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Q&A with Supply Chain Tech Company, The Owl Solutions

Waterloo is a magnet for tech companies. But this community offers a lot more than meets the eye. Learn why The Owl Solutions founders chose Waterloo.

When The Owl Solutions decided to move their supply chains solution business across the country, they set out to find a community known for its manufacturing strength and high quality of life.

They found that in Waterloo.

We talked to the founders, Hugo Fuentes and Miguel Gallardo, about their experience joining the Waterloo ecosystem and the success that followed.

Here’s what they said:

Q: Can you tell us about how and why you started The Owl Solutions?Hugo Fuentes and Miguel Gallardo from The Owl Solutions

Fuentes: I was born in Chile. I am an industrial engineer by qualification. My first job was at a container shipping company at a port in Chile and that’s where I fell in love with supply chain.

At ports, you get to see the movement of goods and I had the chance to see the world from a different angle. After a few years of working there, I went to the Netherlands for my master’s degree and came back to work with the same container shipping line business.

Over the next 20 years, I had the chance to work for different businesses in the food and beverage, consumer packaged goods and pharmaceutical industries. I noticed a few common patterns while working across different industries and geographies.

First, companies don’t understand their supply chains well enough to run them efficiently. Second, companies are sitting on a wealth of data and not effectively mining it to uncover issues and opportunities.

Five years ago, I quit my job and asked Miguel (who I’d known and worked with for 10 years by then) to join me in creating The Owl Solutions. Our vision was to help organizations achieve more by using the power of data in their supply chain management.

Q: Why did you choose Waterloo as your company’s location?

Fuentes: We’re data people. When we were starting the business, I asked Miguel to put together a visual map of manufacturing clusters in Canada. We were living in Vancouver at that time. We could see the concentration of tiny dots representing manufacturing companies in Ontario, the industrial core of Canada.  So that’s why we decided to make Waterloo our home.

Gallardo: For a business to succeed, you need to combine industry expertise with technical expertise. We could go to a different location in Ontario. But very soon we realized that if we wanted a technology company, Waterloo was the place to be. There are very few places that are better than Waterloo in terms of the ecosystem and network that exists here.

We used to live in Vancouver, which is a great city, but it takes you an hour to get anywhere.

In Waterloo, you have this spirit of a big city where big things get done, but everything is within reach. For its size, you get an amazing quality of life here. Waterloo definitely punches above its weight and this combination is one of the most attractive qualities.

" In Waterloo, you have this spirit of a big city where big things get done, but everything is within reach. For its size, you get an amazing quality of life here. "

Miguel Gallardo

Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, The Owl Solutions

Q: What makes Waterloo attractive in terms of quality of life?

Fuentes: I have four children and Miguel has one. If you think from a short-term perspective, as Miguel said, Waterloo offers a nice balance between the right business opportunities while being closer to a big city like Toronto. But it also offers opportunities for your kids. We have great schools here. It’s a family-friendly place where your kids have the freedom to grow and explore and develop in a safe environment.

Now when you look at medium to long term, it’s very hard to find a place which has world-class universities without being a city of a million people. In this area, you can see yourself building your life for 15-20 years or even longer. You can build a long-term vision for you and your family’s life here. It’s not easy to find elsewhere.

Q: How did Waterloo’s community and ecosystem help you in your business growth?

Fuentes: We both started this business without being entrepreneurs before. I was in the supply chain and Miguel was a data management expert in the supply chain. So, when you’re starting a business (or scaling one), there are a lot of things you don’t know. One of the best decisions we made was joining a business incubator. In our case, it was the Accelerator Centre (AC).

I use this analogy that growing a business is like driving a car. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of blind spots. It’s always good to have someone who has experience and expertise telling you to watch out.

Partnering with the AC helped us identify many of those blind spots needed to build the foundations. The AC also helped us connect with other resources in the region. For example, they helped us secure funding from Sustainable Development Technology Canada which was amazing. We also received support from FedDev Ontario.

Most of all, it has been the overall community that helped us get in front of the right people that kept us moving our business forward.

Q: How has being in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor helped your company’s growth, particularly with respect to supply chain technology?

Fuentes: When you talk about the number of businesses in the manufacturing sector, a lot of economic activity happens along this Corridor. From a manufacturing supply chain perspective, this Corridor goes as far as London or even Windsor.

We have customers in Ontario and the US. Our presence in Waterloo, and being right along this Corridor, has presented us with great opportunities from a business development standpoint. It has benefited us by bringing us closer to our potential customers and even attracting investment.

Q: What would you say to a business who is considering expansion to Waterloo?

Gallardo: Big things happen in Waterloo. If you want to dream big, this is the place to be. I come from a small town with a population of 10,000 in the South of Chile. In small towns, you aren’t allowed to dream big. It was a whole process for me of moving to a bigger city for my degree, and then moving countries for better career prospects, so dreaming big didn’t come naturally to me.

At the same time, you have a very strong sense of community here, especially in entrepreneurial circles. People here are open and welcoming. They introduce you to other people doing amazing things and you get this strong sense of belonging that’s difficult to find elsewhere.

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