ATTRACTING THE WORST KIND OF PREDATOR: Magnet Forensics is on the cyber-hunt for clues to stop crooks and creeps
ATTRACTING THE WORST KIND OF PREDATOR: Magnet Forensics is on the cyber-hunt for clues to stop crooks and creeps
THE CHALLENGE: Why VC funding may not be right for your business
TitanFile Inc. may yet be a giant. Co-founded by Tony Abou-Assaleh in 2011, the company offers secure file-sharing that helps groups to collaborate.
Law firms are among its target customers. In addition to communicating with their clients, lawyers need to negotiate contracts with other parties, which may have their own legal counsel, says Dr. Abou-Assaleh, who is the company’s chief executive officer. “Suddenly you have several people involved in here are revisions and comments going back and forth. That’s really the kind of communication that we want to facilitate.”
TitanFile offers what he calls “transparent security” for clients who are typically not very technical: “We take all these mental overheads out of the equation by automating all that.”
TitanFile recently hired a sales and marketing team, and Dr. Abou-Assaleh says the company is on track to reach $1-million in sales within nine to 12 months. The three-year goal is $10-million.
So far, the 10-employee company, which has offices in Waterloo, Ont., and Halifax, has grown through investments as it built its product. It started out with $250,000 from Halifax-based venture capital firm Innovacorp. Last October it announced a package of $1.1-million in financing from Innovacorp, members of Halifax’s First Angel Network and government sources.
Growth won’t come cheap for TitanFile, whose clients range from financial services firms to municipal and state governments. The company expects to retain each customer for more than three years, but acquiring them means high upfront costs. The sales cycle typically lasts six to 12 months; besides sales and marketing staff, expenses include online advertising, marketing and industry events. This puts a strain on cash flow and TitanFile’s ability to scale and grow quickly, Dr. Abou-Assaleh explains.
While he is confident in a long-term payoff, he can’t decide whether to grow through revenue or pursue another round of financing. “The revenue that comes in, it comes in trickles, and you need to spend more to grow fast enough,” Dr. Abou-Assaleh says. “On the other hand, if you get investment when you don’t really need it, you may be giving away equity and doing a disservice to existing shareholders.”
He has other concerns as well. A company must be on a strong growth trajectory before venture capitalists will put up Series A financing. Dr. Abou-Assaleh wonders, “If we do have high growth, then do we really need that VC money?”
Also, he knows that fundraising is a full-time job. “If I am out there trying to raise a round, it will take about six months of my time doing nothing else but that,” he says, unsure that now is the right moment. “If we are on a good trajectory and things are doing well, would this distraction compromise our growth, at least in the short term?”
The Challenge: Should TitanFile spend the time and energy seeking another round of financing or try to grow by revenue alone?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Eugene Bomba, senior manager and Canadian emerging-company services leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Toronto
There are other forms of potential financing that are available to a startup with traction. You might consider mezzanine-type debt or sub-debt, where it could be a balloon repayment at the end of a two-year term and paying interest at 13 per cent or 15 per cent or something along those lines. It might not be the most ideal, but you can still get a heavy amount of cash up front.
At this point, why not have a lead person in a finance role? With the number of investors you’re dealing with already, should you be leaning more on your chief financial officer, who should be doing more in a market-facing role? Or you could technically outsource that deal to someone else to task them with doing the financing and paying them on a contingency.
You could offer the job to someone who’s a really good strategic CFO or COO type who could run with the responsibilities. It costs maybe a little bit of equity and a little bit of salary to bring that person in, but that person could be someone who has a whole lot of other contacts in the financing space as well. And bringing that person on board could also be a good signal to the market to say, “Wow, they just landed an A-plus player who has some experience already.”
Marc Elrick, principal, Critical Path Group, Calgary
Really it should come down to speed-to-market. To execute on their growth strategy and build their installed base of clients, that’s going to cost money. They’re going to need to hire a sales force, expand their sales force. They’re going to need some dry powder to get that done.
If they can work with an existing group of private equity investors and get the growth capital they need quickly, and move faster, that may have an impact on how they do in the long run. Because it’s a competitive space, and if a competitor has a war chest that they can use to fuel their growth, and TitanFile doesn’t, it’s not going to be much of a race.
What you want to do is take a look at the long-term cost of capital. Bringing on more equity sooner – having that war chest to fuel your company’s growth – does something pretty significant. It gets the financing monkey off your back. Because most startup, early-stage CEOs or founders are double-hatted. They’re trying to build their companies and at the same time they’re always trying to raise money, which is a huge distraction. If you can just dispense with that distraction, all your energy can be focused on the company build-out, and the results will be dramatically better.
James Dean, CEO, dPoint Technologies Inc., a developer of energy-recovery products for builders, Vancouver
VCs have a track record of not really looking out for the interests of the company and trying to squeeze the founder’s ownership position out. He should be a bit cautious of that.
One strategy for TitanFile could be to see if there is a partner out there that likes the business they’re in, likes the technology and can help them grow.
We hit a growth point where we needed to go out and raise more money. We were lucky enough to find what I would call a strategic investor. And so it was somebody who was bringing more than just money, and in our case it was a customer and a channel partner. They’re the biggest basic player in our industry in Europe, and they liked our technology and said, “Hey, not only do we want to buy your stuff, but we believe in what you guys are doing and we want to invest in the company.”
It might be interesting to create a map and say, “Who are some of those other partner software companies where we could fit in with their product? They would become our channel partner, maybe invest in us or maybe even at some point acquire us.”
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Seize the moment
Secure growth capital quickly. Rivals may be well funded, so there’s no time to waste.
Find a partner
Look for someone who offers more than money. An investor that’s also a partner could help accelerate growth.
Consider alternative financing
Funding arrangements that don’t involve giving up equity will let you keep more of the company.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.
Unfake-able Online Behavioral Assessment Solution Will Help Project Team Identify Top 15% of Candidates for the Job
With only forty positions available and an estimated more than 78,000 applicants for the job, the Mars One team are facing a difficult challenge: find the perfect candidates for what is being called a ‘suicide mission’ to Mars. Waterloo-based HR start-up Cream.hr believes it has the answer. It is offering up its online behavioral assessment solution to the Mars One team — for free – allowing it to cut through the hordes of earthlings to find the perfect candidates to go, well, where no TV show has gone before.
The $6 billion Mars One project is the brainchild of Dutch entrepreneur Bas Landorp. Since the call for astronaut applicants was issued in April 2013, the project has been inundated with applicants eager to secure one of the coveted spots available for the one-way mission. With 78,000 applications received in just two weeks Mars One CEO Landorp announced earlier this month the project is on track to meet its goal of half a million applicants. But a large question remains: how will the project select the perfect candidates?
“Based on a video submission, and even a more extensive interview process, how can the Mars One team really screen out those that ‘won’t have what it takes?” asks Cream.hr CEO Caitlin MacGregor. MacGregor believes her company’s solution offers up the key to finding the top 15% of candidates for the Mars mission. “Multitudes of factors need to be considered by the selection committee. For instance, who can withstand the unknown pressures of extraterrestrial colonization? How can desires to return back to Earth be eradicated? How should age and health be gauged? Will the applicants be looking for relationships to burgeon (it is reality TV)? And most important of all –will the chosen be the same people in ten years?” asks MacGregor.
Studies have shown that the best predictor of determining long-term behavioral characteristics is using an assessment such as that offered up by Cream.hr.
“The key characteristics of an astronaut align well to the ‘Big Five’ personality traits such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness as determined by more than 50 years of psychological research. Every single person possesses some degree of these characteristics – the secret is in matching up each individual’s unique ‘mix’ of personality traits with the characteristics required for a Mars One team member,” says Dr. Jordan Peterson. “This is a difficult task at the best of times and the Mars One team face a monumental challenge in their screening process based on the sheer volume of applications they are receiving. Without sophisticated, automated screening methods it could take the team an entire decade to find and assemble the perfect team.”
Cream.hr, a Waterloo, Ontario-based Communitech Hyperdrive graduate, has created a unique behavioral, science based, unfake-able assessment. The Cream.hr system tests candidates accurately and efficiently; identifying intelligence, prioritizations and behavioral characteristics of its applicants, just like those needed for the Mars One project.
Cream.hr is now offering Mars One the use of its solution to screen through the unlimited applicants, to generate a solid behavioral based short list of candidates.
“Mars One has a huge job ahead of them, narrowing millions to a select few,” says MacGregor. “When we realized the candidate selection needs of this mission perfectly align to what we do best, we were proverbially over the moon. We have written to Mars One team and have offered up unlimited use of our software for free. We’re hopeful we’ll hear back from them very soon.”
Hyperdrive companies get $150,000 each in startup funding
Five graduates of Communitech’s Hyperdrive program are each getting $150,000 in startup funding from BDC Venture Capital.
The companies are Cream.hr of Waterloo, Dandy of Kitchener, BeanEvo and ViewsIQ, both based in Vancouver, and Groupnotes of Hamilton.
Cream.hr has developed an employment assessment tool that filters thousands of resumes to help companies identify the best person for a job. The company started in Toronto and moved to Waterloo when it became part of the Accelerator Centre program in Waterloo.
Dandy is developing a website where people can share and get feedback on ideas for new apps. It was started by three Waterloo Region entrepreneurs who have set up a beta website at dndy.co.
BeanEvo has developed an accounts payable platform that provides companies of any size with a customizable and automated accounts payable system.
ViewsIQ is a medical imaging company with a slide digitization product that helps laboratories and academic institutions integrate their microscopy work flow and get maximum control over the digitization of patient samples at the highest quality possible.
Groupnotes, started by a team of engineering students at McMaster University, is a collaboration platform that was designed for education, but could also be used by businesses.
All five firms graduated from Hyperdrive, a program run by Communitech that offers funding, coaching and mentorship for promising startups.
In total, BDC Venture Capital announced Monday that it is committing $1.5 million in seed capital to 10 startups across the country. Two are graduates of Launch36, an accelerator for startups in Atlantic Canada, and three are graduates of the Extreme Startups accelerator program in Toronto.
The funding is provided in the form of convertible notes – short-term loans that are expected to be converted into shares later in the company’s life.
The startups also will receive non-financial support, and will be introduced to angel and venture capital investors, said BDC Venture Capital.
“Making first-time investments in such promising startups is part of our strategy to build a healthy Canadian ecosystem,” Senia Rapisarda, vice-president in charge of startup initiatives at BDC Venture Capital, said in a statement.
Clearpath Robotics announced today that they have partnered with Kinova Robotics as the exclusive North American distributor of their internationally recognized JACO Robot Arm. This partnership also brings ROS integration to the JACO Robot Arm to help advance the manipulation research community.
“We’re excited to work with Clearpath Robotics and provide our partners with the JACO Robot Arm,” said Charles Deguire, Chief Executive Officer at Kinova Robotics. “This partnership will help bring high quality manipulator research solutions to our research customers.”
The JACO Robot Arm is ideally suited for advanced mobile manipulation, human-robot interaction and manipulator control system research. JACO is light-weight, power efficient and inherently safe – enabling researchers to interact with their research environment safely and effectively. JACO can also be easily outfitted as a manipulator upgrade to Clearpath Robotics’ industry-standard Husky Unmanned Ground Vehicle.
“Manipulators and mobile robots are a natural fit for integration. We are thrilled to partner with Kinova to offer advanced mobile manipulation research systems. We are both recognized experts in our respective fields, so we know our customers will be as excited as we are about this partnership,” said Matt Rendall, Chief Executive Officer at Clearpath Robotics.
JACO Robot Arm is now available at Clearpath Robotics and additional details can be found at http://www.clearpathrobotics.com/jaco. The ROS driver for the JACO Robot Arm is available for free at https://github.com/Kinovarobotics/jaco-ros and at http://www.ros.org/wiki/jaco.
About Kinova Robotics
Kinova is a Canadian company engaged into the design and manufacture of innovative solutions in the field of personal robotics. The team of experts at Kinova is dedicated to offer practical robotic platforms solving real and concrete problematic of daily life, especially in rehabilitation. Building on its success, Kinova intends to pursue and further its research and development of products designed to make life easier for individuals by offering a wide range of unique and innovative personal robotic solutions. Visit Kinova Robotics at www.kinovarobotics.com.
About Clearpath Robotics
Clearpath Robotics, a global leader in unmanned vehicle robotics for research and development, is dedicated to automating the world’s dullest, dirtiest, and deadliest jobs. The Company serves leading researchers in over 30 countries worldwide in academic, corporate and military environments. Recognizing the value of future innovation, Clearpath Robotics established Partnerbot, a grant program to support university robotics research teams, internationally. Clearpath Robotics provides robust solutions that are engineered for performance, designed for customization, and built for open source. Visit Clearpath Robotics at www.clearpathrobotics.com.
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Waterloo startups helping bridge local food processors’ technology gap
Technology was pretty basic back in 1957 when Willy Huber and his two brothers opened the doors to their Waterloo, Ont.-based butcher shop and deli. Equipment consisted of a refrigerator, a freezer and a sausage-making machine that would crank out around 50 to 60 pounds of sausage a week.
That machine now stands as a showroom relic at Waterloo, Ontario-based Piller’s Fine Foods Inc. In its place are room-sized devices and computer-monitored equipment that churn out thousands of pounds of sausage and meat products hourly, as well as about 25 tons of ham a day.
The shift from three brothers cranking out sausages to a multimillion-dollar high-tech food production company speaks to how far technology has changed in the past half century, not only for Piller’s but for the Canadian food processing industry.
The world around us is changing; the borders are opening up and we as an industry need to compete
Yet it’s nowhere close to where it could or should be, those in the industry readily admit. Which is why Huber has thrown his weight behind a City of Waterloo-funded program called Canada’s Technology for Food (CTFF) – a first-of-its-kind initiative to divert local college and university brainpower that might otherwise go to developing the next hot video game or mobile app to food processing production.
“The world around us is changing; the borders are opening up and we as an industry need to compete,” says Mr. Huber. “The best way to do that is with technology, and we have the knowledge and expertise right here to tap into it.”
Technology on Canada’s production lines still has a long way to go. While a few of Canada’s larger food processing companies have embraced automation, robotics, vision-guided systems and other technology to improve productivity and boost profit margins, the vast majority are still running their factories with a combination of manual labor and unsophisticated equipment.
Ted McKechnie, former president of Maple Leaf Foods and now head of the CTFF, has no shortage of examples of where the gaps along the production line are.
“Take stuffed chicken: you have automation before and after, but you’ll still see 10 people in between stuffing it with ham or cheese by hand,” he says. “There is some combination of robotics and vision systems out there that can automate that, making it faster, more efficient and safer, but you don’t see it here.”
That’s where CTFF comes in. Using the City of Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre, a high-tech mecca funded by the city and region of Waterloo, its universities and colleges and the federal and provincial governments, the CTFF will work with food processors to pinpoint issues like hand-stuffing chickens or manually shaving fat from ribs and create high-tech, never-before-seen solutions.
The Waterloo region is no stranger to reinvention. In the 1980s it saw the rise of auto assembly. In the 1990s, hardware and portable technologies started to take off. In the 2000s it was software and apps.
“Now we’re starting to see general interest in things that have more mechanical and firmware components to them,” says Tim Ellis, head of the Accelerator Centre, which will house the next great (and commercially viable) made-in-Waterloo food production technology.
To be sure, there is foreign technology already at play across the Canadian food chain – from meat and poultry, to milk and beer, to packaged vegetables and ready-to-eat entrees. The problem is the technology has to be imported because the knowledge base doesn’t yet exist in Canada, notes Mr. Huber.
It’s not just about competition, it’s about putting Canada on the map where we should be
“That’s the whole focus of this initiative – to create technology in the food industry that helps Canadian producers compete, but also to create new technology that we can export,” says Mr. McKechnie.
It’s also to get ahead of the curve and create new technologies that help produce safer food through homegrown technology that can be exported to other parts of the world where quality and safety standards aren’t as advanced, says the city’s mayor, Brenda Halloran, who championed the CTFF.
The potential is huge. There are more than 1,400 farms and 100 food processors and distributors in the Waterloo region alone that stand to benefit from the program.
The initiative’s partners intend to share the wealth by providing to-be-discovered technology and expertise to the rest of Canada’s 8,000-plus food producers to help them be more efficient and competitive.
“It’s not just about competition, it’s about putting Canada on the map where we should be,” says Mr. Huber. “But to do that we need people that are educated and focused on innovation in the industry. That’s where we need to be.”