Ottawa tech trailblazer Antoine Paquin remembered as an ‘inspiration’ for entrepreneurs

Antoine Paquin
Editor's Note

This story has been updated to include a statement from Solantro CEO Luke Smith.

Business executives from Ottawa and around the world are paying tribute to Antoine Paquin, a serial entrepreneur at the forefront of the city’s telecom boom in the ’90s who remained a leader in Ottawa’s tech industry for more than two decades.

Mr. Paquin, who co-founded Skystone Systems before selling the semiconductor firm to Cisco Systems for $89 million and leading a string of high-tech ventures, died last week at the age of 50.

“His contribution to Ottawa’s tech community cannot be understated,” InCa Synergies founder Raj Narula told OBJ. “Antoine was a remarkable individual with a knack of humour, intelligence, compassion and a true sense of respect for mankind. Over (our) 15 years of friendship and business he was a pleasure to be around.”

A colourful entrepreneur

Born in Montreal on Dec. 29, 1966, Mr. Paquin spent his formative years in Quebec, Algeria and France and later studied at the Royal Military College of Canada, Carleton University, the University of California and the Université du Québec en Outaouais, according to an online obituary.

He once described “the direct link between action and consequence” as one of the most rewarding parts of being an entrepreneur.

After a stint at Bell Northern Research, he went on to build and sell two Ottawa semiconductor firms in less than six years. In addition to the sale of Skystone to Cisco, Mr. Paquin led Philsar Semiconductor – a company that raised millions of dollars in venture capital and was sold to Conexant Systems for more than US$200 million in shares in 2000.

“His product became a billion-dollar business unit within the world's leading Internet telecommunications company. Not many in Canada have had the luck to create a nine-figure business … and yet Antoine has done several,” said Ray Sharma, the CEO of Extreme Venture Partners.

He said he would remember his “dear friend” as “one of the most colourful of entrepreneurs.

“Although a shy individual, Antoine was graceful … and flamboyant in his love of fast cars, big homes and tech startups,” Mr. Sharma said.

The sales gave Mr. Paquin an estimated net worth of $200 million, according to a 2001 Globe and Mail report.

But it was what he did after those transactions that stood out in the minds of some colleagues.

‘Renewable energy is the place to be’

“He was one of the first guys to really celebrate the success of wealth,” said Bruce Lazenby, the former head of economic development agency Invest Ottawa who travelled to China with Mr. Paquin a few years ago.

“He wasn’t shy about it. He was part of that generation that did really well in that crazy time and came back to do it again. A lot of guys from that generation went off to do other things ... But Antoine kept at it. He brought that expertise back into other companies and reinvested himself back into the Ottawa market.”

In the early 2000s, he took the helm of Bitflash, a local company that developed early software that enabled graphics to be displayed on wireless devices, as well as semiconductor manufacturer Axiom Microdevices.

He also made national headlines for his personal real estate dealings, namely his Rockcliffe Park mansion that was controversially built by combining two neighbouring properties and demolishing the historic house in which the Netherlands’ Queen Juliana sought refuge during the Second World War. The property sold for a record-setting $8.25 million in 2003, according to media reports.

Mr. Paquin would later move to California, serve on the boards of a half-dozen firms and join the investor community as general manager of Rho Canada Ventures.

In 2009, he founded Ottawa-based Solantro Semiconductor, a company that designs and manufactures chips for the solar power industry.

“Renewable energy is the place to be," Mr. Paquin told OBJ in 2015 after Solantro raised $11 million in series-B financing. “People think the Internet was massive, but we haven't seen anything yet.”

Through Solantro, Mr. Paquin “played a key role in transforming the solar industry” through its digital power chipsets, said Bhagawan Gnanapa, the founder of renewable energy firm Smarttrak.

“Solantro helped my company position (itself) as a technological leader in India. We had a great relationship. With his inspiration, I moved from Hyderabad to California to explore fundraising opportunities,” Mr. Gnanapa added.

Mr. Paquin’s work at Solantro captured attention beyond business circles.

“He was engaged in maximizing Canada's clean-tech sector with those of other nations in the hopes of creating new jobs while addressing climate change,” said Jay Khosla, an assistant deputy minister at Natural Resources Canada who met Mr. Paquin on a ministerial mission to India “after having known his reputation as an entrepreneur, innovator, community builder and pillar of the Ottawa business community.”

Mr. Khosla said Mr. Paquin’s “keen intellect, creative disposition and drive to make the world a better place will be missed by all those who were fortunate to make his acquaintance and call him a friend.”

Mr. Paquin’s obituary says friends and family are invited to a visitation at Beechwood Cemetery and Funeral Services from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, June 5. A memorial service will be held in Beechwood's Sacred Space on Tuesday, June 6 at 11 a.m.

– Raj Narula and David Sali contributed reporting to this story

Remembering Antoine Paquin

“Antoine was legendary for his vision and insights, his engaging and collaborative approach, and his magnetic personality, both professionally and personally. Antoine was compassionate, caring and always smiling. I enjoyed our discussions on topics ranging from technology and business to family and friendship. Antoine's passing is a devastating loss, and he will be dearly missed.”
– Nadir Patel, High Commissioner for Canada in New Delhi, India
 

“Antoine was a special person – he was a rare talent. He combined creativity, intensity and business skills with a unique engineering vision to build a string of successful companies. It was a tremendous privilege and honour for me to work so closely with him for many years."

– Luke Smith, CEO, Solantro Semiconductor

“Over 15 years of friendship and business he was a pleasure to be around as he was well read and articulate. His ability to grasp foreign languages (he spoke German, French, Italian, Japanese, some Hindi and a host of others) and cultural aspects made him very comfortable doing business. His mannerism and respect for others won him a host of friends and colleagues globally … During one visit to India we visited a church in Chennai, a Hindu temple in Mumbai and a Sikh temple in Delhi over the course of a week. His inner spiritual strength and a respect for religions made it easy for him.”
– Raj Narula, founder, InCa Synergies

 

“He was, above all, a true gentleman.”
– Bruce Firestone, founder, Century 21 Explorer Realty

 

“From the first time I met Antoine, I could see he was sharp and intense. He treated me with respect and, once options were presented, he made a quick decision.”
– Milan Topolovec, president and CEO, TK Financial Group

 

“His ironman and military attitude left an impression (that was) not easy to forget ... The man was a force of nature living life fully. His contribution of unique personality and style to Canadian entrepreneurship.”
– Ray Sharma, CEO, Extreme Venture Partners
 

“He was smart and savvy. Sometimes you get the guys who understand business development (but) they don’t understand technology and vice-versa. But he was one of those guys who understood both.”
– Bruce Lazenby, chairman, Solacom Technologies

 

“I had the tremendous fortune to witness, first hand, Antoine's knack of understanding the importance of connections between people, organizations and nations in an effort to create brighter and better futures for all of mankind.”
– Jay Khosla,assistant deputy minister, energy sector, Natural Resources Canada.