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Scaling in Ontario – The ScribbleLive Story

November 7, 2017 By: Carissa Consoli

ScribbleLive is a Toronto-based B2B SaaS company and a leader in the content experience solution space. ScribbleLive helps brands, sports and media organizations make content their competitive advantage by helping them manage the lifecycle of their content across the customer journey. In 2017, ScribbleLive ranked 42nd on Profit 500’s list of Canada’s fastest growing companies.

Founded in 2009, ScribbleLive initially focused on a media/publisher market segment. As they grew and began to focus on a broader enterprise content opportunity, they faced two key challenges:

  1. The knowledge gap – they needed particular skillsets to successfully scale their operations.
  2. A lack of Canadian-backed funding.

ScribbleLive’s challenges are not unique, as many of Ontario’s scaling companies are facing the same hurdles and many more. Obstacles such as these inspired the creation of the Ontario Scale-Up Vouchers Program (OSVP).

The OSVP is a four-year initiative, funded by Ontario’s Ministry of Research, Innovation & Science (MRIS) and the Ministry of Economic Development & Growth (MEDG). The initiative is managed through three organizations – MaRS, Communitech and Invest Ottawa – and it aims to accelerate the growth rate of high-potential Ontario technology- and innovation-based firms, transforming them into globally competitive firms.

The OSVP supports firms in two ways: it provides them with access to a network of specialized growth coaches and it grants them with vouchers. The voucher funds help to offset costs relevant to helping firms scale globally within areas such as increasing sales, securing and nurturing talent, developing intellectual property and accessing capital.

Vincent Mifsud, CEO of ScribbleLive, found out about the program through one of the company’s advisors at Haltech, Halton’s Regional Innovation Centre. Companies applying for the program must be endorsed by the ONE network or a federal partner. Haltech has referred and assisted nine companies with the program application, and five of those companies have been successfully accepted into phase one and assigned to a growth coach. ScribbleLive was accepted into phase one in May 2017, having applied for the voucher in June. Of the eight companies that applied for vouchers, ScribbleLive was one of five to be awarded a voucher.

“The role of the RICs is to serve as a channel to identify, source and screen scaling ventures, so that the strongest companies can proceed with the OSVP application. It is important for the RICs to continue to work on the sourcing and assessment piece, which is a lot of what Kevin Boon and our other client managers do,” says Rina Carlini, CEO, Haltech.

Haltech thought ScribbleLive would benefit from applying for a voucher since it’s: “a flexible grant with limited restrictions. Scaling companies need this leeway,” Rina continues.

ScribbleLive has worked with Haltech for over four years and through the OSVP they gained additional access to a growth coach at MaRS – one of the three supporting hubs. ScribbleLive worked with the coach to support their growth strategy and voucher project application, which was designed to address some of their scaling challenges. “As a growth coach, it’s exciting to work with companies that have developed capabilities to compete on the global stage,” says Krista Jones, Managing Director, Work & Learning, MaRS “Working with Vince and his team highlights the strength of Toronto’s tech scene

Vince was excited to learn about OSVP and the growth coaching support as he believes: “We need to train people and put money towards educating them in this unique stage of their business. Although Ontario doesn’t have much of a track record or experience with scaling hundred-million-dollar software companies, the appetite is there.”

In 2012, ScribbleLive identified talent as a growth pain and made the decision to hire Vince Mifsud to help scale their business. Vince describes the talent gap as a challenge the company had to address in order to grow: “The reality is, once we started scaling and trying to go after a broader market, we didn’t actually have the expertise, knowledge or product base to go after this market. The knowledge gap was a huge problem.”

ScribbleLive was able to maintain their competitive edge and fill their knowledge gap by strategically acquiring smaller firms with strong talent to solve their problems quickly.

Another major challenge they still face is competing against well-financed US organizations. Vince noted that, on average, American firms raise double the capital from investors than Canadian-based firms. This forces Canadian companies to be nimbler, more frugal and more selective. “The venture capitalists in the US fund big opportunities aggressively, so even though we’ve raised over $50 million our counterparts were closer to $100 million,” Vince comments.

He identified the smaller Canadian market as a great advantage because it forced them to focus on the global market opportunity: “We’re not afraid to tackle different markets and we’re forced to look globally at an earlier stage than a lot of US companies. As a result, ScribbleLive expanded into the European market quicker than their competitors when the environment in Europe wasn’t as saturated.”

Kevin Ming, client services manager at Haltech, notes: “Our strength [as Canadians], which we should focus and play on, is that we have a very supportive government, provincial and federal, and we are very collaborative as a nation and a culture.” The Ontario ecosystem is very collaborative and the OSVP is building on current programs offered at the RICs to help grow and scale Ontario firms.

Today, ScribbleLive has approximately 200 employees globally, and over 1200 customers including, Red Bull, Dell, IBM, and the NFL. The firm has expanded to multiple international markets with offices in over 10 cities including London, New York, Dubai and Munich. Their ability to navigate the ecosystem and maintain their competitive edge is impressive and the results of their growth plan are already evident.

With the addition of new programs that aim to support these scaling companies, Ontario’s knowledge gap and access to capital will diminish.