Scaleup Research

What does it take to transition from Startup to Scaleup?

Scaleup research can tell us a lot about the process of building a successful tech company. Unfortunately, in Canada, there are few companies who have become world class so there are not many opportunities to learn from them. This research is the result of 18 years spent in an attempt to figure out what drives the rapid growth of technology companies and what factors lead to the creation of Unicorns and world class companies

What we have found is that we need another approach. One like that used by the Oakland As and the British Cycling team. What we need is to play Moneyball with scaling up. The research presented here is an attempt to begin a conversation about scaling and the use of evidence-based management.



Summary of Findings

Three years ago, we initiated the Narwhal Project to conduct scaleup 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 Narwhal List

We’ve updated the Narwhal List and released a new report for 2019. Canada’s tech community continues to make progress but we haven’t created a new Unicorn since 2015. The technology sector has doubled the number of companies that are on track to become Unicorns but the healthcare sector continues its slow decline.

Market Development

The impact of marketing and sales cannot be underestimated in the process of scaling. If you want to create a world class company, the first thing you will need is a large market within which to grow. And if you’re in a large market you’ll have competitors and if you want to beat them, you’ll need to spend lots of cash on marketing and sales to get the word out there. 


Capital is perhaps the biggest driving force in scaling companies. Having too little will impede growth and having too much will harm valuations. How much is enough is a big question but we can learn alot from successful companies, ones that have raised capital, grown rapidly and gone on to an IPO. This section looks at a number of different aspects of capital.


One of the greatest challenges a scaling company will have is finding and nuturing the right leadership. What is right for one phase of growth might not be right for the next phase. This research looks at various leadership practices to determine why what woks and what companies could be doing differently.


The current narrative about innovation in Canada misses the mark. Our problem isn’t the amount we spend on research and development. Nor is it the number of patents we take out or how much our productivity lags that of the US. Our problem is that we are not creating enough world class companies.