Photo: Canadian Bills/Coins by Anita Hart is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Money matters

A focus on innovation and a commitment to tech and talent were hallmarks of the federal government’s 2017 budget, unveiled to largely positive reviewsfrom the tech community. Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced a number of new programs and directed plenty of federal cash – a $1.18-billion investment in innovation and training – aimed at making Canada’s communities smarter and helping technology-based companies flourish. There was an emphasis on clean tech, digital industries, health and bio-science and additional money for clusters, skills development, artificial intelligence, procurement and venture capital.

Count Kurtis McBride among the budget’s supporters. Shortly after its tabling in the House of Commons, McBride, CEO of Miovision and a driving force behind development of Internet of Things manufacturing lab Catalyst137, was seeking to leverage one of the budget’s programs into a win – literally – for Waterloo Region. The Smart Cities Challenge is a $300-million program designed to to spur municipalities to implement a smart-cities strategy. It’s being rolled out in the form of a contest, and McBride has already begun assembling a team to compete.

The budget’s impact was still reverberating days later with the announcement of the Vector Institute, a new centre for artificial-intelligence research. The Toronto-based institute will aim to “drive the adoption and commercialization of AI technologies across Canada,” and capitalize on an early lead in the field generated in Canada. Clearpath Robotics CTO Ryan Gariepy, who attended the announcement, told Communitech News that the initiative will, among other things, help generate and retain talent in AI. Gariepy’s firm has joined with another well-known Waterloo Region company, Thalmic Labs, in contributing funds to the project; Thalmic CEO Stephen Lake will sit on Vector’s board of directors.

Just one day later still more federal funding was in play, and it is certain to have an eventual impact on the progress of the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor: The Trudeau government announced $1.9 billion for upgrades in regional transit, with more than $750 million directed to improvements to speed the arrival of all-day rail service between Waterloo Region and Toronto.

Movin’ on up

Speaking of the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, Startup Genome’s latest Global Startup Ecosystem Report was released, and listed Toronto-Waterloo at No. 16. The report ranks tech ecosystems from 28 countries using a variety of metrics. In past rankings, Toronto and Waterloo have been considered separately, with Toronto finishing 17th in 2015.

Vancouver is not only among Startup Genome’s top 20 ecosystems, but the location of a new office for Waterloo-based Vidyard. The video marketing and analytics company also appointed  Shannon Stubo, CMO and Senior Vice-President of Corporate Communications at LinkedIn, to its board.

Growth, meanwhile, will be the watchword at Atomic’s  Waterloo Region office (an office, incidentally, that Vidyard outgrew last year). Andrew Dudum, partner and co-founder of San Francisco-based Atomic, told Communitech News that the VC firm, which incubates startups in-house, has been so impressed with its Waterloo experience that it plans to double its current 70-plus workforce within “the next six months.”

Growth of the rocketship variety also continues for Shopify. The Waterloo Region Record reported that the Ottawa-based e-commerce software giant’s enterprise division, Shopify Plus, aims to lease 60,000 square feet in a new building near its current offices in the former Seagram Museum in uptown Waterloo. The new space will accommodate 400 additional workers. Shopify is also poised to triple the footprint of its already substantial Ottawa headquarters.

Construction junction

Patty McCord, the former chief talent officer for Netflix and a keynote speaker at Communitech’s upcoming Tech Leadership Conference, spoke with Communitech about how to build a relevant, motivated workforce. McCord, whose ideas have helped rewrite the book on how to hire, now runs her own consulting company. She has an actual book coming out in November, called “Powerful.”

A builder of a different sort, federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly, visited Waterloo Region and toured Communitech, Google and Christie Digital. Joly is looking to retool the laws governing broadcasting, media and cultural industries for the digital era, as reported in the Waterloo Region Record.

Cédric Jeannot, CEO of APrivacy, a cyber security company with offices in Waterloo Region and Hong Kong, penned an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail on why now is the time for Canadian startups to set up operations in Asia. “The benefits,” he says, “far outweigh the challenges.” A few days later Jeannot was featured in a segment on BNN, where he described the same opportunity.

Along similar lines, Paul Moen and John Whitehead of Earnscliffe Strategy Group described why they believe CETA, the new trade agreement between Canada and the European Union, presents an economic opportunity for Canadians that rivals that of NAFTA.

Feature treatment

WillowCup, a startup that makes a milk substitute from plants, was centre stage in a Waterloo Region Record story, just days after CEO and co-founder Sarah Bonham literally took to the stage and won $60,000 in Communitech’s Fierce Founders pitch competition for female-founded tech companies.

On the topic of women in the tech industry, Waterloo-based Sandvine landed on a list of the top 50 places for women to work in Canada.

Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, meantime, was in the spotlight in March, chatting with Nimble Hippo Radio’s Craig Haney about reinventing municipal government for the digital age and discussing the city’s new Digital Strategy initiative.

But a community of tech cannot live by algorithms alone. Coders need to eat. The Record plated a pair of entertaining stories with noshing at their heart, the first about consummate connector Nabil Fahel of Shopify Plus, who played a pivotal role in helping Atomic and Shopify set up shop in Waterloo Region. Fahel, dubbed “the Pablo Escobar of hummus,” runs Black Market Hummus in partnership with his mother. Then there’s Epicater, which opened an office in Kitchener’s Breithaupt Block last year, where it produces meals for local tech companies including Shopify Plus, Kik Interactive, TextNow and Maluuba.

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.