Follow the money, they say. If you’re an early-stage startup looking for capital, you can now follow the money right to Communitech’s front door.

BDC — the Business Development Bank of Canada, an arm’s-length financial institution owned by the federal government and devoted exclusively to entrepreneurs — unveiled its lab at the Communitech Hub on Friday.

Its pledge?

“We’ll be agile, we’ll be flexible, we’ll be responsive, we’ll be fast,” CEO Michael Denham told a lunchtime audience of entrepreneurs in the Hub’s Area 151.

For Denham, the decision to plant a flag at Communitech comes with two goals: to amplify an existing relationship with with Hub-incubated startups and to be on the lookout for ways to improve what it does — to in effect disrupt itself.

“This is actually a big deal for us,” explained Denham in an interview shortly before the launch.

“BDC is the only financial institution in Canada that focuses exclusively on entrepreneurs. We have about 42,000 clients across the country. We [provide] support through financing, through lending investment and [through] advisory services.

“We look across the country and we view Communitech as one of the best, if not the best, innovation hubs in the country.

“So when I started about a year-and-a-half ago in my role [as CEO], it just struck me that we should find ways to do more at BDC to get closer and more involved with the team here and more importantly with the series of companies that are involved with Communitech.

“The reason I’m here today is to formalize that. We’ve taken the relationship up to a new level. We have BDC branded space now at Communitech. And even more importantly we have a full-time embedded resource from BDC who will be based here.”

BDC's Ryan McCartney, left, with CEO Michael Denham. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

BDC’s Ryan McCartney, left, with CEO Michael Denham. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

The BDC lab will be headed up by Ryan McCartney, a longtime fixture in the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem. McCartney worked with Miovision, the traffic data platform, during its early stages and then went to Axonify, which makes a software platform that delivers smart learning. Appropriately, both companies, he said, were recipients of funding from BDC.

“I went to University of Waterloo,” said McCartney. “I fell into this ecosystem. I’ve been a player in a couple of startups.

“I love the idea that [BDC] is the entrepreneur’s bank and that they’re at a place of transformation, that it’s opportune for them to change the way they think in order to unlock some of the potential here.

“I’m looking forward to being the catalyst in that.

“There are 1,100 tech companies here in the region,” said McCartney. “Part of my goal is figure out how to build a pipeline to identify and nurture opportunities so when and if [a startup] becomes fundable, we’re the partner they want to participate with.”

On hand at Friday’s launch was Caitlin MacGregor, CEO of Plum, a Waterloo Region startup that specializes in helping companies recruit talent. MacGregor’s company received a $150,000 loan from BDC in 2013, after graduating from Communitech’s former Hyperdrive program. She made it crystal clear how valuable that assistance was.

“Money really matters,” MacGregor said.

“[BDC’s loan] allowed us to stay in Kitchener-Waterloo. It allowed other money … to come into the company which allowed us to grow.”

MacGregor said that a year ago Denham came to her and other women tech entrepreneurs and asked how BDC could further help women in tech.

“The No. 1 thing we said was to create a fund for women-led businesses.”

The company responded last November with a $50-million injection for women-led technology firms, and Plum was an eventual beneficiary.

“Just this month we were able to close a $250,000 investment from their new female-led fund, thanks to BDC,” said MacGregor.

“That money mattered. We were able to hire a chief revenue officer who had been at BlackBerry for 14 years. He had left the region and we were able to bring him back. So it’s big win for Waterloo. A big win for Communitech. A big win for BDC. And massive, massive help for Plum and our future success.”

Denham said that moving into the Communitech Hub addresses a priority he has been focused on recently, namely to respond with fintech-like agility and “to be as easy as possible to do business with.

“[Ryan] will be able to listen to folks here, and get advice from folks here, as to how we can change what we do to become more accessible, better, more rapid, more agile.

“We’ll be in a position very shortly where you can go online, request a loan from us [for up] to $100,000, and you’ll hear back from us the same day whether you will get that money.”

Head over to Facebook for more photos from the launch.

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.