Spotlight on Sigma Analysis & Management
“Mathematics is part of our culture. It allows us to do things that other people find difficult”
The floor-to-ceiling glass walls of Sigma Analysis & Management’s offices in the new MaRS tower frame expansive views of Queen’s Park.
But like most companies, Sigma began modestly, boasting only three employees when they opened their doors at the Fields Institute in 1999. This year Sigma celebrated the 10th anniversary of its “graduation” from the Field’ start-up program.
It was U of T math professor Luis Seco who, in 1999, suggested that Fields incubate his fledgling company. Don Dawson, the current director of the Fields Institute, and deputy director Bradd Hart were looking for ways to fulfill Fields technology transfer mandate, and Seco thought that this would fit the bill. At the next Board of Directors meeting, two decisions were made — Fields would begin an incubation program and Sigma Analysis would be its first company.
“It was the perfect way to start a company that had no clear market definition, that was still in the world of ideas,” said Seco.
Along with his cofounder, David Rudd, and one employee, they set up shop in the building at 222 College Street, where they began using portfolio optimization theory and other mathematical tools to change the investment world.
In those early years, Fields provided the credibility that Sigma needed to gain clients, but also helped gauge which clients were worthwhile.
“Fields was a very good reflection of our company DNA — we were mathematicians. Clients saw that, and they either liked it or they didn’t.”
Within three years, Sigma became commercially interesting and expanded rapidly. They organized events at the institute, including a wildly popular lecture from economics Nobel Prize winner Myron Scholes that forced the institute to close its doors to avoid breaking fire regulations.
“People were hanging from the ceiling,” laughs Seco.
By 2007, the company had grown so successful that Fields could no longer hold them, but Seco continues to value their mathematical origins.
“Mathematics is part of our culture. It allows us to do things that other people find difficult, to create technology and infrastructure that are challenging for other companies. Our employees are people who are not scared of equations, who are not scared of mathematical structures.”
Despite his busy life balancing roles as the CEO of Sigma Analysis, a math professor and director of the of the mathematical finance program in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, director of U of T’s RiskLab, and of course, husband and father, Seco still finds time to participate in Fields events every few months.
“Fields gave us something that money cannot buy.”