Site Selection Magazine named Kingston one of the 20 best places to invest in Canada in 2019. Kingston takes pride in our competitive advantages like our incredible talent, excellent location along the 401 and Canada/US border, and the lower cost of land. Here are a couple of businesses which have recognized the advantages of calling Kingston home.
Thriving where you’re planted
Maybe you were the tall one in your family. Maybe you were more academically gifted or had the best eyesight.
Much like the animal kingdom, plant strains can develop different attributes. Two rice plants grown in two different areas may look alike, but one could be better at growing tall, or producing more grains, or withstanding drought conditions.
Performance Plants works with seed companies around the world to refine and enhance crop plants to ultimately produce greater yields for farmers.
“It’s like training for a professional athlete,” explains Dr. Yafan Huang, the President & Chief Scientific Officer of Performance Plants. “We work with the plant to build on its strengths and turn them into super plants.”
To do this, the plant biotechnology company will study the tens of thousands of genes in a plant and identify the gene or genes responsible for governing the characteristics they want to alter.
It takes a lot of time, expertise, testing, and funding to successfully make a positive change. Fortunately, the company’s handiwork is increasingly in demand these days particularly as farmers look to insulate their crops against climate change.
“One of the ways to combat climate change is by changing our consumption habits, but another, sometimes overlooked, way is to produce more with less resources,” he says. “If we can increase crop yields while also helping the crops survive difficult weather, we can better secure our food.”
Performance Plants works with several clients around the world, including in Asia where its focus is on rice, wheat, cotton, and soybean crops.
“The next five years will be the most exciting five years for us,” adds Dr. Huang. “We have established many commercial agreements over the last decade and are capitalizing on those agreements with collaborators and seed companies around the world to bring our product to market.”
While the company enjoys national support and international success, it all comes back to Kingston – the technology behind Performance Plants started as research by some Queen’s University professors.
“The city itself has also been very supportive,” he adds. “Kingston has the best location in order to attract talent – even better than a big city. We need a quiet place with a lot of talent, and Kingston has that.”
Better information, better decisions
Everyone loves a good deal. But not everyone is savvy enough to ask for a deal, to recognize a good deal, or to even think about negotiating – especially when the people on the other side of the table represent Canada’s big banks.
It was a 2009 conversation between Alyssa Furtado and one of her Queen’s University classmates, James Laird, a partner in a Canadian mortgage brokerage, that helped her realize many Canadians were not getting the best deal when signing up for a mortgage.
“It seemed crazy to me that we couldn’t find the lowest rates online,” she says. “I thought Canadians deserved an easier way of getting that information and running the calculations.”
This led Furtado, and co-CEO James Laird, to launch Ratehub.ca, a platform that has since become Canada’s most visited personal finance comparison website.
In launching the business, Furtado’s interest was about more than helping people pinch pennies. She has always been passionate about personal finance, and believes transparency, education, and the right tools need to go hand in hand.
“Our core belief is that it should be easier for all Canadians to choose better personal finance,” Furtado says. “What endears us to our users is our commitment to educating them and running calculations,”
As co-CEO, Furtado is focused on determining which new products the team should launch. Her brother, Chris Richard, is the chief technical officer and manages the Kingston-based developer team. As a Kingston native, Furtado was quite familiar with the opportunities that existed in Kingston for Ratehub.
“We source a lot of our talent from Queen’s and St. Lawrence College,” she says. “Kingston may be a small city but we have been blown away by the talented and the dedicated team members. KEYS Job Centre has also been a great supporter.”
From that initial chat between Furtado and Laird in 2009, the company has grown to employ over 100 people. While the pair knew they had a hot property on their hands – especially when declining a lucrative Dragon’s Den deal a few years back – it wasn’t until about 2015 when they realized just how big Ratehub could be.
“By five years in, we had hit five times our anticipated revenue projections,” she says. “I have realized when setting out to start a business, you don’t need the initial vision that it can become massive – for us, the vision has come over time. The success of Ratehub invigorates and inspires me to take on the next challenge.”