Growing up Gates

Canada’s economy has seen better days. But for young, smart IT companies with good social skills, business has never been better.
One can hardly keep up with the news of this or that acquisition: on Monday, announced it is planning to acquire GoInstant Inc., a Nova Scotia-based startup that made its name through a Web-based platform that allows for “co-browsing”— basically screen-sharing without downloading anything.
Then just today, Oracle bought Involver, a software company that developed “SML” (social markup language — cute, right?), a design tool that lets companies customize the social experience of a user on the Web.
And who can forget Facebook buying the Israeli startup, an intriguing little company that gave us a visual tool to recognize our friends on social networks?
All business is becoming social. But while it’s the major players that have the most capital to invest in researching new collaborative tools, it almost seems like it’s the little people who have the biggest ideas. Or is our perception somehow skewed to favour the little guy?
I asked Andrew Dixon, vice-president of marketing and operations at Igloo Software Inc., a small Canadian company that develops cloud-based social platforms. Formerly a Microsoft executive, he’s seen the inner workings of both worlds. He told me that it’s agility, not innovation per se, which gives startups an edge.
“It’s not as if there aren’t very, very bright people, and innovative people that work in big companies,” he says. “Of course there are. But their ability to be able to take their ideas and transform them into a product that they can bring to market — if you’re a big company it just takes longer to turn the ship.”
“You’re able to deliver on this idea of innovation or these new capabilities that are very innovative much, much faster. And that’s what makes you so attractive to larger companies who just can’t do that as quickly.”
Acquiring a startup brings you built-in talent as well, says Jorge Garcia, an analyst at Montreal-based Technology Evaluation Centers  Inc. “You have two values there: one is you have the application itself and another is you have, as well, a staff that can provide you with the expertise.”
He cites the other recent acquisition, that of Radiant 6, which had a knack for social media analytics, otherwise known by its buzzword, “sentiment analysis.”
This is all hot stuff right now: cloud, social business, analytics. But wait — there’s something missing here. It’s the fertile soil that can help these tiny seedlings grow into household names virtually overnight.
Ah, yes. Open-source.
Open-source is, by definition, social. Except it isn’t just an old boys club anymore. It’s the New World of software development, in which any new immigrant find a niche and make a fortune without the constraints of the past.
“Many companies nowadays are following some of the steps that open-source companies did in the past, creating communities,” says Garcia. “Open-source set kind of a guide to do some stuff that in the past was almost impossible.”
In Canada, the supremacy of tech innovation is seen as a truism that can get us out of this or that problem (reduce pollution, improve our health care system, etc.). And so, we celebrate innovation, especially by the little guys, at every turn.

It could be that our words are inspiring the next generation of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs. But nothing is more motivating than a billion dollars.  

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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