Eight Prairie startups to watch in 2020
In 2019, I put together the first Prairie Startups to Watch article for BetaKit. Last year was a great year for Prairie startups, and looking back on the list there were some sizeable headlines made by the listed companies.
From a macro view, 2019 was a year of considerable growth for the Prairie startup ecosystems.
A few highlights from the year included growth for Pivot Subscriptions, the new furniture subscription company launched by former SkipTheDishes founders Josh Simair, Dan Simair, Brendon Sled, and Rob Marsh. Coconut Software extended its Series A round and 7shifts extended its Series A round, with my firm Conexus Venture Capital Fund partnering in both the Coconut and 7shifts financings.
We also saw Attabotics raise a Series B round of $25 million and Bold Commerce kick off the year with a $22 million Series A round and significant growth of its team in Winnipeg. Furthermore, Jobber brought on new executive talent while also being named as one of Canada’s best places to work in technology. The only significant hiccup from my 2019 list was leaving out Vendasta, which went on to raise the largest ever round of financing for a Prairies information and communications technology (ICT) company.
From a macro view, 2019 was a year of considerable growth for the Prairie startup ecosystems. As of Q3 2019, we saw the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan significantly grow the amount of venture capital raised for their province’s startups, according to the CVCA, with Manitoba continuing to struggle, with the total venture capital raised in the first three quarters of 2019.
As you can see, it was an exceptional year for Prairie startups. Given my role in leading the Conexus Venture Capital Fund, which is now up and running, I’m obviously biased in my belief that Saskatchewan will continue to grow considerably as a result of continued growth in the 45 percent startup investor tax credit along with our new provincially focused Venture Capital Fund. Alberta is in risk of a regression from the recent government cuts, and it’s unreasonable to expect any meaningful changes coming out of Manitoba without considerable ecosystem changes.
When it comes to which Prairie startups to watch, here are the companies I recommend keeping an eye on in 2020. It should be noted that some of the companies listed below are Conexus Venture Capital Fund portfolio companies.
Kicking off the list is the Prairie-based startup that, in 2019, landed the largest VC financing in history for any Prairie-based ICT company. Vendasta offers a white-label platform for companies that provide digital solutions to small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMBs).
With an employee base of almost 300 people, we’re stretching the term ‘startup’ for Vendasta, but given how significant of a role it plays in shaping the Saskatoon startup ecosystem it’s important to have it on the list.
The Canadian startup world will be watching Vendasta closely over 2020 as this anchor tech company looks to put its new $40 million investment to work by building out the Vendasta platform and marketplace solutions and aiming to double its staff in Saskatoon.
Brendan King CEO and co-founder of Vendasta. Source Vendasta via Youtube
Coming out of the Techstars Energy Accelerator towards the end of 2018, Interface Fluidics was able to land a $6 million Series A round in 2019. This Calgary based company is capitalizing on the push from the oil and gas ecosystem to find ways to improve efficiency while improving its impact on the surrounding environment. Interface Fluidics does this by leveraging technology from the biomedical industry and adapting it to the oil and gas sector.
The startup calls its nanotechnology platform a disruptive technology that helps operators increase oil recovery while reducing environmental impact. Its oil testing technology allows operators to analyze a variety of downhole chemicals, which helps to evaluate the viability of increasing oil recovery. With its recently acquired investment and the ongoing market demand, anticipate seeing large growth from Interface Fluidics in 2020 as it works to expand its capacity and delivery of services.
Taiv, a Conexus Venture Capital Fund portfolio company and one of the earliest stage companies on this list, launched a B2B software/hardware solution in 2019, which quickly picked up customers across the Prairie provinces. Through its platform, businesses within the service industry can automatically replace live TV commercials with in-house content to improve their atmosphere and promote their products.
Taiv’s founding team recently relocated to San Francisco to attend a prominent accelerator in the Valley, while the company continues to try and keep up with significant inbound orders, primarily from bars, restaurants, and car dealerships across North America. Being new to the market, and seeing the initial interest from the service industry for this technology, it’s expected we’ll hear and see a lot more of Taiv as it works to grow as a company.
In 2019, Plankk launched a new direct to consumer subscription service where fans can take fitness lessons from their favourite Instagram stars. This new app launched after years of creating white-labelled fitness applications for the health and wellness spokesmodels that made Instagram famous. As more fitness trainers look to capitalize on their significant social media following, we can expect a big year in 2020 as Plankk creates interactive digitally delivered classes.
The second company in the Conexus Venture Capital Fund portfolio on this list, SalonScale raised $1 million in 2019 to seed its smart technology-powered app helping salon owners and stylists. One of Saskatchewan’s fastest-growing startups led by an exceptional founder, Alicia Soulier, SalonScale provides a digital solution to track the cost of free pouring hair colour to hair salons.
Since financing, SalonScale has continued to grow its customer base around the world as it improves the financial well-being of hair salons. With wasted hair colouring product being one of the biggest costs among hair salons and challenges for hair salon owners and their stylists to account for, there is a significant greenspace opportunity for SalonScale to provide stability to a once volatile marketplace.
ZayZoon has taken a novel approach to financial wellness by focusing on working with corporate partners to help their employees manage cash flows. In 2019, ZayZoon raised $15 million to fuel its mission to improve employee health through the use of responsible financial products.
Initially, its product had been focused around providing real-time salary for individuals based on the amount of time they had worked with their employer. While its current product of payroll advances, without the predatory costs that come with payday loans, fills a need in the marketplace, I’m excited to track ZayZoon’s progress over 2020 to harness its investment capital in exploring new ways to improve financial well-being through the guidance of the employer’s voice.
In 2019, a $20 million project that aimed to help healthtech companies to commercialize their technologies received an initial $7 million investment from the federal government. The new network was aimed at addressing this procurement barrier by allowing startups to sell their products to industry partners after only one procurement cycle, shortening the time for businesses to bring their technology to market.
While this is a significant breakthrough for aspirational Canadian healthtech companies, one of Saskatchewan’s budding startups had to self-navigate this complex pathway with healthcare authorities.
NC SmartCall, rebranded as Andgo in 2019, has created an enterprise scheduling software for companies with complex collective bargaining agreements. With a combination of the Canadian healthtech space opening up to startups, and its track record with a handful of Canadian health authorities (along with some of our country’s larger unionized companies), there’s promise of a strong 2020 for Andgo.
Launched in 2019 by Dan Belostotsky (OTTO Capital, Panache Ventures), HonestDoor is one of the newest entrants into helping create more transparency within the home buying process. As the first tech company in Canada to release real estate sold prices with machine learning,
HonestDoor is quickly picking up traction across the Prairies, having grown from Edmonton at the time of launch, to Calgary and Winnipeg. HonestDoor offers a free platform for homebuyers and sellers to see what the property is worth (the HonestDoor price) along with the underlying data points to back it up. A repeat founder taking on a massive industry generally points to a startup we should all be watching closely in 2020.
I foresee that the Prairie Provinces will continue to make waves over the course of 2020. The combination of a scrappy product building mentality, reduced cost of living, nimble ecosystems, and prairie humility allows our founders to create globally competitive companies.
By Sean O'connor, Canadian Startup News, February 3rd 2020