Signifly taps Montreal for first international office

The Danish innovation agency hopes its multidisciplinary approach to development will give it an edge over other digital shops.


Signifly CEO Michael Valentin (left) with managing director and head of Canadian expansion Nicklas Roenning.

Danish agency Signifly is opening on office in Montreal as it aims to address demand from North American clients for a combination of strategy and development when it comes to digital innovation.

Founded in Copenhagen, Signifly is based around a rapid ideation and development approach, going from understanding a business and the problems it is looking to solve to idea to prototypes in 100 days, before deciding which ideas to run with and scale. In Canada, the office is being led by managing director Nicklas Roenning. Roenning, who was most recently at Copenhagen-based software company IT Minds, joined Signifly last year to lead its international expansion.

“There’s a lot of innovation agencies out there, but we feel a frustration with too many great ideas staying on the presentation slides and never being built or executed,” Roenning says. “Our approach is to innovate by doing. We want to go from something very abstract to something very tangible when it comes to digital innovation, which way too many people use without making it a tangible concept. And we want to do that as fast as possible.”

Some of the projects Signifly has worked on in Copenhagen are an online shopping platform for shipping company Maersk Line to resell its used containers, using a sharing economy model to create a grocery delivery service for supermarket chain Rema 1000 and helping create the innovation lab for LEO Pharma.

Signifly is entering a space where it will be competing with other digital agencies and consultancies who are also focused on business transformation through digital products and innovation, sometimes with a similar focus on rapid development and prototyping. But Roenning says one thing that sets it apart is having its own team of developers, which not only helps with its 100-day process, but to better understand the solutions that could address the challenges clients are facing.

“Complex problems are not just identified by a CEO,” he says. “They’re a multidisciplinary thing to identify because you need to be multidisciplinary to solve them. We might be able to identify great strategy, but if we don’t have the understanding of what it requires to build this, or the creative team to spark ideas of how an idea can actually become an innovation that is different from the status quo, then we don’t believe it will succeed. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel or say this is something that is extremely unique, but we are taking an approach that is more scientific, where we do small experiments and let the data lead the way. That means we need more than strategists. We need people to conceptualize and build and develop the solutions.”

Roenning says Signifly also considered New York and Toronto as potential locations for its North American expansion, but ultimately settled on Montreal because of the deep talent pool in technology, innovation and creativity, as well as the relatively low cost and “cultural fit” for the European agency. He adds that Montreal will also give it the ability to build relationships with clients relatively nearby in Toronto, New York and Boston. The Montreal office is currently working with some clients, though Roenning could not yet name them.

There is currently “a handful” of staff working in the Montreal office, Roenning says, and the agency is looking to expand (specifically looking for developers and people with digital experience).

“Even though there is a big talent pool, there’s a lot of big players competing for it right now,” Roenning says.