In what’s been a roller-coaster year for Ottawa’s Better Software Company, founder Steve Cody and his team have received perhaps their most thrilling news yet.
The Kanata firm, which makes enterprise software that helps small businesses with tasks such as scheduling, invoicing and inventory management, is one of 10 tech startups from across Canada chosen for the Waterloo-based Lazaridis Institute’s inaugural Scale-Up Program.
The six-month program will pair some of the country’s most promising young tech companies with expert business mentors in an effort to grow the fledgling firms into large-scale enterprises with a global reach.
“We’re kind of pinching ourselves,” Mr. Cody said Wednesday from Chicago, where he was attending a trade show. “We just felt that this program was perfect for where we’re at, so we worked really, really hard to try to get into the program and it worked out for us.”
Mr. Cody, whose company was part of the first graduating cohort of Kanata’s L-Spark accelerator in 2015, said the excitement he experienced upon hearing the latest news was similar to the elation he felt when The Better Software Company made the cut for L-Spark.
“We knew that was going to transform our lives,” he said. “This kind of feels like the same thing, but at a different level. Now we’re ready to scale, and this just gives us that platform to be able to do that. It’s a surreal feeling.”
A panel of leading tech executives and venture capitalists from Canada and the United States chose the first cohort from more than 100 applicants. The Better Software Company is the only Ottawa firm to earn a spot on the list, which also includes companies from Chatham, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Waterloo.
Mr. Cody said the program is designed for startups that have the potential to become world leaders in their field, a goal that aligns perfectly with his own vision for The Better Software Company.
“We want to become a billion-dollar company and stay in Canada,” he said. “They made it very clear: ‘If you think you’re going to get to $300 million in sales, don’t apply. We’re looking for companies that are going to be billion-dollar-plus companies.’”
Mr. Cody said he spent an hour talking with the program’s organizers last Friday giving them a “shopping list” of attributes he’d like to see in his mentors. He expects to find out who they are in the next day or two, and he’ll meet them face-to-face in Toronto next week.
“What was important for us is somebody who started right from the ground floor,” he said, “somebody who’s built a (software-as-a-service) company that’s grown to a billion-dollar valuation, somebody that understood small business because our passion is helping small business owners.”
The program – which will also feature a series of weekend seminars on topics such as leadership, product development, customer acquisition and finance – will officially wrap up next April with a week-long trip to Silicon Valley, where Mr. Cody and his colleagues will rub shoulders with high-powered investors.
In addition to gaining unprecedented access to high-powered business expertise and potential new sources of funding, Mr. Cody said he’s also looking forward to getting connected to new sources of talent for his board, advisory group and overall workforce.
The Lazaridis initiative is just the kind of program Canadian startups need to compete with their U.S. counterparts, he added.
“It’s a great environment to start a startup,” he said of Canada. “I don’t know that there could be a better environment. But for scaling, we’ve found that very tough. These guys are focused on creating an ecosystem that’ll foster that. If we can build more Shopifys, we end up with more talent people and we end up with more money circulating in our ecosystem.”
The news comes at an opportune time for The Better Software Company, which recently released its first product aimed at businesses with multiple locations and has raised nearly $3 million in seed capital so far.
But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the company. In June, it laid off 42 employees after a $3-million funding round fell through at the last minute.
The firm has rebounded since then. It is now seeking another funding round and has begun hiring again, raising its headcount to 47 employees.
Mr. Cody said every startup has its ups and downs, and entrepreneurs have to learn to roll with the punches.
“If you’re pushing hard and you’re trying to do something extraordinary, I think this is what you have to expect,” he said. “They feel like tough times, but, boy, do you learn a lot during those times. It makes for a stronger team, a more driven team. We had a couple of, I don’t know that I’d say setbacks, but challenges throughout the year. I don’t expect that they’ll be our last challenges.”
The CEO is projecting revenues of $4 million for next year and said he has a “very detailed plan” for where he wants the company to be five years from now.
“I think that being a part of the program we just go into makes it all so much more possible,” he added. “It just really speeds things up.”