Why We’re Launching the SAAS NORTH STAR Award (And What It Means for The Ecosystem)

We have joined forces with Benevity to launch a GIVING PLEDGE where people can donate to ALS in memory of Greg Smith. Donate here!

We often talk about “impact” as if it’s some esoteric thing versus something we’re all capable of. Every founder who sets out to build a company is, whether they know it or not, stating they also want to make an impact. We build companies to make an impact on customers, communities, on investors, on… you name it.

Making a positive impact beyond making some cash, on the other hand is a little more difficult. Now, SAAS NORTH is proud to announce that we’re launching an award to recognize those leaders across the ecosystem that are consciously - and successfully - making a positive impact.

The inaugural SAAS NORTH STAR AWARD, founded in the memory of prolific Canadian tech investor Greg Smith, will be awarded onsite at SAAS NORTH, November 17-18, 2021 - to a leader that has made a lasting impact on the tech and innovation ecosystem in Canada.

“Who is the recipient?” You ask? We’ll be announcing it live, in-person at SAAS NORTH this year. 

Dave Tyldesley
Co-Founder & Producer, SAAS NORTH
Sr. VP Cube Business Media Inc.

A Canadian tech powerhouse

On October 9th, 2021, Greg Smith lost his battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) leaving a partner, four sons, and a tech community that will miss his laugh and his loyalty. 

Before his diagnosis and passing, Greg was a Canadian tech powerhouse. He started as an operator, founding and bootstrapping AIS Technologies in 1994 and exiting seven years later. He then transitioned into funding companies, first with BDC then co-founding Espresso Capital, investing more than $100 million into companies between 2009 and 2015. After that, he co-founded Timia Capital with Mike Walkinshaw and once again hit and exceeded the $100 million milestone just prior to his passing.

A key driver for Greg was his ability to help founders, even when the going got tough. One time that illustrates this passion, according to Walkinshaw, was when a company that Greg had invested in went through rough times. Most of the board resigned, no longer seeing the company as a profitable venture, but Greg stuck around. Greg stuck by those founders - helping the company rebound and eventually sell. The exit provided a small return for investors and a saving-grace moment for founders and employees.

“I fundamentally believe he remained because he believed he could help these entrepreneurs clean this up and turn a negative situation to a positive,” said Walkinshaw.

He even played a key role in the launch of SAAS NORTH.

SAAS NORTH’s origin story

For much of the 2010’s, the largest conference for SaaS companies in North America was SaaStr, held in which had grown from a meetup to a 10,000-strong organization. Collin Stewart, co-founder and CEO of SaaS consultancy Predictable Revenue, a Timia Capital Portfolio Company, was at the table in Vancouver with Greg talking about the lack of SaaS community in Canada. 

“Greg had been pushing us to start a conference like Saastr for Canada,” said Stewart. “He loved the idea of a premier Canadian SaaS show and was frustrated that there wasn't anything on the same level as SaaStr for Canadian entrepreneurs.  My only experience with conference organization was seeing SaaStr grow as we were one of the first sponsors and got to know the early team that put it together. It seemed like chaos. Total chaos.” 

Meanwhile, after attending SaaStr, the team at L-SPARK Corporation, a SaaS Accelerator based in Ottawa, was pitching a similar idea: bringing the best in Canadian SaaS together with the aim of putting a spotlight on the Canadian tech landscape. The L-SPARK team saw an incredible opportunity to create a conference in the Nation’s Capital, one where companies could come together to share, learn, and inspire one another.

The first order of business was to validate the idea; this meant bringing together executives from companies like MARS IAF, Klipfolio, Survey Monkey, and Predictable Revenue to form a steering committee. The L-SPARK team created the brand, website and strategy and rented the space at the convention centre in Ottawa, but they needed a partner to execute.

“I remember sitting on the earliest SAAS NORTH steering committee and nobody had conference organization experience,” Said Collin Stewart. “Looking back, I can say that my one and only contribution to SAAS NORTH was the suggestion that we bring in someone with experience and not try and do it all ourselves.” 

Unknown to L-SPARK at the time, a similar idea was brewing on the West Coast, in the minds of Mark Stephenson and David Tyldesley at Cube Business Media Inc. a boutique conference creation and management company based out of Vancouver.  Thankfully it was Greg Smith that connected the Cube team with L-SPARK. It was clear that working together in partnership would result in a better conference for the Canadian ecosystem.

“It was Greg’s characteristically open nature that resulted in the introduction and ultimate marriage between Cube Business Media Inc., and L-Spark Corporation - The two organizations became partners and ultimately launched SAAS NORTH together in 2016,” said David Tyldesley, Producer & co-founder of SAAS NORTH and co-founder of Cube Business Media Inc.

Recognizing impact and inspiring the next generation

Greg’s spirit of helpfulness and driving toward impact will live on in the SAAS NORTH STAR award. Now an annual award, it will be given each year.

“I am hopeful that we can put a spotlight and honour those individuals across Canada who work tirelessly with founders at the start of their journeys,” said Patrick White, the Managing Director of L-SPARK. “Those people who encourage, connect, push and sometimes invest in people when they’re starting out to execute on a dream.”

The goal behind the award, beyond recognizing impact, is to inspire the next generation of investors, funders, and ecosystem leaders to drive as much support as possible behind Canadian tech leaders.

“Greg would want to see true Canadian ecosystem builders be recognized for their efforts,” said Walkinshaw. “Canada needs more people willing to put time and their own personal capital behind an entrepreneur to help them get down the field.  This kind of true economic value creation for Canada is what I hope this award supports.”

On top of this award, SAAS NORTH is also honouring Greg’s legacy by continuing its annual donation to ALS Canada in lieu of speaker gifts.  Donations continue to fund research that will hopefully end in better treatments and a cure for ALS. 

“We can honestly say that SAAS NORTH would not exist without Greg,” said Tyldesley. “So launching this award seems like the best way we can honour him.”

Honouring a legacy by building the next one

Greg’s legacy is not necessarily what he accomplished, but what he helped others accomplish. 

He took his own successes and multiplied their impact by turning to funding the next generation of entrepreneurs. The SAAS NORTH conference already follows this ethos, with a goal to provide the education, networks, and resources to help SaaS companies grow.

Now we have an award to recognize those members of our community who are building their own legacy in Greg’s image: using success to help others become more successful.

“We need to celebrate the community builders and supporters as they often go unrecognized and it’s important we call out the contributions they make to the landscape,” said White.

“You gotta believe in the entrepreneur!”
-Greg Smith

To nominate an individual for consideration for the 2022 award, please click here.

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