What does an archetypal Growth 500 company look like? With businesses scattered across the country and operating in more than a dozen different industries, there’s no one definition. Looking to this year’s roster of winners sheds insight into the breadth and diversity of successful entrepreneurship today.
Here’s the only characteristic that all of the businesses have in common: They’re impressive. On average, they grew topline sales by 798% from 2012 to 2017. Together, the firms employ more than 70,000 people full-time; they’ve created nearly 37,000 net new jobs in the past five years. In 2017, they contributed $18.6 billion in total sales to the Canadian economy, and donated more than $430 million to social and charitable causes.
Manufacturing is the single largest sector represented on the list—as has been the case for years—with nearly one in five Growth 500 winners in the business of making stuff. And what delightful stuff they make: from life-enhancing assistive robotics (Kinova, No. 127) to life-affirming beer (The Indie Alehouse, No. 166).
But manufacturing owes its pole position in part to our system of categorization: if you combine companies in software development with those that provide IT services, technology dominates the list. Perhaps it’s time to update “hewers of wood, drawers of water” to “integrators of networks, writers of code.”
Ontario is home to a disproportionate number of winners, particularly in the Golden Horseshoe. The city of Toronto alone—excluding its suburbs—is headquarters to nearly one-quarter of the Growth 500. While Ontario may win on volume, British Columbia has velocity: it’s home to 14% of the firms on the list, but 20% of those in the top 100, including this year’s No. 1 company, Article, a furniture maker (page 8).
Elsewhere, the number of companies based in Quebec has been steadily increasing, while representation from both Alberta and Atlantic Canada has waned, reflections of the relative strength of the economies in those regions.
And while big cities dominate, you can find fast-growing businesses in such unexpected places as Kleefeld, Man. (No. 95, Water X Industrial Services), Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, Que. (No. 315, Les Emballages Boxpack) and Quesnel, B.C. (No. 372, All-West Crane & Rigging). Up north—way north, to Arviat (population: 2,657)—you’ll find EPLS (No. 479), the first company ever from Nunavut to make the ranking, and the first in five years from one of the territories. General manager Derrick Webster says EPLS was started “to supply a necessity to a remote community and create a few jobs to help bring hope to the people.” Proof of one theme common to all Growth 500 winners: a great purpose can yield great things.