Calgary | Founded 2016
Growth rate: 4,366%
You know that feeling you get when the phone rings, invariably just as you’re sitting down for dinner, with a curt–verging-on-aggressive reminder that you’re late paying your phone bill? That feeling akin to...rage? Chances are the call isn’t coming from Symend. The software maker works on behalf of telecom providers, banks, utilities and other companies, using a blend of artificial intelligence, behavioural science and good old-fashioned empathy to nudge customers into paying their overdue bills.
Collecting on late payments is a huge problem for companies—not just because they’re missing out on money owed to them, but because if they handle the process poorly, they risk losing customers, which can ultimately be even more expensive. That’s where Symend comes in: It claims its clients get back 10 times their investment from using its platform.
“Collections is perceived as a dirty word,” says the company’s chief marketing officer, Tiffany Kaminsky, who co-founded Symend with former investment banker Hanif Joshaghani in 2016. In fact, says Kaminsky, the goal is to make sure customers never land in collections at all. “We founded Symend to help people—and companies—avoid this awful experience.”
The idea is to nudge customers to pay up by using what Kaminsky calls a “hyper-personalized” approach. “We poll customers, looking at interactions, communication options, timing solutions—everything we can think of to reach that customer and transform their experience into a positive one,” she says. Then the company’s algorithm—designed with the input of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists—predicts how, when, how often and from whom each individual customer would appreciate a message. Will you pay up after one friendly phone call? Or will it take a series of texts (maybe ending with a smiley-face emoji), constructive suggestions and non-threatening follow-ups to seal the deal? “We use the science of engagement, on a wide and global scale, to examine and transform consumer behaviour,” says Kaminsky, noting that each communication through the company’s platform looks and feels like it’s coming straight from the company whose name is on the bill. Symend remains completely invisible, ensuring the company-consumer link is never broken.
In mid-2020, Symend was helping clients work with roughly 10 million past-due account holders; that has since increased to 65 million across North America, Latin America and the United Kingdom as more people struggled to pay their bills amid pandemic layoffs and surging inflation. In November, Montreal-based iNovia Capital led a funding round worth US$40 million, on top of US$52 million raised in 2020 (though Symend did lay off 13% of its workforce around the same time amid the ongoing tech rout).
Kaminsky says the biggest challenge now facing Symend is that consumer behaviour is always shifting—and, as its 2022 consumer report puts it, at “a pace we’ve never seen before.” The pandemic is a crucial factor in this acceleration, leading to a scarcity mindset, along with both digital and decision fatigue. Symend’s research has found the average person makes 35,000 decisions each day—no wonder you’d rather just let that dreaded call from your bank or hydro provider go to voicemail.
Though if it’s Symend calling, maybe it’ll be less painful to just pick up.
These companies show there’s still plenty of good news in the Canadian tech sector
Toronto | Founded 2015
Three-year growth: 802%
When Liran Belenzon first met Thomas Leung at the University of Toronto eight years ago, Leung was a Phd student, cancer researcher and hard-working “bench scientist”—which, if you’ve never heard the term before, is kind of the point here. “Bench scientists are the very important, little-seen researchers at the beginning of their careers working away at pharmaceuticals and biotechs,” says Belenzon, who studied business at the Rotman School of Management.
Leung was a doctor-in-training researching epigenetics—the study of how your environment and behaviour can change how your genes work—who spent countless hours hunched over petri dishes and meticulously logging his experiments. “And most of the time, they failed,” says Belenzon. “Not because Tom’s a bad scientist—that’s just how science works.” That’s especially true in the complicated field of disease biology, he notes, where the tiniest of mistakes can and does sabotage results. (Leung, for example, once spent days reviewing dozens of papers to pinpoint the appropriate antibody…and then used the wrong one anyhow.)
In a modern digital age, this shouldn’t have to happen—or so thought the entrepreneurial duo, who first met through the university’s Creative Destruction Lab. Leung had already began building a platform that used advanced biomedical artificial intelligence to effectively teach a computer how to think and read scientific literature like a PhD-level researcher. The platform they went on to create (along with a third co-founder, Elvis Wianda) can search and filter through more 14 million papers and 64 million products, allowing scientists to assemble a “knowledge graph” of who’s done what and with what level of success. That, of course, allows researchers to work smarter and faster, all while lowering costs and accelerating results, which the company envisions will make the discovery of novel medicines 50% faster by 2025. As a grateful nod to the diligent workers who came before, the founders named their platform BenchSci.
With almost $100 million in funding secured—from investors including Inovia Capital, Golden Ventures and Gradient Ventures, otherwise known as Google’s AI fund—and with the help of the venture-scaling program at the Creative Destruction Lab, BenchSci has grown to a staff of 400 in roles from machine learning to software engineering to sales and diversity, equity and inclusion. Team members in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil help some 50,000 scientists (and growing) at more than 4,500 institutions worldwide, as well as 16 of the 20 largest pharmaceuticals companies. Even better? “While the pharmaceutical companies pay to use the software,” says Belenzon, “scientists and students use the platform for free.”
BenchiSci’s symbiotic relationship means small-scale researchers in the furthest corners of the globe can benefit from the resources of big pharma players—and vice versa. According to BenchSci stats, their system can accelerate 12 weeks of work in a lab to just 30 seconds in front of a screen.