MATT WALCOFF RECORD STAFF May 12, 2008 http://news.therecord.com/Business/article/348297
KITCHENER - Here's an easy way to win a bet in a bar. Ask someone what Waterloo Region technology company has Jim Balsillie as chair and co-founder.
No, not Research In Motion; Balsillie joined RIM eight years into its existence and stepped down as chair last year.
The correct answer is Igloo Inc., a Kitchener company that makes internet collaboration software. Technically, the company is brand new, announcing its existence at a trade show last month. But Igloo comes with quite a pedigree.
The company traces its origin to the Centre for International Governance Innovation or CIGI, the Waterloo think-tank Balsillie founded in 2002. Two years later, the billionaire patron organized a committee of CIGI supporters, including the chiefs of Open Text Corp. and the University of Waterloo, to find ways to broaden the organization's reach.
The project they started did not just create a solution to CIGI's needs. It created software that got in at the beginning of the craze for interactive websites known as Web 2.0. While Facebook, MySpace and YouTube were creating websites that would attract millions of users, Igloo -- officially an acronym for International Governance Leaders and Organizations Online -- was perfecting tools to connect professionals scattered around the world.
Igloo received a provincial grant contingent on a commercialization strategy so it could eventually be self-sustaining. At the beginning of this year, most of Igloo left CIGI as a ready-made technology company with a tested product, 100,000 users and an established reputation.
"It gave us three to four years of experience of building professional networks," says Dan Latendre, Igloo's chief executive officer.
"We have an understanding of what it takes for an organization to create a social network, Latendre added."
On Thursday, Igloo announced it has secured $4 million US in equity funding from RBC Venture Partners, a venture capital arm of Royal Bank of Canada that specializes in technology and financial services. Kevin Talbot, RBC Venture's managing director, has joined Igloo's board of directors.
Igloo's software can be described as a grown-up version of Facebook designed for people who want to save the world. Users create "communities" for particular organizations or entities and can add easy-to-use tools like event listings, forums and news items.
For example, the Governance Village community, a collaboration between CIGI and the federal government, provides human rights and development professionals with news and scholarly articles selected by site administrators. Headlines from a human-rights news agency appear automatically at the bottom of the home page. Other pages allow users to post blog entries and job listings, read from a library of documents and send personal communications to others.
A total of 550 such communities exist under CIGI's auspices. But the utility of Igloo goes well beyond CIGI's field or non-profits in general, Latendre says. Any organization, public or private, that wants to break down the so-called silos that separate employees or team members is a potential customer.
Online collaboration tools have existed for more than a decade. Until recently, however, these tools required the technical know-how of an information technology department, Latendre says. "A lot of folks are calling us and finding out, 'We can do it ourselves! We don't need anybody!' " he says.
The technology sounds similar to that of well-known Web 2.0 companies like MySpace and Facebook. But Latendre scowls when advertising-supported social networking comes up in conversation.
"I have Facebook fatigue," he says. "I'm tired of having people contact me to be my friend and having snowball fights. I want a network with people related to my interests."
Igloo's business model is quite different from that of Facebook. The cost of Igloo's software ranges from $1,999 US for small businesses to $50,000 for large enterprises. More expensive packages allow for the creation of more communities. A free trial, limited to three users, is also available.
The company employs about 35 people in its new offices in downtown Kitchener.
A few people stayed at CIGI to oversee the institute's Igloo communities.
Following up on contacts made during the CIGI days, Igloo has already begun talks with several potential customers.
The Gairdner Foundation of Toronto, which awards prizes for medical discoveries, is Igloo's first official customer other than CIGI itself, Latendre says. The City of Kitchener has discussed using Igloo software to create a community of manufacturers, and a consortium of universities may use the tools for an entrepreneurship network.