The Narwhal Project

Research and Perspectives on Scaling Technology Companies

Recent Research from The Narwhal Project

The Narwhal Project was initiated at the Impact Centre at the University of Toronto. Our objective is to discover the underlying factors that lead to the creation of world-class technology companies. This project undertakes research and provides perspectives on scaling. In this way, we hope that startups, governments, and academia can identify and adopt best practices in technology commercialization.

Summary of Findings

Three years ago, we initiated the Narwhal Project to conduct research to discover the root causes of Canada’s challenges in creating a world-leading innovation economy. We thought it would be useful at this juncture to summarize our findings. This report highlights some of the issues we have identified.

The Path to IPO

Over the last four years, there have been substantial changes in IPOs in the software world. Firms tend to wait longer to go public, while raising larger late-stage private rounds and eventually experiencing high public market valuations. 

The Land of Stranded Pilots

This report examines the shape of the health technology industry in Canada with a focus on three specific questions: Does Canada actually have a problem with health tech commercialization? If so, how extensive is that problem? And what is causing it?

The Formula for Scaling to World Class

There is a financial formula for scaling to become a world class company. These are the rough parameters of that formula. Once it starts scaling, a company must plan to grow at least 100% a year for 5 to 10 years. In order to do that, the company will need to raise about $2.5 of capital for every $1 of revenue. It will also need to allocate almost twice as much spending on marketing and sales as it does on research and development.


Target Annual Growth Rate


Capital as a % of Revenue


Losses as a % of Revenue


Marketing & Sales as a % of Revenue

Triggers and Barriers to Innovation

If you think you have a great business or product idea your success will depend in part on how well you understand your prospective customer. In fact, If you listen closely, your customers will tell you what business you are in.

This book is all about understanding those potential customers. It’s about figuring out what triggers them to buy and what barriers get in the way of you making a sale. It’s about how to listen to customers so that you can understand their behavior and capitalize on it to make your business a resounding success.

The thing about customers is that they don’t talk very loudly. In fact, sometimes they won’t talk to you at all. They won’t tell you what they want or what you should create. Customers won’t tell you what triggers them to make a purchase. They also won’t tell you why they won’t buy, or what barriers get in the way of them making a purchase. As a result, they might not even know that what you have is something they need.

What you need is a framework to help you listen to customers, to understand what triggers them, what barriers stop them, and how they view your competition. That’s what we’re going to give you in this book: a framework to help you understand your prospective customers’ triggers and barriers – how they think, what they feel, and how your idea relates to their lives.