Ottawa tech firms to watch 2019: Hardware’s comeback

Loucks Giatec
Paul Loucks, CEO of Ottawa's Giatec Scientific. Photo by Mark Holleron.

Techopia’s annual tech-firms-to-watch list is about more than high-potential startups. It covers rising industries, disruptive technologies and risky moves from Ottawa’s established tech players.

Last year’s list reflected the hype surrounding emerging technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence with four companies firmly rooted in the software space: Martello Technologies, MindBridge AI, Leonovus and Solink all proved to Ottawa why 2018 was their year.

At first glance, the six firms on this year’s list may seem like a throwback to the golden years of Ottawa’s telecom industry, when the city made its name on the back of hardware leaders such as Nortel Networks.

In fact, a decade after Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection, Ottawa’s tech sector is seeing a resurgence in the physical industries – some from the ashes of Nortel itself. The city’s expertise in legacy telecom systems has opened up opportunities to develop the next-generation of fibre-optic connectivity solutions.

Then there’s the Internet of Things sector, which combines Ottawa’s emerging expertise in embedded software applications with the development of physical end-devices – Walter Knitl, principal consultant at Praxiem, wrote for Techopia last year that the capital was building a “world-class” IoT ecosystem.

Meanwhile, universities and accelerators alike have embraced “maker culture” and have invested in new prototyping and research labs. Though software startups were long in vogue thanks to the ease of scalability and low barrier to entry, the time has never been better to launch a hardware startup in Ottawa.

Techopia has compiled a list of six Ottawa tech firms that we believe will make a hard impact in 2019.

Giatec Scientific

There’s no industry more physical than concrete, and Giatec Scientific has become one of Ottawa’s fastest-growing companies by disrupting the sector’s foundations through its embedded sensors. Giatec’s devices can communicate with a project manager’s smartphone to relay real-time data about a concrete installation’s structural integrity.

Though the 40-person firm has been growing at an impressive clip on its own as of late, it’s the addition of Ottawa tech veteran Paul Loucks that has us the most intrigued. Loucks took over the CEO role from co-founder Aali Alizadeh in late 2018, stepping back into the limelight for the first time since departing Ottawa’s Halogen Software in 2015.

Named OBJ’s CEO of the Year in 2013, Loucks earned acclaim for his decade and a half of work at Halogen, during which he brought the HR management software firm from obscurity to publicly traded powerhouse.

While the new chief may have made his name in software, he told OBJ he’s “super excited” to dig into IoT, adding that certain business fundamentals such as decision-making speed carry over between sectors. Loucks also left the door open to raising Giatec’s first round of venture capital.

Clearford Water Systems

Perhaps the most established company on this list, Clearford Water Systems is worth watching in 2019 to see if its gambit to become a full-service water and wastewater utility service provider pays off.

Cleantech firm Clearford has a 30-year history in Ottawa that even saw Canopy Growth co-CEO Bruce Linton take the reins at the water treatment company for a while. Despite inroads in India, Clearford has struggled in recent years, pushing the firm’s current management to embark on a turnaround strategy centred around mergers and acquisitions.

In short, Clearford’s goal is to become a full-suite water and wastewater management systems provider for municipalities and private developers. It’s been building out its services portfolio since mid-2017, acquiring Ontario-based companies as part of its aggressive M&A play. The firm has seen some success locally, landing a contract to provide wastewater services to Amazon’s massive new distribution facility on Boundary Road.

While its efforts have indeed yielded revenue growth in recent quarters, deeper net losses are also sinking the company’s bottom line. Investors have so far been underwhelmed, with Clearford’s shares losing some two-thirds of their value over the course of 2018.

In Clearford’s most recent quarterly earnings report, however, CEO Kevin Loiselle said that the company has “turned a corner” and “significant revenue growth” is expected to start in 2019. This coming year may be the one that determines whether Clearford sinks or swims under its new business model.

Hamid Arabzadeh
Hamid Arabzadeh, CEO of Ranovus. File photo.

Ranovus

Ranovus ended 2018 with $20 million in fresh financing from the federal government and plans to put 10 times that amount back into its own research and development in an attempt to dominate the data transfer market.

The 50-person firm, which has raised nearly $60 million in financing to date, develops a fibre-optic cable that it purports can transfer data at speeds tenfold today’s standards, but at one-tenth the cost and energy demands. The firm’s backers include the likes of OMERS Ventures and the Business Development Bank of Canada, and Ranovus has worked with some of the biggest data centre service providers in the world such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft.

Ranovus CEO and ex-Nortel engineer Hamid Arabzadeh told OBJ the company plans to pour $200 million into R&D over the next decade, including moving into a brand-new development facility in Ottawa next year. If everything goes according to plan, the company could add up to 500 jobs in the coming years.

On top of all that, an independent research institute run out of the University of Toronto named Ranovus to its 2018 “Narwhal” list of Canada’s most financially attractive firms – those expected to hit a valuation of $1 billion.

InGenius Software

The sole software entry on this year’s list, InGenius Software’s tech remains tied to a highly traditional industry: call centres.

Working with clients such as Gap and Expedia, InGenius’s application plugs existing phone systems into CRMs such as Salesforce. Its tech allows salespeople to start a call with a more fulsome profile of the person on the other end of the line, raising the odds of a successful sale.

Dale Gantous
InGenius Software CEO Dale Gantous. Photo by Mark Holleron.

Though the decades-old company began as a professional services firm focused on Nortel, CEO Dale Gantous told Techopia Live last year that a bet on its own software meshed well with the firm’s “high tech blood.” That software would go on to win the West Ottawa Board of Trade’s technology award in 2018.

The Kanata-based firm is growing quickly – from just under 20 people in 2012 to 65 today – and is taking over Calian Group’s old offices at 340 Legget Dr. We’re looking forward to seeing how far InGenius can grow from its telecom roots.

Corsa Technology

A pivot into the booming field of cybersecurity led Corsa Technology to a new line of products and series-C round of $9 million last year.

The Ottawa firm develops a pizza box-like solution that plugs into a server network to alert the proprietor of any potential cyber attacks and can shut down infiltration attempts on the spot. CEO Bruce Gregory told OBJ in 2018 that cybersecurity has a much bigger revenue upside and faster time to market than Corsa’s previous focus on software-defined networking.

Though just 30 employees strong in mid-2018, Gregory added that Corsa is engaged in a “full-on press” for marketing and sales hires and that engineering talent in Ottawa is second to none.

Corsa is on course to be cash-flow positive by the end of 2019, making this coming year the one to watch for this emerging cyber player.

AirShare
AirShare co-founders Shanaz Sigouin (left) and Rick Whittaker. Photo by Mark Holleron.

AirShare

Ottawa startup AirShare arose from the fears of pilot Rick Whittaker, who told Techopia in 2018 that the idea of a drone gliding into his airspace and gumming up his engines terrified him.

With a little help from the folks at MadeMill – Bayview Yards’ on-site prototyping lab – Whittaker developed a 3D-printed guided missile that could get close enough to a drone to neutralize it with a cloud of latex. A parachute then collects all the debris and delivers it safely to the ground.

Apart from being a very cool visual, the AirShare technology has garnered the interest of the Canadian military and private industry players. Whittaker mentioned an unnamed pop star’s team approaching AirShare about disabling drones that were illegally recording concerts from above stadiums.

In the fall of 2018 the Department of National Defence awarded AirShare a pair of contracts worth more than $1 million in total for further R&D. Also a member of Invest Ottawa’s accelerator program, AirShare may be set up to reach new heights in 2019.

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