Watzan is a profitable, fast-growing Software-as-a-Service company launched in New York in 2014 that is actively growing its development and sales teams – in Halifax.
Five-year-old Watzan offers a content-curation site for medical journals, and CEO Charles Benaiah says one reason it is succeeding is his decision in 2014 to place its operations in Nova Scotia.
“Halifax is the key to our success,” he said in a recent interview shortly after visiting Halifax for an EY Entrepreneur of the Year reception. “We wouldn’t be a company if it weren’t for Halifax. We do everything in Halifax – development, sales, design, data insights – every aspect.”
A former venture capitalist and graduate of Dalhousie University, Benaiah was just starting Watsan in 2014 when he visited his alma mater and learned of its burgeoning entrepreneurship program. He spoke to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and learned more about the community, not just at Dal but in the region.
He decided to grow the company in Halifax and began hiring here. Sixteen Watzan employees are now working away in Halifax, and Benaiah is hoping to hire two to three more over the summer. By the end of the year, he hopes to have a staff of 20 in the city.
What’s more, Benaiah also told a New York friend Libbe Englander about Halifax, and she began looking into it for her company Pharm3r, which specializes in healthcare analytics. Pharm3r now has seven people working in Atlantic Canada (most in Halifax) and hopes to hire as many as five more by the end of the year.
"Our research and development base is entirely in Halifax because of the quality of the people we have found here," said Englander in an email. "It has been an unqualified success; our team has built a world-class healthcare analytics and software platform."
Think they’re here for the government grants? Think again. Benaiah said he has never taken public money for his company (nor venture capital, for that matter), and sources at ACOA said Englander has never applied for funding here. They are in Halifax simply because they can hire good people at a reasonable cost and are able to retain staff.
“I think all of our people in Halifax are under the age of 30,” said Benaiah, correcting himself as someone may have had a birthday recently. “They’re all in their first or second job right out of school. What I think is the most exciting thing is that not only have we built a world-class company in Halifax but we’re doing it with, on average, people who are three years out of school. And they are doing a phenomenal job.”
What they’ve built is a product for the medical community that Benaiah says is like Spotify for medical publications. He said there are about 1 million peer-reviewed medical articles published each year – far too many for any doctor to follow on his or her own.
Just as Spotify can recommend music based on what someone has listened to before, Watzan uses artificial intelligence to figure out what each doctor would be interested in. If they read about the latest research on treating melanoma, for example, Watzan will make sure they see all the latest articles on the subject.
Watzan monetizes this service by selling ads to pharma companies, and the company last year had revenues of about $3.5 million.
Benaiah now lives in his native Toronto, dividing his time between that city and New York, but he says he constantly hears about the Nova Scotian capital in tech and investment circles in the two cities.
“I can’t go a week now without hearing the word ‘Halifax’ in my discussions with investment bankers,” said Benaiah. “There are companies that are going to come up from Boston or New York and like us they’re going to set up shop there.”