Lists & Rankings

Canada's fastest-growing companies in 2020 offer a master class in survival

Here's how businesses on the 2020 Growth List survived when the economy became the disruptor

Growth 500: Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies
CFO Elliot Kazarnovsky and CEO Benjamin Bakst of Marlin Spring, are photographed during a site walkthrough in Toronto. (Photograph by Christopher Katsarov)

Marlin Spring CFO Elliot Kazarnovsky (left) and CEO Benjamin Bakst (Photograph by Christopher Katsarov)

Since 1989, we’ve been celebrating Canada’s fastest-growing companies. This year, we have updated the name of our program from the Growth 500 to the Growth List. The entrepreneurs on this list are as fleet and passionate as ever. They demonstrate it, both from the position of their magnificent growth in 2019. And their resilience in the early months of 2020.

First, meet our GL2020 darling, Marlin Spring, a Toronto-based integrated real estate company that is so diversified, it was/is well-placed to weather this pandemic and any storm. Marlin Spring dominated the rankings with a breathtaking 57,144% growth for the 2014-19 time frame. The company exemplifies foresight and leadership, taking great pride in its team.

Nevertheless, even visionary real estate companies may encounter occasional market softness. During the spring (and, likely, at publication), not a single company hadn’t dealt with challenges—either shutting down or, for a number of A-listers, scaling up. (Please keep in mind, though, that the growth calculations are based on years that predate COVID.)

Thinkific, an education platform (No. 17), and Cook it, a meal-kit service (No. 21), saw their revenues shoot into the stratosphere in the spring. Yet almost everyone, everywhere, had remote work challenges: Kyle Braatz, president of Fullscript (No. 2 on the Growth List 2020 ranking, at 32,291%), wrote that for his work-from-home team, it was about “Kids, dogs, cats, roommates—they’ve all interrupted calls and sometimes need to take priority, and we’re happy to accommodate—that’s life!”

The reasons for success are myriad. Some (those in the digital sphere) were already on the right track, and the pandemic underlined their companies’ vitality. Some whose regular line of business folded (those in staffing or fitness) were clever enough to spot an opportunity and pivot fast. And then there were those whose services were automatically in demand from consumers under lockdown. As CEO David Fugère-Lamarre of game developers iLLOGIKA in Montreal (No. 164) says, “Numerous sources and reports explain that no industry should fare as well as the video game industry during the whole COVID-19 period. At least, so far :-)”

But it wasn’t all swift onboarding and upscaling. Layoffs and financing struggles ensued. Retail, or anything in the events sector, suffered. Transport slowed down. Denise Beaupre’s Auction Transport Services (No. 245), which had already weathered strikes and a rail protest, saw its fleet of 30 trucks in the Atlantic region idled. Despite these issues, Beaupre’s company soldiered through, because her team stood by her side, knowing they were under the auspices of a strong, thoughtful leader.

Indeed, now more than ever, it’s all about leadership. These CEOs are resilient and spirited. They have built smart business models, as well as solid teams to which they have been transparent and supportive. As Eamonn Glavey, president and CEO of CHICC (No. 16), says, the smartest thing he did this past year was to “lean out on management. Things run much smoother, and everyone is waaaay happier!!”

The Startup List crew are young and full of ideas. Follow them; their foresight is boundless. These companies are wading into the eco space, like Tru Earth (No. 2), with 8,408% growth; health innovation, like VitaminLab (No. 33), with 1,091% growth; or insurance disruption, like Zensurance (No. 45), with 727% growth. But mostly, pay attention to the exhilarating tale of Steel River Group, which crushed it at 8,662%, grabbing the No. 1 spot. They point the way forward.