Verafin's success is just the start of future growth for N.L.'s tech sector, co-founder says

·4 min read
Verafin's success is just the start of future growth for N.L.'s tech sector, co-founder says

2020 became the year of the pandemic. Newfoundland and Labrador has managed to keep the cases of COVID-19 low, but the restrictions still affect everyone. Now there's a vaccine delivered in record time. Our series Beyond 2020 will examine the people and issues that are going to dominate the year ahead.

One of the founders of St. John's digital security company Verafin says his company's huge deal with Nasdaq late last year is just the beginning for Newfoundland and Labrador's technology sector.

Brendan Brothers's company, which helps to detect activity like fraud and money laundering, was bought in November by the global tech giant in a deal worth $2.75 billion US.

It's a deal that Brothers says will pave the way for other tech companies and continue to grow the industry in the province.

"The one thing that comes out of a deal like the Nasdaq-Verafin partnership here is that I think it creates some fuel in the ecosystem, which has already been bubbling here for quite some time," he said.

"You need, I think, a story like this to be able to set an example for other businesses that are going to start here, that are going to start to thrive here, that are going to come out of all the incubators that we have."

Momentum growing in tech sector

Katie Breen/CBC
Katie Breen/CBC

Brothers said those incubators, like Memorial University's Genesis Centre, along with a few recent success stories, are helping inspire future innovation and development.

"I think back to when we started our business back in 2003 and we started at the Genesis Centre, but the Genesis Centre was really small at that point in time and there weren't examples like we have right now," he said.

"Now there's this group of companies, CoLab, Mysa, all these great examples of companies that are doing interesting things, building great products and services. And it's by everybody starting and being successful that we start to create this momentum."

With that momentum now growing, Brothers said the sky's the limit for technology in Newfoundland and Labrador.

WATCH | The CBC's Peter Cowan sits down with Verafin's Brendan Brothers:

"The benefit of software is that you're only limited by what you can think.… It's not something where you're tied to a natural resource or you're tied to a place; you're really only limited by what you can actually think and imagine and try and find a problem to solve," he said.

"If you look at the number of people that are employed in technology in the province, a significant portion of them are within technology businesses like ourselves. But technology people are also required across every other business as well."

CBC
CBC

But to meet the coming demand he expects, Brothers said, there'll need to be increased interest and capacity to train people at the province's university and colleges, for both the continued growth of Verafin and for the founding of new companies.

"Verafin alone, we've added 100-plus people for the past several years, and we plan on hiring 200-plus more in the coming years," he said.

"We need a pipeline, not only of people to work within these businesses, but I think probably more importantly, a pipeline of people who are going to take a chance and start an entrepreneurial venture and actually jump in and try and create something."

Brothers said the pandemic has shown that there is room for tech growth across Newfoundland and Labrador. He said Verafin has had people working remotely around the province and across Canada for about 10 years.

"If 2020 has taught us anything, I think it's the fact that you can probably work on any problem from anywhere…. I think what we've learned this year is how to engage and work together regardless of where you are," he said.

This is a great opportunity to create more success here. - Brendan Brothers

While Nasdaq is a company with offices all over the world, Brothers said he's committed to keeping Verafin based in St. John's.

He said he wants Verafin to create "the world's most effective crime-fighting network," but is hopeful for the growth of other local startups as well.

"We're trying to catch bad guys. We're trying to stop money laundering. We're trying to stop fraud. It's a problem that is evergreen, it never goes away, so I think as long as we're still having fun and we're excited about what we're doing within Verafin, I think we'll continue to focus on that," he said.

"But I think broadly, this is a great opportunity to be able to create more success here.… As long as we continue to invest and as long as we continue to create the structures where people can try, succeed and or fail and try again, then we will be successful at the end of the day."

CBC
CBC

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador