Spotlight Awards shine a light on Canada’s startup moment

Spotlight Awards

When Razor Suleman invites you to his home, don’t arrive underdressed.
 

That was the lesson I learned attending the Spotlight Awards last Thursday, an impromptu event conceived by the Achievers founder, with some help from both the C100 and The Next 36, to honour the Canadian companies that in the past year have reached the significant milestones of centurion (a $100 million valuation or exit) and unicorn ($1 billion valuation or exit).

Despite the context, I was expecting the familiar startup event setting: casual dress; passionate yet weary founders; a table spread ranging somewhere between pizza and those little melon ball things. Imagine my surprise when an army of attendants whisked me up to a King West penthouse terrace, where 200 formally dressed players in the Canadian tech space were enjoying quite possibly the best view of Toronto’s glorious skyline.

It was a gala event, befitting a week which also hosted the Toronto International Film Festival (and priced as such: tickets for the Spotlight Awards were $500, with all proceeds going to The Next 36).

Spotlight Awards

The pomp suited the gathered audience. Where else in Canada could you move through a room and casually talk to Angela Strange, John Ruffolo, Scott Bohnahm, and Tony Lacavera over champagne? The list of honourees in attendance (though notably missing many of the founding team members) also reads like a record of Canadian startup success over the past ten years: Chango; Achievers; Stingray; Recon; VerticalScope; PlentyOfFish; Shopify; Slack.

Where else in Canada could you move through a room and casually talk to Angela Strange, John Ruffolo, Scott Bohnahm, and Tony Lacavera over champagne?

The theme of the night was, fittingly, celebration. The laughter was loud, and the conversation lighthearted, and focused not only on celebrating past success, but that which has yet to come. I asked many people at the Spotlight Awards about the that feeling, but it was Peter Kieltyka, co-founder and CTO of Pressly, who articulated it best.

“The big message that I’ve seen here with Venture North is all about the rising tide of Canadian entrepreneurship,” Kieltyka said. “The more success we have in our ecosystem, the more successful everyone gets. I think there’s a lot of optimism to see the Canadian tech sector in five years – hopefully as a pillar of our economy.”

And then there was the man of the hour, inviting the Canadian tech community into his home to celebrate not only his success, but the shared success. Suleman split his evening between congratulating companies large and small, and thanking every person that had ever had a hand in Achievers.

I asked Suleman toward the end of the evening why it seemed so important to him to kick off another Canadian startup award.

“There’s just so much energy here in Canada that I feel in coming back,” he said. “Canada is home to me, and I wanted to do something where everyone could come and realize…”

Suleman couldn’t quite finish the thought, as if struggling to encapsulate his last ten years as an entrepreneur.

‘Realize that we’re in a moment?’ I suggested.

“It’s a moment,” Suleman said. “It’s a moment.”

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys

Douglas Soltys is the Editor-in-Chief of BetaKit and founder of BetaKit Incorporated. He has worked for a few failed companies and written about many more. He spends too much time on the Internet.