Fidus rides partnerships, international sales to steady growth in 2013

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For Fidus CEO Michael Wakim, 2013 was the best year in the history of the company he founded 12 years ago.

Michael Wakim is the CEO of Fidus.

By Jacob Serebrin

With revenue rising steadily, the electronic services company has grown to a staff of 76 and currently has 42 different projects on the go. The company’s work is diversified and includes both small jobs such as building antennas as well as a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract to help design medical imaging equipment.

“Our stress level is still high, but it’s lower than it was,” said Mr. Wakim.

Part of that is due to two major international partnerships the company formed in recent years.

In 2011, Fidus was selected by Xilinx, a supplier of programmable logic devices with more than $2 billion in annual revenue, to become the first North American member of the latter’s Premier Design Services Alliance.

And in April of this year, Fidus joined the Embedded Vision Alliance, a group of companies developing camera and sensor technology to allow data from images and video to be interpreted by computers.

These partnerships have led “to a surge of new business,” according to Vicki Coughey, Fidus’s chief financial and operating officer.

Mr. Wakim said he believes these alliances will be important for the company’s future growth. He noted he wants to find opportunities “where we can share design work with companies that aren’t in the United States or Canada,” adding he believes this could open the door to working with larger international clients.

Fidus is also expanding from being strictly a service provider and has started developing its own intellectual property.

“We’ve always done a lot of internal R&D,” said Mr. Wakim. But now, for the first time, he said, the company has developed technology it can sell. “We know it’s technology that’s going to be in demand,” he said.

Mr. Wakim said the company is still deciding how it will take this technology to market and would only say that more details will be released in the new year.

While Fidus remains based in Ottawa, Mr. Wakim now spends much of his time at the company’s office in San Jose. The distance means that Fidus’s leadership team relies on technology to stay connected, with Mr. Wakim and Ms. Coughey holding daily video conferences.

According to Mr. Wakim, the company’s focus on high-performance computing means it’s important to have a physical presence in Silicon Valley.

“We need to be near our customers,” said Mr. Wakim. “I don’t think we’d have as much business in California if we weren’t down here.”

While Fidus’s San Jose office is primarily focused on sales, it does have a small lab.

The company also has an office in Waterloo.

Ms. Coughey said the company works to foster an atmosphere of collaboration, even across sites, in which employees can help “each other and take risks.”

The company isn’t only on the cutting edge when it comes to developing new technology. Fidus is also finding creative ways to do business, Mr. Wakim said, often taking payment in stock or royalties rather than solely in cash upfront.

“It’s riskier, for sure, but a lot of times when you take risks it pays off more down the road,” said Mr. Wakim.

He said it opens the door to working with companies that wouldn’t normally hire a company like Fidus.

According to Andrew Waitman, CEO of data services company Pythian, and a member of Fidus’s board, taking on these riskier jobs is a win-win because it allows the company to develop IP while absorbing capacity “when we are under-deployed,” he said.

“We’re using capacity that we would otherwise have to lay off,” he noted.

Mr. Waitman, who first met Mr. Wakim more than 20 years ago when they worked together at Bell-Northern Research, was one of the first investors in Fidus.

He described Mr. Wakim as “the best friend you could ever want and an astute businessman.”

While he said the company suffered during the recession, it’s returned to showing solid growth.

Other investors are equally pleased with the company’s progress.

“Fidus is an exciting company showing really good growth and profitability,” said Jim Roche, president and CEO of Stratford Managers, who holds shares in Fidus and used to sit on its board. “They have a highly competent, innovative employee base, some great customers and very strong partnerships.”

With growth averaging 17 per cent over the past 12 years, Mr. Wakim said his plan is to stay the course.

“We’re not really in need of investment because our balance sheet is getting stronger,” he said, adding he doesn’t see an initial public offering in the company’s future.

For Mr. Wakim, one of the truly thrilling things about where Fidus is headed is its role in strengthening the talent pool and industry.

“I love enabling engineers in Ottawa. When I get to watch them create something new, I get excited,” he said. “I want to enable electronic hardware design in Canada.”

Organizations: Fidus, Xilinx, North American Premier Design Services Alliance Embedded Vision Alliance Bell-Northern Research

Geographic location: California, Canada, Ottawa San Jose United States Silicon Valley Waterloo

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