(Left to right) Plum co-founders Christine Bird, Caitlin MacGregor and Neil MacGregor are set to build on their U.S. customer base after winning $250,000 from 43North, a Buffalo-based business competition.

Last night, Waterloo Region’s Plum won a $250,000 prize from Buffalo-based business competition 43North, a prize the company plans to leverage as it builds a sales force in the United States.

Plum was one of 11 winners – chosen from 11,000 applicants – and it earned a lot more than money. Each year 43North gives out $5 million in cash prizes, but it also awards incubator space, mentorship opportunities and tax incentives to young companies with interesting ideas.

Plum is a talent-acquisition tool: software that helps recruiters find candidates based on ability and personality. Using questionnaires, Plum analyzes both the role and the candidate, then finds the best fit. Plum started out as CreamHR, moving to Waterloo Region in 2013 to join the second cohort of startups in Communitech’s Hyperdrive accelerator program. Hyperdrive has since been wound down, and a new sales-focused accelerator, Communitech Rev, was launched earlier this year.

“This is a huge honour for us,” said Caitlin MacGregor, co-founder and CEO of Plum. “The prize money is building on some great funding momentum we’ve had with local angels, but what’s really exciting is that this represents our beachhead in the U.S. market.” 

There’s a lot of talk lately about how Waterloo Region’s companies need to do a better job of tapping international markets,with a Compass report released this week on the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem.

The report cited three key growth areas: adopting a global sales mindset (particularly with respect to the nearby U.S. market), close a gap in seed-stage funding, and nurture stronger ties with Toronto.

“That advice is bang-on,” said MacGregor. “Our home and headquarters are staying in Waterloo Region; that’s where our development happens. But Buffalo is a warm, welcoming city for startups and an incredible sales connection,” MacGregor said. “When you’re a startup, you’re asking people to take a risk on you and trust something new. Picking up marquee customers at events like 43North is key to showing off what your product can do, and can really boost international adoption.”

Even on the question of the Toronto-Waterloo Region corridor, MacGregor sees room for Buffalo: “Waterloo Region and Buffalo are a great, natural partnership. They’re only two hours away – a logical extension of the corridor we’re developing – and a way to connect great Canadian companies with the U.S. market. More than that, they’re really excited about it down here in Buffalo. People talk about the “Golden Triangle” of Toronto, Waterloo Region, and Buffalo.”

The excitement MacGregor refers to comes through in a video posted by 43North just yesterday, with a neighbourly holler across the border.

For MacGregor, the warm reception was welcome, but not expected.

“When we came to Waterloo Region, everyone was so welcoming and supportive we felt instantly at home. I wasn’t expecting that from Buffalo, but it’s the same here. That same feeling of family. It felt a little like getting married, and being welcomed in to a whole new family of in-laws. Our parents are in Waterloo, but we just got a big, extended family in Buffalo we weren’t expecting, and we can’t wait to get started.”

About The Author

Phil Froklage
Digital Journalist/Multimedia Producer

Phil Froklage is a writer, filmmaker and journalist in Waterloo Region obsessed with the future. Passionate about science and technology — and how it shapes our world — Phil likes nothing more than being surprised by the amazing things human beings can do.