A solid foundation built on a state-of-the-art product that’s stayed in demand throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has helped one of Ottawa’s hottest tech firms weather the virus-fuelled economic storm, its CEO says.
While revenues at Giatec Scientific are now projected to rise at only half the rate he originally forecast at the beginning of fiscal 2020, Pouria Ghods says that will still put the firm well into double-digit growth territory – a level of success many companies can only dream of.
Giatec Scientific, which makes high-tech sensors that test the quality of concrete, has been a fixture on lists of the capital’s fastest-growing companies for the past several years. Ghods, who co-founded the enterprise a decade ago, concedes he was uncertain how the pandemic would affect sales of Giatec’s products.
Although international sales have taken a hit as the construction industry slowed to a crawl in parts of Latin America, South America, India and Europe, Giatec’s revenues in Canada and the United States – which account for about two-thirds of its overall sales – have held steady, Ghods says.
“We’ve been lucky to some extent that the North American market – especially the U.S. market, which is our main market at the moment – was quite active,” he says. “We were worried about the COVID situation, but even with COVID we have seen relatively good success. I give credit to our team.”
Evidence of Giatec’s staying power has been evident throughout the coronavirus outbreak. The 50-person company has hired several employees since the spring and inked new contracts with customers in Alberta, Quebec and Denmark.
The company just announced it’s signed another marquee client – Texas-based Lauren Concrete, which has 23 plants throughout the state and is known as one of the more tech-savvy operators in an industry with a reputation for taking a conservative approach to business.
Ghods says those old-school attitudes are starting to change, however, as contractors look to get projects done more efficiently. Giatec’s solution – wireless sensors that are embedded directly into concrete, allowing engineers and project managers to track metrics such as the material’s temperature and humidity remotely via a mobile app – has become even more appealing in a time of physical distancing, he adds.
“Our value proposition – which is basically making construction projects as a whole faster and also safer – resonated very well,” Ghods says.
Eye-popping revenue growth
The company’s products have now been used in more than 6,000 projects across 80 countries. Named one of OBJ’s fastest-growing companies in 2018 after posting eye-popping three-year revenue growth of more than 450 per cent, Giatec also landed on the 2019 Growth 500 list of Canada’s top-performing firms.
Ghods says the company has benefited from the support of federal government programs and Invest Ottawa as well as the wisdom of key mentors such as veteran tech executive Paul Loucks, who served as Giatec’s CEO for about a year before he stepped down in late 2019.
Loucks, who led Ottawa software firm Halogen for 15 years and was named OBJ’s CEO of the Year in 2013, is still a trusted adviser and executive coach to Ghods, who can’t say enough positive things about the “world-class” talent and solid fundamentals Loucks helped bring to the company.
“He built a great foundation,” Ghods says.
Besides continuing to develop the fourth-generation sensors it hopes to unveil next year, another key priority for Giatec is securing the company’s first major round of private equity. The firm invests nearly a third of its revenues into R&D and wants to keep ramping up its marketing activities as it expands its global footprint – all of which require a never-ending fresh pipeline of capital.
“Without significant investment over the next three to five years, we’re going to have a cash-flow issue,” Ghods says, adding Giatec hopes to have funding in place by next year.