Services for entreprises Quartier Saint-Roch, Québec - Crédit: André Chamorel

Key sectors

Health and Nutrition

Visionary entrepreneurs = successful businesses

Hugo St-Laurent
President and CEO, SiliCycle
Worldwide focus

SiliCycle develops, manufactures and markets silica-based products for the worldwide scientific community. Although silica (or silicon oxide) is a little known sector of a highly specialized field, SiliCycle provides services to the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies in a variety of countries.

Hugo Saint-Laurent
  • President, chief executive officer and co-founder, SiliCycle Inc.
  • MBA (currently enrolled), Laval University
  • Bachelor’s in chemical engineering, Laval University

  • Specializing in silica-based products
  • Headquarters: Quebec City
  • Number of employees: 55 (95% of whom are specialized)
  • Annual growth rate: not less than 15% since the company was founded in 1995
  • The company opened a new production facility in Quebec Metro High Tech Park in 2009.

Chemical engineer Hugo St-Laurent co-founded SiliCycle with chemist Luc Fortier. A died-in-the wool native of Quebec’s Gaspé region, Hugo has entrepreneurship running in his veins. “When I was a teenager, I started a company while I was still at school. I kept it going at university. It must come from my grandparents, who were entrepreneurs themselves. Business seems to be in the family genes.”

Hugo didn’t wait long before launching his second company: he was just 23 when SiliCycle opened for business. With help from Entrepreneuriat Laval (Laval University’s business assistance organization), Hugo and Luc started out in 1994 and incorporated in 1995. Today, they are reaping the benefits of years of hard work and intense effort.

“My science background helps me understand the basics and the scientific concepts. But you need more than that to start your own company. You also need a good deal of naivete, as well as tenacity and perseverance. There’s not a lot of Quebec-owned chemical companies—we’re the exception,” notes Hugo.

Rapid and steady growth

Although SiliCycle operates in a highly specialized field, its founders looked to the future by quickly launching their product line. “In no time at all, we were selling the initial versions of our products, primarily to companies in the pharmaceutical, biotech and specialized chemical sectors, as well as to university labs and chemistry research centres. I had sales meetings with all of our clients. Those were exciting times. That was when we were establishing our credibility and expertise. Now we’ve moved into new headquarters with a new production facility. What a great achievement!”

Growth was fuelled by the arrival of various managing partners—scientists who play an active role in the company’s future. “Teamwork is our watchword. Everyone on the management committee is a shareholder. We’ve opened up the shareholder structure. We manage the company as a team, drawing on each other’s respective strengths. Our team spirit is our greatest asset.”

Silica in the spotlight

SiliCycle is one of the few companies developing silica-based products, giving it crucial expertise in a highly sought-after field. Although there is a silica mine in the Quebec City region, SiliCycle uses only synthetic silica designed to meet the growing needs of pharmaceutical companies around the world.

SiliCycle’s production and research tools, including selective metal sensors, are designed to isolate and purify molecules used in pharmaceutical products. The company currently has seven product lines, including two innovative ones.

A global market

By Hugo’s frank admission, SiliCycle’s target market is the entire planet: 90% of the company’s sales revenues are generated outside Canada. “We sell our products in the US, Asia and Europe.”

“Our sales approach is different because we maintain close ties with our clients. We’re scientists as well, so we understand our clients’ needs better than anyone. Our sales team travels the world. And our chemists speak our clients’ language.”

Despite its embrace of globalization, SiliCycle has not forgotten its Quebec City roots. “We have fantastic employees who are dedicated to the company and very happy living here. We also have close ties with Laval University, where a number of silica researchers are based. But we also recruit internationally: Quebec City is a magnet for foreign workers. Our employees come from more than 10 different countries.”

To keep pace with projected growth, the company has built a new facility in Quebec City, with four times the production capacity. “Even though we’ve expanded in Quebec City, we’re planning to move into other places such as the US, Europe, China and India, not necessarily in that order, all aimed at increasing our market share. Over the next four years, that’s our goal,” says Hugo.

Cécile Gladel

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