Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates

Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) has built some of the most impressive machines ever to come out of B.C.: the Canadarm space robots and Radarsat surveillance satellites being the most well known. But surviving as a company on government engineering contracts alone can be a risky business, so MDA completely reimagined itself in the mid-’90s and now earns a substantial chunk of its revenue selling data and data services related to its orbital imaging expertise. “Their whole business model changed,” noted one panellist. “They’re an information company.”

The double-edged business model has proven itself resilient. Revenues dropped by 14 per cent between 2008 and 2009 but profits nearly doubled. The last two years also saw the rollout of a new business platform, with both the Canadian and Australian armed forces signing up for the company’s new unmanned-aircraft surveillance services.