Ones to watch from the Canadian Startup Awards

The year's winners give marketers a hint of which companies they should be watching, both as partners and competitors.

Need a way to track the companies and trends marketers should keep an eye on? Look no further than the winners of the recent Canadian Startup Awards.

Not all of those honoured are of interest to Canada’s marketing departments (you can find the full list over at Canadian tech site Techvibes, which founded the awards in 2011). But we’ve looked through the winners and runners-up to give you a list of companies that could be your next partner – or the next disruptor you’ll be competing against.

New Startup Winner: Smooch

Based in Montreal, Smooch is a platform that allows brands to integrate chat clients into websites or proprietary apps, or take those conversations to existing chat apps. The platform then offers a way to manage and measure messaging across the different chat environments, and interact with customers using things such as quick replies, images, clickable buttons or structured messages that offer conversational experiences.

It also has the ability for chats that started on owned sites to be carried over to the user’s preferred app (like Facebook Messenger or WeChat), or integrate existing bots and business systems with its chat experience. Smooch has already worked with brands including Frank + Oak, Target, U-Haul and Uber.

New Startup Runner-Up: Ada

Another one in the messaging space, Ada is a chat platform that focuses exclusively on the customer service space. Kind of like a next-gen FAQ section that’s fully integrate-able with existing platforms and apps, the company’s platform will give instantaneous responses to the most common customer questions. If Ada runs into a question it cannot answer, the conversation is handed off to a human agent, but the platform also learns from human training and customer feedback to reduce the number of future handoffs and optimize its automated messages. Ada has already worked with Telus, Medium and Wattpad.

Hardware Company Winner: Ecobee

The Toronto-based connected thermostat company has been noteworthy for getting $35 million in funding from Amazon’s Alexa fund. But in October, it also launched the Ecobee3 Lite, bringing a version of its smart thermostat to market at $80 cheaper than most competitors, leading a charge for making connected homes more accessible and more prevalent.

Hardware Company Runner-Up: Thalmic Labs

Wearable tech company Thalmic Labs is best known for its Myo armband that adds gesture controls to devices like TVs, phones and drones, as well as through apps for services including Netflix, Spotify, Powerpoint, YouTube and web browsers. Though its next device has been kept secret, it announced the opening of a new factory in October just to develop it, saying it would be targeted directly to the consumer market.

Enterprise Transformation Winner: Scotiabank

A big reason behind the growth of fintech in Canada has been increased attention and investment from the major banks. Scotiabank has been at or near the front of that charge, be it through ongoing efforts at its digital lab, investing in programs to develop AI, or integrating a wealth of tech features into its digital-only subsidiary Tangerine.

Enterprise Transformation Runner-Up: Sonnet

Most Canadians have been taking note of Waterloo-based Sonnet for its recent marketing campaigns, but taking a queue from digital-only banks like Tangerine and EQ Bank, Sonnet has been an early player in the digital-only insurance space.

Mobile App Winner: Ritual

If you live and work in Toronto, you likely already know Ritual. The app and website lets you order from a range of partner restaurants and coffee shops and lets you know when to leave your home or office to pick it up just as it’s ready. Last year, the company got into the loyalty space by launching Ritual Rewards, allowing users to collect and redeem points from restaurants that wouldn’t otherwise have their own loyalty program. Given that Ritual works with over 500 partners, the company claims it has the largest loyalty program in Toronto.

Mobile App Runner-Up: Drop Loyalty

Launched only last summer, millennial-focused loyalty app Drop already has over 70,000 Canadian users. It differentiates itself from other programs by linking to a user’s credit or debit card and earns them points for all purchases made. So consumers can earn rewards even if they aren’t eligible for their bank’s own rewards card or are looking to avoid credit card debt. It also serves other deals and rewards that are personalized based on spending habits, and sends rewards to users immediately to capitalize on the millennial desire for instant gratification. It has already partnered with some of Canada’s top retailers to offer rewards, including Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons, Starbucks and Walmart, just to name a few.