For more than a quarter-century, Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program in Canada has been honouring 50 of the best tech-based companies from coast to coast. Deloitte partner Anders McKenzie, Fast 50′s national leader, has managed and watched closely for 15 of those 25 year—a lifetime ago in tech-years. Back then, Google had only just become a browser, Avatar in 3D promised to revolutionize theatres, and BlackBerry’s stock was at a seemingly endless all-time high.
Needless to say, tech moves at lightning speed, and competition is steeper than ever before. “The number of eligible tech-related entities has expanded exponentially,” says McKenzie. “Now we have businesses from the cryptospace, fintech, blockchain—all words we would have barely recognized even a few years ago.”
And yet, then and now, the formula for sustainable growth in tech remains largely the same. “Many startups explode but flame out,” he says. While Deloitte’s certainly not ignoring flashy upstarts—in fact, it has a special category for up-and-comers—the Fast 50 program is looking instead for fast-growing Canadian companies proving themselves equal parts viable and sustainable. This year, hundreds of hopeful tech companies operating across industries from medicine to finance to wellness to entertainment eagerly threw their applications into the hat.
Firstly, the criteria and parametres to quality: A Fast 50 company must be in operation for at least four years. It needs to have had at least $50,000 in revenue in 2019 and at least $5 million in 2022 (and yup, McKenzie checks the receipts.) The Fast 50 program runs in many countries around the world, so Canadian winners need headquarters here, as well as both management and R&D teams operating in Canada.
After qualification, the next steps are surprisingly non-technical. “We then have a sit-down—on Zoom or Teams—to truly understand the company,” says McKenzie. “As described in their own words, we want to know what makes their technology unique and proprietary. We want to know what exactly they do, how they’re doing it that’s unique, what problems they’re solving and what markets they’re serving. And we want to know about the contents of their team, including how they’re approaching diversity, equity and inclusion.”
As you might expect, this is the fun part: Another year’s worth of trends, changes and challenges are revealed. This year, Deloitte got something of a shock when nearly 100 top Canadian companies also appeared on their North American ranking of the fastest-growing companies. “We were expecting maybe 10%, but the results surprised everyone: Almost 20% of the top North American companies are Canadian, which is staggering. This shows me that Canadian tech companies are punching well above their weight,” he says.
McKenzie suspects multiple factors are driving Canada’s disproportionally large success in the sector, starting with our schools. “Our educational institutions are renowned—the University of Waterloo, for example—for attracting and creating incredible engineers.” Surveyed companies reported that access to talent, both home-grown and international, has become easier in Canada than it has been in prior years. Our too-friendly, not-so-pushy reputation to the rest of the world, he adds, is slowly changing: “Despite what some people think, we do have a very entrepreneurial ethos. When these companies find the right mix of product-market fit, we see a great entrepreneurial drive that leads to tremendous success.”
It’s not all good news, of course. “On the negative side, access to capital from both Canadian and international sources has become more difficult in current years.” As revenue evaluations are driven up, and interest rates continually fluctuate, some businesses can grow rapidly without yet seeing profitability. For these companies, says McKenzie, “there seems to have been a pull-back in terms of funding.”
Programs like Fast 50, while they simultaneously recognize the best and most exciting tech-based brains and businesses in the country, also serve to provide a wider snapshot of exactly where Canada stands in the ever-changing world of technology. “We should be thinking about what governments can do, what private enterprise can do, what advisory firms like Deloitte can do—all of it should revolve around how to make access to capital better ,and how do we attract and maintain talent, and how to help Canadian companies scale up on a global basis.”
Here are Deloitte’s 50 winners making Canada proud in our borders and beyond.
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