The journey started two decades ago, and oh, the places Communitech has been since:

Investing its time, networking with experience and developing a tech ecosystem that has become a magnet for talent and a catalyst for ideas and innovation, growing from the initial 43 members in 1997 to 1,226 members today.

Those 20 years of tech culture development were celebrated Thursday night at Communitech’s annual general meeting, before some 250 alumni and partners at the Tannery Event Centre and Communitech’s Area 151.  

Communitech Board Chair Steven Woods, senior engineering director for Google Canada, delivered the formal portion of the meeting in rapid-fire style, presenting the financial statements (overall revenue and expenses both rose about $4.2 million over Fiscal 2016); thanking outgoing board members John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures, and Olga Pawluczyk, President of imaging manufacturer P&P Optica, for their years of service to the board; welcoming the incoming directors; and closing the formal portion of the meeting in under three minutes.

Then it was the turn of Iain Klugman, President and CEO of Communitech Corp., to celebrate the 20-year journey. Key to that journey, he said, has been the talent, identified early on as the No. 1 issue going forward. Then, “we needed a clubhouse for the thinkers and innovators in the region,” and the creation of the Communitech Hub provided a foundation for that emerging talent. Communitech’s 80,000 square feet in Kitchener has been joined this fiscal year by the 20,000 square-foot Data Hub in Waterloo, which is the new home for Canada’s Open Data Exchange.

With the success of Communitech’s Rev sales accelerator, its Fierce Founders Bootcamp, the Fierce Founders Accelerator, the CDMN Soft Landing Program, and other initiatives, Klugman said Communitech has become “a global innovation destination” and that the Waterloo Region brand has never been stronger.

But he also said that there is more to do.

“More” is a key word in the annual report: more talent (“we have not taken our foot off the gas to get talent”); more innovation infrastructure; more SMEs; and more big companies. On the agenda is the Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster in the Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor. And True North Waterloo, a new, Communitech-hosted conference for policy-makers, innovators and tech thinkers, which will be held “along the spine of the LRT” linking Kitchener and Waterloo, May 29-31, 2018.

The annual report looks ahead to 2037, saying that by 2025 — within eight years — this region will rival Silicon Valley. But Klugman told the crowd that Communitech doesn’t want to merely replicate Silicon Valley: “We can do something better here, armed with our Canadian values.”

After the cheering and the “thank yous,” it was on to Area 151, to “party like it’s 1997” and to engage in some serious networking.

For a few of the people who created Communitech 20 years ago, it was a chance to see how their “child” had grown. Among them were Vince Schiralli, Communitech’s first president, and Tom Beynon, part of the original executive team and member of the first board of directors.

It was Schiralli’s his first trip back to Kitchener from his Vancouver home in about 10 years. It was his first time seeing the Communitech Hub; first time meeting Iain Klugman. Both impressed him.

Schiralli said that in the very early stages, the vision for Communitech was modest.

As “employee No. 1” for the fledgling technology organization, “The job I had early on was to try to convince people to buy into an idea. I had really very little to show other than the hope that they could be part of something bigger.”

After the AGM, Schiralli toured the Communitech Hub. “When I saw what it had become … it blew my mind. Three floors of areas where startups were getting together, where existing companies were trying to generate new ideas …” He said that none of the original founders “would have believed that we could get this type of traction in this community … I have a lot of respect for Iain and his vision of where he’s taking it.”

Schiralli recounted how he and local entrepreneur Yvan Couture had come up with the name and logo for Communitech. At a beer-fueled brainstorming session, they dropped the placeholder name — the Waterloo and Area Technology Association (WATA) — and combined the two main thrusts of the organization — community and technology — to create Communitech. “We checked the URLs right away and someone had, but we grabbed dot-org and dot-ca, and later, dot-com became available. Communitech was born.” Couture’s communications company created the logo, adding the triangle, for its association with Canada’s Technology Triangle.

“I walked around and saw Communitech with the logo we created, 20 years ago, being stylized, being this, being that, and I tell you it is a joy to be a part of the original planning and seeing it.”

Tom Beynon says the creation of Communitech is an incredible story. “In the infancy of it all, we had no dream that it would ever grow to what Iain Klugman and all the crew have taken Communitech to.”

The initial idea was for “lunch and learn” style sessions, where tech veterans could share knowledge. “By gosh, we started getting 150-200 people coming out to these lunches, and it was quite a surprise to all of us. But people wanted to learn from other people who were gurus in the industry.”

Beynon said that Schiralli’s early work was fundamental, and credits the community for knowing when to support a good idea. “It’s the spirit and team that is so magical in our community. If someone has a good idea with a good foundation, people will buy in and seek to make contributions to make it a success.

He said that the AGM reflected that adventurous approach of 20 years ago: “That spirit today has not changed. What we saw (at the AGM) was a room full of people who have a lot of energy, a lot of passion and a lot of drive to achieve.”

Beynon said, “It’s great to be a builder. There are builders and caretakers. (Former Governor General and UW president) David Johnston is a builder. Iain Klugman is a builder. (Former Communitech president and now Vice-President of Strategic Growth) Greg Barratt is a builder. Vince Schiralli is a builder. (OpenText Chair) Tom Jenkins is a builder. None of them are caretakers. I think our community is privileged to have that quality of people who can take the baton, run with it and do good things.”

From left, Randy Fowlie, Tom Beynon, Yvan Couture, Greg Barratt, Vince Schiarelli, Iain Klugman, Tom Jenkins. All have played a role in building Communitech. (Communitech photo: Lisa Malleck)

From left: Randy Fowlie, Tom Beynon, Yvan Couture, Greg Barratt, Vince Schiralli, Iain Klugman and Tom Jenkins. All have played a role in the building of Communitech. (Communitech photo: Lisa Malleck)