The Juggernaut Startups of 2017: Wealthsimple, Rubikloud, Ritual and Element AI

The Canadian Innovation Startup Award is presented by BDO Canada.

Creating a startup these days can be a risky business. According to one recent Harvard Business School study, around three-fourths of all venture-backed startups will fail.

In spite of the statistic, the finalists in this year’s Canadian Innovation Awards for Startup of the Year have excelled. These Canadian companies have not only beaten the odds, but they’ve also risen to the top of the respective industries.

Element AI

Artificial intelligence is a major topic of discussion in the world of tech. Its potential applications span industries. One Montreal-based company is at the forefront of developing this technology to solve big business problems.

Element AI is developing AI as a service in addition to consulting with businesses on AI strategies.  The company’s 2017 was punctuated with new research partnerships with the likes of MIT’s Systems That Learn initiative and as the first Canadian company to join the Partnership on AI (PAI).

“We already collaborate with an ever-growing faculty network of research professors to advance the state of AI,” Element AI wrote in a statement. “We’re looking forward to seeing what type of groundbreaking advances in AI technology this group can achieve.”

In addition to the new partnerships, Element AI also announced a $102 million Series A round of funding and are serving as advisors for a $45 million Korean AI fund.

Between the bevy of new partnerships and recent funding round, Element AI truly solidified its status as one of Canada’s premier AI tech firms.


The food ordering space is growing at a breakneck pace. Every major city has multiple options to choose from now, and gaining market share in the space seems like an insurmountable obstacle.

But in spite of the fierce competition, the Toronto-based Ritual enjoyed a banner year in 2017.

The app rolled out in more U.S. cities, with coverage now in Toronto, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, L.A., Washington D.C., and Boston.  Their new Piggyback feature, which allows colleagues to order coffee or lunch together for a single person to pick up, has seen growing traction since its launch in September. And to cap off the year, Ritual closed a successful Series B funding round for an impressive $43.5 million.

“The past year has been an extremely transformational one for Ritual in terms of top-line growth, accelerating our U.S. expansion, improving our capitalization, financial security and runway, doubling our employee headcount—and ultimately redefining how coworkers within offices order coffee and lunch together every day,” said Josh Sookman, head of expansion and business development at Ritual.

Ritual, an app that streamlines the meal ordering process, allows users to order meals in advance from nearby restaurants. Hungry patrons then get regular live updates about when the order is ready. Once everything is good to go, customers can simply walk into their preferred eatery, grab their meal, and go.

Although Ritual is primarily oriented towards busy urban professionals, the differentiation from its competitors has been enough to maintain its market share in the increasingly crowded space. Ritual does not charge more money for dishes and keeps restaurants on a tight leash to make sure they do not gouge customers as well, a welcome detail in an environment where surcharges run rampant.

“Achieving such positive growth across all of these dimensions is a function of strong execution, and a testament to the hard work from our amazingly passionate, creative and relentlessly driven team at Ritual,” says Sookman.


The retail industry saw major shifts in 2017. With major stores shuttering left and right, retail brands are struggling to keep up. But Toronto’s Rubikloud is working hard to help major retailers stay ahead of the curve.

Using artificial intelligence, the Rubikloud platform allows retail brands to make more informed decisions about stock and loyalty marketing. Automated OLAP data integrates with legacy retail applications and data warehouses—which means it’s easier for brands to make sure they don’t run out of inventory during peak sales times or creating more tailored marketing efforts for loyal customers.

And this data-driven tech is making inroads with retail brands.

“We consistently show tangible growth and product innovation not just on a Canadian scale, but globally. We have been as transparent as possible about wanting to grow to 100 people and now wanting to grow to $100 million average rates of return (ARR),” says Kerry Liu, the CEO of Rubikloud.

The company currently works with some of the world’s largest retailers, which collectively have revenues of over $100 billion in annual sales. One of Rubikloud’s customers, a perfume and cosmetics retailer, saw a spike of 10 per cent in revenues one year, accounting for a 12 million Euro boost, thanks to Rubikloud’s platform.

In addition to their growth in 2017, the company started the new year off with a bang, announcing a $37 million USD oversubscribed Series B funding round.


When it comes to putting away your hard-earned dollars for a rainy day, the idea of long-term investing can be intimidating. From RRSPs to TFSAs—the abbreviations alone can be overwhelming.

But Toronto-based Wealthsimple has set out to end the era of complicated financial products. The digital investment platform makes it simple for the average person to set themselves up for retirement success with a few clicks of their mouse.

“To actually manage someone’s money, you need a license. It’s a huge responsibility to take someone’s life savings. How the hell do you even do that? I never worked in that industry before,” founder Michael Katchen told Techvibes. “But when it was a little bit validated that there was something in this idea of making money easy for people to understand, and making investing accessible and simple, that we decided to go pursue that route wholeheartedly.”

Essentially, wannabe-investors simply answer a questionnaire that guides them through creating a customized portfolio based on their financial goals and aversion to risk. It’s intuitive to set up automated contributions to your accounts right through the platform, and the sleek dashboard helps users visualize how their money will grow over time (three cheers for the power of compound interest).

Sounds pretty simple, right? That’s the whole point.

“…Our business model is one where we combine really great digital tools that just make investing simple and straightforward,” Katchen said. “But you also get access to human expertise and human advice if you want that too. And the combination between human advice empowered by technology is a really powerful value proposition.”

And the concept is obviously resonating with investors—Wealthsimple raised $50 million this year in funding and boasts more than 50,000 clients across Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., and manages more than $1 billion in cash.

Vote for your Favourite

Which of these established Canadian companies do you believe should win the 2017 Canadian Innovation Awards Startup of the Year category? Make sure you vote for your favourites before February 2 at midnight to have your say in which companies should win.

The winners will be announced at the live gala on February 22 at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

The Startup Award is presented by BDO Canada.


BDO Canada has spent more than 90 years providing assurance, accounting, tax, and advisory services to a broad range of clients across the country. And as a member firm of the international BDO network, they leverage access to resources and advisors in more than 150 countries around the world.