Photo: Kamil Bialous

There are many paths to success. One of the surest, according to high-tech entrepreneur Alexander Fernandes, is to assume a short position—literally. “I’m only 5’8″, so it’s my small-man complex that makes me work harder to try to compensate,” he jokes. But when talk turns to his video surveillance company, the 44-year-old founder and CEO of Avigilon Corp. is all business.

Fernandes is dressed in a blue, open-neck dress shirt and a navy suit, with a jaunty pocket square adding a touch of fashion-forward zing. His office in Vancouver’s funky Yaletown district reflects his meticulous nature. He organizes his paperwork in neatly stacked piles, perhaps a sign of the discipline that made him financially set before the age of 30.

Avigilon bought Boston-based VideoIQ in December 2013. Read about the acquisition

Looking around Avigilon’s clean-lined space, though, something seems amiss. This is a company specializing in surveillance, yet it’s only when I gaze upward that I spy an unusual black sphere about the size of a softball protruding discreetly from the ceiling. “Are we being watched?” I ask.

Today, a lot of people are watching Avigilon. Launched less than a decade ago, the Vancouver company is now a serious global player in the design and production of cutting-edge, high-definition video surveillance systems. Its revenue surged by 67% in its most recent fiscal year, surpassing $100 million. Over the past five years, Avigilon has grown by almost 50,000%, a feat earning it the No. 1 spot on this year’s PROFIT 500 list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies. Known for methodically achieving sales goals, Fernandes and his team have set a revenue target of $500 million by 2016. But it’s one thing to be fast out of the blocks with a hot product. Can Avigilon realize its founder’s large-cap ambitions?

Fernandes left the army but the army never left him. He says: It formed me in a way that helps for business. You learn never to give up. It makes you a lot tougher. It makes you fearless.

Fernandes’ reputation suggests the answer is yes. In the latest ranking by IFSEC Global, a U.K.-based security trade publication, industry insiders named him the fifth most influential person in their field. “Fernandes is a driven leader who has really shaped the agenda of HD surveillance,” says editor Robert Ratcliff. Harry Jaako, president of the Vancouver-based BC Discovery Fund, which has helped finance Avigilon, says of Fernandes, “He’s not the sort of polished, MBA grad-school type. He is one of those natural, instinctive entrepreneurs.”

Avigilon began selling its systems in late 2007, emerging at a critical point in the evolution of video surveillance. Today, the vast majority of installed systems are analog; recorded video quality is often very poor, and storing and manipulating data is a cumbersome and expensive task. But the industry has been undergoing a seismic shift toward HD systems. Avigilon offers a better-quality product that also saves customers money on hardware and installation because they can do more with fewer cameras.

And unlike most competitors, Avigilon makes an end-to-end system that integrates hardware and software—something that sounds like a certain other tech company’s well-known philosophy. “People have described us as Apple-esque,” says Fernandes. “But we’re different than Apple in that we don’t charge a premium. We are less expensive than alternatives.”
Clients, which range from schools and hospitals to museums and banks, like what they see. In Toronto’s Rogers Centre, for example, just 19 Avigilon HD cameras monitor 50,000 spectators—something that would require more than a thousand analog cameras, says Fernandes. “We can do it for $200,000 versus $2 million. There’s nothing even close to that. Anywhere.”

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The markets have taken note. Since Avigilon went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange in November 2011, its share price has risen from $4.50 to about $15 as of mid-May. With roughly 280 employees worldwide, the firm has placed more than 20,000 systems in some 80 countries. It’s a case of the right product at the right price at the right time, says Michael Urlocker, a Toronto-based technology analyst with GMP Securities, whose latest report predicts Avigilon will grow 50% annually for the next two years. “There’s an industry in transition; you have the right product—you’re gonna grow at a high rate,” says Urlocker.

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