A tech-driven farming startup and an industry-hopping supply-chain management firm are among the winners of this year’s Vision to Reality (V2R): Innovator of the Year Awards, consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Canada announced this evening.
During the awards ceremony — held in Toronto on April 14 — PwC Canada recognized Manitoba-based Farmers Edge in the “Disruptor” category for startups, while giving its “Builder” award for medium-sized businesses to Mississauga, Ontario-based fuel cell manufacturer Hydrogenics Corp., and its “Visionary” award for enterprises to Toronto-based Celestica Inc.
“Each of our winners demonstrates unbelievable innovation and leadership, from the grassroots up,” PwC Canada’s marketing and sales leader, Philip Grosch, told ITBusiness.ca. “I think we do a good job of innovating in Canada, but we don’t talk enough about it. We need to promote ourselves more.”
A significant number of Canadian business leaders must agree with Grosch, since 180 companies applied for this year’s Vision to Reality awards before a group of independent judges reduced the applicants down to 15 finalists.
Farmers Edge, which uses data-driven resource management software to help farmers optimize agricultural resources such as water, seeds, and fertilizer, was praised for applying a modern approach to a centuries-old industry that the company’s co-founder and CEO, Wade Barnes, admitted can often be resistant to change.
“I’m a farm kid, so I got my first taste of precision agriculture at the early stages, and developed a concept to essentially grow more grain with less fertilizer,” he told ITBusiness.ca. “To a certain degree it was disruptive because the company I worked for sold fertilizer, so you could call it a career-limiting move.”
It hasn’t been so far, but Barnes thinks Canada’s business ecosystem could use some innovation of its own when it comes to supporting companies like his.
“Starting up we really needed to go outside the country to find people who were willing to take a chance on us,” he said. “Now as we get a little more successful it’s easier to find capital, but in the early stages it was quite difficult.”
Celestica, meanwhile, faced the unenviable task of transitioning from a dedicated electronics manufacturing firm to one that specializes in every step of the supply chain, from design to engineering to manufacturing, and which offers its services in industries ranging from cloud computing to health care to renewable energy to consumer products.
That the company has managed to offer a wide array of services in such a diverse range of industries is a testament to its leaders’ entrepreneurial spirit, Helen Scandalis, general manager of Celestica’s energy power products business, told ITBusiness.ca.
“Our leadership had the vision to see that not only was there an opportunity in the market, but there was a group of people at the company who were really invested and really passionate about making it a reality, and they gave us the time and space to go after it,” she said.
While Scandalis admits that a company the size of Celestica does not face the same challenges a start-up like Farmers Edge might, she believes that certain elements of Canadian culture make it particularly well suited to innovation, especially our dedication to multiculturalism.
“We have a lot of diversity in our organization, and that breeds a certain type of openness to new ideas and different ways of looking at problems,” she said. “I truly believe that one of the biggest assets that we have as a country and as a work culture is being able to harness that kind of diversity and come up with new, different ways to approach business problems.”