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CIX 2013 celebrates Canada’s innovation economy

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The logos of the CIX Top 20 are pictured in a handout.

If a list released in advance of the Canadian Innovation Exchange annual forum is any indication, Canada’s innovation economy is alive and well.

The CIX Top 20 list, which includes LaunchPad’s cloud-based real-time collaborative mobile development platform, to Plot.ly, an online data analytics and visualization solution, and procurement and spend management specialist Procurify, sets the stage for the CIX annual forum, scheduled for Nov. 21 at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District.

Robert Montgomery, CEO of Achilles Media, says his organization founded CIX in 2007 “because we wanted to have a coast-to-coast search for the hottest, most innovative companies in Canada. We wanted to put a spotlight on those companies, with all of the key stakeholders of the innovation economy participating.”

An innovation who’s who

CIX Top 20 list alumni, including Kobo, Rypple (now Salesforce.com-owned work.com), Vidyard, and Wave Accounting, read like a who’s who of companies that have succeeded. But Montgomery says awards and lists are only the beginning.

“When you see success stories, it makes an investor more likely to put capital to work,” he said. “It makes strategics, whether they’re Canadian or foreign, more likely to acquire or partner with them. It makes people more likely to become customers, and I think it increases the confidence that a lot of entrepreneurs have that they can succeed.”

Julien Smith, CEO of Breather, one of this year’s honourees, says the level of collaborative support in Canada makes a significant difference.

“I feel like we have a really supportive ecosystem. The fact that I was able to build the career that I have in Canada is, I think, a spectacular thing,” he said. “It is nice that we get seen as people who are trying to push the envelope, and when we go to the U.S. or elsewhere, we always talk about how Canada was able to get us through that, especially in the early stages.”

Breather is a network of private spaces that can be opened with a smartphone by anyone who needs an office to get work done, hold a meeting or simply relax. While Smith says the recognition is welcome, it doesn’t end there.

“We all have a lot of work that we still have to do,” he said. “Getting an award is not necessarily equivalent to building an amazing company. You have to do both. We’re all here working hard and making sure that we can have an impact on the world."

Transforming the landscape

Kumaran Thillainadarajah, CEO of Fredericton-based Smart Skin Technologies, says Atlantic Canada’s innovation landscape has been transformed in the wake of major success stories like Radian6.

When I started Smart Skin five years ago, I could name on one hand all the startups in Atlantic Canada,” he said. “Now in Fredericton alone there’s probably about 20 that are doing some really cool stuff. It’s changed dramatically.”

Thillainadarajah, whose company’s pressure-and touch-sensitive technology can wrap around any surface and is increasingly used in industry – for example optimizing a bottling plant production line – says money isn’t the only fuel for Canadian innovation.

“I think most people talk about money being the big problem for startups, but I really think it’s about mentorship and finding the right people to help you out,” he said. “I think that makes a much bigger impact than cash. Of course, cash is good, too.”

Ultimately, Montgomery says CIX is about growing Canada’s innovation brand.

“It provides a window on who’s doing what,” he says, “how advanced and how globally relevant some Canadian businesses are, and how everything that they build is not just about being the best thing north of the 49th, but about being competitive at a world level as well.”

Carmi Levy is a London, Ont.-based independent technology analyst and journalist. The opinions expressed are his own. carmilevy@yahoo.ca