TrustPoint finds a culture fit with ETAS Embedded Systems

Originally Published in Communitech News

Written by Craig Daniels

It was the autumn of 2015 and TrustPoint co-founder and CEO Sherry Shannon-Vanstone knew she had a decision to make.

TrustPoint, which develops secure products for the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine communication, needed to grow. And it needed to grow fast. The IoT was booming. Security, smart cities, connected critical infrastructure, all the areas in which TrustPoint was working, were generating unmet demands.

“It takes a lot of resources,” Shannon-Vanstone explained recently.  “We had bootstrapped the company, and we weren’t going to be able to move fast enough. It was time to go out and get a huge investment, and work with a VC, bring in lots of cash, hire people. But even then we would have had to disrupt some of our current projects, just to try to grow. We had to move faster.”

And then opportunity presented itself.

Shannon-Vanstone learned that ETAS Embedded Systems, which provides secure diagnostic and calibration solutions for the automotive industry, was going to open an office in Waterloo Region. A subsidiary of the Bosch Group, ETAS was well known to Shannon-Vanstone and her late husband and co-founder, Scott Vanstone.

Discussion began.

“At first it was just a conversation,” said Shannon-Vanstone, “just a general information gathering of what they were looking for and what we were looking for. At that time, we were interested in a strategic partnership or an investment.

“The conversation was on a casual basis until June (2016) when ETAS Canada opened their office in Kitchener. And at that time, they indicated an interest in TrustPoint.”

Fast forward through many more conversations, and a process of technological and legal due diligence, and you reach the events of last week, when TrustPoint agreed to be acquired by ETAS — when Shannon-Vanstone agreed to sell her “baby.”

“Emotionally, yes, it was tough,” she said. “It’s my baby, and it’s hard to let go of it.”

But the time was right. The fit was right. “There’s a huge opportunity in the Internet of Things right now,” she said.

TrustPoint grew out of a company called Certicom, which was founded by Scott Vanstone in 1985 along with two professors from the University of Waterloo. Certicom worked closely with Research In Motion in the late 1990s, providing security for the company’s smartphones. In 2009, RIM acquired Certicom, and Vanstone and his wife, recognizing the market for secure devices that was building around the rise of IoT, left in 2012 and started TrustPoint.

For Shannon-Vanstone, the decision to throw in with ETAS — other suitors were also interested, she said — was in large part motivated by culture.

“We found the cultural alignment was high on the list. Bosch is a private corporation. They are owned by a foundation. That foundation uses all the profits to build hospitals around the world.

“When Scott and I started TrustPoint, one of our objectives was to be philanthropic. To be a positive influence, globally and locally. So this aligned perfectly with our founding principles.”

The deal with ETAS is still subject to antitrust approval. When it’s finalized, TrustPoint’s 30 people will join ETAS in a yet-to-be-determined location in Waterloo Region.

“I’ll be staying involved for the time being,” said Shannon-Vanstone. “The work, the focus will be the same. Most of the people will have the same job description. We may fine tune over time.”

She doesn’t need to fine-tune her commitment to local tech ecosystem, which she has watched grow since the mid-80s — before there even was a local ecosystem.

“It’s tremendous. We decided to set up in K-W because of the access to talent. The access to the university. The access to the resources for a startup.

“This is my fourth startup but my first as a founder.

“It’s supportive even for people who are little more grey-haired than others.”

FindBob Helps Canadian Financial Advisors Grow and Protect their Practices

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Roland Chan is a matchmaker of an entirely different kind. Rather than pairing up lonely hearts, Chan, a serial entrepreneur, technologist and financial advisor, is seeking to help other financial advisors working in the financial services and insurance world find the right match for their book of business with his company FindBob.

“Financial advisors in Canada today are responsible for managing over $1 trillion in wealth. At the average age of 59, many themselves are nearing retirement age, and yet, for all the retirement counsel they give others, more than 80% of financial advisors have no succession plan of their own,” says Chan.

Chan understands the financial service industry very well. He grew up in the business, so to speak. His father established his own successful financial services and insurance practice 26 years ago, and was joined by his son in the business in 2008.

“I began my career as a software architect, but after stepping into the financial services industry to help my father I grew to love the industry and the millions of dollars it puts back into the community and the economy,” says Roland Chan. “There are some terrific people working in the business who have committed their lives to their clients and to educating the public on the best way to build savings and protect wealth.”

Chan also knows too well the consequences of poor succession planning.

“Around the same time I joined the family practice, we had an advisor who had been with the firm for 15 or 16 years pass away suddenly.  He didn’t have a continuity plan to protect his book of business. In financial services, both the firm and the individual own a percentage of recurring revenue flowing in from clients. Because there was no succession plan in place, it took me over a year to transfer the value from that book of business to our advisor’s widow. And unfortunately, by that time, close to 50% of its value had eroded, due to clients moving on and/or or other agents poaching his business.”

It is a story that Chan has heard repeated over and over again through his work in the industry, and as VP of Advocis, the Financial Advisor’s Association of Canada’s, Toronto Chapter. He also learned why advisors were so reluctant to plan for their own future. “Most advisors don’t participate in succession planning not because they expect to live forever, but rather they can’t find an adequate partner, or find the whole process too daunting.  Their firms want to support and encourage them to do so, yet they lack effective and scaleable processes.”

Realizing there was an unmet need for a more effective solution to aid advisors with succession, he decided it was time to put his decades of technology experience to work to build FindBob, a unique marketplace that pairs advisors looking to scale back or retire, with others in the industry (ideally in the same firm) who are looking to enter the industry or expand.

FindBob’s platform has strongly resonated with the financial advisory community. Since becoming a client of the Accelerator Centre in 2015, Roland Chan’s venture has achieved steady market traction. The company is on the brink of closing its fourth Canadian enterprise client, and now represents the largest insurance practices in the country and the second largest trade association for investment and insurance advisors. “We provide real value to these firms,” says Chan. “We help them protect their existing assets, generate new revenue, recruit new talent and meet their fiduciary responsibility to clients. Currently, FindBob is the only platform focused on on assisting financial institutions with internal transitions. Our marketplace is allowing advisors to discover opportunities within their own firm and connect with others seeking to buy, sell, merge or find a successor. “If you are able to move a block of business internally within a single financial institution that achieves the best outcome for advisors, for industry and for client.

To fuel its next stage expansion, FindBob was able to tap into $30,000 in AC JumpStart funding, made possible through FedDev Ontario.

“Obviously getting an injection of non-dilutive money is tremendously helpful,” says Roland Chan. “It allowed me the freedom to hire a person devoted to customer success, a role that creates real value for the company and for our clients.  Thanks to the AC we added a critical non-technical hire, and now Sylvia is our point person on many enterprise engagements.” – Roland Chan

Based in Toronto, Chan travels the Toronto-Waterloo corridor as often as possible to also connect with the Accelerator Centre’s team of mentors.

“From Kevin Elop, who sends me a five page email response to my question; to Kevin Hood who has saved me from jumping off a cliff on 3 or 4 occasions; to Bob Rushby and Steve Fyke who always offers poignant technology and design advice; to Jackie Lauer’s hiring expertise; to Ellyn Winters, who has forced me to focus on inbound marketing and PR – areas that are decidedly not in my comfort area; the mentors have helped me look at my business from many different points of view.” – Roland Chan

ACJumpStart is made possible by and investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

 

Successful Scale Up

Why fast-growing AC grads are leading Canada’s new technology generation

From lean thinking, to product market fit, to simply great timing, there are any number of reasons young companies graduate from startup to scale up.  However, for many of the Canadian technology companies now showing up on the Profit 500 and Deloitte Technology Fast 50 lists, there is one common denominator — the Accelerator Centre (AC).

AC graduates Magnet Forensics, Top Hat, TextNow and Sortable all showed up on the 2016 Profit 500 list this year, with Magnet Forensics and Top Hat appearing in the top 20 companies listed. Both companies exhibiting 5,000+% growth rates.  On the Deloitte Technology Fast 50, list, Accelerator Centre graduates Sortable, Axonify, Clearpath Robotics, Top Hat, and Magnet Forensics all took positions in the top 20.

So what is it about the AC that fuels long-term business growth and success?

Paul 02[acsite]“Companies that come through the Accelerator Centre’s programming are truly built to scale. We ensure that from even in the very beginning, the idea phase, companies are building a strong foundation for long term business success,” says Paul Salvini, CEO of the Accelerator Centre. “Even in our intake process, we are looking for companies that have an impact in areas that matter for the world. Through our close relationship with the university system and my dual role with the University of Waterloo, we have our finger on the pulse of the research occurring today, in areas such as the Internet of Things and the Smart City revolution, and can foresee how that research will translate into the companies and jobs of the future. So we can nurture our client companies to become leaders in those spaces”

Salvini goes on to say, that the Accelerator Centre’s selection process is tuned to identify those companies who exhibit the capacity to scale in size and in global presence. “If that is the case, and the company has a good alignment with the research capacity of one of our local universities, we know that company has the capability to grown and won’t be starved on the talent side,” says Salvini.

The Accelerator Centre’s programming, unlike many other incubators, delivers its high quality programming through a core team of mentors, each business executives – each with decades of experience in building and growing global companies, over time. The average company spends on average two years in the program.

Salvini notes that one cannot speak of the Accelerator Centre and its graduates’ success without acknowledging the surrounding technology ecosystem in Waterloo Region, supported by academic institutions such as University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University and Conestoga College. “Our success is absolutely set up by the great success of our academic partners,” he says. “Companies setting up a business and growing a business in Waterloo Region know they have access to world class research and talent.”

Clearpath Robotics, which graduated from the Accelerator Centre in 2011, has experienced exceptional growth over the last six years, transforming from a four person startup at the AC into a profitable, 200 person organization with a research division (Clearpath Robotics) as well as an industrial division (OTTO Motors).  In October 2016, Clearpath announced a $30M US in funding to expand its OTTO Motors division.

“TMatt Randellhe Accelerator Centre allowed us to transform our project into a viable business. We were able to break even within 18 months of inception, in good part due to the mentorship and financial support we received from AC,” says Matt Rendall, Clearpath Robotics CEO. “Entrepreneurship has its own set of challenges and the AC was able to alleviate many of the simple overhead growing pains so we could focus on growing the business. (ie: not having to worry about toilet paper or paying the bill for hydro or electrical was a blessing in disguise!).

We learned what worked and what didn’t work at the AC – it was a safe space to experiment with our technology and our business processes to identify and leverage best practices for Clearpath. A tree can’t grow unless it has strong roots and is part of a supportive ecosystem. The AC provided us with a foundation to transform our passion into a thriving business.”

 

Axonify graduated from the Accelerator Centre in 2014. Since departing the program, the company, which provides a gamification solution for corporate learning, has experienced significant growth, closing out 2015 with >$10M in recurring annual revenue and a customer roster that includes Bloomingdales, Ceridian, Toys R Us Canada and The Pep Boys. In November 2016, Axonify announced $27M US in funding to further expand its business operations.

“The Accelerator Centre is a different kind of environment than the typical early stage tech incubator, and in a good way,” says Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.

carol-leaman-headshot.jpg“There’s something a little more serious about the way in which the programs and mentoring make you feel — like the organization is working in concrete ways to help your company succeed. Consistent mentorship and meaningful programming plus the ability to reinforce sound principles over a stay of up to two years (versus a typical incubator experience of 3 – 6 months) give each company a better shot at making it.

I know Axonify took advantage of everything the Accelerator Centre had on offer and thoroughly enjoyed getting its start in that environment.”

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