Ottawa’s Ross Video lands record $5M IRAP funding for new product development

Ross
Ross Video CEO David Ross. File photo

David Ross has climbed the Grand Canyon, gone hang-gliding and kayaked among glaciers in Nunavut already this summer, so it’s safe to say the bar for what really gets his adrenaline pumping is set pretty high right now.

But a multimillion-dollar grant from the federal government just might do the trick.

The chief executive of video equipment powerhouse Ross Video was set to welcome officials from the National Research Council to the firm’s Ottawa headquarters on Thursday afternoon, where they’ll formally announce that Ross Video will receive up to $5 million in funding from the NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

The money ​– which will be disbursed over the next three years and must be matched by the company itself ​– will help finance R&D for the next generation of Ross Video products. The firm has received IRAP grants in the past ranging from $50,000 to half a million, but never anywhere near this much.

In fact, no company has ever approached the $5-million mark. Last year, the federal government ramped up funding for the IRAP program to $700 million over five years while boosting the maximum threshold for individual grants from $1 million to $10 million. Thursday’s payout is by far the most cash the NRC has ever doled out in a single IRAP contribution.

“They had never given anything more than a million,” Ross told OBJ Thursday morning, estimating the application process for the latest grant took 18 months from start to finish and required the company to provide detailed information about what it planned to do with the cash.

“They had to figure out what is the due diligence for doing a contribution agreement that is five or 10 times more than they’d ever done before. It was definitely not like previous IRAP processes, and as a result, we really didn’t know whether we were gonna get $10 million or nothing.”

Ross said the company’s solid track record of converting past R&D efforts into viable merchandise worked in its favour.

“We were able to point to every single time that they’d given us smaller amounts of funding, what we had been able to do with that, how it had created jobs, how we had actually grown, how we’d never wasted any money,” he explained. “You could argue that part of the success of Ross Video has been the little extra oomph that the IRAP funding has given us that we’ve been able to turn into sales.”

The Apple of Ottawa

Although Ross, OBJ’s CEO of the Year in 2016, wouldn’t reveal exactly what sort of products the company plans to develop next, he did offer a few broad hints.

“Ross is actually a lot like Apple, where our customers often don’t know what’s coming,” he said. “We are relatively secretive. Every project we have is code-named in the company and there’s a certain amount of need-to-know that happens.

“But we’re not going off in different directions. We make equipment and software for live production and live events. There’s a lot going on in 4K, there’s a lot going on in cloud and there’s a lot going on in new technologies, and the IRAP grant is going to help us in all those areas.”

Ross has never been shy about letting the feds know they need to get better at helping Canadian tech firms compete on the global stage. He says federally funded programs such as IRAP, SR&ED credits and the Strategic Innovation Fund can all play a valuable role in growing startups into mature companies.

“They’re able to pick winners and do it in a methodical manner and give enough money to make a difference,” he said. 

“Obviously because we’ve received some money, I think they’ve been making some fantastic choices,” he added with a chuckle.

Iroquois expansion plans

Meanwhile, Ross was fired up about some other big news on Thursday: he’d just had a peek at the architectural drawings of the firm’s upcoming expansion to its manufacturing plant in Iroquois. The company plans to double the size of its current facilities that now employ about 200 workers in the community on the St. Lawrence River and hopes to break ground on construction next year.

The IRAP funding and pending expansion are just two more signs that Ross Video’s momentum is showing no signs of abating.

The company – which is riding a streak of 27 consecutive years of revenue growth – is on a hiring tear after acquiring two more competitors in the past nine months. Its worldwide workforce is now closing in on 800 people, up nearly 100 since the start of the year, with 42 positions currently vacant.  

All in all, it’s making this summer one for the books, and the CEO couldn’t be happier.

“We’ve been buying up land all over Iroquois to make all this (expansion) fit,” Ross said. “This is part of our optimism for the future of Ross Video, what the IRAP grant is doing and how it’s going to create not just tech jobs, but manufacturing jobs in Ontario.

“It’s to the point where manufacturing is saying, ‘Don’t give us any new products, because we don’t know where to build them,’” he added, laughing. “We’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the space for all the things we need to do and all the companies we want to buy in the future. These are all good problems to have.”