Entrepreneur of the Year 2016: Emerging Technology

After nearly three decades with some of North America's largest publicly traded lighting companies, Tim Berman found himself feeling limited. "You reach a point when you're very high up that you become more of a politician than a doer." That didn't sit well with Berman, who realized something needed to be...

Tim Berman, President and Founder, Fluxwerx Illumination Inc.

After nearly three decades with some of North America’s largest publicly traded lighting companies, Tim Berman found himself feeling limited. “You reach a point when you’re very high up that you become more of a politician than a doer.”

That didn’t sit well with Berman, who realized something needed to be done to bring lighting into the modern era. While the rise and widespread availability of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) was poised to revolutionize the industry, with energy efficient light sources capable of Internet connectivity, Berman knew the sector was locked into a “staid” mentality that would limit established players in their ability to take full advantage of the new technology. “The lighting industry is a very old-school, slow-growth market. In terms of innovation, there’s only been incremental improvements since the lamp.”

With lighting companies heavily invested in the logistics, infrastructure and systems developed for incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, Berman knew only a new kind of company could harness the potential of LEDs and bring it to a mainstream market. In 2011, he founded Fluxwerx Illumination Inc. to take lighting to the next level—with LED fixtures that would mimic the diffuse, natural-seeming light you get from windows minus the glare produced by traditional bulbs. But first he had to build them. Over a two-year prototyping process, Berman’s team used everything from pressure cookers to toaster ovens to come up with a viable product, all the while forgoing revenue. “All this time I’m writing huge cheques without knowing if the product is going to work.”

Much to his relief, it did. These days Fluxwerx’s high-profile customer list includes Microsoft offices in Vancouver and Seattle, Bayer Pharmaceutical and several post-secondary institutions, school districts and Fortune 500 companies. The company is also poised to play a major role in the smart home market, with the potential for its light fixtures to include sensors that regulate room temperature and energy use, and even distribute Internet signals through a wireless technology known as Light Fidelity (Li-Fi).

Last year the company saw revenues of $28 million, up from $9.6 million in 2014, and is on track for $56 million in 2016. In March, Fluxwerx went public when Montreal-based Lumenpulse Group acquired it in a deal worth $60 million. 

Casey O’Neill, Founder and CEO, Cypress Solutions Inc.

Bigger isn’t always better, and Casey O’Neill has the proof. After starting Cypress Solutions Inc. in 1997 as an engineering services firm, he pivoted the company in 2003 to focus on designing, manufacturing and servicing “rugged” wireless devices designed to let machines—think police and safety vehicles, or oil and gas fleets—connect to back-end systems and upload data such as GPS info or whether a siren has been turned on. But even as demand grew with the increasing reliability of wireless technology, the company remained compact—now boasting just a couple of dozen employees. “It was a knock against us early on, companies thought we were too small.”

Cypress handily put that misconception to rest, with expansive contracts that include 3,000 units across eight departments for the City of Calgary and outfitting 1,600 vehicles for the Ontario Provincial Police. The company’s recent acquisition of Agilink Systems Corp. has also added another product to the mix: a backup cellular communication system used for clients in the banking and retail space, including heavyweights such as

Philip Vanderpol, President and Founder, Vitalus Nutrition Inc.

Vitalus Nutrition has changed considerably since Philip Vanderpol’s grandfather started the business in the 1950s. From a roadside stand selling eggs and fish, the family company added a dairy division in the 1970s–right around the time North American milk consumption rates started a 30-plus-year decline.

Under Vanderpol’s leadership, the company has undergone a radical shift to become a major supplier of milk protein, isolates and other nutritional components for use in everything from infant formula to supplements. With a client list that now includes Danone Nutrition and Abbott Nutrition, the company has positioned itself as a leader in food technology and is poised to benefit from emerging health trends such as prebiotics. Earnings for the company have nearly doubled since 2014, from $3.5 million to $6 million. That has the company confident its goal of earning $20 million by 2020 is within reach. “It’s in our DNA to always look at how we can get more value out of things than our global competitors.”