Bardish Chagger, Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Photo: Bardish Chagger, Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Tourism, announces funding for Communitech’s Fierce Founders Accelerator. (Communitech photo: Phil Froklage)

Diversity counts

Few tech topics have been more discussed in the past year than women – specifically, the relative lack of them, and the treatment they face within the industry. Less prominent in the debate, but no less important to it, is the fact that companies with diverse leadership teams have been proven to outperform those without. With this in mind, Communitech announced theFierce Founders Accelerator, to provide seed money and mentorship to about 20 female-led startups over two years. The federally-funded program expands on the annual Fierce Founders Bootcamp, which announced its next 25 participants who will attend sessions starting later this summer.

Sentinel Alert, a participant in last year’s bootcamp that went on to win the program’s pitch competition, returned to Waterloo Region in June to spend a week at Deloitte’s d {} lab (known as dee space) in the Communitech Hub, working on product development.

Making a difference

Just as diversity can be a differentiator for tech companies, so can a corporate mission that truly changes lives. Waterloo’s Magnet Forensics, whose software helps law enforcement agencies to fight crime in 92 countries, falls squarely into that category. Its CEO, Adam Belsher, sat down with Communitech Newsfor a lengthy interview, in which he talked about the challenges of scaling a high-potential company in Canada.

Meanwhile, Magnusmode, a Toronto company that took part in Communitech’s ASCEnt program for social entrepreneurs, partnered with the Royal Ontario Museum to create digital guides for people with autism. The company was also featured in a recent episode of Communitech’s We Built This video series.

The Canada advantage?

It remains to be seen whether political developments in the U.S. and U.K. will make a difference to expats and others looking to relocate to Canada, but they certainly can’t hurt. Sortable, a fast-growing Waterloo Region adtech startup, continued to milk its social campaign to attract Bay Area tech workers by invoking the spectre of a Donald Trump presidency.

Attendees of the annual Canada Day Picnic hosted by the Digital Moose Lounge, a group for expat Canadians living in Silicon Valley, shared their own thoughts around what they missed about home in this Communitech News video released on Canada Day. They ranged from Trump jokes to wistful reflections on this country’s increasing global prominence as an island of cultural openness, political stability and personal safety.

If and when expat tech workers do return, they’re likely to find a lot more opportunity than existed when they left, a notion highlighted in a Tech Crunch feature on why Toronto is poised to become one of North America’s most significant tech hubs in the coming years.

What they won’t find – at least not right away – is fast and frequent rail service between Toronto and Waterloo Region, a link cited by many in recent years as crucial to building a globally significant innovation corridor in southern Ontario. To that end, the Ontario government announced a significant step forward as it reached an agreement with CN that will allow for express rail service, all day and in both directions, by 2024.

Others called for bold action to improve Canada’s competitive standing among knowledge economies, including Communitech guest columnist Julie Garner, who would like to see the federal government take more risks as it works toward a comprehensive innovation agenda. A streamlined immigration process to enable Canada to attract top tech workers is also high on many wish lists. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, made assurances that improved immigration will be a key feature of the government’s innovation agenda.

On the home front

Meanwhile, the Waterloo Region tech community continued to push ahead in June, with new projects unveiled and companies reporting strong progress. Kurtis McBride, CEO of smart-cities tech firm Miovision, announced he is spearheading Catalyst137, an Internet of Things hardware accelerator, in a sprawling former warehouse near Kitchener’s innovation district.

Speaking of IoT, a Waterloo startup stacked with BlackBerry wireless veterans, called Eleven-X, has built what is believed to be Canada’s first low-power wide area network to collect and transmit data from IoT sensors.

And Waterloo Region’s deep expertise in embedded security systems, thanks to BlackBerry’s presence, was enough to steer German automotive company Bosch Group away from Silicon Valley. ETAS Embedded Systems Canada Inc., a Bosch subsidiary, opened an office next to Google in Kitchener’s Breithaupt Block.

Ignis Innovation, a little-known company that employs just over 30 people in north Waterloo, announced a major deal to license its technology to Korean-based LG Display. Ignis has quietly amassed more than 300 patents as it developed an exclusive hardware-and-software system to correct and optimize the output of OLED displays, which are steadily replacing LCD screens in the world’s smartphones, tablets, TVs and other devices.

It took a chance meeting at a conference in Barcelona in February to prompt a pair of neighbouring Waterloo tech CEOs – Derek Ting of TextNow and Dave Caputo of Sandvine – to forge a business partnership that will see TextNow’s cloud-based mobile phone service flow through Sandvine’s Network Policy Control platform.

MappedIn, a wayfinding software platform that aims to own search for the world’s indoor spaces, is seeing considerable growth after a couple of challenging years. In an in-depth interview, CEO Hongwei Liu spoke franklyabout the hard lessons he’s learned during five years as a startup entrepreneur.

Thinking big

At the other end of the size spectrum, big companies looking to be more nimble as they innovate gathered at the Communitech Hub for a productive day at the region’s first Intrapreneurship Conference. Craig Haney, our Director of Corporate Innovation and author of a weekly column called The Nimble Hippo, weighed in with key takeaways from the event.

Among the large companies working on corporate innovation in the Communitech Hub is General Motors of Canada, which unveiled an ambitious tech strategy involving up to 750 new jobs at an event in Oshawa, attended by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

In other news

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.