Every year, Canadian Business has highlighted the entrepreneurial leaders of Canada through the the Growth List—a ranking of established businesses on five-year revenue growth and startups on two-year revenue growth. Formerly known as the Growth 500, the Growth List and Start-Up List winners are profiled in a special print issue of Canadian Business published with the December issue of Maclean’s magazine.
“Despite turbulence, the 2020 Growth List companies showed resilience, spirit and, most importantly, empathy and strong leadership,” says Susan Grimbly, Growth List Editor. “As we celebrate over 30 years of the Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies program, it’s encouraging to see that the heart of Canada’s entrepreneurial community beats strong, even in tough times.”
Ranked categories include, Business Pivot; Employer of the Year; Excellence in Diversity; Female Entrepreneur of the Year; Global Business; Philanthropy Service; and Technology Trailblazer.
“The award-winning entrepreneurs are fleet, incredibly imaginative and creative; and truly passionate,” sys Grimbly. “They demonstrate these attributes, from their significant growth in 2019, their resilience in 2020, and their magnificent leadership, going into 2021. As such, they stand like goliaths above the crowd.”
Here are this year’s winners:
Fastest Growing Company Award
Benjamin Bakst, CEO & Co-founder / Elliott Kazarnovsky, CFO & Co-founder
This Toronto-based development and investment company has quickly established itself as a juggernaut in a competitive industry. Sales revenues grew by a whopping 57,144%, from 2014 to 2019. Succeeding in development, Benjamin Bakst, CEO & Co-founder, says, is about more than putting up buildings. It’s about understanding the market; and how the different sectors (residential, commercial, rental) inform each other. Strategic investment in rental properties across North America adds to the company’s lustre. “We do have a specialty,” notes Bakst. “It’s value-add real estate.”
Fastest Growing Start-Up Award
Steel River Group
Trent Fequet, Founder & CEO
After working in the mining and construction sectors in Northwestern Canada, Founder & CEO Trent Fequet began crafting a business plan for a company that could work for energy giants, but also provide work for Indigenous peoples. He launched Steel River Group in 2017. Calgary-based Steel River Group has established remarkable partnerships with both construction giants and First Nations groups, leading to extraordinary growth. This year’s Start-Up winner boasts two-year revenue growth of 8,662% since 2017.
Business Pivot Award
Henry Bee CEO, Co-founder / Jesse Chen, CTO, Co-founder
This award celebrates an entrepreneur whose original ideas may be good, but may not flourish; having to sniff for the path to success. Vancouver-based CoPilot started as a FinTech but realized their customers—financial advisors—needed revenue-generating sales leads. They experimented with several formats till developing the CoPilot Prospecting Dashboard (CPD). In February 2018, CoPilot AI rocketed from $5,000 a month in revenue to $30,000. Even then, they struggled, whacked by problems of growing too fast. A testament to courage.
Employer of the Year Award
Ahava Digital Group
Dr. Janét Aizenstros, Chairwoman & CEO
“Ethical” lives in Ahava’s digital-marketing company’s DNA, from offering ethically verified consumer data, to commanding a women-led consultancy “that helps shift the perspective of Fortune, B-corporations and media companies to grow relationships with women consumers in an intuitive way.” Dr. Aizenstros supports and promotes her 300-strong workforce through BIPOC initiatives and a full slate of benefits: from employee share-ownership plans and bonuses tied to individual performance to a formal career-planning program and parental leave top-up/childcare subsidies.
Excellence In Diversity Award
Amad Abdullah, President / Mueen Abdullah, Director / Nomar Abdullah, Director
The Excellence in Diversity Award celebrates a company whose diversity initiatives create an inclusive employee culture. KW Signs, a large manufacturer of metal sign frames that supports over 350 distributors across Canada and the United States, boasts 26 BIPOC employees who speak 13 languages among them, and believes it’s that diversity that allows the company to quickly hire great talent. KW runs mentorship initiatives in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, helping them connect with a robust job-seeker pool; and encourages diverse hiring.
Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award
Judith Fetzer, CEO
Judith Fetzer of Cook it, a Montreal-based meal prep service, has built a thriving company through acumen and agility. The original 2014 à la carte model shifted to a subscription-based model in 2016 (tripling sales). Given the exponential increase in demand during the quarantine economy, the workforce itself became the challenge. With roughly 200 employees in early March, Cook it hired an external recruiting committee, who hired over 300 new “distance candidates”. While sales revenues soared, Fetzer had to recraft company culture on the fly, introducing new initiatives, to help employees flourish.
Global Business Award
Allen Eaves, CEO
STEMCELL Technologies develops specialty cell culture media, cell isolation systems and accessory products for research in dozens of fields. It delivers 2,500 products directly to 22 countries; and via a global network of distribution centres to 90 other countries. Vancouver-based STEMCELL has a clearly thought-out strategy for global expansion; and it’s got the reach to prove it. By 2030, global sales are projected to be $1 billion, with an estimated 5,000 employees.
Philanthropy Service Award
Domenic Madonna, CEO & Owner / Charles Deponte, Owner
This company has a track record of deep involvement in its community. In the spring, D-Squared Construction pledged $25,000 worth of relief, asking people in need to drop a short story in their DM’s describing their challenges. Amounts ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 were handed out. Through the hashtag #SPREADTHELOVE, they encouraged other businesses to jump in, too. Further, in its targeted program “Pave the Way”, D-Squared helps youth directly in Ottawa (in partnership with United Way). Now in its third year, Pave the Way has expanded with a program called Critical Hours, supporting at-risk youth in 10 of Ottawa’s most at-risk neighbourhoods.
Technology Trailblazer Award
Jon Lipinski, Co-Founder & President / Yuanming Shu, Co-Founder & CEO / Shuo Tan, Co-Founder & CTO
Dr. Yuanming Shu asked: How can AI teach a computer to interpret geospatial imagery like a human? He developed the core mapping technology, which “uses data from satellites, mobile phones, drones and air imaging sensors to paint an information-rich picture of our world,” founding Ecopia.AI in 2013 with Shuo Tan and Jon Lipinski. The goal: To create the first complete map of our world, in real time. This exceptional achievement has far-reaching implications for the developing world, where NGO and humanitarian organizations operate without accurate information about their geography.