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Inside the Market Speculators keen to invest in Bruce Linton’s next venture

The tiny Martello Technologies Group Inc. put out an announcement last Thursday, at the request of regulators, saying it was “unaware of any material change in the company’s operations that would account for the recent increase in market activity.” Its shares, you see, were on their way to doubling in two days of trading.

How about a well-timed t-shirt as a market-moving event – but only if it’s worn by Bruce Linton, cashiered chief executive of Canopy Growth Corp.? Mr. Linton made the rounds of Canadian media on Wednesday to explain his sudden exit from the country’s largest cannabis producer. What’s next? Well, he said on television, he’s going to spend a little more time with the company whose logo is on his shirt: Martello.

That was more than enough for speculators, who perhaps recalled that Canopy shares rose twenty-five-fold during his leadership. Martello jumped 43 per cent Wednesday, another 55 per cent Thursday and 34 per cent Friday, for a three-day gain of nearly 200 per cent.

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We are, however, tracing the path from 18.5 cents to 55 cents, and $35-million in market cap to $105-million. Martello’s penny-stock status was indicative of the general market sentiment toward the Ottawa-based company before Wednesday – despite the presence of two big names, Mr. Linton and Mitel Corp. founder Terence Matthews, as co-chairmen of the board.

According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, in the past 12 months, Martello has posted $8.6-million in revenue – that’s million with an ‘m’ – with a net loss of $4.6-million, when such things are calculated using accounting principles.

Martello offers products that optimize the performance of complex computer networks. And while it has been doing this for some time – it says Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands has been a customer for 13 years – its impending growth now seems to be premised on some capital-markets action.

The company did a reverse-merger in 2018 with a dormant energy company in order to get listed on the TSX Venture exchange, and it did its second acquisition in less than a year last November. (Predeals, Martello booked about $1-million a quarter in sales.)

Expect more, Mr. Linton said Friday. “Already bored,” he said, he arranged a call with top executives and advisers of Martello. “I said, ‘Guys, at 1 o’clock we’re going to talk about what we’re going to do, because we’re going to do a bunch of [stuff], and there’s a drumbeat that you may not have been hearing as loudly as you need to, because it’s [now] going to be loud and fast and this is what it looks like and here’s how we’re going to do it and here’s how you execute the binding-on-target-not-binding-on-us exchange ratio/LOIs and we’ll get three to five of them done next week, and if people are hemming and hawing, call them … and explain to them, ‘This is the week to do a deal.’ They can get on the bus or they’ll get run over by the bus, because we’re not hanging out for deals, we’re doing deals. I think it’ll be a much more fun week next week.”

Mr. Linton, whose non-Canopy background was pretty much exclusively in technology, likens his involvement in Martello to a venture capitalist who does eight to 10 deals with hopes one or two will work out. He picked it at about the time he also launched Canopy predecessor Tweed Marijuana in 2014. He brought in John Proctor, a former executive at Canadian tech giant CGI Group, as CEO in 2017, and kept up with Martello developments in weekly calls, even as Canopy was taking off.

The acquisitions – past and future – will add new products to offer to existing customers, he said, and if Martello can add and maintain a meaningful client base, he said, “I think it will actually be attracting … potential acquirers over the next couple of years.”

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In Wednesday’s postfiring interviews, he had to settle for a phone call with U.S. cable channel CNBC, which used a stock photo that showed him wearing a tie. However, when Canadian cameras came calling, Mr. Linton was ready.

“You should never go on a camera or near a microphone unless you’re branded and selling something,” he said Friday. “So I thought, ‘This company’s gonna have no choice. I’m going to take an office there, and I’m going to help them, and help hard, and I might as well wear my Martello shirt today.”

Mr. Linton’s interview with The Globe and Mail came promptly after a texted request to talk about Martello, despite “several hundred” other texts coming into Mr. Linton’s phone.

“Media first!” he said. “My mom might have called, but media first!”

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