-year revenue growth of nearly 1,500 per cent.

IntraGrain, which has a headcount of nearly 40 and annual revenues in the $8-million range, will remain headquartered in Regina. Founder and CEO Kyle Folk will continue as head of its operations, but will also work closely with Ford and the rest of his senior management team to help develop a broader agritech strategy for Calian.

IntraGrain’s employees will now report to Calian’s Saskatoon-based systems engineering division, which is already very familiar with its southern Saskatchewan counterpart – Calian’s engineering plant has been manufacturing components such as sensor boards for IntraGrain for the past five years.

Ford – who cites cultural fit as one of the key elements to the success of any merger or acquisition – said getting to know IntraGrain as a customer made the decision to bring the firm directly into the fold that much easier.

“It gives you a good insight into how the company operates,” he said, adding he liked what he saw in IntraGrain’s “people-focused” approach to doing business. “This is one we knew we can integrate well.”

IntraGrain’s Bin-Sense system uses high-tech sensors to measure temperature and moisture in containers where grain such as wheat and barley is stored. The system sends text or email alerts if there are significant fluctuations that could cause the contents to spoil and also notes changes in the volume of product to warn farmers that grain might have been stolen.

The firm also manufactures a digital locking system that requires users to enter a PIN number in order to turn on farm fuel pumps and tracks fuel usage through a mobile app.

Pat Thera, the president of Calian’s systems engineering division, said the fuel lock technology can be applied in many other sectors, opening up new business opportunities for Calian in industries such as mining, oil and gas and construction.

Thera also said he’s hoping the deal will help Calian establish a foothold in the agritech sector in Saskatchewan, where he said a “cluster” of upstart firms has begun to spring up.

“We feel it’s really important to have subject matter experts in agriculture … in order to make that mark,” he said.

The latest buy continues a busy year of dealing for Calian. Earlier in 2018, the Kanata-based company acquired Ottawa IT firm Secure Technologies and Alberta health-care services provider Priority One.

Ford said Calian is always on the lookout for M&A partners that fit its corporate strategy, telling an OBJ reporter to “stay tuned” for further developments.

“I checked my credit card and I’ve got some limit on it, so we’re good,” he deadpanned, then added on a more serious note: “We still feel we’re well-capitalized to look at (more) acquisitions.”

Before signing off, Ford said he thinks Calian’s place in the market is still not well-understood. The company now has more than 3,000 employees across the country and provides services ranging from health care management to satellite equipment, but its CEO said many Ottawans continue to associate it with its roots as a staffing company.

“I just hope people are starting to realize the innovation that’s happening at Calian,” he said.