Fastest Growing Companies: Assent’s ascent

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By David Sali

Each year, OBJ recognizes the region’s rapidly growing firms with its Fastest Growing Companies awards. The aim is to honour the city’s top performers for substantial, sustainable and profitable growth. Recipients are ranked by their three-year revenue growth. They must have had revenues of at least $100,000 in the first of those three years under consideration. Revenues must have risen to at least $500,000 in their most recent fiscal year. The companies will be profiled online in the coming days and recognized at a cocktail reception on May 24 at You.i TV headquarters in Kanata. Click here for more information on the event.

An ever-expanding web of government red tape isn’t usually thought of as a strong catalyst for business growth.

But then again, Assent Compliance is no ordinary business.

The east-end Ottawa firm that makes software to help ensure companies and their suppliers around the world are complying with an ever-growing list of government regulations is in expansion mode itself as it makes its first appearance on OBJ’s list of fastest-growing companies.

A small outfit with just 25 employees four years ago, Assent Compliance now boasts a headcount that stands at a robust 320 and rising – about 240 of them at its head office on Coventry Road.

But as far as CEO Andrew Waitman is concerned, the 13-year-old company is just beginning to hit its stride.

“We’re at the end of the first inning,” he says, using a baseball analogy to emphasize his point. “Things only just now start to get really interesting. We’re in a business that has a global opportunity and literally has thousands to tens of thousands of companies that need what we do. I think that we have to continue to execute extremely well to go get that real opportunity that will be ours in the (2019-21) time frame.”

Fastest Growing Companies: Assent Compliance

Year founded: 2005
Local headcount: About 240, with about 80 more outside Canada
Product/service: Enterprise software that helps companies comply with government regulations
Three-year revenue growth: 280%
2018 ranking: #9

Although Waitman won’t divulge how many clients the firm has or who they are, he does say Assent already counts a number of Fortune 1000 companies among its customers. Collecting data on regulatory compliance is a daunting task, he notes, and once potential clients see what Assent can offer, they’re usually eager to jump on board – Waitman says the firm wins about 80 per cent of the contracts it bids on.

“A lot of what we do has been done manually in companies for years,” he explains. “We are in the business of automating the arduous.”

The key for Assent is finding its way in the door of more multinational firms for a chance to make its pitch. Investors are clearly betting it will – the company has landed $60 million in venture capital in the past few years, funding it is plowing into R&D and sales and marketing to improve its products and expand its reach.

Assent now has sales teams in the United States, United Kingdom, Malaysia and Kenya as well as a couple of eastern European countries.

“We are still in what I call the pursuit business,” Waitman says. “You can’t just overcome how people are doing things overnight. We’re growing decently, but we’re still below a large number of companies’ radar.”

Most of the firm’s growth has been organic as Assent adds more features to its products and customers subscribe to more of its services. Waitman won’t rule out pursuing acquisitions in the future, but for now, he says, the company already has enough on its plate to keep it in growth mode for some time to come.

“There’s a lot of growth just from expansion of existing customers as they consume more and more of the platform,” he says.

Bolstered by a $40-million funding round just last year, the firm isn’t worried about seeking more capital at the moment, its CEO adds. Another round could make sense, Waitman says, but for now it’s full speed ahead with building its products and acquiring more customers.

“That could happen in six months or it could happen in 12 months,” he says of launching a bid for more VC cash. “It just depends on a lot of factors. Right now, it’s not something that has the leadership team’s attention. We’re totally focused on execution.”

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Canada’s Assent Compliance raises $31.4M Series B round to help businesses stay in compliance

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Assent Compliance, an Ottawa-based startup, isn’t in a sexy space. The company focuses on helping enterprises collect the necessary data to keep their global supply chains in compliance with local and international regulations. But while that may not sound like the most exciting space to be in, the company today announced that it has raised a $40 million CAD Series B round (that’s about $31.4 million U.S.) led by Greenspring Associates.

Other participants include existing investors Volition Capital, Open Text Enterprise Application Fund, Business Development Bank of Canada, National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, Royal Bank of Canada and a number of private investors. With this round, the company has now raised $60 million CAD, making it one of the better-funded Canadian startups at the Series B stage.

It’s worth noting that the company has been around since 2005, but as its current CEO Andrew Waitman told me, the focus on compliance only really came in 2010. For the next five years, the team iterated on this idea. When Waitman came to the company in 2014 (after having met the company’s VP of marketing Matt Whitteker in the boxing ring), the company had about 20 employees. Today it has 225 employees and, according to its own numbers, works with 40 percent of the S&P 500 product companies, which gather data from more than 300,000 companies around the globe.

For most international companies, compliance is a major pain point, especially with regard to how they keep the various players in their supplier ecosystem in compliance. For some companies this is about avoiding conflict minerals or staying in compliance with Europe’s REACH regulations for chemicals or California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. Currently, even major Fortune 500 companies still tend to use Excel spreadsheets to audit and track their vendors, which isn’t exactly the most efficient way of doing this.

The company focuses on helping businesses request information from their suppliers and validate it. It also helps businesses report their findings to the respective authorities. While the company does some basic work on validating this information automatically, the plan is to use machine learning to better understand this data, which is often in standardized formats, but also often comes in as unstructured data.

It’s worth noting that Assent also offers its customers training and a number of educational materials to help companies understand the regulatory environment they work in.

As Waitman told me, the company’s $20 million CAD Series A round was mostly about expanding its product. With this Series B round, the team plans to focus on expanding its sales and marketing efforts. “It’s about air cover — making companies aware we exist,” he said. Because there aren’t really all that many companies that play in Assent’s space, Waitman doesn’t expect that the company will use the funding for acquisitions, though he left the door open for potential data acquisitions that will help it in its efforts to improve its data validation services.

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Assent Compliance secures $20M in drive to accelerate growth


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Andrew Waitman didn’t really appreciate Assent Compliance at first. When he joined the Ottawa software firm as CEO two years ago, Assent employed just 25 people.

The company was run by boxing enthusiasts — a passion Waitman shared — and home to some razor-sharp programmers. It had been around since 2005. It was potentially interesting but, on the surface, underachieving.

But soon enough, Waitman saw something he liked about the firm, and he went to work.

Assent now employs 165. On Wednesday it will announce a $20 million equity investment from a group of venture capitalists, including Volition Capital of Boston and a fund run by Open Text of Waterloo.

The firm said it will use the new capital to expand operations and boost employment by roughly 100 over the next 18 months.


“You have to get into a company to understand what’s really there,” Waitman said. “They had bootstrapped this operation without the help of venture money and were selling their products to top corporations around the world,” he added. “They had accomplished something amazing.” 

Assent makes a living doing that most Ottawa of things – verifying that the suppliers for multinationals are complying with ever-proliferating government regulations. Those regulations cover everything from product safety and labour laws to the use of chemicals and other materials that go into products.

Corporations potentially can lose multi-million contracts if just one piece of their supply chain is found to be in violation of local regulations or laws. So this is important business.

To accommodate expected growth, Assent has opened a new headquarters across from the St. Laurent Shopping Centre in the city’s east end. Dominating the main floor is an Olympic-size boxing ring.

It’s not just a symbol. The firm’s founding directors – Matt Whitteker and Rob Imbeault – have organized the Fight for the Cure charity boxing match. In 2012, the charity attracted worldwide attention with a bout that featured Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Senator Patrick Brazeau.

That was the same year Waitman took up the sport. He was 44. On his first day of training, Waitman was put through the paces by the manager of the gym at the time, Matt Whitteker. Coincidentally, Whitteker was also helping to train Trudeau and briefly put the two pugilists together in the ring.

“I didn’t recognize him at first,” Waitman said referring to Trudeau. “Here was this guy covered in tattoos with headgear on. He’d been boxing for years and I’d been doing it for 30 minutes. I was physically drained.”

In 2014, during one of his regular sparring matches with Whitteker, Waitman revealed he was leaving his job as CEO of Pythian, a data outsourcing specialist. “Come have a look at Assent,” Whitteker offered between jabs.

Pythian was Waitman’s first crack at running a high-tech firm. He had spent much of his early career as a venture capitalist – with Celtic House Venture Partners – where he learned to evaluate revenue potential in startups. During the 2008 global financial crisis, Waitman wanted to focus limited resources on North America. But his Celtic House partners favoured a more global outlook.

Waitman left the partnership in part to advise Pythian co-founder and owner Paul Vallée — a role that morphed into a job as full-time CEO. Vallée served as executive chairman until August 2014, when he took over as chief executive once more.

Waitman recalls that when he arrived at Pythian in 2008, the company employed about 50. By 2014, Pythian’s workforce topped 300 — and today employs more than 400.

What’s the secret? It helps to build on solid foundations. Pythian anticipated the trend that saw many corporations outsource the storage and analysis of data. 

But Waitman insists there’s an equally important ingredient. “It’s a matter of building a leadership team,” he notes. With the right managers and executives in place, he said, tech firms can grow at impressive rates for extended periods.

Pythian’s revenues soared to $64.3 million last year from $12 million in 2010, according to estimates prepared by The Branham Group, an Ottawa consulting firm. This represents compound annual growth of 40 per cent, most of it done without the help of acquisitions.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Top executive talent requires significant upfront investment in salary and other incentives. During the past year, Waitman has bolstered Assent’s executive group significantly, including the hiring of Russell Frederick as chief financial officer (formerly with DragonWave) and Martin Sendyk as chief product officer (formerly Irdeto).

In part, this is why Assent is selling $20 million of its privately held shares — which still leaves the founding directors and other employees with majority control. But the cash will also be used to expand operations in Manhattan, Britain and to open another U.S. office. Assent claims to be selling its compliance software and services to more than 150 members of the corporate club known as the Standard & Poor’s 500 — comprising the largest public firms on Nasdaq and the New York Stock Exchange.

While this tells us little about whether these relationships are truly solid, it does hint at the possibilities here.

Waitman understands more than most how few tech firms can successfully manage the transition from upstart to giant. He’s got experience, energy and ambition. Assent just might last more than a few rounds.


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Assent Compliance Raises $20 Million Investment to Drive Global Growth


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Ottawa’s Assent Compliance has raised $20 million.

The software as a service and data firm raised the money from Boston-based Volition Capital as well as from OpenText Enterprise Application Fund (OTEAF), Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and private investors.

The Canadian company provides an all-in-one compliance automation platform for organizations required to comply with a variety of product stewardship, materials management and ethical sourcing regulations.

Assent currently has 165 employees; with this new funding it plans to hire up to 100 new workers within the next 18 months.

“We evaluate a lot of technology companies in a wide variety of industries,” said Sean Cantwell of Volition Capital. “Once in awhile, we come across an opportunity like Assent Compliance where we see a great leadership team, a sizable unmet market need, a track record of success and a leading product solution.”

“We are delighted to be partnering with the Assent management team,” said Richard Black, General Partner at OpenText Enterprise Apps Fund. “Assent Compliance has demonstrated their capabilities with proven success working with top tier customers.”

“These are the best times to be rapidly growing a global SaaS company,” said Andrew Waitman, CEO of Assent Compliance. “With Volition’s and our investment groups’ infusion of growth capital, we gain the scale and critical mass to partner with the world’s best companies, protect their brand and ensure they have unfettered access to global markets.”

Assent was founded in 2005.

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