#WaterlooRegion startups like Thalmic stepping up to keep tech talent in Canada

stephen lake

Earlier this month, about 200 BlackBerry employees were laid off between the tech company’s Florida location and its Waterloo headquarters. It was the latest in a series of cost-cutting measures as the company finds new ways towards profitability.

“Companies here are altruistically interested in how to help the whole Waterloo region.”
– Stephen Lake, Thalmic Labs CEO

At the same time, Waterloo’s Thalmic Labs enacted plans to hire an additional 25 employees this quarter, and double the size of its 70-person team before the end of the year. While hiring around 100 people doesn’t seem like a huge number in comparison to BlackBerry’s diminished workforce, Thalmic CEO and co-founder Stephen Lake argues that the momentum is shifting away from large tech corporations as startups become key to keeping talent in Canada.

“The message is that there’s great opportunities out there whether it’s at Thalmic or the many other startups in town, and we’re really hoping the Region can retain these highly-skilled people that have been here and we hope we can get over this brain drain,” said Lake. “It’s an opportunity to find those people and give them the message that there are opportunities here. Just because you’re not longer at BlackBerry it doesn’t mean you need to leave Canada or go elsewhere to stay in your field.”

With a history of hiring employees from BlackBerry, Lake also expressed a commitment to continue absorbing its outgoing tech talent. In addition to Thalmic, companies like Vidyard, Shopify, Kik, Clearpath, and eSentire have expressed plans to hire at least one hundred in the next year, creating a network of hungry companies that allow this talent to continue giving back to the Waterloo Region.

Lake, who’s lived in Waterloo since 2007, said he’s seen a change in the makeup of Waterloo companies since he first moved to the area from Toronto, and that it’s affecting the larger community in a positive way. “I think we’ve seen a massive change in continuum over that time period from a community where we had a couple of large technology companies like RIM, to one that is now diversified,” he said. “There’s over 1,000 companies that are registered through Communitech in the region, and that’s everything from two-person startups to mid-sized companies to large tech companies.”

Communitech Tannery

Lake argues that the Waterloo Region’s high concentration of startups — its startup density is second only to Silicon Valley — has encouraged the revitalization of Kitchener’s once-empty factories into workspaces for the 21st Century tech industry.

“It fosters this inclusive community where companies in the Waterloo region don’t think of each other as competition, companies here are altruistically interested in how to help the whole region,” said Lake.

Thalmic Labs has been steadily making moves towards growth since it raised its first funding round of $14.5 million in 2013. The Myo band has been used by celebrities like Armin Van Buuren, was part of Johns Hopkins’ design for its first gesture-controlled prosthetic, and expanded to Best Buy.

Lake, however, denied that hiring the additional employees — specifically in the R&D, product development, and engineering teams — was in preparation for another round of funding, or a new product launch, the latter of which several sources have reported to BetaKit. “I can say that we’re very healthily funded right now and we’re not looking for money or raising any further money right now,” said Lake. “We have a product in market, and we generate significant revenues from that product so we have funding in the sense that we sell a product and it’s profitable.”

Image courtesy University of Waterloo. Igor Bonifacic contributed to the reporting of this piece.

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.