AWARD SPOTLIGHT: Novacap Management Winner of CVCA’s 2017 Private Capital Regional Impact Award for Fibrenoire Technologies
(Left To Right: Jean-François Lévesque, formerly CTO & Co-Founder at Fibrenoire, currently CEO & Co-Founder at Obkio; Rémi Fournier, VP Sales & Engineering & Co-Founder at Fibrenoire; Benjamin Desmarais, President & Co-Founder at Fibrenoire).
The CVCA Private Capital Regional Impact Awards were introduced in 2017. The award recognizes CVCA member firms whose investment has positioned their portfolio company to make a meaningful mark both within the community and within the broader business ecosystem.
Winners of this award are committed to making impactful investments to help fuel job creation, diversity of talent, and community engagement. Up to four winners can be selected per annum, with one recipient per region.
Novacap Management Inc. has been named a 2017 CVCA Regional Impact Award winner for Montréal-based Fibrenoire Technologies. Since the company’s 2016 exit, it has scaled tremendously making a positive, notable impact in Québec and beyond.
Fibrenoire Co-Founder and President Benjamin Desmarais was in a hospital waiting room when he got the call that would forever change the future of his bandwidth infrastructure company.
It was in April 2011 – while Desmarais was waiting for his then two-year-old daughter to have her finger looked at after a minor fall – that a partner at Novacap Management Inc., one of Canada’s leading private equity firms, rang looking for a meeting.
“I said sure, but I can’t talk to you right now,” says Desmarais, before hanging up the phone. Once he knew his daughter would be fine, Desmarais called the firm back and met with the Novacap team. After two years of talks, the companies formed a business partnership that would lead to the rapid growth of Fibrenoire and its fibre optic connectivity services for businesses in Québec and Ontario.
“Raising the necessary money to grow the company wasn’t much of a problem, but getting the money and having the right people behind it who understand the industry and the play that we had in mind was something else,” says Desmarais. “Novacap understood what we wanted to do, what needed to be done and the money required.”
Montréal-based Fibrenoire was founded in 2007 by Desmarais, Rémi Fournier, and Jean-François Lévesque to provide fibre optic connectivity services for small-and-medium-sized businesses. Its goal was to be largest business of its kind in the province. In a few short years, Fibrenoire grew to become the largest independent player of connectivity services, by operating the largest fiber optic network dedicated exclusively to businesses in Québec.
In less than five years, Fibrenoire grew to about 100 employees from 60, and created dozens of indirect jobs following massive investment in fibre optics network across Québec. The company also redefined the competitive landscape of Internet and telecommunication technologies, giving Québec businesses access to new means of innovation and commercialization.
The growth came after Novacap became a majority shareholder, helping Fibrenoire realize its ambitious goals.
“After the transaction we had a lot of fibre, we had the best management team and the right amount of money to grow,” says Stéphane Tremblay, a senior partner at Novacap.
In May 2013, Fibrenoire bought two fibre network operators in the Greater Montréal Area, giving the largest independent fibre footprint in Québec with a 1,500-kilometre network serving more than 500 commercial and industrial buildings and 39 data centers. The transactions were funded by an investment from Novacap with participation as a co-investor by Bank Street Capital Partners.
A year later, Fibrenoire bought Pixel Web, a company specializing in Internet access technology and telecommunication services, to further increase its presence in the greater Montréal region by adding more than 150 new clients to its existing client portfolio.
From there, Fibrenoire continues to grow and even considered an expansion into Western Canada, which led them to start seeking more funding. That process led to a few offers for the company, including a bid from Videotron, an Internet, cable and mobile phone subsidiary of Quebecor Media Inc. In early 2016, Fibrenoire announced it would be taken over by Videotron for $125M. Videotron acquired all the shares held by the founding shareholders (including) as well as its majority shareholder, Novacap TMT, a buyout fund that specializes in tech, media and telecom.
“Even though we started with the idea of getting out of Québec, Videotron convinced us that we had fit in their strategy,” says Desmarais, who stayed on with the company as president.
Novacap has received the CVCA 2017 Private Capital Regional Impact Award for their Fibrenore deal and validates for Desmarais and Novacap that their bet on bandwidth infrastructure has paid off.
“Fibrenoire is the story we’ve been able to tell around our success in building companies,” says Tremblay of Novacap.
For Desmarais, it’s the validation of a dream he had to build a successful company.
“When I started as an entrepreneur, the private equity world was something big that I didn’t understand. What we accomplished, with the help of Novacap, was a huge learning experience and helped me realize we were right to have these kinds of dreams … that we could do it,” says Desmarais.
Fibernoire Diversity Highlights:
- 16% of Fibernoire employees are visible minorities
- 40% of Fibernoire employees are women
The CVCA is now accepting nominations for its 2018 Private Capital Regional Impact Awards as well as its Private Equity Deal of the Year Award, Venture Capital Deal of the Year Award, and Community Leadership Award. More details can be found at awards.cvca.ca.