Beyond Shopify: SaaS North aims to raise Canada’s software profile

Year two of SaaS North nearly doubled the exhibitors’ space and inspired a fresh crop of startups, but organizers and attendees say the Ottawa-based conference has a bigger ambition: turning global eyes to Canada’s software industry.

Kanata-based SaaS accelerator L-Spark launched the now-annual conference in 2016. Managing director Leo Lax told Techopia Live that he was surprised when, after bringing up the idea of a SaaS conference in the city during a dinner with roughly a dozen CEOs from some of Ottawa’s biggest software companies, everyone was on board with the idea. It was just a couple weeks later that Lax had the space and dates booked in the Shaw Centre, and he sent a message back to those same local executives.

“We are now fully in. If I have to pay for it, you guys are in as well!”

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The conditions are right for Ottawa to act as focal point for Canadian SaaS, Lax argues. There’s a good mix of small, medium and large SaaS firms in the city – not to mention a global success story in the form of Shopify – they just need a place to converge and share best practices.

“So that the little guys can become the big guys, and the big guys can innovate as quickly as the little guys,” he says.

Among the attendees at this year’s conference was Jean-Francois Marcoux, managing partner with White Star Capital, a VC with international footing in Montreal, London and Paris. White Star’s portfolio of 20 includes Ottawa-based Gymtrack.

Marcoux told Techopia Live that international attention from Asia and the U.K. has recently focused on emerging Ottawa success stories and the artificial intelligence boom in Montreal, with investors into his own fund turning up the heat in recent rounds.

But both Marcoux and Lax say the country needs to go beyond Shopify to prove its global software competitiveness.

“What we need are a few more big outcomes,” Marcoux says.

In his role with L-Spark, Lax says the accelerator is on the right track but he won’t be satisfied until they see a global success. By 2020, he’s hoping his portfolio will have yielded three or four “Shopifys,” companies that put Ottawa, and by extension, Canadian software, on the map.

Transforming startups

SaaS North is just one stop on the journey that Lax is envisioning. Startups from his own portfolio are in attendance, including representatives of the most recent cohort such as EnergyX.

Founder Nishaant Sangaavi dropped by Techopia Live to discuss how the firm has been able to reduce energy consumption in relevant and accessible ways. The company has raised two seed rounds and has signed the entire province of Prince Edward Island onto its solution.

Also joining the show was PageCloud’s Craig Fitzpatrick, who teased a complete redesign of the startup’s web-design platform in the coming weeks.

“Anything that you’ve seen come out PageCloud, to date, we’ve really reinvented it again,” Fitzpatrick says, adding that in this industry, “if you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.”

The local founder was one of many Ottawa speakers onstage at this year’s SaaS North. Klipfolio’s Allan Wille and Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein were among others sharing their entrepreneurial wisdom.

SaaS Academy founder Dan Martell gave a talk on Tuesday about selling through webinars, a strategy he says 99 per cent of companies are doing wrong. He shared his tips with Techopia Live, which he summarized as “the way to sell without feeling sales-y.”

As a speaker, Martell says he sets his ambitions high, and believes that SaaS North is the ideal venue to communicate his message.

“The reason I’m here is because I know how powerful hearing the right message by the right messenger at the right time can (be to) transform a life,” he told Techopia Live.


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