It’s been another wild year for tech companies, with access to capital particularly scarce. But there’s still growth to be found. 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. We profile four of them here. You can also read more about the program here and see the full Fast 50 list here.
DAPPER LABS INC.
Three-year revenue growth: 16,910%
When B.C.-based Dapper Labs was founded in 2017, blockchain was a little-known technology with a less-than-steller reputation as stuffy, hard to understand, even boring. Granted, admits Arthur Camara, Dapper’s VP of product, blockchain had mostly financial and business applications at the time. “Our mission became to drive the adoption of cryptotech through play and entertainment,” he says. And what’s a universally beloved, foolproof place to start on the web? Cats, of course. Dapper’s CryptoKitties, the first known game to use blockchain technologies, lets players buy, trade and collect digital cats, which you can then breed to create new “furrever friends.” If that sounds fun and silly and non-threatening, well, that’s kind of the point. “Thousands of people started to understand blockchain technology through CryptoKitties,” says Camara, “and a lot of them today built and run massive companies.” (Among them are the founders of OpenSea and Axie Infinity.)
As Dapper’s players matured, so too did the company’s offerings. Launched in 2020 in partnership with the NBA, Top Shot is a marketplace of officially licensed NFTs—or, as Dapper calls them, “moments” featuring favourite players in action. In two short years, over a million users hopped aboard the blockchain-tech train via Top Shot, and in February 2021, a Top Shot NFT of LeBron James dunking sold for a record high of $208,000. Those kinds of numbers earned Dapper Labs the top spot on this year’s Fast 50, with a staggering three-year growth rate of almost 17,000%. “We’re trying to make onboarding to blockchain less intimidating, more approachable and way more fun,” says Camara. Next up, meanwhile, is their soon-to-launch Disney Pinnacle, where fans will collect and trade NFTs of their favourite characters from Disney and Pixar. Because if Nemo the clownfish can’t cure your blockchain nerves, nothing will.
Three-year revenue growth: 1,028%
As digging through your wallet for a plastic credit card feels more and more like a thing of the past, online banking continues to get better and easier for companies and customers alike. For that, you might thank Rasha Katabi, founder and CEO of fintech company Brim Financial, whose state-of-the-art platform technologies (PaaS) are used everywhere from banks like Laurentian and Canadian Western to reward cards at Indigo, Kobo, Radisson Hotels and The Gap. “When you log in to any of these platforms to make payments or purchases, you’re using a Brim service,” says Katabi. Brim currently offers 330 functionalities that, by design, “feel like they’re coming from the company directly” rather than Katabi’s lean team of 112. As a rare female fintech CEO—women make up just 7% of fintech founders around the globe—Katabi made headlines in 2021 by securing the largest equity round of funding led by a female CEO in Canada: A record-setting $25 million in funds raised. In 2023, to clinch Brim’s spot on Deloitte’s Top 50 list, the company reported three-year revenue growth of more than 1,000%.
Three-year revenue growth: 525%
Among the ample complaints swirling about looming chatbots and AI technology closing in, you won’t find many about the sudden—and massive—improvement of automated customer service, which you could argue had nowhere to go but up. Get ready to be irritated already: “People on average spend about forty days of their lives waiting on hold,” says Mike Murchison, CEO and co-founder of Ada with David Hariri. Both were once customer service agents, charged with manually responding to thousands upon thousands of the same handful of complaints, where the seeds of Ada (named for the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace) were planted. “We make it really easy for businesses to hire an AI agent much like they’d hire an employee,” explains Murchison, although unlike an imperfect human, the AI agent—you know, that virtual assistant that pops up in a chat box whenever you shop online—has unlimited patience and politeness. It’s even gunning for a promotion: “Ada software can not only be completely customized, but it can actually coach the AI agent over time.” In almost eight years, Ada’s transformed “very dumb” chatbots of yore into virtual agents capable of thinking and reasoning. Its response, meanwhile, feels so fluid and conversational that users often can’t tell they’re not talking to an ever-helpful, never-irritated, extra-knowledgeable human.
MONSTERS ALIENS ROBOTS ZOMBIES
Three-year revenue growth: 426%
If and when an actor needs a little bit of what Jonathan Bronfman calls “2-D beautification”—from erased crows feet, laugh lines or under-eye bags to a full “de-aging” process—producers can call Toronto-based visual effects company Monster Aliens Robots Zombies (colloquially known as MARZ). “This process would traditionally take days, going frame by frame,” Bronfman says of the tedious, time-consuming and therefore expensive work. AI, he figured, could streamline the process. “Effectively, we pick up two or three frames, use our proprietary interface that manipulates the whole shot in one go.” Needless to say, Hollywood immediately came calling. Since its founding in August 2018, MARZ has provided visual effects for premium TV like Disney’s WandaVision, HBO’s The Flight Attendant, Amazon Prime’s Being the Ricardos and Netflix’s Wednesday, where Bronfman’s team was charged with bringing Thing, the Addams’ disembodied pet hand, to life on the small screen.
“Creatures are our specialty,” he says, though certainly business is expanding as technology allows. “De-aging,” for example, let MARZ imagine a young Willem Defoe in Spider-Man and a young(er) Joshua Jackson in Dr. Death. If an actor’s age is now negotiable, so is their spoken language: “As our codes got better and better at faces, we moved over to lip-dubbing, a fully automatized lip-syncing technology.” This means that should you want to watch Squid Game without distracting subtitles, MARZ technology can sync an actor’s lips to the English overdub.
What’s up next for the cutting-edge brains at MARZ? “We’re held under embargo with the studios, so we can’t tell you anything until after the shows come out,” says Bronfman. You’ll have to tune in and be surprised.