Five Ws with the TIAs Finalists: Company of the Year – Startup Success

Apollo Exchange, Carbonet and NZ Technologies at the 2020 Technology Impact Awards
Finalist Announcement on April 28th, 2020.

In the lead-up to the 2020 Technology Impact Awards, BC Tech is profiling all 38 finalists in 11 award categories. This week, we look at three early-stage tech companies that have brought something novel and impactful to the market while generating revenue, attracting team members, and building significant buzz in our tech ecosystem. The 2020 Company of the Year– Startup Success award is presented in partnership with Microsoft.

Apollo Exchange

Who: CEO Jeff McCann leads a tight-knit group of 12, one of whom let out an excited “whoop!” when Apollo was announced as a TIAs finalist. “It’s exciting for the whole team,” Jeff says. “It was funny because it’s been such a busy time through COVID. We had a stacked day of meetings and calls, but we all jumped on Zoom to check out the announcement. Then it was like, ‘Okay, awesome, back to work!’ It just speaks to the team’s passion and dedication day in and day out.” 

What: Canada’s largest online insurance marketplace is also the first of its kind to offer multiple insurance companies on one integrated online platform. Apollo is helping the insurance industry adapt to changing expectations from buyers and young employees by combining technology and insurance capacity into one complete package of broker services. 

The Apollo Exchange allows for immediate quoting, policy transaction, and document issuance, giving small businesses the ability to get their insurance in five minutes rather than the traditional days- or weeks-long manual process. 

When: Founded in early 2018, Apollo entered the U.S. market in October of 2019. It was named Digital Innovator of the Year at the Insurance Business Canada Awards that same year, and was a finalist and second-runner up at the 2020 Technology Awards. Apollo was also nominated for the 2020 Small Business BC’s Best Innovation award.

Where: Apollo moved from Jeff’s home office in Burnaby, B.C., to its current digs in Vancouver’s Gastown district in 2018. A year later, it opened a satellite office in downtown Toronto. “We’re very proud of how much we’ve grown in a very short amount of time,” Jeff says. “We’re unique in the tech landscape in that we’re changing how insurance is transacted, and saving small businesses time and money.” 

Why: “It’s so inspiring to see the tech community solving problems for small businesses, and we’re just trying to do our part,” Jeff says. “Small businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy, and coming out of COVID is going to be challenging for many of them. It shouldn’t be hard for them to get insurance with so many other things on their plates.” 


Who: President and CEO Barry Yates says the TIAs nomination is “about recognition and pride” for Carbonet’s 15-member team. “We’ve really had our heads down, so it’s really wonderful to be included with so many other deserving companies.”

What: By using chemical nanoparticles to remove contaminants from wastewater, Carbonet’s unique treatment method helps oil and gas firms reduce costs, increase recycling and minimize safety risks. 

When: Born out of the UBC-based Hatch tech incubator in 2016, Carbonet made waves three years later when it landed $5.5 million in seed funding from angel investors. “We have really started to create a brand in West Texas and New Mexico,” Barry says. “We have large companies proactively approaching us saying they’ve heard great things.” 

Where: Having now raised close to $11 million, the cleantech company has gone from a UBC lab with no product to being fully commercialized in a downtown Vancouver office. “We proved our technology in a little over a year, and just cleared a month where we treated about a million barrels of water,” Barry says proudly. 

Why: “We are on a serious mission to address how water is treated,” Barry says. “It’s an unbelievable experience to watch dirty water come out crystal clear. Best of all, we have a technology that can do it safely for the people handling it, and safely for the environment.”

NZ Technologies

Who: Founder and CEO Nima Ziraknejad says the COVID-19 pandemic has given a new sense of urgency to NZTech’s mission of fighting infection by providing touchless interfaces for surgeons. “It’s so rewarding to recognize everybody in our network and on our team. Our physicians have worked so hard with us over the past 10 years, and while our in-house team may be small in size, we are building something mighty.” 

What: Developed through years of innovation and collaboration with clinical thought leaders in the field of minimally invasive surgery, NZTech’s TIPSO products enable surgeons, for the first time, to interact with operating room equipment and radiology imaging through unique and practical touchless interfaces. Commercially available and deployed in various world-leading clinical institutions, TIPSO products mitigate the risk of infection, increase procedural efficiency, reduce operative time, and help maintain a surgeon’s cognitive focus. 

When: Since beginning a project with VGH surgeons in 2014, NZTech has won awards for Best Pre-Revenue Company and Best New Technology at the Vancouver Angel Forum in 2015, turned an R&D project into two commercialized medical products, started a research collaboration with Stanford University (among others), secured $4 million in funding from government and private investments, and signed a lucrative agreement with Shimadzu Medical Systems USA. 

Where: Currently based in Vancouver’s South Granville neighbourhood, located strategically close to Vancouver General Hospital, NZTech got its start in the basement of Nima’s PhD lab at UBC. “Now that the need for increased infection control has been brought to the forefront of public awareness, we are inspired to work even harder to pursue our mission,” he says. 

Why: Amid the COVID-19 crisis, NZTech is adapting its touchless TIPSO products to replace a wider range of high touch interfaces such as keyboards, keypads and computer mice in the clinical setting. “Nowadays frontline healthcare workers have to use a critical supply of gloves and masks every time they use these interfaces. It’s not really a solution, it just kind of helps them get through the day,” Nima says. “For the post-COVID-19 world, our vision is to spread touchless human-machine interfaces across the healthcare sector, and even beyond into high- traffic places like banks, retail stores, airports, conferences, trade shows, etc.”