Humera Malik learned a crucial lesson early on: if you’re going to run a successful business, don’t do it alone.
“We like to romanticize the millionaire who started it all in his basement,” she says. “The truth is, every great company is built on a strong support system — peers, colleagues, clients and capital. MaRS has given us all of that.”
A natural risk-taker, Humera spent over a decade in the corporate world, which she describes as “risk-averse,” before taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. Always obsessed with finding efficiencies, Humera founded Canvass Analytics in 2016 with the goal of revolutionizing the manufacturing industry through AI. Her product was novel: a predictive platform that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, maximize operational efficiency and improve production quality. More accurate than any human and 12 times faster than industry standard solutions, Humera’s software could save energy-intensive clients millions while also doing right by the environment. More impressive still was the fact that her tech was (and continues to be) self-learning, meaning it could tackle unforeseen problems. In short, Humera had a winning innovation — she just needed some customers.
Enter MaRS. Shortly after launching Canvass, Humera met with the MaRS Cleantech team. “MaRS was the first name that came to mind,” Humera says.
Every founder needs to find their tribe, and every founder I knew wanted an association with MaRS.
Upon meeting Humera, the MaRS Cleantech team was stoked. “We were immediately impressed with Humera — her intelligence, charisma and product,” says Jason MacFarlane, head of advanced manufacturing at MaRS. “Her ability to constantly analyze, adapt and execute great ideas is at the core of Canvass’s growth.”
Here was a passionate cleantech entrepreneur with a breakthrough product ready for adoption. And through its global network, MaRS knew plenty of adopters. The MaRS Cleantech team connected Humera with a list of potential customers and investors from the automotive, aerospace and agriculture communities. Also helpful was the team’s extended stable of entrepreneurs and scientists — likeminded people Humera could call upon when she needed expert advice, resources and words of encouragement. “MaRS provided so much more than surface-level networking,” she says. “It gave us personal access to a quality community.”
Working with MaRS has also allowed Humera to evolve as a mentor to other female entrepreneurs. In September 2018, she was asked to judge the MaRS-run Women in Cleantech Challenge, a national competition that will award $1 million in prize money to the most promising female founder among six finalists. Through the experience, Humera got to work with a panel of prominent female judges, including entrepreneur and legendary author Margaret Atwood. Humera remembers the opportunity fondly: “That was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Not only did I bond with my fellow jurors, I got to learn from the brilliant minds competing on stage. Having been in their shoes a few short years ago, it was so special.”
Supporting Humera as an innovation thought leader has been another goal for Jason and his team. “She has a unique ability to make complex concepts like AI accessible and intriguing to regular people,” Jason says. Leaning into that, the MaRS Cleantech team has taken Humera to the Cleantech Group’s recent forums in Singapore and San Francisco, while also recommending her for various speaking engagements across Canada.
Today, Canvass is growing rapidly and on track for global expansion. Among the company’s impressive roster of clients, Canvass recently inked deals with Olam International, one of the world’s largest agri-businesses, and Hamilton-based Stelco, a leader in Canadian steel. Humera and her team have so far secured two rounds of VC financing: US$1.6 million from Canadian venture capital firm Real Ventures (housed in the MaRS Centre) and US$5 million from a group led by Google’s Gradient Ventures. And MaRS continues to play a key role in Canvass’s success, working with Humera to build her company through media exposure, talent resources support, tailored introductions to potential partners and investors, and further trips abroad.
“We look forward to a long relationship with MaRS,” Humera says. “We’re in it together now.”