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Scaling startups dominated CIX

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In the middle of tech conference season comes CIX. Initially founded in 2008 as the Canadian Innovation eXchange, CIX launched a summit to offer ‘curated’ meetings between startups and investors. Where other conferences market themselves as the place for everyone to come, CIX retains an air of exclusivity in its invite list with private, invite-only networking lunches and curated investor meetings.

Among those curated to attend were over 35 scaling startups, bringing in millions in revenue and hundreds of millions in VC dollars to Toronto and across Canada. While the attendees ranged from big business executives to venture capital investors, it was the startups that won the day, demonstrating Toronto’s ecosystem is evolving.

Speaking directly to those startups, David Ossip, CEO of Ceridian, gave a morning keynote about what it takes to scale a company.

He sees company growth in phases, having taken Dayforce / Ceridian from a small startup to a multi-billion dollar publicly traded company. The first stage, perhaps obviously, is the startup stage. This is where anything goes and the name of the game is survival.

After that, you have founder-led scale, which Ossip warned is not real scale but just when you’re figuring a few things out. Then you move to true scale, but only if you follow what Ossip distilled to three principles: disciplined execution on your core business, expanding into new markets and segments while following your customers, and developing a scalable company culture.

Ossip said the third element of growth – scaling company culture – is the most critical to sustained growth. Warning the audience that “you can’t scale with mavericks,” Ossip cautioned that a true scalable culture is a workplace with systems of action that can be easily repeated, combined with the processes in place so you keep your brand promise to both customers and employees. If you can accomplish those things, you have a chance at breaking through to global status and huge valuations.

 

Early, but not early

Not too long ago, an “early stage” startup in Toronto was little more than an idea. Perhaps the company had some angel funding and built a product, but it still barely looked like a “company” in the traditional sense. With CIX’s Top 20 Early Showcase, the companies broke that mold.

Amazon challenger Marie Chevrier pitched her direct-to-consumer startup Sampler to the audience, which recently celebrated its 6th anniversary and over $3 million dollars in recent fundraising. And Sheertex founder Katherine Homuth explained how she grew her indestructible pantyhose product line from nothing to nearly a quarter million dollars per month in revenue… in less than a year. The company recently purchased one of the biggest fabric manufacturing plants in Canada to meet exploding demand, and Homuth explained Sheertex’s massive market opportunity to move into sports apparel after dominating the multi-billion dollar pantyhose market.

In total, 29 startups pitched between the CIX Top 20 Early Stage and the Early Stage Rocket Pitches. Between the companies they count millions in revenue and millions in investment dollars.

 

Growing and scaling

The ten startups that pitched as part of CIX’s Top 10 Growth Showcase have raised over $670 million dollars between them, employing hundreds of people across Canada. No commonality between them besides their growing size, the ten companies range from consumer to B2B, from retail and catering to SaaS and healthcare.

It’s these startups that often get touted as what’s “next” in the Canadian tech debate of when the ecosystem will produce its next billion-dollar startup, after Shopify and Lightspeed.

Directly riding Shopify’s coattails, Bold Commerce raised $22 million for their app marketplace to help e-commerce businesses get more efficient. Similarly, League’s homepage counts Shopify as a client. And while Platterz does not have Shopify as a client on their homepage, they count other tech “unicorns” like Uber, Twitter, and Dropbox among their client roster.

The expansive growth of these companies shows how Canada is breaking through a certain level of scale, if not yet a massive global breakthrough. Time will tell if all – or any – break through the elusive billion-dollar valuation barrier, but all have solid potential and the necessary investment backing to change their respective worlds.

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Stefan Palios

Stefan is a journalist and entrepreneur passionate about the people behind tech. He writes about innovation, scaling, people management, and entrepreneur journeys, among other things, and is the founder of PulseBlueprint, an educational media company for entrepreneurs.