Over the past couple of years, Sean O’Connor from Conexus Venture Capital has been putting together a list of Prairie tech companies to keep an eye on. We connected with Sean recently and he asked if the two of us could carry the torch going forward. We are thrilled to take over this project to spotlight some of the top Prairie founders that continue to show how to create globally successful tech companies.
As two founders running Saskatoon-based tech companies, we’ve seen firsthand how quickly the Prairie ecosystem has grown and are excited to highlight a handful of companies keeping up the momentum. We’ll focus on those headquartered in Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and those not already mentioned on the 2019 and 2020 list.
But first, introductions.
Jordan is the founder and CEO of 7shifts, a workforce management platform that helps restaurant operators save thousands on labour costs, all while keeping employees engaged and productive. Today, 7shifts is used by over 16,000 restaurants and 400,000 workers across North America.
Katherine is the founder and CEO of Coconut Software, a digital customer engagement platform focusing on the financial services industry. She helps enterprises such as banks, wealth management firms and credit unions seamlessly schedule, measure and manage their customer and staff engagements in real-time. Coconut Software is trusted by leading brands such as Capital One, Arvest Bank, Vancity, Jackson Hewitt, and RBC.
In 2020, Neo Financial showed how much easier it is for successful, repeat founders to raise capital. This formidable team of former SkipTheDishes founders completed $50 million in financing prior to launching the business, representing one of Canada’s largest pre-launch raises ever. With 110 employees already live with the company, and an additional 70 roles it is looking to bring on, Neo is becoming one of Canada’s fastest-growing early-stage companies.
Led by Andrew Chau, Jeff Adamson, and Kris Read, we expect that Neo will leap to the forefront of Canadian banking in 2021 as its founders look to harness their experience in building world-class user experiences. Additionally, their background in creating large networks of restaurants on the Skip platform will serve them well as they build out Neo’s rewards functions with small businesses across Canada.
Livestock Water Recycling
This startup is run by one of the CEOs Katherine got to know through the Google for Startups Accelerator for Women Founders program. Karen Schuett, co-founder and CEO of Livestock Water Recycling (LWR), is a top-notch founder. LWR calls itself the first-class global manufacturer of manure treatment systems for hog and dairy operations and has developed a patented manure treatment technology to recycle clean water and fertilizer nutrients from livestock manure for reuse at farms.
In 2016, LWR made Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 list and in 2019 was among the finalists for PwC Canada’s Vision to Reality (V2R) Awards. Excuse the pun, but this team knows their shit, and 2021 will be another year of growth for the organization. We’re sure they’ll continue to help farmers save money while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, concentrating and segregating nutrients for strategic fertilizer application, and creating clean, reusable water.
54e Dev Studios (OneShot Golf)
Next up, we have a repeat founder jumping back into their next venture. Building an innovative tech company is nothing new for Dustin Coupal, former co-founder of GasBuddy. When GasBuddy launched in 2000, it was one of the world’s first crowd-sourced consumer applications ever created, pre-dating the often recognized ‘father of internet crowdsourcing,’ Wikipedia. GasBuddy is a consumer app that helps users find the cheapest gas prices in their region, which grew to over 60 million downloads and 12 million monthly active users before selling to Oil Price Information Systems (OPIS) in March 2013.
This new company (54e Dev Studios), launched by founders Dustin, and an early employee of GasBuddy, Tim Borgares, has just recently launched its new “Connected Reality” e-sports technology, OneShot Golf. Through OneShot Golf, users can play a new mini golf game on their phone, with one unique catch; they’re controlling a real robotic putter, playing on a real mini-golf course. Mobile gaming is a tough market to break into, but 2021 will be an interesting year as OneShot Golf creates an all-new category in the mobile gaming space.
Callia, an e-commerce flower company based in Winnipeg, is quickly gaining traction across Canada. The company was started by Catherine Metrycki with the simple idea of creating a better experience when buying flowers. Its sophisticated logistics engine allows Callia to get fresh flowers delivered quickly to the buyer. The company’s vision of creating special moments is evident from its ease of ordering, all the way through to the attention-grabbing box the flowers arrive in.
Like many e-commerce plays, being able to remove the burden of storefront overhead allows Callia to offer a less expensive product to the market, without compromising on quality. Since landing a deal on Dragons Den in 2019, Callia has continued to take the Canadian market by storm. We’ll be fascinated to watch whether they continue to scale here in Canada, or branch into new American cities in 2021.
Living Sky Technologies
The idea behind Living Sky Technologies’ first product, WriteWay, has significant potential. The new product is focused on reinventing the way writers create content, making the process as efficient as possible. We haven’t seen significant advancements in the world of structuring, formatting, and facilitating new writing since Microsoft Word in the ’90s.
Additionally, the ‘who’ part of Living Sky Technologies is an important part of the story to watch. Michael Zhou, founder and CEO, is one of the 18 founders of Alibaba. It’s not very often that a founder from one of the world’s largest tech companies ends up here in the Canadian prairies. It will be fascinating to see how Living Sky Technologies’ first product is received by the market in 2021, and even more interesting as the word starts to get out that we have such a prized individual building a company here in Saskatoon.
Founded by Matt Schaubroeck, ioAirFlow is an environmental company that has created new technology to help commercial buildings improve energy efficiency. The Canadian cleantech space is rapidly growing, and ioAirFlow looks to be an important piece of the puzzle in helping reduce the overall carbon footprint of buildings.
Leveraging their wireless IoT sensors which feed into their proprietary software, ioAirFlow can help provide valuable information to building owners on their energy efficiency, significantly cheaper and faster than the manual building audit processes which are used today. Through new programs led by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, along with a growing number of funds looking at cleantech startups, we see 2021 as a critical year for ioAirFlow as the company helps commercial buildings prepare for tenants to start coming back into the office again.
COVID-19 has been a significant accelerant to technology adoption, with EdTech being close to the top of the list for industries that have leapt years ahead. While Showbie is not solely focused on remote education, its three million-plus educators were able to use the platform to help smooth the transition for their students to continue learning from home.
Based on data from Crunchbase, global venture funding for EdTech companies reached $4.1 billion between January and July 2020, $1.5 billion more than was raised during the same period in 2019. Showbie was able to harness this EdTech movement and secure $5 million in a Series-A investment led by Rhino Ventures in 2021. Coming off this financing, we are excited to see Showbie continue to grow their team and add new solutions to power the future classroom.
Previous lists of Prairie tech companies and the current Canadian companies to watch:
Eight Prairie startups to watch in 2020
11 Prairie startups to watch in 2019
11 Canadian tech companies to watch in 2021
Have a different Prairie tech company you think is one to watch in 2021? Post your suggestion in the comment section below!