Rhino and Graphite Ventures-backed Ontopical mines public data for private sector clients using AI.
BY JOSH SCOTT SEPTEMBER 14, 2023
Calgary-based software startup Ontopical wants to make it easier for companies across North America to discover and win government contracts.
Ontopical has spent the past few years collecting and organizing “a massive amount” of public sector data, including city, county, and school district agendas, minutes, budgets, and videos. Now, armed with $3.3 million CAD in fresh funding and a new CEO in Clayton Feick, Ontopical has set its sights on layering on artificial intelligence (AI) to help its private sector clients derive as much insight as possible from that data on local government procurement.
Ontopical sees a big opportunity in helping businesses of all sizes identify and compete for government work. “There’s this massive, $2 trillion per year market in North America that we’re working to make more efficient,” Feick told BetaKit in an interview.
“Winning new opportunities in the public sector is really hard, and finding early opportunities is even harder.”
The startup’s latest funding comes via a seed extension to its $2.25 million seed round from late 2021. This August extension was co-led by Vancouver’s Rhino Ventures and Toronto-based Graphite Ventures, which has sought to expand its presence in both Alberta and Western Canada more broadly through its $110-million fourth fund. Rhino partner David Hogarth is joining Ontopical’s board alongside Graphite general partner Craig Leonard.
Ontopical’s seed extension, which saw participation by Alberta’s Accelerate Fund III, consisted entirely of equity capital apart from a $150,000 grant from Alberta Innovates. Feick claimed it was an up-round compared to Ontopical’s seed financing, but declined to disclose the startup’s valuation. This capital brings Ontopical’s total funding to about $6 million, from a group that also includes GreenSky Ventures and GCI Ventures.
Founded in 2017 by Derrick Koenig and formerly known as BoxOfDocs, Ontopical mines public data to help private sector clients detect the early signals of upcoming government procurement contract opportunities and policy updates. The startup’s customers range from large telecommunications players to major architectural, engineering, and construction firms, energy and utilities providers, health services, and tech companies.
“Winning new opportunities in the public sector is really hard, and finding early opportunities is even harder because the industry is dominated by relationships with incumbents and there’s an outdated RFP process that exists,” said Feick, who added that the data that is available is fragmented and unstructured. “It’s an absolute mess.”
In Canada, some business groups have called the federal government too secretive when it comes to contracts. In a statement, Hogarth argued that there are also problems with the procurement process for municipal governments, claiming that it “remains incredibly antiquated, heavily favouring long-standing incumbent relationships.”
Ontopical hopes to help address this issue for all parties involved. “What we’re doing is we’re bringing a higher level of transparency and more qualified bidders to public works contracts early in the process,” said Feick.
Feick, an Alberta native, has spent most of his career working in tech and FinTech specifically, serving in various leadership roles at Thomson Reuters, Quandl, Nasdaq, and Flinks. He joined Ontopical in February, and Koenig, who was previously CEO, transitioned to CPO.
Speaking about the motivation behind this seed extension, Feick said the company has built a strong foundation using its original seed capital but wanted to accelerate its business and product prior to raising a larger Series A, adding that Ontopical intends to build out its solution some more before fundraising again.
Feick said that Ontopical was fortunate to be able to raise additional funding in this environment, acknowledging that amid the downturn it has become more difficult for many tech startups to do so. For Ontopical, he said closing this extension didn’t happen quickly, requiring a couple of months of hard work on the part of the company.
While there are plenty of other RFP platforms and businesses tracking government data at various levels, Feick claims that Ontopical is going after a unique breadth of types of data. This, coupled with its proprietary AI model, he argued, differentiates the startup from other players in the space.
Ontopical plans to use its latest capital to develop its platform and expand its business across North America. To support these efforts, the startup intends to triple the size of its 13-person team over the next two years by adding more data engineers and scientists, AI and machine learning specialists, and sales and marketing employees.