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There were only eight Manitoba companies included in this year’s Canadian Business magazine list of the 415 fastest growing companies in the country.
There is one Winnipeg company out of 85 on the accompanying Startup list.
Just on a per capita basis and irrespective of one region’s ability to support fast-growing companies — whatever it is that would be — Manitoba is underrepresented.
From a population-density perspective, conventional wisdom would tell you there would be more companies from southern Ontario, Quebec, B.C and Alberta, and that is where the majority of the listings come from.
And just to point out, these lists are not a scientific exercise. The only companies that make it are the ones that submit their financial information.
Dan Belhassen is diligent at submitting every year for his company, Neovation Learning Solutions, which came in at No. 233 with a five-year average growth rate of 315 per cent.
Its ranking is a little lower than the year before, but the actual placement is not the point for Belhassen.
"Getting on the list is a significant trust mark for us," he said. "It gives us a mark of credibility that is a very valuable thing for us."
Neovation is a software and service company that helps organizations, get more value out of their human capital with software that allows them to deliver training and micro-learning tools on a mobile platform.
Most of its clients are in the U.S., including government agencies and cities and most are much, much larger than Neovation, including ArcelorMittal, the Luxembourg-based steel company, the largest in the world, with a workforce of about 250,000.
Even though it is tripling its size every year, Neovation is not a large company. Annual revenue is between $2 million and $5 million. Getting that kind of profile helps Belhassen get the word out.
He said not only does it give the company credibility, it also attracts business prospects and it helps with recruitment.
Hearing Belhassen easily explain the benefits one wonders why more Manitoba companies don’t submit the documentation to make them eligible for inclusion.
Belhassen cites the old adage about "humble Prairie folk" and how it is not in our nature to toot our own horn. (There are only five Saskatchewan companies on the list.)
But it’s misplaced humility for a scenario like this.
Dayna Spiring, the CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg, said it’s a problem.
"It is red flag for us," she said. "The reality is we are not getting our fair share. We always talk about how we punch above our weight in Winnipeg. Well, we are not there."
Such a list is not heavily populated with the most successful and established brand names. It’s meant to show off the new companies that are catching on and shooting up the ranks.
Spiring rightfully points out that there are a lot of great, mature companies in Manitoba that garner a lot of attention, and rightfully so as they contribute greatly to the envious stability the provincial economy enjoys.
"But that doesn’t mean we can take attention away from startups," she said. "We have to do better."
There are definitely more than eight Manitoba companies with a minimum of $2 million in annual revenue growing at an annual rate over the past five years of at least 54 per cent which is what the last company on the list came in at.
The Manitoba contingent was led by Bold Commerce at 100 followed by eshine Cleaning Services, Neovation, Upfeat Media, Cornerstone Timberframes (out of Steinbach), BCV Asset Management, Clear Concepts, Value Partners Investments and Avant Insurance Brokers at No. 58 in the Startup List (which ranks growth on two years of revenue).
Joelle Foster, the CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange, figures this is another item on her "things to do" list — to get companies to submit their information.
Spiring does not make any excuses but does point out the age-old complaint around these parts about the lack of access to capital that growing companies in Manitoba have to deal with.
She made reference to the province’s intention to address that in the recent speech from the throne gives her hope.
But for a small province with an on-going challenge to keep the momentum going opportunities like this to wave the flag cannot be missed.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
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