Ottawa's Fastest Growing Companies: IT certification firm light-years ahead of the competition

Lightship
From left to right, Lightship Security's Jason Lawlor, Brad Proffitt and Greg McLearn. Photo by Mark Holleron

Each year, OBJ recognizes the region’s rapidly growing firms with its Fastest Growing Companies awards. The aim is to honour the city’s top performers for substantial, sustainable and profitable growth. Recipients are ranked by their three-year revenue growth. They must have had revenues of at least $100,000 in the first of those three years under consideration. Revenues must have risen to at least $500,000 in their most recent fiscal year. The companies will be profiled online in the coming days and recognized at a cocktail reception on May 23 at Kanata co-working space Head Office Ottawa. To register for the cocktail, please click here.

The irony in Lightship Security’s back story is not lost on Jason Lawlor.

A few years ago, Lawlor and fellow IT security certification veterans Greg McLearn, Brad Proffitt and Lachlan Turner surveyed the landscape of their industry and realized things needed to change. Customers were growing increasingly frustrated that a sector focused on cutting-edge technology was still operating essentially the same way it had for decades.

“The testing that we do has historically been very manual, very labour-intensive,” says Lawlor. “There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in our little niche industry. We’re like, ‘Hey, guys, this is ripe for some disruption here.’”

In late 2015, Lawlor and his pals launched Lightship Security, an Ottawa-based company that automates the arduous process of verifying that hardware such as switchers and routers meets rigorous government security standards before being sold to governments themselves.

Lightship is one of just five labs in Canada accredited to perform such tests. Lawlor says its product certification software, known as Greenlight, has distilled a process that used to consume as much as a year’s worth of manual labour down to as little as 30 days, thanks to the power of technology.

The market has taken notice. Despite competing against the likes of global tech consulting giant CGI, Lightship has quickly made a name for itself ​– most of its two dozen customers are major publicly traded U.S. corporations such as Dell and Xerox that do millions of dollars’ worth of business with governments in North America every year.

“They can’t sell to these federal agencies until these certifications are done, so time really is money for them,” Lawlor says.

Lightship Security

Year founded: 2015

Local headcount: 13

Three-year revenue growth: 664.33%

2019 ranking: #2

Now at 13 employees, Lightship remains focused on its core business of certification testing. But the firm, which pours about a quarter of its rapidly growing revenues back into research and development, already has its eye on what it sees as a market with even greater potential.

Right now, Lawlor says, Greenlight is simply a tool the company uses to perform a service for clients. By next year, he says, the firm expects to start selling the software directly to clients on a subscription basis, opening the door to what he hopes will be exponential growth.

Still, Lightship’s dramatic rise hasn’t come without a bit of turbulence.

Lawlor says an industry steeped in old-school thinking took a while to come around to the idea of turning the IT certification process over to machines. Governments and big corporate clients want to see a track record of success before buying into disruptive new technology.

“There was certainly some skepticism out of the gate about our ability to actually be able to automate this kind of testing,” he concedes.

“We had to prove that the product did what we actually said it was going to do. They put us through the wringer, which is good. We learned a lot from it.”

The bootstrapped firm has relied on federal IRAP grants and loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada to fuel its growth so far, but will likely pursue venture capital funding soon as it continues to refine its product and chase new customers, he adds.

“It takes a while to get momentum, but momentum begets momentum,” Lawlor says.

“We want to go and capture our fair share of that market.”