Return to site

Toronto and Canada start-ups (part 2)

The start-up and venture capital community in Toronto and Canada

September 13th, 2019 | by Ray MacDonald

Transformational capabilities driven by new technologies and methods require us in the IT profession to help companies get to new places which have not yet been possible but we must now emphasize speed of execution along with innovation.

A brief comment on this week’s Oracle news. Health comes first and I wish Mark Hurd the best in dealing with his personal situation. Oracle released its results a couple days early this week in order to also announce Mark’s situation. At Oracle Open World next week there will be a lot of talk about the Autonomous Database which is finally becoming a practical reality (it was announced in 2017, some bits of use in 2018, but finally getting some real trials this year).

Seminar September 19th– of particular interest to myself, and thought I’d share it, is a free live online (virtual) seminar on leadership, networking, resume, salary negotiation coming up September 19th from the leadership at VMware. I copied the announcement below...

>>> Please join Pat Gelsinger as he presents The 5 L's of Leadership. As VMware CEO, Pat will share his perspective on what it takes to navigate and lead the digital future in an era of unpredictable, disruptive change. He will examine the increasingly critical role that technologists must play as tech reshapes the competitive landscape in every industry sector.
You do not want to miss Pat Gelsinger's keynote session at the VMUG Virtual September Event! Register and learn more information here. 

A little more this week about the Toronto and Canadian hi-tech start-up and venture capital scene this week (Part II). It is amazing how many of them have roots inOracle Canada(which is how I connect to a lot of them). My expertise in enterprise level technology got a big boost at Oracle when Larry (CEO)wanted to globalize the company. First the sales and consulting practices were globalized, and eventually operations needed to fit and support all that. I was grabbed to help lead the global efforts on the CIO’s team, with a key focus on North America and Europe. As I worked my way into the global organization I had enjoyed working with many good leaders in Oracle Canada.

The Entrepreneurs Fundhas a good investment leader in Ian Locke, who had previously run the Oracle Canada Partner program and afterwards looked after companies for Jefferson Partners. This is a great example of being rooted in Toronto, but working for a San Francisco (San Mateo) venture capital firm "The Entrepreneurs Fund" (among other boards, and his own consulting) investing in both cities etc. A lot of The Entrepreneurs Fund investments are in companies focused on digital marketing combined with machine learning.

Ian had a fun past, his online profilewon’t tell you of his love of sports that had him as a young guy in a white ski suit chasing James Bond in “The Living Daylights”, he's one of the un-credited stuntmen shooting at Bond and his lady friend, though I’m not sure at the skill seeing as they couldn’t catch Bond who was only sliding with his lady interest in a Cello Case.

A brief mention is Jefferson Partners, who are around today, after the rough time in 2008/9 when the markets had their problems, they seem to have found a niche buying failing tech companies to find what IP and/or customers they can salvage or if there’s a profit either by breaking it up, or sometimes funding a recovery. I had interviewed and looked at one of their companies Avotus Corporation during Ian’s Jefferson days. For me only it was an odd situation, they had taken the old Oracle Mississauga offices and data centre which I had built– so I was then being interviewed literally in my old office (all the same furniture, paint etc. they hadn't changed anything – it was odd 10 years after leaving to again be sitting in the very same physical place).

Embotics - A former Oracle president Robert (Bob) Gordon, invested in a start-up in Ottawa. Embotics morphed from simply data centre management toolsets for VMware to cloud broker toolset and now more Cloud automations and tools assistance. The ability to automatically detect then automate and transform existing legacy systems is big business just now. They have a great CEO in Jay Litkey, who’s provided leadership from the beginning.

Syntax (Montreal)- keep your eye on this growth through acquisition company. An old Quebec money firm, Novacap TMT, has been building in a big way. They grabbed the Canadian company Syntax and over a few months of acquisitionshave a good-sized organization with offices in North America, Europe, and doing more in Asia. Their goal is to be an ERP-on-cloud host-er; they provide both their own custom IP created tools along with a professional services group using automated tooling. They want to help companies transform to digital businesses with less IT overhead requirements using their model of hosting core transaction systems in hybrid cloud architectures. Some of their new leadership team comes from past Oracle, but also Sun Microsystems Canada days where Christian Primeau was my boss. He was later a regional executive at Bell Canada and then looked after other start-ups as part of the Novacap group. As Syntax’s new CEO he's a very strategic sales oriented executive, one of the best "listeners" I know. He is a high example of the Jeffrey J. Foxbook on being a Rainmaker. Syntax seem very focused on creating "stickiness" for their current and future customers (i.e. add value, not simply a reseller). Watch this one for combined organic and acquisition growth.

An interesting observation is to see what happens to leaders who stay in the start-up area and move around rather than those like me who went for the large enterprises with the risk of running into complex politics. Last week I mentioned Salim Teja going with the Radial Ventures (founded from the AI focused Layer 6 group) from his role at MaRS. He was one of 3 founders at the I had worked for (Mobshop), mentioned last week. The other 2 co-founders have had just as interesting careers: Jonathan Ehrlich (he and Salim were MBA students from Western) is in San Francisco after stints in Toronto and Vancouver where he's now a partner at "Foundation Capital" investing in both cities. Jonathan is a great marketing strategist. He was in Mumbai in 2008at the Taj Mahal hotel, and had an absolute miracle escape – the gunmen had knocked on his door – the big problem was the hotel (as was typical then) held foreigners' passports at the front desk – the terrorist gunmen grabbed those passports and went to the rooms looking for them, he had gone to bed early and something kept him from opening his door when there was knocking. The other was Jim Rose (Mobshop CEO), today he's CEO in San Francisco for CircleCI; Jim is an American and has co-founded and started about 7 or 8 start-ups. It’s great to watch these 3 founders of a continuing to use skills within today’s start-up community.

The Canadian tech scene is vibrant today, in particular AI and Machine Learning (Deep Learning) are prominent/hot in the news, but even if not directly creating those technologies, many brilliant Canadian small to medium sized tech professional services companies have the opportunity to paradigm shift and support/lead Canadian (and global) companies to reach the new Digital business models. If not already there, these companies must change to a customer centric, marketing disciplined Product Management style of strategic delivery, if they do it early (right now) they can catch a wave coming through and help businesses of all kinds make the change to get and keep profitable customers in the new digital business rapidly changing environment(s).

Next week some commentary for CIOs about “Own Your Data” in the new Digital Business Cloud and services Opex environment(s).