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Streetwise Ottawa investment bank moves into Toronto; Sampford Advisors targets technology deals

A Bay Street sign, a symbol of Canada's economic markets and where main financial institutions are located, is seen in Toronto in this file photo.

Mark Blinc/Reuter

Ottawa-based investment bank Sampford Advisors is expanding and hoping it can make a dent in the competitive Toronto market for mergers and acquisitions (M&A) advice.

Sampford recently opened a Toronto office and is targeting private technology deals in the $10-million to $100-million range – a niche that the firm's founder says is underserved.

"Even in Toronto, there's not a lot of people doing what we're doing," Ed Bryant, who is also chief executive officer of Sampford, said in an interview.

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Mr. Bryant, who grew up in England, spent over a decade as a banker with Deutsche Bank in New York. In 2012, he moved to Ottawa and joined IP licensing firm Mosaid Technologies (now Conversant Intellectual Property Management) as VP of mergers and acquisitions. Mosaid was a decent-sized firm with a market capitalization in the region of $500-million, but was largely ignored by the investment banking community says Mr. Bryant.

"There just wasn't any bankers calling us," he added.

"Nobody saying, 'You should buy this company' or 'You should merge with that company.' Really limited interaction."

In January, 2016, he started Sampford Advisors named after his birthplace (Great Sampford) to serve the local Ottawa market.

Last year, the firm advised on two deals worth a combined $400-million but both were for U.S. private equity clients – relationships borne out of Mr. Bryant's days as a banker in New York. This year, the firm has made headway in the Canadian market, advising WiLAN Inc. on a $70-million acquisition, and helping to sell software company Magor Corp., which was in creditor protection, to Harris Computer Systems.

Toronto is home to a number of well-regarded Canadian independents that specialize in M&A, including Blair Franklin Capital Partners Inc. and INFOR Financial Inc., but Mr. Bryant says the firm's biggest competition is U.S. boutiques.

Over the past few years, U.S. independents such as Evercore Partners, KeyBanc Capital Markets and Moelis & Co. have captured the lion's share of the business in the Canadian small-tech sector. Year-to-date, there has been $817-million (U.S.) worth of public tech deals (with any Canadian involvement) in the $10-million to $100-million range, according to Thomson Reuters data. Estimating the entire size of the market is tricky because the value of most private deals isn't disclosed.

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Within technology, Mr. Bryant says one of the biggest areas of interest for the firm is cloud-based software companies or software as a service (SaaS). Sampford's Toronto office is headed up by technology banker Evan Pilz, who was formerly with independent advisory firm Q1 Capital Partners.

Mr. Bryant says the firm has plans to expand to other locations in Canada over time.

"Probably Vancouver next, given the size of the market," he says.

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