ActivDox founder brought ‘seasoned veterans’ to startup scene

Courtney Symons
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The founder of a promising Ottawa startup passed away this week, not long after relocating his company to the nation’s capital and raising more than $1 million.

ActivDox founder David Thomson.

A memo was circulated this week informing the business partners and friends of ActivDox founder David Thomson of his passing.

The memo said Mr. Thomson suffered a heart attack while walking his dog.

Last summer, Mr. Thomson started ActivDox, a downloadable PDF reader that allows automated document updates so that users never read an outdated copy.

He began the company in Waterloo’s Accelerator Centre but couldn’t find the talent he needed, so he moved into Invest Ottawa’s incubator where he hired five developers who all used to work for Adobe Systems Inc.

In an interview with OBJ last week, Mr. Thomson – who completed an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo in 1976 – said there is no age limit to being an entrepreneur.

“I think there’s a lot of opportunities for seasoned veterans in the Ottawa area to get out their rolodex and their knowledge, marry up the right team and go swing for the fences.”

“For people who are leaving big corporations that were successful, hey, they have a shot to create a great growth company,” he said. “Except you have to have energy like a 30-year-old.”

As a seasoned business veteran, Mr. Thomson was able to recruit an all-star board of directors to Activdox that included Brian O’Higgins, former CTO of Entrust Technologies Inc., and Third Brigade Inc.’s Glenn Falcao, who held executive positions at Corvis Corp. and Nortel Networks before founding Falcao Investment Group. Another director is David Cox, former CIO of Motorola, Bell Canada and Nortel Networks.

Mr. Thomson’s career included stints at Nortel Networks and Hewlett-Packard before founding management consulting firm The Blueprint Growth Institute. In 2006, he wrote a book called Blueprint to a Billion, discussing how growth companies create jobs.

The problem was that much of its content was time-sensitive, and in later years there was no way to update the document without publishing an entirely new, revised copy.

Plus, there was one small typo that he was never able to fix.

As tablets (particularly the iPad) became more popular, Mr. Thomson noticed something else. The iBooks software was a decade old, and didn’t support coloured documents.

“In the days of 3D TV and retina displays, why are we still reading black and white books that are static?” he asked.

Originally, Mr. Thomson thought he would market ActivDox to consumers, but quickly realized that the biggest publishers in the world aren’t book publishers – it’s the U.S. government.

Pivoting its focus to government and enterprise customers, ActivDox now caters to time-sensitive and frequently revised documents.

Its security features and fluidity also make the technology useful for the movie industry, where constantly updated scripts need to be kept out of the public eye before the film’s release.

The company recently secured $996,000 from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. On top of that, a round of angel funding brought in $625,000 from angels in Ottawa, southern Ontario and the United States, bringing the total to $1.6 million.

The company is in the process of a second angel round with the goal of raising $2 million, and then hopes to travel to Silicon Valley for a series-A round sometime next year.

Organizations: Nortel Networks, Adobe Systems Inc., University of Waterloo Entrust Technologies Inc. Third Brigade Corvis Corp. Falcao Investment Group Motorola Bell Canada Hewlett-Packard The Blueprint Growth Institute Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario

Geographic location: Ottawa, United States, Ontario Silicon Valley

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