Last night was no regular Tuesday at Bayview Yards. The city’s innovation hub was party central as some 400 people from the business community celebrated and cheered on our local entrepreneurs during Invest Ottawa’s graduation event.
Honoured were 10 local businesses that have graduated from Invest Ottawa’s flagship IO Accelerator program. Collectively, the companies have created 643 jobs and raised $365 million in capital. They also rank among the fastest growing or best places to work in Ottawa.
Attendees heard how the accelerator program was designed by Invest Ottawa, the city’s lead economic development agency for knowledge-based industries in the capital, as a way of providing more support to Ottawa’s startups.
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“We realized we needed a more dedicated program that would lean in and that would support those companies that had potential to create more jobs,” said Nick Quain, vice president of venture development at Invest Ottawa.
He proudly praised the 10 companies that have graduated into its IO ScaleUp program. “They are amazing people, amazing business leaders. Pound for pound, our founders punch way above their weight class and are absolutely world-class.
“While we provided some support, leaned in where we could, make no bones about it — they were going to be successful, regardless.”
On hand was Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, who spoke highly about entrepreneurs and the work they do to push boundaries, challenge the norm, create a new future and change the world. “That kind of work is happening at Invest Ottawa every single day and these 10 companies are a fantastic example of that,” Sutcliffe said on stage.
The nine alumni were: Rewind, Knak, Relogix, RVezy, GoFor, Noibu, Growcer, Fellow and Spiderwort. The founders did the whole graduation ceremony thing by putting on square tassel caps and walking across the stage. Quain presented the entrepreneurs with the gift of a framed map of Ottawa that included a red heart to indicate where Bayview Yards is located and a rocketship to show the founders where their respective business is.
The audience rose to its feet with warm applause when the wife and two sons of the late Brad Rollo, CEO and co-founder of GoFor, took to the stage. Rollo, 52, passed away in late 2021 from cancer. GoFor is a technology platform enabling the on-demand delivery of construction materials.
“It’s really nice to be invited,” his wife, Melina Craig, told OBJ earlier, at the reception. She briefly shared some of the fond memories she and her boys have of Bayview Yards, such as visiting with Brad over coffee in the café. It’s where he loved to sit out in the open and talk with others, when he wasn’t hard at work. “This is a really special place for us,” she said.
The ceremony culminated with the grand reveal of Trualta as the 10th tech company to graduate from the accelerator program. The online education platform provides health-care training tools for family members who are caring for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Founder and CEO Jonathan Davis spoke openly about his early days as an entrepreneur, trying to make his way in the challenging healthcare IT industry. He participated in a fireside chat with Rewind founder and CEO Mike Potter, who, by the way, is still growing out his hair after having dyed it yellow (ripe mango yellow, to be exact). The bold-hued hair was part of a fundraiser for the Ottawa Food Bank. It raised $12,000. His co-founder and CTO, James Ciesielski, opted to dye his beard the other company colour: electric purple.
Davis said the accelerator program has been “a game-changer” for Trualta. “It really has made a huge difference in our business and in my entrepreneurial journey.”
Growing the business hasn’t been easy, said Davis of all the “windshield time” spent driving around in his car and “pounding the pavement” to meet potential clients, many of whom are south of the border.
The entrepreneur initially bootstrapped his startup and then raised some funding. He now has a team of 37 – although he did have to pause to remember the most up-to-date number. Quipped Potter: “You know the company is growing when the CEO doesn’t know how many employees there are.”
Davis also touched on the research that was done at the University of Florida into the effects of Trualta’s program on caregivers of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The results were “very, very compelling,” he said of findings of improved outcomes, feelings of lower stress experienced by the caregivers, and of them being able to keep their loved ones living at home for longer.
On the topic of company values, he expressed his gratitude for recruiting the right people. “I think one thing we’re lucky about is that, because we are a pretty mission-driven organization, so many of the people on our team recognize that it’s a privilege to be able to help families who are in their toughest moments caring for people.”
The celebration was held in the Bayview Yard’s main event space, the RBC Foundry. It features new mural artwork that’s meant to promote Ottawa in an inclusive environment. The art competition, held last fall by RBC and Invest Ottawa, was won by Akseniia Karpachova, a new immigrant from Ukraine. She sent most of her winnings back home, to support the war against Russia, while using the rest to support her son’s education in the region and to help him pursue his dream of playing in the NHL, the room heard.
“We couldn’t be more proud of the work,” said Michael Tremblay, president and CEO of Invest Ottawa.
Invest Ottawa also announced that night the new name of its co-working space, Studio7.