Toronto-based Sensei Labs wins Canada’s first Comet competition

By Dave Gordon

With files from Alex Coop


Toronto’s Sensei Labs took the top prize recently at the Ingram Micro Cloud Comet Competition, besting 15 finalists, and 150 applicants.

The Toronto event provided an opportunity for vendors and startups to showcase their innovations to a judging panel of industry leaders.

It was the first Canadian version of a competition already spanning 16 international cities in the past year. Each event features one winner, and three runners-up, all receiving go-to-market funding, training and resources to grow.

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The winner from each region will vie for the top US$1 million cash prize, presented at the Ingram Micro Cloud Global Summit in Miami, in May, 2020.

Jay Goldman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Sensei Labs, said that his product is able to reduce “work status reporting” by five to ten per cent, by connecting all of a business’ programs.

The judges from Microsoft and Ingram Micro Cloud, he said, “are both incredible channel partners. For those two to see a business that has a huge potential market opportunity, and huge potential partner opportunity, combined together, was probably what pushed it over the top for us. We couldn’t be more thrilled because, for us, partners will absolutely be the way we go to market and grow our business.”

According to Goldman, Microsoft was so impressed with his product that they told him ‘this is the missing piece of Office 365.’

“That was a very exciting thing for us to hear, because obviously that’s a great accolade from them,” he added.

Sensei Labs has a 50-person startup that now services clients in five continents.

From left: Suzanne Gagliese, VP, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft, Bill Brandel country chief executive, Ingram Micro Canada, and Adam Nanjee, Managing Director of Canada for Microsoft for Startups Canada. Photo by Alex Coop

Judges evaluated contestants on factors as potential in their channel, and ecosystem readiness.

Canada’s judges included Bill Brandel (Country Chief Executive, Ingram Micro Canada), Tim FitzGerald (VP Cloud Channel Sales North America, Ingram Micro), Suzanne Gagliese (VP, One Commercial Partner, Microsoft) and Greg Onoprijenko (rector, Ingram Micro Cloud Canada).

Comet’s goal, said organizers, is to discover new cloud-focused software vendors, and identify highly innovative business-to-business (B2B) software innovators, and introduce them to the channel through Ingram Micro’s Cloud Marketplace.

Microsoft is the global sponsor, and supports the competition through a partnership between Microsoft for Startups group, and Ingram Micro Cloud.

Kevin Peesker, president of Microsoft Canada, said at the dais that Canadians are “becoming aware of how important innovation is for the country,” both in large businesses and in the government sector.

“To see it happen, real-time, in front of you – to see them deliver what they’ve created, making it real, is phenomenal,” he told Channel Daily News. “To witness the intense capability of the development and startup community in Canada, is an honour to see that at work.”

Adam Nanjee, managing director of Canada for Microsoft for Startups Canada, concurred, saying Canada is “the hotbed of today, because of the sheer amount of startups and high trajectory of what’s happened over the past few years, in terms of not just number of startups, but actually high quality later seed startups in the country.”

Greg Onoprijenko, director of cloud, Ingram Micro Canada, has also noticed this local tech explosion. “Canada’s B2B startup ecosystem is so diverse and dynamic, we knew we’d have a tough decision to make for this year’s competition.”

Bill Brandel, Canada manager for Ingram Micro, said that his eyes were on companies that “identify with the needs of this channel, the ecosystem that they’re going to be playing in, and bring something really cutting edge to the market that’s going to kind of really change Canada.”

Canada’s three runners-up are LoginRadius, BOOXI and Wedge Networks Inc, each of whom received US$50,000 in funding, and free entry to Ingram Micro’s Cloud Summit.

Daniel LaPlante, co-founder of Booxi, an online booking platform, said that the key to his company’s success was simplicity and scalability. The winnings will be focused on “more visibility with IT solution providers to resell us.”

Garrett Ungaro is AVP, sales and partnerships, of LoginRadius, which helps companies securely manage customer identities and data, providing the ability for businesses to offer username and password authentication.

What he believes sets his company apart is the ability for clients to get their service up and running within a couple of weeks, and migrate millions of users’ data. The Vancouver-based company has 120 employees globally.

“Hopefully now, with our relationships with Ingram, we can get on a global stage and be even more recognizable,” said Ungaro.

Hongwen Zhang, is CEO and CTO of Wedge Networks, which touts itself as a “threat management system” protecting clients from malware and cyber threats accurately, and in realtime, specially built for the cloud-era. “It has always been that we want make sure the Cloud layer will be a secure layer where all the connected devices can do whatever they do best without worrying about being hacked.”

As a judge, Suzanne Gagliese, Microsoft Canada, vice-president of One Commercial Partner, said she was, “looking for the opportunity to help our partners to accelerate and continue to define the market.

She told the publication that the aim was to “create those market-making moments for our partners, focused on creating that initial momentum in the startup community.”

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