Jessica Chalk, TrafficSoda and Growing a Company in the Canadian Tech Industry
Ambitious. This is the one word that our President and CEO, Jessica Chalk, uses to describe the rapidly emerging Canadian technology industry. TrafficSoda was born and bred (and is growing into its teenage years) out of Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, the hub of new tech growth in Canada. With the upcoming celebrations for Canada 150, I sat down with Jessica to talk about growing a business in this new and booming Canadian tech landscape.
Jessica started in tech before TrafficSoda did. She began her career in the Accelerator Center, a Waterloo based Start-Up Incubator, which has supported the success of local legends like Axonify, Clearpath Robotics, Kik, Miovision, Sortable, and Plasticity Labs. Simply being around the dynamic and innovative energy of the ‘AC’ is what drove Jessica to start TrafficSoda (though in a much earlier iteration than what it is today).
“The hustle, the determination, and the excitement of all these entrepreneurs around just helped me all of a sudden decide that I wanted to take the leap,” Jessica remarked enthusiastically. It’s obvious that this environment still pushes Jessica today just as much as it did back then.
TrafficSoda began in 2013 with support from what seems like everyone in town. The Accelerator Center provided a location for the early phases of the start-up, Laurier supplied office space, resources and mentors, Communitech offered support, local mentors furnished advice during high and low times, the Government of Canada delivered a Jumpstart grant that helped pay for part of the bill, and early investors gave it all a chance.
This close-knit, committed community support is what defines the Canadian tech industry to Jessica: the championing of every single entrepreneur who wants to step forward. That unique generosity and genuine helpfulness seems built into the infrastructure of the industry itself. Individuals, public and private companies, universities, educational institutions, and people who have “been there, done that” all provide support.
“All you have to do is ask,” Jessica simply reminds me. “[In Canada], we are not just one in a million. We are one in a thousand, one in a hundred, and we have access to the right people.”
Being Canadian is a core facet of the TrafficSoda identity. Our team is made up of people coming from Guelph to K-W to North Bay to Alliston to Toronto. Our chairman is Jim Estill, long time local tech entrepreneur and private sponsor for 58 Syrian refugee families. Our VP of Operations, Mohammed Helu, is one of those Syrian refugees. That diversity is what makes us strong.
Being Canadian provides opportunity. Being Canadian helps our clients feel comfortable and let their guard down more than they normally would. Being Canadian in the North American tech industry allows us to be the ‘David’ next to the American ‘Goliath.’ Being Canadian gives us an entrepreneurial spirit. Being Canadian gives us a chance to be a part of something new and exciting, where our collective potential is limitless.
As for the next 150 years? Jessica hopes to see a focus from the community on companies that are ready to scale and grow, supporting them as much as we are currently supporting the startups and founders. The momentum needs to keep moving forward, so we can transition from an emerging tech industry to a solidified one. With the current political climate, Jessica believes this is the perfect opportunity to define exactly what is the “Silicon Valley of the North.”
The unique Canadian tech scene gets its identity from its inclusiveness, collaboration and passion. This is seen time and time again, as new entrepreneurs are supported and successful start-ups are championed. Even TrafficSoda, as we transitioned from a purely tech firm to a digital marketing one, still feels accepted and backed by the community. We feel honored and
excited to be a part of such a dynamic, exhilarating, and full-steam ahead community. Cheers to Canada’s 150th!