Although Testfire is a new kid on the block, Damer is not. He's a testament to home-grown entrepreneurship in Edmonton.
The 49-year-old graduated from the University of Alberta in computer engineering. He worked at IBM and telecommunications companies Sprint and Telus. He was involved in other startups. The most successful, ThinkTel, started as a long distance wholesaler, designed to help sports clubs raise money and morphed over time into a telephone carrier. It hit a bump raising money during the downturn of 2008 and was sold to an Ontario firm. Damer stayed on as CEO until 2016.
"We built it up to a profitable national company. We had about 1.5 million numbers in service when I left."
Damer has stayed in his home town throughout his career, and he has seen the changes happen in the tech industry and particularly the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence and machine learning. He is employing two people out of the University of Alberta's AI stream, one an undergraduate and the other with a masters in machine learning.
"What we’re doing with the university programs and the kind of talent we're churning out is definitely beneficial," Damer says.
There is still a need for investment capital, he says. While there are matching fund programs for developing firms, more seed capital is needed.
Damer says he is in Testfire for the long haul and he doesn't intend that it will stay small for long. Hendrix.AI won't be on his own forever. "Out of Hendrix are coming all sorts of products. I would say we’re building systems that have an invisible user interface. Instead of another application you have on your phone or computer that you have to fuss with, we’re building systems you can just call ... or chat or email or text message.... They give you access to data and answers and research and they help you with your day.
"My intention with Testfire is to build up a very large shop here, and by large I mean something on the order of hundreds of employees."
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on StartupEdmonton.com