For so long, Canada has been known as the quiet and unassuming nation that shyly whispered its accomplishments from the sidelines. Those days are over.
Canada has much to be proud of and as we continue to further establish ourselves as leaders on the global stage, we’ve found our voice—and we’ve got something to say.
We believe in progress. We believe in innovation and evolution. We believe in community, in supporting local businesses while simultaneously cheering for homegrown brands that have set forth to conquer the world.
Our guide to Canada’s most impactful companies is just about that—making a difference. Within the 2021 Power 50, you’ll find a group of game-changing companies (some familiar, some you may never have heard of) that are redefining their respective industries to be more resilient, efficient, and thoughtful. Beyond that, the last year and a half has proven to be a trying time for a variety of reasons. From providing pandemic relief to supporting underrepresented communities, these are also the companies (and the people who are leading them) that understand the value of community.
Combined, these are all stories worth telling—triumphs of ingenuity and compassion that speak to what it means to build a company and community in Canada.
Use @BayStBull, Bay Street Bull, and #BSBPower50 to follow along on social media.
While the rest of the world’s economy was thrown into disarray amidst a global pandemic, Ottawa-based technology and e-commerce company, Shopify, has flipped the script. In a year largely defined by a bleak economic landscape, the subscription-based software company reported revenues of $2.9 billion compared to $1.5 billion in 2019, reaching a remarkable 86 percent increase. And yet while Shopify’s success has been impressive, it isn’t entirely unprecedented. Several other major companies saw profits skyrocket through 2020, but while many have been justifiably critiqued for exploiting the year’s turbulence for maximum profit, standing on the backs of small businesses and their employees alike, Shopify has thrived with an inverse approach. Read the full cover story here.
In the wake of the mainstream resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last spring, the BlackNorth initiative emerged as a means of holding Canada’s largest corporations accountable to their commitments to racial equality and eliminating systemic racism across hiring practices and an equal opportunity for promotion. Championed by Canadian power broker and Dragons’ Den’s newest Dragon Wes Hall and The Canadian Council of Business Leaders Against Anti-Black Systemic Racism, the initiative utilizes a business-first mindset on its mission to destabilize systemic racism in corporate Canada. Today, Hall’s mission towards corporate equality has been supported by nearly 500 Canadian companies. BlackNorth is holding industry leaders accountable through a CEO pledge to create an equal power structure for future Black business leaders. Hall’s strategy has been to educate Canadian boardrooms about how diversifying the C-suite not only creates an equal playing field but improves a company’s performance, an incentive that has drawn the interest of 30 percent of the companies on the TSX 60 with the total market cap of all committed organizations exceeding $1.3 trillion. Appropriately aligned with Hall’s vision for Canada’s corporate landscape, BlackNorth’s list of supporting organizations is remarkably diverse and spans companies of all sizes, industries, and mandates. Expanding through financial services, education, extractive industries, professional services, healthcare, online services, consulting, manufacturing, small-to-medium sized firms, business associations, private companies, and many more, BlackNorth has transcended all distinctions of Canadian business to spark drastic improvements towards equality. Through each pledge, Hall and BlackNorth are holding major industry leaders accountable to take action and reshape corporate structures that uphold anti-Black and systemically racist practices. And yet, a year after the initiative began, BlackNorth has continued to evolve into far more than a promise to restructure Canada’s C-suites. Today, while providing support to corporate Canada pledgees, the initiative has also developed and implemented several core programs aimed at supporting Black Canadians, including business mentorship, a homeownership bridge program, and a mental health program for Black youth, all while remaining equally committed to its mission of accountability, equality, and progression in Canadian business. – DS
Black Opportunity Fund
Established last year by a coalition of Black executives in partnership with the Toronto Foundation, the Black Opportunity Fund (BOF) seeks to unite the Black community with foundations, businesses, and various philanthropists to combat anti-Black racism throughout the country. With an emphasis on promoting diversity in Canadian government, institutions, and businesses, BOF prioritizes creating equal opportunity for Black Canadians through a wide range of investments but has a particular focus on initiatives in education, healthcare, entrepreneurship, and politics. The fund’s founders are attempting to build a sustainable pool of capital to back structural solutions to systemic inequality. With a mission to establish a $1.5 billion fund, BOF aims to generate $90-125 million in investment and philanthropic capital per year, in perpetuity, “guided by the highest standards of transparency and governance.” This money is used towards empowering Black Canadians by filling funding gaps for nearly 8,000 Black businesses, permanently supporting 450+ community organizations, and maintaining the infrastructure for a national ecosystem of partners supporting both BOF and the Black community at large. – DS
RELATED: 15 Organizations Cultivating Black Talent in Canada
Fifteen Percent Pledge
Just days after George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police, Canadian fashion designer Aurora James launched the Fifteen Percent Pledge in direct response to the tragedy. As corporations issued numerous statements to support the Black Lives Matter movement, James was keen on ensuring they kept the momentum going. At first, the founder of sustainable accessories brand, Brother Vellies, considered how more people in the fashion industry could show their investment in BIPOC issues in a meaningful way. The answer was a non-profit organization established to hold large retailers accountable to their commitments to racial equality. It’s no secret that existing blind spots and biases within companies and society at large have led to disparities—the Fifteen Percent Pledge facilitates concrete steps that retailers can take to fill at least 15 percent of their shelf-space with products from black-owned businesses (roughly the proportion of the Black population in America.) With Canada’s population consisting of five percent Indigenous and 3.5 percent Black segments, the racial landscape may appear different here but the pledge can be applied to the nation’s 22.3 percent of people who identify as visible minorities. By taking the pledge, retailers can contribute to growing the share of BIPOC businesses they empower, distributing wealth and opportunity more equitably. The retailers sign multi-year contracts and every quarter they are expected to share their progress on moving the needle closer to creating a marketplace that better reflects the Canadian population. The Fifteen Percent Pledge works collaboratively with companies, helping to challenge existing business models riddled with systemic racism and find the right solutions to support the BIPOC businesses they invest in. Since inception, the organization has been able to mobilize large-scale American and Canadian retailers like Sephora, Indigo, West Elm, and more. With commitments from these well-known companies, consumers can consciously shop and feel good knowing they are supporting diverse brands. In its first year, 21 companies have taken on the spirit of the pledge in a variety of industries beyond retail, including magazines, model management, and more. With Canada’s history of progressive stances on cannabis and LGBTQIA+ rights, the Fifteen Percent Pledge is eager to secure more partnerships with Canadian businesses ready to take responsibility, live their corporate values in a real way, and set an example in their industry. – AD (Photo courtesy of Gap)
For many Canadians, the COVID-19 vaccine program has been deemed complex and frustrating as people struggle to navigate government websites for guidance on where and when to book appointments. Fortunately, Vaccine Hunters, an apolitical grassroots organization has come to their rescue. Built on the simple value that Canadians have a responsibility to help other Canadians, Vaccine Hunters is a passionate group of volunteers with a mission to protect those who are at risk and vulnerable. The organization provides an online tool to assist in supporting community members as they navigate the COVID-19 vaccine booking system. The volunteers collect and verify information related to vaccine availability, eligibility, and provide a source of truth with the help of medical experts. By serving as a resource for the greater public, Vaccine Hunters is limiting vaccine wastage and ensuring more people have the opportunity to get vaccinated. It’s evident that during this uncertain time, Vaccine Hunters and their volunteers are selflessly bringing comfort to Canadians. – AD
From big life milestones to small daily decisions, money and personal finance permeate just about every aspect of our lives. And even so, they’re topics that are still considered taboo in many contexts. It begs the question: Why are people so uncomfortable talking about their money?
It’s something that Michael Katchen asked himself when he created his company Wealthsimple back in 2014 to address the larger issue around how we interact with and feel about our money. Today, the Canadian fintech company has skyrocketed in growth, managing over $10 billion in assets with a user base north of 1.5 million people, all in pursuit of the same mission that has existed since day one: to humanize money.
Wealthsimple started by providing people with an alternative solution to traditional investment management (ones characterized by high fees and account minimums) by providing access to services typically only available to the ultra rich. Built on a foundation of technology and innovation, the brand has evolved to provide a holistic suite of services to help Canadians grow more comfortable with their money and reach their goals. Today, that mix now includes high-interest savings accounts, commission-free trading, tax filing, P2P money transfers, and more.
LISTEN: Wealthsimple CEO Michael Katchen on How We Can Get More Comfortable Talking About Money
Earlier this year, Wealthsimple raised a landmark $750 million to grow its team and further cultivate its product mix, bringing it to a $5 billion valuation. While traditional institutions have forced themselves to embrace more innovative solutions to their existing products, Wealthsimple has only continued on its upward trajectory to revolutionize the financial services market—and big names are looking to be a part of that ride. The most recent round of funding included Drake and his company DreamCrew, as well as Canadian actors Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox.
Most recently, Wealthsimple introduced fractional shares to make buying and selling large stocks more accessible to new investors, claiming to be the only trading platform in Canada to offer the investment option in Canadian and US companies. It’s the latest move that circles back to their promise of offering equitable access to Canadians in pursuit of financial freedom.
(Photography by Janick Laurent)
For Knix founder Joanna Griffiths, championing women’s causes is more than just good business, it fuels everything the brand does. In the product line, nods to common women’s issues are evident—anti-chafing shorts, wireless bras, and super absorbent underwear. All pieces were designed to make women feel more comfortable in their own skin and make them feel seen. It’s clear that the company is intentional in the products they develop and the brand story they tell. Both highlight representation, appealing to women of all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and ages. Unquestionably, Knix is a welcome change from intimate brands before it. Under Griffiths’ leadership, her company isn’t afraid to shout their values from the rooftop—at every stage and in every way the brand talks the talk and walks the walk. When partner retailers failed to carry diverse size inventory in-store, Griffiths took Knix online to give consumers the best shopping experience. While fundraising and pregnant, Griffiths faced discrimination when investors didn’t want to invest in a company whose founder would soon be going on maternity leave. Yet, during her second pregnancy, Griffiths proved naysayers wrong by securing a fundraising round of $53 million, closing just three days before she delivered twins. In fact, she had one simple rule: if investors questioned her ability to run a business while pregnant then they would be removed from the running. The rule ensured all investors selected shared the same vision and values of female empowerment as Knix. The brand has become a movement and takes its responsibility to women seriously, unapologetically leading the conversation around taboo topics like menstruation, fertility, and postpartum. They’ve also started to address issues of intersectionality by supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and providing space on their platform for BIPOC to share their stories. Taking cues from their customers, Knix isn’t slowing down on their inclusive approach, and with the company expecting to surpass $100 million in net sales, it seems like the strategy is working. – AD
With power couple Michele Romanow and Andrew D’Souza at the helm, Clearco (formerly Clearbanc) is primed to support the next generation of e-commerce entrepreneurs through innovative financing solutions. By leveraging artificial intelligence and data-driven approaches, the Toronto-based company is able to finance companies in a completely unbiased way, agnostic of gender, race, and region. The venture capitalist (VC) world has long been criticized for disparities in funding based on sociocultural inequities—notably women and BIPOC communities have faced obstacles accessing the capital needed to fuel growth. Yet, Clearco is already making its mark on the industry. Of the 5,500 businesses the company has invested in, 30 percent are BIPOC-led businesses along with 8x more women-led companies compared to traditional VC firms. And although the dominant tech hubs are typically saturated with financing, Clearco has spread the wealth across all 50 states as well as Canada’s 10 provinces. The company has already invested $2.4 billion in a variety of businesses, and recently secured a $215 million fundraising round from SoftBank Vision Fund II to further its investing capabilities. It’s evident that Clearco is revolutionizing access to growth—changing the face of fundraising for the better. – AD
LISTEN: Clearco’s Michele Romanow on How Entrepreneurs Can Solve Today’s Toughest Problems
(Photography by Janick Laurent)
MaRS Discovery District
Some of Canada’s most game-changing startups credit MaRS Discovery District for launching them to the next level on the global stage. As North America’s largest urban innovation hub, MaRS powers the next generation of leading startups in health, cleantech, fintech, and enterprise software. It supports over 1,400 Canadian companies that tackle some of society’s greatest challenges, arming them with tailored resources at every stage of their growth, from start-up to scale-up.
Since 2008, MaRS-supported companies have raised over $8.2B in capital, generated over $5.6B in revenue, and currently employ over 20,400 people. MaRS plays a crucial part in establishing Canada as a destination for entrepreneurial and tech talent and is also a critical resource for social impact issues. In the past year alone, MaRS launched its Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism to connect BIPOC people to the innovation sector; introduced its Mission from MaRS: Climate Impact Challenge to accelerate climate-tech adoption; and contributed to COVID-19 efforts with both the launch of Innovation Economy Council (IEC) to navigate the post-pandemic economy, and a vaccination clinic in partnership with University Health Network. – ED
Think of Canada’s entrepreneurial sector as an ecosystem—one teeming with talent and ideas capable of changing the world. The DMZ has always recognized this and was built to nurture and cultivate high potential startups into world class tech companies. Since its founding in 2010, the Toronto-based incubator has helped more than 448 startups raise over a whopping $1 billion in capital and create over 4,000 jobs. But above providing resources, network, and coaching, the DMZ also understands its responsibility to lead its industry, especially in areas pertaining to social impact. Recognizing the additional obstacles that underrepresented founders face when growing a business, the DMZ developed the Black Innovation Programs (BIP) and additional programming for women founders in the Incubator to provide startups led by Black and women entrepreneurs with the support needed to gain market traction. Today, they continue their mission to build a future of disruptive companies defined not only by innovation but also by diversity.
Canada is a nation that takes pride in its diversity, and its entrepreneurial landscape is a direct reflection of it. Launched in 2018, the Techstars Toronto Accelerator harnesses the diverse perspectives and problem-solving capabilities of our most innovative minds by providing them with mentorship opportunities, fundraising assistance, and a global entrepreneurial network. Under the leadership of managing director Sunil Sharma, the first three cohorts have already produced three exits totaling nearly $50M, further solidifying Canada as a destination for top entrepreneurial talent and world-changing ideas.
Wattpad co-founders Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen have disrupted the entertainment industry by harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI). The Toronto-based company has a clear mission: to entertain and connect the world through stories. With its beginnings as a free user-generated content platform for professional and amateur fiction writers, the company quickly expanded its offerings allowing writers around the world to take control of their careers by sharing their stories, growing their fanbase, and making money meaningfully on the platform. For those who faced challenges accessing traditional publishing channels which typically only publish a small number of works every year, Wattpad has democratized the industry by giving anyone who dares to put pen to paper a chance to have a captive audience. The platform elevates the storytelling capabilities of underrepresented groups (including women and BIPOC authors) and audiences can hear new voices and perspectives written in 50 different languages, with sub-culturally specific genres.
RELATED: How Wattpad CEO Allen Lau Used Diversity and AI to Redefine Which Stories Get Told
While large publishers may avoid taking risks on titles written for niche audiences, Wattpad removes barriers to reach all types of people, observes what kinds of stories are deemed compelling by audiences, and then decides to make an investment informed by data. The approach has brought traditionally unlikely works like One Direction fanfiction into the limelight. For authors, leveraging the interactive nature of the platform and audience feedback can help to improve their stories and the strategy seems to be working—the company has reached more than 90 million people worldwide. They also have a track record of success stories that have been adapted into hit shows and movies through Wattpad Studios which connects their most successful authors with Hollywood studios and literary agents. Yet, that isn’t the end of Wattpad’s impact, they’re mindful of building a team that reflects the diversity of their audiences. Earlier this year, the company was acquired by South Korean company Naver for $754 million, which has led to the creation of new offices and almost 100 new jobs planned in Canada by end of year. And with many people experiencing job loss during COVID-19, Wattpad has readily contributed to the gig-economy, providing professional writers and hobbyists a platform to sell their work. – AD
Founded by siblings Martin, Meti, and Massi Basiri, unicorn edtech company ApplyBoard is simplifying access to international education. The platform uses artificial intelligence to match students with undergraduate and graduate institutions in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and Canada. As former international students from Iran, the Basiri siblings understood the unique challenges faced by hopeful students applying to institutions abroad, each spending hundreds of hours on the complexities that come with it. Now ApplyBoard can streamline the search, application, and acceptance journey all in one place. The company is built upon the core belief that education is a right and not a privilege, and sharing these opportunities can change lives. In that spirit, ApplyBoard is democratizing access to education by maintaining a free platform for students to leverage. To date, the company has helped over 200,000 students connect to high-quality educational institutions and has employed over 1,000 people across 25 countries. In 2020, ApplyBoard was named one of the fastest-growing technology companies in Canada and North America by Deloitte and, most recently, closed a $300M funding round, which will help continue their mission of driving diversity across campuses and empowering students to get the best education available. – AD
Mike Silagadze was frustrated by his post-secondary education experience—he observed professors who were passionate about lecture-style teaching but didn’t have a captive audience in digitally native students. Seeing an opportunity to align education with today’s technology-driven landscape, Silagadze started Top Hat, a suite of software tools built to revolutionize the classroom. Now more than ever, the platform continues to be a key player in navigating academics during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden shift to remote learning forced educational institutions to rapidly pivot in order to provide students and instructors with the support they needed to facilitate online learning in an engaging way. While traditional institutions tried to keep pace, the Top Hat platform was ready to be leveraged to create an interactive and meaningful digital learning experience, one where students aren’t simply passive learners but are transformed into active learners, a stark contrast to antiquated methods. And the demand is evident. In 2020, Top Hat not only closed another sizable round of funding ($53M) but was ranked one of Canada’s Top Growing Companies.
It’s been about a year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world forever. And while many of us eagerly look forward to restabilization as vaccination rates climb in Canada, it’s easy to forget what it has taken to get us to this point. One of the key players that have quite literally been a part of the conversation since the beginning is BlueDot, a startup that utilizes machine-learning and AI to detect potential infectious disease outbreaks. How? By scouring hundreds of thousands of digital sources (like news reports, health forums, flight itineraries, and global health agency reports) every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day to pinpoint early warning signs.
Founded in 2014 by Dr. Kamran Khan, the social enterprise mobilizes an Avengers-style team with a diverse range of expertise to tackle complex problems. Think: physicians, epidemiologists, veterinarians, geographers, data scientists, ecologists, and more. It was his team that detected the embers of the spreading novel coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019, sounding the alarm six days earlier than the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nine days before the World Health Organization. BlueDot was also the first to publish a scientific paper on COVID-19, predicting its proliferation using in-house proprietary models.
LISTEN: BlueDot CEO Dr. Kamran Khan on How to Disrupt Infectious Diseases with AI
Stopping an outbreak in its tracks requires lightning-fast agility in order to disseminate critical information and react accordingly. This is certainly not the last one humanity will see but with companies like BlueDot at the ready, hopefully, we’ll be better equipped to take the necessary steps to be better prepared.
(Photography by Ilich Mejia)
While many industries were forced out of commission through 2020, COVID-19 naturally only accelerated the advancement and adoption of virtual healthcare. But even long before the pandemic struck, the founders of Maple—a virtual care platform that allows patients to speak with doctors through text or video and receive diagnosis and prescriptions—foresaw the opportunity to make the healthcare experience simpler and more accessible.
RELATED: Maple Co-Founder Roxana Zaman on the Future of Healthcare
Founded in 2015, Maple emerged as a simple but revolutionary way of improving healthcare accessibility for Canadians, from the remotest communities to urban hubs, offering nothing less than a lifeline to many amidst the isolation of lockdowns. The Toronto-based company saw its user base soar throughout the pandemic, as its 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service connected Canadians with vetted practitioners and specialists in two minutes or less. Even prior to COVID-19, Maple grew steadily at 10 to 15 percent month-over-month in terms of revenue and usage. Yet between February and April of 2020, revenues tripled as physician offices and medical centres were forced to shut down. Today, Maple’s streamlined approach has been normalized to the point of shifting Canada’s perspective and very definition of what healthcare can offer. – DS
What is a social network without its network? Its community? Its heart?
From civil rights movements to a crippling global pandemic, the past two years have been filled with enough strife and upheaval to fill an entire lifetime. Recognizing its ability to affect change as one of the world’s most powerful social media platforms, Facebook mobilized itself to make a difference from a global scale right down to the local level. They collaborated with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank to survey small and medium-sized enterprises over a six-month period during the pandemic to derive insights on topics ranging from business closures and revenue to employment and finances in order to better support them. Here in Canada, Facebook announced nearly $3.5 million in grants, virtual training programs, and product features across their family of apps in March 2020 to promote local businesses and later committed $500,000 in funding to the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce to assist Black-owned businesses. Most recently, Facebook Canada partnered with Shopify, the Canadian Council of Aboriginal Business (CCAB), EntrepreNorth, Pow Wow Pitch, and Raven Indigenous Capital Partners to support Indigenous-owned businesses through a new campaign called #WeThrive by showcasing them in a shoppable ad campaign.
Whether you’re a global tech platform or a local business, community is the beating heart that keeps a company going. Facebook’s commitment to its own is an example of how companies can lead the way.
Of all the social media giants out there, none have cultivated a community quite like that of TikTok’s. A platform built for creators to express themselves and make meaningful connections through its short and quippy videos, the Canadian arm has taken a strong stance on social issues since setting up shop, amplifying and supporting the voices of small businesses and underrepresented communities. In the past 14 months alone, TikTok has amplified the stories of its Indigenous creators (and donated $100,000 to various Canadian non-profits), rolled out new features to help create a safer environment (including the ability to report up to 100 comments at once), amplified the journeys of Asian Canadian creators during Asian Heritage month, and empowered entrepreneurs to grow their small businesses by fostering meaningful connections online.
RELATED: How Notorious Cree Harnessed Social Media to Reclaim and Share His Culture
(Photography by Norman Wong)
It should be no surprise that Netflix enjoyed steady growth throughout the pandemic, as many turned to the streaming service for much-needed reprieve and entertainment during the doldrums of multiple lockdowns. Now, that growth is helping to fuel Netflix’s expansion into Canada, as the company plans to make Toronto home to its new Canadian head office.
It makes sense that the streaming giant is making its way across the border, as the platform has reportedly spent upwards of $2.5 billion in productions in Canada since 2017, including record-setting programs in The Queen’s Gambit and Umbrella Academy. Along with plans to initially base 10 to 15 employees in Canada, Netflix also plans on using the new headquarters to expand its commitment with Canadian talent in its productions. Through 2019, the platform managed to contribute $2.2 billion to Toronto’s economy, making the expansion one of the most promising developments in recent memory in terms of both cultural and financial impact. – DS
Ever since expanding into Canada and opening their office in downtown Toronto in 2018, Pinterest has acted as a major catalyst behind cultivating Canada’s entrepreneurial and tech talent. After establishing itself as a social media juggernaut for over a decade, Pinterest saw all-time highs for global engagement through 2020 as users turned to the platform to find solutions for at-home learning, cooking, optimizing spaces in their homes, and more. In Canada alone, the platform reportedly reached 43 percent of Canadians online while boasting 13.7 million unique monthly visitors. Today, as the world returns to a sense of normalcy, Pinterest is continuing its evolution by shifting its focus in the Great White North.
RELATED: How Pinterest is Shining a Spotlight on Underrepresented Creators
With an announcement to open a new 50,000-square foot office in Canada, the company is reportedly set to hire 50 new employees, including first-time roles in engineering, sales, insights, and marketing. The office will mark Pinterest’s first international engineering hub, where the Toronto-based engineers will be focusing on developing global products as integral cogs in building the platform’s shopping experience. In fact, the new Canadian office will comprise half of the engineering workforce for the app’s shopping features, a core development that is projected to drive Pinterest’s growth over the next decade. – DS
(Pictured: Erin Elofson, Head of Canada and APAC Region, Pinterest)
Continuing on the trend of tech’s mass migration to the Great White North, popular social news aggregator Reddit also announced in early 2021 that it would be setting up camp in Canada. The third-largest market for the brand behind the US and the UK (with a 40 percent Year-Over-Year user base growth rate), Reddit announced plans to fill positions that span management, sales, communications, and engineering. According to chief operating officer Jen Wong, the move is a clear indication of the tech giant’s “long-term investment” in Canada and further proof of Canada’s unique identity in the global community as a hub for talent and an engaged consumer base.
LISTEN: Reddit COO Jen Wong on How Online Communities Can Drive Real-World Change
While they’ve maintained their Canadian outpost since first opening their offices in 2013, Twitter is adding to Canada’s reputation as a hotbed for engineering talent. In early 2021, the social media giant announced plans to launch a new engineering hub and hire at least 24 engineers in Toronto. It comes at a time where global competition for tech talent is intersecting with a new work culture that has allowed companies to hire beyond their borders and in this case, invest in local talent coming out of universities like Queen’s, McMaster, the University of Waterloo, and UofT.
What does it mean to be neighbourly? It’s a question that Nextdoor continually asks itself and its members. The tech platform, which bills itself as the world’s largest private network for neighbours, launched in Canada at a critical moment in time (a few months before the pandemic) when Canadians felt more disconnected than ever. According to the brand, almost 83 percent of Canadians said that they are neighbourly, yet only 38 percent knew one or two neighbours. The tech platform strives to create community by fostering an environment where people can connect, share critical information, provide recommendations, and hype up their favourite local businesses, a feature that became particularly important when the world shut down and sheltered in place. Since launching, Nextdoor has contributed to social impact initiatives including Canada United, a national movement to support local businesses through a Small Business Relief Fund, which gives companies grants of up to $5,000 to cover expenses related to re-opening guidelines and improving e-commerce capabilities.
In the esports universe, everything is trending upwards. Celebrities are co-signing the movement, viewership continues to skyrocket (from 454 million viewers in 2019 to a projected 646 million in 2023), and revenue streams have never been higher. Today, with most projections putting the esports ecosystem on track to surpass $1 billion in revenue for the first time this year, even the most stringent sports traditionalists have been forced to admit that the industry is here to stay. And while some are just now hopping aboard the bandwagon, companies such as OverActive Media (OAM) are reaping the rewards as pioneers of the industry.
As Canada’s largest esports ownership group, OAM’s mission is to build a media, sports, and entertainment company for the next generation of esports fans by “knocking down barriers and redefining boundaries.” Founded in 2018, the company fields teams across two continents and multiple esports but over the course of three years, OAM has become far more than simply an ownership group. Recently, the group signed a landmark multi-year deal with Red Bull, expanded the role of its founding marketing partner, Bell Media, and unveiled its new headquarters and esports training centre while launching a rebrand.
Perhaps the most notable detail from their recent partnership with Red Bull is the new $500-million, 7,000-seat entertainment facility set to be built on the Exhibition grounds in Toronto by 2025. Not only will the state-of-the-art venue house home games for the organization’s esports teams, but the “theatre-style” entertainment facility will also act as a musical complex, hotel, and entertainment hub. And while the arena offers a home to some of Canada’s best esports franchises, it also acts as a symbol of just how ingrained the esports industry is becoming in the country. – DS
Paramount Fine Foods
Once upon a time, Mohamad Fakih’s Paramount Fine Foods was known for just that: fine foods. More specifically, fine foods which embrace the fresh and healthy flavours of the Middle East and promote only the most authentic recipes.
Now operating as three different business concepts, and recognized as the fastest-growing Middle Eastern food chain in Canada, the eats here remain elevated. Only under Fakih’s watch, the Paramount operation has authentically evolved into the personification of a purpose-driven affair, celebrated as much for its community efforts as its food.
During the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, Paramount hired more than 150 displaced people. (Fakih is a refugee, himself.) In 2017, it supported the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooting, plus provided shelter for the homeless during Toronto’s cold spell. In 2020, it aided the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 through the Canada Strong initiative.
And at the start of 2021? Under Fakih’s stewardship, Paramount paired with SEIU Healthcare to launch the Food for the LTC Frontline campaign to support healthcare heroes. So far, it has delivered tens of thousands of hot meals to workers, with primary efforts targeted at those living in the Greater Toronto Area’s hardest-hit locations
Fakih’s leadership through Paramount Fine Foods is a shining example of what it means to be a purpose-driven business that nourishes its community in more ways than one. – CM
Field Trip Health
Field Trip Health helps people in need, from those in treatment to those seeking accelerated personal growth, with a simple, evidence-based way to heal and to heighten engagement. It has quickly become the recognized global leader in the development and delivery of psychedelic therapies.
The wellness startup is spearheading the progress of the next generation of psychedelic molecules while conducting advanced research on plant-based psychedelics, including psilocybin-producing fungi. Similarly, it is building centres for psychedelic therapies opening across North America and Europe, along with the digital and technological tools that will enable massive scale.
LISTEN: Are Psychedelics the Future of Mental Healthcare?
Beyond being positioned at the vanguard of psychedelics, and on the right side of their potential to disrupt modern psychiatry, Field Trip is making increasingly bigger moves on the business battlefield, too.
In March, it announced the closing of $95 million in bought deal financing—a powerful validation of what Field Trip is building, no doubt. In May, it received conditional approval to list its common shares and warrants on the Toronto Stock Exchange—a significant milestone for Field Trip and the emerging psychedelics industry more broadly—and in June, it applied to list its common shares on NASDAQ as a declaration to the world that Field Trip is a world-class company.
Field Trip further anticipates being able to commence Phase 1 human trials for FT-104, its next-generation psychedelic molecule by the end of 2021 and expects to have a couple dozen of its aforementioned Field Trip Health centres operating (or under construction). – CM
Blue J Legal
Blue J Legal is a fascinatingly revolutionary AI-powered software company that aims to minimize time and financial expenses for legal firms by scanning historic judicial decisions and searches for patterns to predict outcomes of future cases. The only service to combine cutting-edge machine learning and AI with an organic understanding of legal factors, Blue J has managed to provide legal assistance with both a degree of speed and accuracy unattainable to most firms.
By inputting the scenario through a brief questionnaire, the software analyzes the data and simulates a review of similar cases before a complete download of the report is available. As it stands, Blue J’s method has developed a 90 percent success rate and is four-times faster than traditional legal research methods. In recent years, rapidly multiplying legal documents and cases have outstripped the capabilities of human researchers, so tax professionals and law firms alike have turned towards Blue J for relief. However, throughout 2020, COVID-19 led individuals to turn to the software to help identify the available relief programs and credits for which they were eligible. Frequently updated to help users make relevant and timely decisions, the tools provided direct links outlining eligibility criteria, contact information, and application processes. Moving forward, Blue J plans to remain a resource for both individuals looking for clarity as well as large firms bolstering their productivity and reliability. – DS
Guided by its mission to let employees take more control over their health plans while reducing costs, League‘s digital infrastructure and health OS are being used by employers, providers, payors, and pharmacies to create personalized omnichannel digital health experiences.
More to the point? The data-driven platform is powering the digital transformation of healthcare—and empowering people to live healthier, happier lives.
With its category-defining Health Benefits Experience (HBX), a new “front door” to healthcare, and through an integrated ecosystem of over 100 insurance carriers, healthcare partners, and HRIS systems, League has set its sights on eliminating the current sea of point solutions.
Perhaps its most notable pandemic contribution was to offer a complimentary trial of its HBX to enterprises in need, thereby providing enhanced healthcare navigation, access, and resources to newly-decentralized workforces.
The complimentary version of the platform included a mobile-first communication channel for employers, concierge-like services that gave employees real-time access to health professionals, and access to virtual preliminary COVID-19 screenings.
It also included a centralized point of access that provided timely, accurate, and credible information about the pandemic, along with access to additional health-focused services and a wide variety of health programs, including stress and anxiety management programs. – CM
(Pictured: League CEO Mike Serbinis)
Delivering online health and wellness programs exclusively dedicated to organizations—25,000-plus of them—that wish to improve the well-being of their members and families (millions, combined), Dialogue is one of Canada’s top virtual care providers.
Think of one platform with a multitude of powerful benefits: a stress-free program administration; higher member engagement; integrated wellness reporting; higher ROI on wellness programs—all in one place.
Of course, with recent circumstances pushing companies to seek out new ways to support their employees’ health, and with virtual care replacing a trip to the doctor’s office for many, Dialogue experienced truly exponential growth over the pandemic, scaling 10 times in four weeks. In a single quarter alone, it created 400 new positions.
By generating jobs, and by supplying large corporations and industries the technologies and science they require to prosper in the post-pandemic economy, entities like Dialogue look poised to play an outsized role in Canada’s future economic performance. – CM
(Pictured: Dialogue co-founders Cherif Habib, Alexis Smirnov, Anna Chif)
Montreal-based Nuvei has come a long way since it was founded in 2003. A technology company that offers payment solutions to retailers and distribution companies, Nuvei’s mission is to empower its clients by helping them connect to their customers in a more simplified, holistic way. Effectively, they’re a one-stop-shop that offers an end-to-end payment technology platform so that merchants can focus on cultivating their business rather than fuss over back-end complexities. Theirs is a business that acknowledges that a global marketplace should still feel local and that technological innovation must go hand-in-hand with building strong relationships across the table. And it looks like the world is validating their thesis. Led by Chairman and CEO Philip Fayer and his team, Nuvei made history in late 2020 with the most valuable tech IPO ever on the TSX after raising $700 million USD. Today, they connect customers in 200 markets, accepting 470 forms of alternative payments and 40 different cryptocurrencies so that their clients can effectively operate whenever and wherever they want.
Give anyone the chance to save money and they’d jump at the chance, right? But what if they don’t know about the opportunities available to them? Borrowell is a fintech startup that strives to empower Canadians financially by providing them with free credit information, product suggestions, and digital tools to make better decisions about their money. With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating financial hardships and the need for consumers to have healthy credits in order to achieve stability, the Toronto-based company aims to be the destination where users can access budgeting and financial products to help stabilize their own economic wellbeing. With over one million members using their platform and the recent acquisition of Refresh Financial (which helps underserved Canadians gain long-term access to affordable forms of credit), Borrowell has already demonstrated its ability to empower Canadians and their relationship with money.
(Pictured: Borrowell Co-Founder Eva Wong by Francisco Garcia)
Canada’s banking landscape has historically (and continues to be) dominated by traditional banking institutions that have offered little to no technological innovation. Neo Financial is on a mission to change that by shaking up the status quo and challenging Canadians to reimagine the banking industry. The Calgary-based startup utilizes technology to simplify finances, create incentives, and cultivate community amongst its users by offering products like a savings account with a 1.5 percent interest rate and a credit card with an accessible and enticing rewards system. Founded by SkiptheDishes alums Andrew Chau and Jeff Adamson, along with Kris Read, the startup recently raised a $50 million Series A, a stepping stone on their path to reinventing the banking experience.
Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)
A bank geared towards the specific needs of entrepreneurs, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has a long track record of performance that has helped cultivate Canada’s thriving entrepreneurial sector. Since 1944, they’ve committed $36.5 billion dollars to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and supported over 62,000 entrepreneurs through financing, advisory services, and capital, which has had a wide-ranging ripple effect. Thanks in part to the BDC’s support, their clients have gone on to collectively employ over one million Canadians and generate over $350 billion in annual revenues. But beyond financial support, social impact has always been a part of the BDC’s DNA. As the first Canadian bank to achieve B Corp status (a seal of approval indicating highly transparent and accountable practices to create positive social and environmental benefits), they’ve invested more than half a billion dollars in Canadian cleantech firms since 2018 and authorized nearly $1.1 billion in financing to majority women-owned companies in their 2020 fiscal year, alone. They were also one of the first organizations to deploy support to SMBs hit hard during the pandemic with working capital loans of up to $2 million and flexible repayment terms. Most recently, BDC Capital launched a $10 million Black Innovation Fund with Black Innovation Capital to help pre-seed and seed stage tech companies founded by Black entrepreneurs.
Once it became clear that COVID-19 would change life as we knew it, Toronto-based digital ordering platform Ritual mobilized to help support hard-hit restaurants and cafes in their journey to digitize their businesses and reopen. In May 2020, Ritual—not immune to the blows of the pandemic itself—launched Ritual’s Open for Business campaign, providing thousands of local businesses in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto with a commission-free solution to expand their digital capabilities during the trying times.
The program wasn’t a fleeting fix. In October 2020, the City of Toronto extended Ritual’s Open For Business campaign partnership, opting to continue to offer hundreds of Toronto restaurants free delivery to help ease the impact of lockdown restrictions. The same month, Ritual partnered with PayPal to support Los Angeles restaurants and their customers by offering $1 million in customer discounts as part of the Open for Business initiative. In December, an additional partnership with the State of New York offered another $1 million towards discounted purchases for participating Ritual Online Ordering businesses.
Ritual’s proactive focus on saving the restaurant industry doesn’t stop there. Throughout the pandemic, the company has rolled out a number of initiatives to support local restaurants—many BIPOC owned. This includes the recent Reopen with Ritual campaign, through which participating restaurants gain a lifetime of free access to QR code contact tracing, digital menu creation, online ordering, and payments solution. Since its June launch, Ritual has partnered with over 350 Toronto restaurants and safely checked in over 285,000 guests. – ED
The pandemic and its relentless lockdown measures hit most retailers with a vengeance, removing the in-store shopping experience from the equation and switching up business like never before. At the onset of COVID-19, Waterloo-based retail solutions startup Tulip quickly shifted gears, adjusting its business model to help retailers improve the online shopping experience.
Launched in 2013, Tulip is known for creating custom omnichannel mobile platforms for retail stores to improve the shopping experience. The end goal is to help build curated and personal relationships with customers. With an ever-evolving suite of products, the cloud-based software provider partners with tech giants like Apple to harness advanced mobile technology that delivers user-friendly apps for store associates to look up products, manage customer information, check-out shoppers, and communicate with clients. Essentially, it’s the behind-the-scenes secret weapon to upgrade the customer experience and, subsequently, increase sales.
Once the pandemic hit, forcing countless retailers to rethink “business as usual,” Tulip jumped into action to help its clients adapt, including ones who didn’t have any e-commerce in place at the time. In April 2020, Tulip introduced two new products to make transactions and store experiences more flexible in a pandemic era: a remote pay feature that simplifies remote selling through text messaging and email, and the webchat technology that allows for one-on-one video calls with store associates.
Not surprisingly, the pandemic brought explosive growth for Tulip. The company saw its largest revenue growth to date in 2020. The year also brought the acquisition of Boston-based Blueday (a leader in store performance management systems) and Timekit (a game-changer in advanced scheduling and resource management systems.)
Tulip has also caught the attention of global brands, with leading retailers like Mulberry, David Yurman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Kate Spade, Coach, and Michael Kors among clients who rely on Tulip to elevate the shopping experience, enhance customer service, and increase sales. As retailers recognize the need to perpetually innovate in an incredibly competitive landscape, the demand for companies like Tulip will undoubtedly only grow.
In June 2021, Tulip announced that it had secured $28M USD in Series C funding to aid plans for future expansion in this exciting time for retail. The expansion includes further plans to grow its sales and marketing team, accelerate road map development, and increase global expansion. We have a feeling that this is just the beginning for the innovative homegrown success story. – ED
Canadian outerwear brand Canada Goose is known not only for its high-quality and ultra-toasty parkas but also its commitment to community. From its meaningful work with Indigenous communities and its COVID-19 support efforts to its impactful sustainability and climate change initiatives, the iconic outerwear brand is doing all kinds of good.
RELATED: Why Canada Goose’s Dani Reiss is the King of the North
While its do-good initiatives have gone relatively under the radar, they have been part of the company’s DNA for years. For example, the brand quietly established its Resource Centre Program back in 2009 through a partnership with First Air. With a mission to honour Canada’s North, the program delivers fabric and materials (typically used in their outerwear) to remote communities in the Arctic that can repurpose the durable textiles for their own traditional parkas.
In response to COVID-19, Canada Goose pivoted operations to ramp up domestic production of personal protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers across Canada. In March 2020, Canada Goose began making scrubs and patient gowns, which were in short supply in Canadian hospitals. Protecting its workers from the financial impacts of the pandemic, they also launched the Canada Goose Employee Support Fund.
On the environmental front, they made a major announcement on Earth Day 2020, with the new Sustainable Impact Strategy outlined in the company’s first-ever sustainability report. The strategy included commitments to reclaimed fur, a Responsible Down Standard, and the elimination of single-use plastics in all Canada Goose-owned or controlled facilities. It also committed to carbon neutrality by 2025.
RELATED: How Canada Goose is Giving Back to Indigenous Communities
To close out the progressive year, the brand announced the launch of HUMANATURE in November, a purpose platform that unites its sustainability and values-based initiatives. Then, in January, they unveiled their Standard Expedition Parka, the brand’s most sustainable parka to date. On Earth Day 2021, Canada Goose announced two new sustainability goals: a commitment to transitioning 90 percent of its materials to Preferred Fibres and Materials (PFMs) by 2025, and a commitment to sustainable solutions in 100 percent of its packaging by 2025.
While it’s no secret that Canada Goose has come under fire by animal rights organizations over the use of fur in its parkas, the company recognizes that the time has come for change and recently made headlines with a recent announcement that it would end the use of fur in its products by the end of 2022—a major move for the brand. – ED
To form a company in a prosperous climate is one thing but launching one at the onset of a global pandemic is a feat on a different level. Swyft’s entrance came at a critical time. Following a Series A that raised $17.5 million, the Toronto-based company was built to help other businesses grow.
Prompt delivery from online giants like Amazon is commonplace and became a necessity during the pandemic. However, the tremors felt throughout the small business community magnified the need to support local. Swyft’s solution is simple: utilize its software to provide same-day delivery for smaller vendors and regional consumers without high costs due to a zero assets model (no trucks, warehouses, drivers). However, the company’s shining light is the software that allows individual sellers to streamline their process, become part of a network of smaller players, and reach consumers they otherwise wouldn’t. This allows Swyft to keep pace with the scale of goliaths like Amazon. To date, Swyft has delivered 180,000 packages. Beyond the business, they’re also conscious of building a company that embodies their values from the inside-out with people of colour representing more than than 70 percent of their growing team. – HW
Reflective of the inclusive and diverse city they represent, the Toronto Raptors have become a progressive voice of leadership extending far beyond the game of basketball. Though they have a championship under their belt, it’s the mentality that you aren’t winning unless those around you are too, that propels the organization. Raptors President Masai Ujiri has become a voice for equality, particularly highlighting gender equality in the workplace, nearly tripling the number of women in Toronto’s front office. Women in sports is a road long riddled with inequity but their commitment to foster women’s growth exceeds the internal team. In 2019, they became the first NBA team to launch an officially branded hijab to support Muslim women in sport and earlier this year, aired the first all-female NBA broadcast on TSN. For them, diversity and inclusion isn’t a matter of a quota but rather a foundation that they continue to build upon. An internal committee of players and staff dedicated to leading conversations about social injustices, a permanent vice president role of organizational culture and inclusion, team buses and game attire adorned in Black Lives Matter support, and players and coaching staff highlighting Black designers and Black-owned Toronto businesses are just a few of the ways the Raptors showcase a clear understanding that basketball can become a vessel for change—and in fact, has the responsibility to do so. – HW
RELATED: Toronto Raptors’ Masai Ujiri on How to Create a Team of Champions
Thrust into the spotlight thanks to its ties to founder Abel Tesfaye (better known as The Weeknd), HXOUSE has made waves as an incubator and launchpad for Canadian creators and entrepreneurs. Founded in 2018 by Scarborough natives Ahmed Ismail and La Mar Taylor along with Tesfaye, their upbringing provided a unique understanding of what it means to come from these communities, to not feel represented, and the need for change. Outside of mentorship, recording studios, panel discussions, and workshops, HXOUSE also became a leader during the pandemic. Identifying the dire situation Toronto creatives were facing, HXOUSE teamed up with the City of Toronto to launch the TOArtist COVID-19 Response Fund to assist self-employed GTA-based artists who faced income loss. Furthering their commitment to amplifying Black voices, the incubator recently launched BLACK HXOUSE with TD Bank Group. The project is dedicated to nurturing the ideas brought forward by BlPOC, and to provide tools and the mentorship networks needed to help foster sustainable careers and industry-wide diversity. – HW
RELATED: HXOUSE Founder Ahmed Ismail is on a Mission to Create New Heroes
Despite relentless messaging that has prioritized mental health, access to available treatment has historically been characterized by barriers. Recognizing the need for action in 2015, Inkblot Therapy entered the scene to create meaningful change for people and companies. It’s since become Canada’s fastest-growing digital mental health platform.
Pioneers in virtual mental therapy and accessibility, Inkblot created a confidential online platform that uses an algorithm to quickly match people to mental health counselors at affordable rates, based on individual needs and preferences. Inkblot relies on advanced technologies for intelligent matchmaking, monitoring effectiveness, and eliminating geographical barriers created by a shortage of mental health professionals. Especially outside of major cities, accessing mental health services used to mean long wait times. But waiting can kill people.
Inkblot’s goal is to maximize the human connection between care providers and clients. In the wake of the pandemic—a time when Mental Health Research Canada revealed that the mental health of one-third of Canadians was affecting their ability to function—this focus remains incredibly important. – EN
The recent proliferation of startups in the healthcare industry can be attributed partly to answering the demands of the pandemic, but also addresses the larger issue around the inefficiencies and archaic infrastructure that has been relied upon for so long. Ask any health practitioner and they would likely agree that in order to improve the patient experience, innovation is needed—which is where Think Research comes in.
The Toronto-based company works to make the healthcare system more efficient and holistic by encouraging collaboration through its digital health software solutions. Clinicians are empowered to provide better care by turning research and best practices into actionable insights at the point of care. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Think Research has also provided support by partnering with the Ontario Association of Mental Professionals to help healthcare providers access their virtual care platform and developing an app to support researchers in offering virtual clinical trials (in partnership with Toronto startup Sciteline.)
Recently listed on the TSXV at the end of 2020 with a valuation of $180M, Think Research’s solutions are now utilized across five continents and used by more than 2,800 healthcare facilities.
In terms of pandemic pivots, BookJane may be one of the most inspiring stories to come out of the last year. Under normal instances, the Toronto-based startup is a workforce management platform and scheduling tool that improves the quality of healthcare at long-term care and senior living communities. But when the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) was looking to work with a company to connect its database of 3,200 physicians and 1,000 retired members with hospitals that needed extra support, BookJane stepped in. Launched on April 3, 2020, they repurposed their platform to provide relief to overworked physicians and short-staffed healthcare facilities. In the first two weeks after partnering with the Region of Peel, over 200 physicians were mobilized in the first 72 hours, vastly accelerating vaccination efforts to immunize the area’s 1.4 million residents.
Nova Scotia-based CarbonCure Technologies has struck the perfect balance between innovation and conservation on its way to becoming one of the most subtly successful startups in the country. Through a process of injecting carbon dioxide into concrete, CarbonCure has managed to maximize the material’s efficiency while lowering its carbon footprint, an issue that has only become more prevalent in recent years.
Annually, buildings reportedly make up 40 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions and the cement used to make concrete resulting in up to seven percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And with the world’s building stock expected to double by 2060, a greener solution was an immediate necessity. Fortunately, CarbonCure delivered by creating a carbon capture utilization technology that introduces recycled CO₂ into fresh concrete. The CO₂ is then converted into a mineral and becomes permanently captured. The end result is just as durable as concrete used in typical construction, but without the high carbon footprint. What’s more, the mineral left in the concrete actually makes it stronger and allows producers to use less cement and reduce emissions even further.
For their efforts, the company became one of two grand prize winners of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize, a competition which focuses on creating and celebrating technology that converts CO₂ emissions into valuable products. Following their success, CarbonCure announced plans to use a portion of the $9.4 million prize money to reach the company’s lofty goal of reducing 500 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually by 2030, while another portion of the funds are set to be used towards social equity initiatives.
By CarbonCure’s most-recent projections, the use of CO₂ in concrete is expected to become a $400 billion market, with some of the world’s largest companies already hopping aboard the movement. When Amazon embarked on building its massive secondary headquarters in Virginia, the technology giant opted to use concrete strengthened by CarbonCure’s methods. And, within the tech sphere, Amazon isn’t alone in its admiration of the company’s climate-consciousness. Bill Gates’ cleantech fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), first bought into CarbonCure in 2018, and the company has since secured both an investment and building partnership from Amazon.
With more companies now rushing to sign environmental pledges in the wake of rapid global warming, CarbonCure has emerged as the perfect accelerant towards cleaner practices. And with low costs and simple setup, CarbonCure’s leaders are optimistic about the material being adopted worldwide in the near future, giving it the potential to augment other carbon-reducing technologies in the building process. It’s a development that’s allowed for a beautiful balance between simultaneous growth, innovation, and conservation. -DS
To many, the most complex and anxiety-inducing aspect of settling one’s affairs is that of a legal will and the end-of-life procedures but Canadian company Willful is aiming to alleviate those concerns with its AI-powered, will-building tool. The service provides advice on how to arrange an estate plan based on an extensive series of considerations. A 2018 poll from Angus Reid discovered that more than half of Canadians don’t have a will, only 35 percent have one that is up to date, and 18 percent of those without a will said it was because it’s too expensive. Today, it’s reported that, of the mere 43 percent of Canadians who have a will, 10 percent of those are out of date. Those are startling numbers, particularly when dealing with such an inevitable process. But now, through highly-reduced fees and its streamlined interface, Willful is quickly changing the negative perception that once clouded the end-of-life planning process.
As one might expect, Willful’s business skyrocketed during the pandemic, in part due to the harsh realities of the virus but also because of the accessibility and comfort it offered those already grief-stricken during a particularly tumultuous time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company experienced a 500 percent surge in demand from Canadians seeking online estate planning and provided over 2,500 free plans to frontline healthcare workers. Willful has also championed a core focus on encouraging legacy gifts to charities, partnering with charities such as YWCA Canada.
RELATED: How Tech is Breathing New Life into the Business of Death
More recently, the company announced a new deal with Allstate Insurance in what feels like a natural partnership. Through the collaboration, customers can access Willful through a banner on Allstate’s website and Allstate’s insurance agents are equipped to sell Willful plans directly to customers as the two companies work hand-in-hand together. And as the world continues to evolve, as does the platform, even providing information pertaining to cryptocurrency and how to preserve your digitized wealth for your loved ones. It’s a platform and service that will forever be required to grow with the landscape, just as it did this past year, but even so, its mission of providing peace of mind and destigmatizing end-of-life planning will be constant. – DS
With a progressive approach and nothing to hide, Canadian company Nixit smashes long-held period stigmas and taboos (finally) and encourages sustainable menstrual practices. Nixit is a suction-free, one-size-fits all, mess-free menstrual cup. The reusable, BPA-free product is sustainably made with soft silicone and offers a more planet-friendly and cost-efficient alternative to pads and tampons. With 12-hour coverage and the ability to do the job of four tampons, Nixit is becoming the not-so-secret weapon behind easier periods (including period sex).
More than a reliable product, Nixit is part of a larger overdue movement surrounding menstrual health, menstruation, and the environment. On the planet front, it offers a solution to the 250lbs of disposable period products thrown away by the average menstruator in their lifetime. But the forward-thinking brand is also celebrated for encouraging an honest and shamelessly raw conversation about periods—the good, bad, ugly, and intriguing—through things like its popular Instagram account and blog. – ED
Founded by Laura McGee, Diversio is a Toronto-based tech company that uses machine learning to help companies identify and overcome diversity challenges. Born from the idea that data should help create more equitable business environments, Diversio uses a short survey to collect feedback from employees and note key issues around inclusion. Based on findings, it provides detailed custom recommendations shaped from a proprietary global database, such as sponsorship plans for people of colour and feedback training. At its core, the company understands that inclusion is all-encompassing, spanning gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental health, and disability.
While McGee was working in a sector focused on helping large companies improve economic growth and performance, she recognized many CEOs wanted to improve diversity and help drive performance but didn’t know where to begin. Since then, Diversio has launched the first AI-powered certification program allowing companies to not only improve diversity and inclusion initiatives but increase transparency. Essentially, companies undergo a diversity audit, make a commitment to implementing recommendations and earn a certification that details the level of commitment to diversity and inclusion that the company has achieved. The audit is a deep dive into everything from the company’s environment (think: employee demographics, experience, evidence of racism, and systemic bias) to its targeted framework and supply chain.
RELATED: 6 Startups Hardcoding Diversity into Today’s Leading Companies
While Diversio is being used globally to help shape company culture, it’s also helping make waves closer to home. This year, the City of Toronto became the first municipality to receive the certification, amongst approximately 80 other prominent organizations, indicating Toronto’s commitment to having a working landscape that reflects the community it represents. The certification offers a unique shift. Gone are the days of diversity being merely an internal mandate, now companies are encouraged and able to make it a key pillar and metric of their business. – HW
National in its focus, Humi is a company committed to improving the lives of the Canadian workforce. Founded in 2016, it has grown to become a leader in Canada’s HR space by supporting small to medium-sized businesses, allowing them to digitally onboard new hires, securely store employee documents, and manage benefits and payroll online.
Co-Founder Simon Bourgeois found himself frustrated following an investment in a payroll system that had technical shortcomings. Noticing a gap in the market for a product that would streamline multiple back-end processes, Humi is now used by over 4,000 Canadian companies.
Due to the complexity in trying to tackle global jurisdictions, the company has intentionally kept its eyes on Canada, allowing careful consideration to be given to the nuances that specifically impact our employment market. The benefit of this localized focus was highlighted during the pandemic. When the Government of Canada introduced a wage subsidy, Humi added tools to its platform to assist companies managing the subsidy. To help small businesses navigate issues during the pandemic, the startup also launched a webinar series with experts.
Since closing a $15 million Series A in 2020, it expanded to launch the Humi Marketplace, a one-stop shop for all clients to access third-party support offerings (financial wellness, mental health, and day-to-day health support) from partner companies such as Willful, Inkblot and Common Wealth. By partnering with other respective leaders, Humi has found a way to give employees better offerings and transparency while helping employers retain quality talent. After all, people are the backbone of any business. – HW
Founded by Solon Angel, MindBridge is a game-changer that has blazed trails in the financial sector. The Ottawa-based company bills itself as a human-centric solutions platform for detecting risk and deriving insights from financial data sets. It uses artificial intelligence to future-proof their clients by identifying missing links, incorrect data, and even fraud—essentially any outliers that could easily slip through the cracks.
In the few short years since they were founded in 2015, MindBridge has already processed a whopping 17 billion entries (more than two transactions for every person on the planet) and has built up a roster of impressive clientele, including the National Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, and over 8,000 firms and 117 universities. Add to that, they were also included in Microsoft’s 2020 Great Canadian Innovators Yearbook and named a technology pioneer by the World Economic Forum for their contributions in transforming accounting and financial services professions by using data.
The life insurance purchasing process isn’t one that immediately conjures up positive emotions. It’s a tedious and draining experience that can often be stressful, time-consuming, and inefficient. Like many others that have grown complacent and comfortable with the status quo, the insurance industry is an archaic one that is ripe for change—which is where PolicyMe comes in.
Since 2018, the insurtech startup has focused on streamlining the insurance buying process through its digital platform by eliminating barriers and empowering Canadians to make better decisions in order to protect their loved ones. A study conducted by the Toronto-based company found that Canadians are overpaying for their life insurance by an average of 36 percent, and that 51 percent of Canadian policyholders would purchase their plans through an online platform if given the option (that number shoots up to 65 percent for the 18-34 age segment), showcasing the need and desire for digital innovation in the sector. The pandemic underscored the need for online and contactless options further as Canadians sheltered in place.
Founded by Andrew Ostro and siblings Laura and Jeff McKay, PolicyMe is one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies and saw a 700 percent year-over-year growth this past year. With $3.3 million raised in seed funding and their most recent partnership with Canadian Premier Life Insurance Company, PolicyMe is on a mission to reinvent its industry. The platform now offers up to $5 million in coverage and approvals within 20 minutes (versus the conventional four to six weeks), competitive offerings, and no paperwork, phone calls, or in-person visits. Most importantly, no headaches.
(Pictured: Founders Jeff McKay, Andrew Ostro, Laura McKay)
Taking charge of your finances can be one of the most empowering ways to build a secure future. Such is the ethos and mission of entrepreneur Justin Thouin, who built his startup LowestRates.ca to help people save time and money. Founded in 2012, the fintech company provides online tools to allow users to compare insurance, credit cards, mortgages, and loans offered by North America’s leading financial institutions, empowering them to make the best financial (and sometimes life-changing) decisions at no cost. When asked in a recent survey conducted by LowestRates.ca and Ipsos, 78 percent of Canadians claimed to be financially literate but when asked a series of questions to test their knowledge, 60 percent failed, making a company like Thouin’s even more necessary. Recognized as an EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist and one of the fastest growing companies in North America, Thouin has led LowestRates.ca to help save Canadians more than $1 billion in interest and fees to date.
(Pictured: Founder Justin Thouin)