Getting a startup off the ground (and into the strata of the world’s elite companies) requires precision planning and near-flawless execution. When Joshua Wong started his smart-grid firm Opus One Solutions in 2011, he was ready: nearly five years’ experience as an engineer and business leader in the energy sector, as well as a product capable of transforming utilities the world over. Wong had a global scale-up in waiting, but he needed some support.
“I knew that tech like ours would revolutionize utilities, however, I didn’t understand the full scope of the challenges,” says Wong. “I fell a lot over the last 10 years; MaRS and Toronto’s innovation community helped pick me up.”
With offices in Toronto, New York City and Glasgow, Opus One Solutions decarbonizes the globe’s energy systems and maximizes efficiencies. For Wong, that means ubiquitous electrification. The scale-up does this by layering its software over existing electric power infrastructure to monitor levels and integrate renewable energy sources. Opus One targets utilities — giant organizations serving literally billions of people. And because the company got in the game early, Wong’s tech is well positioned to set the international standard for smart-grid upgrades.
It’s taken a lot of work to get the company to this point, however. “I admit that I stumbled into entrepreneurship and didn’t do a lot of research,” Wong says. Ten years ago, investors weren’t that interested in cleantech, and finding like-minded peers was difficult. So, in 2013, Wong contacted MaRS. Immediately, he found fellow entrepreneurs (many of them located in the campus or within walking distance). “Every entrepreneur needs peers to relate,” Wong explains. “MaRS brought me into the community.” MaRS advisors recommended Opus One apply for the federal Canadian Technology Accelerator program, which paved the way for the startup’s entry into the U.S. market. These were the sparks Wong needed to propel his venture to the next level.
As the Opus One crew continued to grow, Wong also leaned on MaRS to craft talent policies. Most executives will tell you that hiring and retaining quality employees is the hardest part of the gig — even harder when none of your senior leaders have HR backgrounds. MaRS Talent Services got to work improving Opus One’s organizational structure and building benefits packages.
That groundwork has paid off. Today, Opus One is one of Canada’s banner tech companies expected to reach $100 million in revenue by 2025, with projects in dozens of regions. Opus One has joined MaRS Momentum, a national program that is hyper-focused on grooming executives and helping their companies reach unicorn status. “I think growth is a testament to vision,” Wong says. “Business models, geographies, laws — what you have — those change, but nurturing the planet will never change.”
MaRS has assisted Opus One’s growth in other ways as well. For instance, MaRS PR Accelerator has helped the company gain traction in the press, landing stories in major newspapers, speaking engagements at innovation conferences and video appearances. Through the Power Forward Challenge, an initiative run by MaRS and founded by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Opus One connected with Lakeland Holding. Together, they are co-developing DEMOCRASI, a demonstration project in Bracebridge, Ontario to test an innovative energy management system. In addition to that initiative, Opus One now has projects in dozens of regions and is looking to expand into Asia. Wong anticipates his team will hit 150 employees in 2021.
Dennis Ensing, a Momentum executive in residence, has been Wong’s closest consultant for the past two years. “Opus One tackles climate change better than any company I’ve seen,” Ensing says. “Because the crisis is literally everywhere, and because the tech is so scalable and the clients so giant, Josh and his team can make huge environmental and financial gains. I’m supposed to be a third-party sanity check, and yet, I find them always so prepared.”
Vision, a great product and hard work have been key to Wong weathering storms along the way — storms like COVID-19. And Opus One has been prepared at every turn. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I called Joshua to discuss crisis strategy,” Ensing remembers. “He had already drafted a 20-slide presentation on how he was dealing with the situation.”