Global fintech and funding innovation ecosystem

Alberta, The untold history of innovation from Canada’s badlands – Part 3

Tristram Waye | Words Unfold and NCFA ambassador | March 30, 2022

Alberta flag 1 - Alberta, The untold history of innovation from Canada’s badlands - Part 3

This is part 3 of 4. Click for Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 4 of this series.

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Back to the trading floor

Back in 1996 or so, a brand new trading system was introduced on the floor of the Alberta Stock Exchange. It was based on this newish concept called Windows. Up till then, we had old rudimentary looking systems. But now we had something modern looking and customizable.

You could move the windows around the screen. You could have as many order books as you wanted.

Hey, and check out the ticker!

There was an unveiling on the exchange floor with the traders and a few ASE leadership. As the traders gathered around during the unveiling, the developers were waiting for the responses. And, as was typical of most trader interactions, they were blunt.

One trader sat down in the chair and started playing around with it. A dozen others gathered around, and they began asking why you couldn't do this. Where was this feature? What happens if I want to do that, in rapid-fire succession.

It appeared that the developers hadn't asked any of these traders how they used the system every day. In retrospect, it was a pretty good iteration for what it was at the time.

But there was one feature missing that would be the source of a major headache.

There was no extra step if you mistyped a price or value. When you're typing really fast trying to compete for various prices, volumes and fills, things didn't always go smoothly. I found this out the hard way.

With my new Windows-based machine, things went pretty well. Then one day, I had a sell order on a certain junior gold stock. My sell order suffered from a typo in the price, and I torpedoed the stock. I wasn't the only trader to suffer this outcome before it was corrected.

So it piqued my interest when I heard about a guy who built many exchanges around the world. He was an Albertan with ties to another entrepreneur who founded one of Alberta's most successful fintechs.

 

Solium and EFA

The 90s and early 2000s were golden times for listings of innovative companies. And as I looked through Alberta's innovations, some old familiar names started to come back.

There was Solium, a Calgary-based fintech founded in 1999 by John Kenny and Mark Van Hees in the financial space. The company went public in 2001 and developed a significant client base. Their clients included Adidas, Shopify, Uber, BHP Billiton, and Burberry. They were recently acquired by Morgan Stanley for $1.1 billion.

Kenny went on to found Link Investment Management in 2015 and cofounded Yr PLans in 2019.

At Link, Kenny was joined by Dave Ewasuik, founder of EFA Software Services LTD. Through EFA, Dave created trading and clearing software for a significant roster of exchanges around the world. His work included the Alberta Stock Exchange and later the CDNX and the Venture exchanges.

EFA was sold to Basis100 for $6.4 million and shut down 2 years later. Ewasuik went on to found Market Evolution. Out of the EFA group sprouted  Alberta Market Solutions in 2002. Cofounded by Jim Bird and Paul Hanson, and four other partners, they created a block trading ATS called BIDS Trading.

BIDS was developed with agreements from various big name capital markets organizations. Their partners included Citigroup, Goldman, the late Lehman, and others. BIDS became part of the market's expanding liquidity pool landscape and remains viable today.

 

Pure CSI

I recognized a few more names from my days on Bay Street. Two of which were Pure and CSI. At the time, I was more familiar with the narratives around these companies than the history.

Pure Technologies was founded in 1993 by Jamie and Peter Paulson. The technology and asset management company, specialized in monitoring critical infrastructure. It was subsequently sold to Xylem in 2017 for $509m.

CSI was founded in 1991 by U of C grad Stephen Verhoeff. CSI drew from Alberta's strong wireless and geomatics expertise. It was listed on the TSX in 1997 and became CSI Wireless.

Through a series of spinoffs and acquisitions, the company became the agriculture-focused Hemisphere GPS in 2005. As of the 2012 acquisition, it is now called AgJunction (AJX:TSX).

Stephen and his brother Paul now run Verhoeff Group of Companies, where they acquire, invest, and develop businesses.

Hemisphere alumni, Terry Sydoryk, had worked for Nortel, the company that bought NOVATel's wireless assets. The U of A grad cofounded AudeSi, a supplier of integrated Java-based products, in 1997. The company was acquired by Windriver Systems in 2000 for about $51 million. Windriver was subsequently taken out by Intel in 2009.

Terry went on to work with several other startup companies. He worked at Evoco and Shelley Kuipers' Chaordix. He is also one of the founding members of Alberta's A100 and Limited Partner at Yaletown Ventures.

There were a couple of other big listed Alberta innovation names I remember trading in the early 2000s. Two of these were WiLan and Cell Loc.

 

Wireless patents galore 

Hatim Zaghloul and Michel Fattouche founded Wi-Lan in 1992 and developed it around their WODFM WIFi invention. They also cofounded Cell-Loc in 1995, a cell location technology used in vehicles.

Zaghloul came out of the U of C and had worked for both Schlumberger and Telus. Fattouche is a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the U of C. He’s been there since '86. Fattouche is a prolific inventor with numerous wireless related patents to his name. He has several new patents published as recently as 2018. Both founders have gone on to work on several other projects since.

I wondered who else I might be introduced to, so I called an old buddy, a portfolio manager. He asked if I heard about Calgary native Garret Camp, co-founder of Uber. I hadn't. He was from Calgary and educated at the U of C.

Then he introduced me to one of Alberta's recent success stories in the fintech space, Darcy Tuer.

 

From IoT to Fintech

ZayZoon was founded in 2014 by Darcy Tuer, Tate Hacket, and Jamie Ha. The idea behind Zayzoon is to develop access to responsible financial products. So employees get access to earnings as they earn them.

They started with a focus internationally and have subsequently come home.

Darcy told me about his family's deep ties to the oil and gas business. He described his first foray into entrepreneurship with an IoT like offering before IoT.

Prior to Zayzoon, Darcy founded Halo with Craig Latimer and John Watts in 2004. The company became Spira Data and was designed to collect and transmit oilfield information remotely. He stepped down from Spira to start Zayzoon.

He has since co-founded a holistic health play called Aeon Future Health.

While I was looking into Zayzoon, up came another current Alberta fintech, Symend.

Calgary's Symend is founded by serial entrepreneur Hanif Joshaghani and  Tiffany Kaminsky in 2016. The platform is designed to help people be more than merely a transaction. To help them get back on their feet when faced with financial challenges.

Symend and Zayzoon were both able to successfully raise in a very tough 2020 startup financing environment.

Speaking of finance, I heard about another financial company when chatting with another local entrepreneur. And that took me back to the beginning of my career versus today.

 

Investopedia? Ya, that's from Alberta too

Back in the early 90s, a trader began as a board marker and progressed to phone clerk. A phone clerk took orders from various trading desks, wrote them down for the traders, and reported back the fills. Eventually, you would become a trader.

Most of your learning was done by listening to the senior trader and asking questions. You could also do a variety of exams through the Canadian Securities Institute. Depending on which ones you took, you might learn a bit more. Your other source was probably the various legendary trading and market-related books at the time.

We didn't have Investopedia.

Someone asked me if I had heard about Investopedia being out of Edmonton. I hadn't. So I looked into it and what I found sounded like the Bioware story for investment information.

Whenever you look up some investment term, like, say, short selling or an ETF, you often end up on Investopedia. Taking a page from the Bioware guys, U of A roommates Cory Wagner and Cory Janssen decided to try something new.

Investopedia started in 1999, growing to become one of the most used financial resources on the web. Influential enough that Forbes acquired them in 2007.

Wagner went on to be involved in a series of ventures. One of which is his investment company, Affirmed Investment Corp. He is also the current President of HESCO.

Janssen has been involved in various projects, including Galt Capital, his private investment firm.  Another venture is Janalta, which is an online publisher. It was founded by Cory, his wife, Dale Janssen, and Brenda Janssen.

He and his wife, Nicole, also founded  AltaML in 2018. AltaML is designed to conceptualize, apply, and commercialize machine learning products. He is also a member of CDL Rockies and the A100 and on several boards.

I heard about another remarkable fintech story through some work I was doing.

 

Bank machines to crypto

I'd been writing for the Bitvo cryptocurrency exchange when I heard the background story. Two of the investors in Bitvo had recently exited a very successful fintech business venture. They were still involved in another.

And once I'd heard about DirectCash Payments bank machines, I seemed to see them everywhere.

Susan Anderson agreed to an interview via email, and she told me about her two-decade journey.

Susan came out of the U of C with a commerce degree and completed her law degree at the U of A. She met her co-founder Jeffrey Smith at Shell Canada Products. In 1997, Anderson and Smith founded DirectCash Payments.

DC Payments was founded when Interac was deregulated by the Competition Bureau. The ruling allowed non-bank members to join the association. It also removed the previous prohibition against surcharging ATM transactions.

Their goal was 300 bank machines across Canada in 5 years. Starting with one machine in Victoria, they met their goal in six months. The company was listed on the TSX (DCI) in 2004 where it was built into a 25,000 ATM strong network. The company was sold to Cardtronics in 2017 for $460 million.

 

DirectCash, Act 2

While they were working on DC Payments, a client suggested that they have some sort of card for tax refunds. Refunds on a card, said the client, would be more convenient than writing checks or giving the customer cash. So they created a prepaid card offering, but you had to have a bank to issue a card.

No bank would act as a card issuer for this product.

So, they started their own bank. It took two years to build DC Bank which was granted its letters patent in 2007. Digital Commerce Bank is their next iteration in payments.

Anderson and Smith have continued their fintech journey into the digital currency space. They are investors in the Bitvo Exchange, a cryptocurrency exchange for Canadians.

Anderson is the founder of Cannonball Capital, an institutional investor in private and public equities as well as venture capital She is a Fellow of Creative Destruction Labs Rockies. Like many veteran Alberta entrepreneurs, Anderson is a mentor and investor in the next generation of innovators.

I heard about a couple of other serial Alberta entrepreneurs through a conference call.

Up next Part 4 of 4

In the final instalment, we’ll explore the wider Alberta innovation ecosystem.

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Authored by:  Tristram Waye

tristram@wordsunfold.comTristram Waye  - Alberta, The untold history of innovation from Canada’s badlands - Part 3 | LinkedIn

Special thanks for the time and contributions from Gail Powley, John Murphy, Jonathan Schaeffer, Randy Marsden, Susan Anderson, Darcy Tuer, Mike Riou, Hussein Hallak and Wayne Karpoff.

 


NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Alberta, The untold history of innovation from Canada’s badlands - Part 3The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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