Set your compass

November’s first day was marked by an auspicious announcement from Communitech, namely the unveiling of True North Waterloo, a groundbreaking, three-day, international conference set to take place next May 29th at Kitchener’s Lot42, and peripherally throughout the downtown core.

The theme for the event is the re-set of tech’s compass – the re-establishment of tech as a force for good.

As if to highlight the urgent need for just such an event, on the same day that True North was announced, results emerged of a landmark survey identifying the extent of the gender gap among 900 Canadian tech firms. The sobering findings, detailed in the Globe and Mail and several other publications, included the eye-opening statistic that women hold only five per cent of CEO roles and only 13 per cent of executive positions.

Two weeks later, in an address to that very issue, federal Minister of Small Business and Tourism and Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger led off a Women in Tech luncheon at the Tannery Event Centre by announcing a $20-million increase in a BDC Capital-administered program that directs early investment to women-led Canadian companies.

And speaking of women-led endeavors, Lyndsey Butcher, Executive Director of SHORE Centre (formerly Planned Parenthood) launched her organization’s new web and mobile app, which makes it easier for women to access services, help and advice on pregnancy and sexual health. The app was developed pro bono by Kitchener-based software maker Zeitspace, and was the outgrowth of Butcher’s participation in Communitech’s Fierce Founders Bootcamp last January.

Smart cities, smart data, smart launches

The City of Kitchener was in the spotlight with the late-November launch of its Digital Kitchener Innovation Lab at Communitech, which aims to both deliver and leverage technology to make the city function better and at less cost. The lab’s director, Karl Allen-Muncey, a familiar face in the Waterloo tech ecosystem, was featured in a Q&A-style profile by Communitech News contributor Bill Bean.

Coincidentally, the City of Kitchener’s lab launch came on the heels of the federal government’s announcement of its $80-million Smart City Challenge, a program designed to spur municipal innovation with several cash prizes, including one for $50 million. Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Regional Chair Ken Seiling said during the Digital Kitchener Lab launch that municipal leaders will meet soon to prepare joint Smart City Challenge bids.

The guidelines for the Smart Cities Challenge were drawn up, by the way, with assistance from Kitchener-based IoT company Miovision and its CEO and co-founder, Kurtis McBride. McBride’s commitment to smart cities was further evident in a story by online magazine Motherboard, which writes that data collected by Miovision played a role in a recent decision by Toronto city council to make temporary bike lanes along Bloor Street permanent.

Related to smart cities, AI and big data, the Province of Ontario launched the Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network, an $80-million project that will test smart cars in real-life traffic in Stratford.

Meanwhile mining big data as it relates to automobiles was part and parcel of a November lab launch by Carproof at Communitech.

But pursuit of technological change in the automobile vertical is by no means the sole purview of North American initiatives: Waterloo Region’s RideCo has entered into a partnership with Grab in the launch of an on-demand shuttle service in Singapore.

On the fast track

Deloitte released its annual Technology Fast 50 list and six Waterloo Region companies made the cut, including TextNow, Axonify, eSentire, Magnet Forensics, Sortable and Vidyard. TextNow, meanwhile, celebrated the 100th million download of its app, and its recent growth was the subject of an engaging update on Communitech News.

Speaking of fast, the real estate and investment firm CBRE says that Waterloo Region, which added 8,400 tech jobs from 2011 to 2016, is Canada’s fastest growing region for technology talent and second-fastest in North America. The news arrived via the CBRE’s just-released 2017 Scoring Canadian Tech Talent Report.

And still with talent, the CBC reports that the Global Skills Strategy, a federal program launched last June to provide a fast-track for Canadian companies to hire skilled foreign tech workers, has generated approvals for 1,600 new tech workers in its first 2 ½ months.

Tech on stage

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a Q&A style forum at Google’s Go North summit in Toronto, held at the Evergreen Brick Works complex, and afterward led a roundtable discussion with some of the biggest names in the AI vertical, including Geoffrey Hinton, recognized as one of the pioneers in machine learning.

And two decades of tech were feted at Communitech’s annual general meeting, to mark the organization’s 20th anniversary. In a related vein, don’t miss the November finale of the Communitech @20 series of stories, which traces Communitech’s journey from its early roots.

Cash is king

Dejero, the Waterloo-based maker of blended video transport technology, announced a successful $32 million Series B raise led by Kayne Partners,  the Los Angeles-based private equity arm of Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors LP.

Even as Kayne was preparing to write a cheque, 43 of the most investment-ready startups from the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor were in the Valley looking for cheques of their own, pitching to more than 100 U.S. and Canadian VC firms at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. The event was arranged by a consortium of the Corridor’s leading incubators and accelerators, including the University of Waterloo’s Velocity and Communitech.

And speaking of Velocity, four companies, including Envoi, NanoCnet, ShiftRide and Tabnex, earned $25,000 and space in the Garage at Velocity’s $125,000 pitch competition at the end of the month. ShiftRide, additionally, launched it’s car-sharing app on the iOS store; the app gives users access to parked vehicles belonging to other people for short trips.

Still with Velocity, SomaDetect and Qidni Labs weren’t the only companies with a connection to the Waterloo Region ecosystem to emerge as prize winners at Buffalo’s 43North competition, which we reported on in October’s Tech Roundup. So, too, did Velocity’s Suncayr, maker of a smart, wearable patch that changes colour to indicate when sunscreen is no longer effective. Suncayr earned US$500,000 at the event.

Finally, on the topic of money, don’t miss the piece by Terry Pender in The Waterloo Region Record about the “low-key but significant role” being played in the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem by the Investment Accelerator Fund, now administered by MaRS. The fund, which marks its 10th anniversary next year, has helped 30 area companies get funding assistance.

Incidentally, MaRS IAF, along with Toronto-based Stand Up Ventures, was behind a $2-million investment last month in Kitchener-based construction software startup Bridgit.

In other news

  • A U.S. jury in Marshall, Texas, has ruled that Waterloo’s Sandvine did not infringe on three patents, as alleged by plaintiff Packet Intelligence LLC, in a disallowed court claim for nearly US$14 million in damages.
  • Aiming to boost the financial technology sector, the Ontario government announced it is easing regulations and launching an agency called the Ontario FinTech Accelerator Office.
  • Waterloo’s Eleven-X, which provides a low-power network servicing the Internet of Things, has partnered with QMC, based in B.C., on smart water metering solutions.
  • Still with water meter technology, the City of Welland has approved a partnership with Kitchener’s Alert Labs, and is offering a $100 incentive to residents who purchase Alert Labs products, as a water conservation measure.
  • FlyGTA, looking to ease travel along the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, has launched a 20-minute air service twice a day from Region of Waterloo’s Breslau airport to Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport. Flights cost $129 one way.

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About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.