Friday, October 12, 2012

Cyborg Trading Systems shows that exciting tech startups can come out of London

So far, most of the FedDev funding for businesses in the London area—other than the huge $10 million contribution to help Mississauga-based Dr. Oetker Canada build a London facility—has come indirectly, though programs such as the Graduate Enterprise Internship ($1.8 million provided to the Research Park/Stiller Centre, most of which gets passed through to companies to help them hire STEM graduates) and the Applied Research and Commercialization initiative ($1.25 million to Western to enable the university to work on projects on behalf of companies).

So the announcement that will be made later today by MP Susan Truppe of FedDev funding for London-based Cyborg Trading Systems is something different and exciting for the city—and FedDev couldn't have selected a better company.

When I started working in London in the fall of 2010, Cyborg had just become a client of the Waterloo Accelerator Centre's Accelerator Program and had opened an office at the Communitech Hub in Kitchener. By then, they had already been working with the London IRAP office for some time and had recently received a $300,000 contribution from them. That's not a level of support that IRAP hands out easily and that told me the company was on to something interesting. They were even on the cover of Business London magazine that month.

I was eager to meet them and, even though they weren't involved with TechAlliance, invited them to the Founders and Funders Dinner where I got to sit with the three founders (CEO James McInnes, CFO Ben Bittrolff and CTO Peter Metford). They had a strong mix of industry expertise and technical skills and were as impressive a company as I had met in London. They were also very encouraging about the quality of tech graduates in London, speaking highly of Western and Fanshawe and the people they had hired from each. The conversation would have made a great recuitment video for either school.

As someone who had been immersed in the Waterloo tech scene for nearly 15 years, my assumption was that Cyborg opened an office in Kitchener for software development while keeping business operations in London, so it was a surprise—a pleasant one—to hear that it was really just the opposite. Among the founders, it was the CFO who was in Kitchener.

The company has been working with FedDev for some time now and it's good to see that work pay off. In a letter of support I wrote to FedDev last year, I said Cyborg had "quickly become one of the most promising innovation-based companies in the city" and I know the entrepreneurs-in-residence at Communitech and the in-house mentors at the Accelerator Centre have been very impressed as well.

So, congratulations to Cyborg Trading Systems. The FedDev funding is only the tip of the iceberg of the great things that have been happening with the company. Its success shows that strong tech companies can start in London and underscores what I've said before about the value of the work that IRAP has done in London in finding and supporting early-stage companies (I believe IRAP has been working with Cyborg for nearly four years now). London may not yet have anything comparable to the Accelerator Centre or the Communitech Hub, but those resources aren't far away and Cyborg has shown the value those organizations can add to a high-potential company—even one based in London.

AFTERNOON UPDATE: The announcement has now been made—FedDev will provide Cyborg Trading Systems with up to $381,500 under its Prosperity Initiative (which is different from the Investing in Business Innovation program I discussed in an earlier post). According to the news release, the money will be used "to help it expand its operations, take advantage of existing market gaps, and further establish its global market presence. This is expected to create 16 new, high-tech jobs at its London and Kitchener offices."