Toronto-based private equity firm Imperial Capital agreed Wednesday to invest $17 million in Halifax pharmaceutical services company STI Technologies Ltd., which includes the buyout of several existing investors, such as venture capital company GrowthWorks Atlantic.
Steve Nicolle, CEO of the Halifax company, opened a pre-arranged speech at the Invest Atlantic conference by flashing the press release announcing the deal, which will help to finance the company’s expansion.
Though he declined to provide details, Nicolle said a “healthy amount” of the $17 million funding will remain with the company, while the remainder will be used to buy the shares held by GrowthWorks and a host of angel investors. Tom Hayes, the CEO of GrowthWorks Atlantic, said his fund will receive “just shy of $6 million” for the shares, which it bought for $2 million in two rounds, in April 2006 and January 2009.
“We’re going to need working capital as we expand, and we have a number of strategic initiatives planned, like acquisitions,” said Nicolle, a P.E.I. native who worked in the startup sector in Boston before joining STI.
Started in 2002, STI Technologies solves a problem for the pharmaceutical industry by simplifying the way pharma companies distribute samples of new products. Rather than shipping out small testers to doctors and have them hand them out to patients, the STI platform allows drug companies to send physicians smart cards they can hand out to patients, who take them to a pharmacy along with a prescription to receive the drug. As well as cutting costs and improving safety, the STI platform allows for an orderly record of how the sample was distributed.
Recently, the company has launched a new initiative called InnoviCares. It allows patients to stay with a brand name drug at a lower price when the drug’s patent expires, and receive savings on other health care products. STI, which has about 50 employees, said the new program is one reason it has more than doubled sales in each of the last two years.
“STI is a profitable and highly scalable technology company playing an important role in the Canadian healthcare industry,” Justin MacCormack, a partner at Imperial Capital, said in a press release.
Nicolle said the company pitched to more than 100 potential investors, and eight offered to invest in STI. The company agreed to take investment from Imperial because of its “pedigree”, because it’s well capitalized and because it is active in the healthcare industry.
Part of the deal included an offer to buy out about 100 existing angel investors, who had invested a total of $2.5 million in STI in 2002 and 2005. Nicolle said about half of these investors accepted the buyout while the other half are remaining with the company.
With a headline figure of $17 million, this is the largest investment in the Atlantic Canadian startup community since Unique Solutions of Dartmouth raised $30 million in July 2011. The deal also continues a trend this year of startups successfully attracting investment from institutional investors outside of the region. In other deals, Neurodyn of Charlottetown attracted funding from Mertz Holdings of Houston, Texas, as part of a $1.5 million funding round, and Karma Gaming of Halifax raised $3.5 million from two venture capital funds outside the region.
“It’s a win,” said Innovacorp CEO Stephen Duff of the STI deal. “When you notch up a win, everyone gets energized because they see what can be done and what can be done locally.”
GrowthWorks’ Hayes said his group is “happy” with the sale, which comes after the fund divested its stake in DHX Media earlier this year. He said part of the proceeds would be reinvested in existing companies in the GrowthWorks portfolio, and some would be redeemed by people who invested in the GrowthWorks Atlantic fund.
“We’ve been in it [STI] for 7 years and we thought it was a reasonable price,” said Hayes of the deal. “And I believe they’ll achieve even greater success with the new investor.”