Kik CEO Ted Livingston. (Photo: Darin White for Communitech)

Photo: Kik CEO Ted Livingston. (Communitech photo: Darin White) 

Kik and Kin

Kik, the Waterloo-based maker of the popular messaging app of the same name, shook up the tech scene by announcing its intention to launch its own cryptocurrency called Kin. Kik CEO Ted Livingston laid out his rationale in a blog post, explaining how blockchain-based Kin will be the linchpin of a broad developer ecosystem of which Kik would be part, giving it the scale and heft to compete against social media behemoths. Although Livingston didn’t name names, it’s widely believed he was targeting Facebook, among others.

Just one day later, another Waterloo tech pillar made a big splash. Sandvine, the Internet traffic management company, revealed it had come to a provisional agreement to be acquired for CAD$483 million and taken private by San Francisco-based Vector Capital. Sandvine CEO Dave Caputoexplained in an interview with Communitech News that the private-equity deal will free the company to make sound, long-term decisions and ultimately break out and grow.

Unlocking growth in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, meanwhile, was the theme at a well-attended announcement by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at Google’s Canadian engineering headquarters in Kitchener.

Wynne and provincial Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca pledged to help ease congestion on Highway 401 by building a high-speed rail line from Toronto’s Union Station to London, Ont., with stops at Pearson airport and Waterloo Region, by 2025. It would be the first phase of a project that would eventually extend to Windsor. The plan is to unfold in parallel with a previous commitment to deliver all-day, two-way GO train service between Waterloo Region and Union Station by 2024.

Among the many politicians at the announcement was Tom Galloway, Chair of the Region of Waterloo’s Planning and Works Committee and regional council’s point person on its ION light rail transit project. Days earlier, Galloway had sat down with Communitech News for an in-depth discussionabout the LRT initiative and how it was used by council as a planning tool to – successfully, it turns out – spur development density in the region. He also revealed that trains should be rolling by spring of 2018.

In related news, the Region of Waterloo opened bidding from private developers on the first phase of the proposed King/Victoria Transit Hub.

Big Data, Big Thinkers

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains announced early in the month the opening of the Big Data Analytics Centreat the Communications Research Centre in Ottawa. Researchers there will analyze how Canadians use available wireless spectrum as a prelude to the enabling of 5G networks, connected cars and the Internet of Things. The data will be collected with sensors from Waterloo-based Cognitive Systems.

Days later, the City of Waterloo welcomed the opening of its own big data centre, in the form of Communitech’s Data Hub, a 19,000-square-foot facility in a historic former insurance building and police station at 14 Erb St. W. The hub, launched with founding partners CIBC, City of Waterloo and Quantum Valley Investments, is the new home of Canada’s Open Data Exchange and is designed as a collaborative space to spur the growth of new commercial applications using big data sets.

As the Data Hub’s birth was feted uptown, hundreds were gathered across town at Bingemans Conference Centre for the finale of Communitech’s two-day Tech Leadership Conference, or TLC. A rapt audience listened to keynote speeches from nearly a dozen leaders in their fields, including Patty McCord, former Chief Talent Officer of Netflix, and Billy Beane, Executive Vice-President of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s and the subject of the book and movie MoneyBall.

Communitech CEO Iain Klugman announced that the long-running TLC event would be reborn next year in a new format called Communitech 151.

TLC 2017 launched with Communitech’s Demo Day, in which TritonWear and SSIMWave emerged as co-winners of a $100,000 prize, splitting the money 60-40 respectively. All six companies that pitched had taken part in Communitech’s Rev accelerator program. Another four entrepreneurs from Communitech’s Fierce Founders program for female-led companies also made pitches.

One of the judges was David Brown, co-founder and CEO of the Boulder, Colo.-based accelerator Techstars, which announced last March it was opening a branch in Toronto. Brown, a Canadian, took a few minutes to talk with Communitech News about the state of tech in Canada and the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor.

Finally, capping a busy week, a delegation from China, including Dr. Dongsheng Sun, President of Shenzhen Capital Group, took part in a pitch competition at Communitech. Ten companies made pitches, with four – O2 Canada, Medella Health, Cyclica and AOMS Technologies – advancing to the next stage of the Shenzhen Star Competition for entrepreneurs.

Tech talent

The U.S.-based Atlantic featured collaborative efforts being made in Canadaby government and the private sector to ramp up tech growth. The story, entitled “Canada Wants Silicon Valley’s Tech Employees,” highlighted employment challenges faced in the U.S. under a Trump administration, and the simultaneous steps being taken in Canada to welcome tech growth and workers.

As if on cue, Bains, the federal Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, fired the starter’s pistol on a national competition for $950 million in federal seed money to spur development of tech “superclusters,” money that was unveiled in the federal budget last March.

And further buttressing the premise of The Atlantic’s article, that Canada is a welcoming home for innovation, Uber announced it was opening an office in Toronto, expanding its Advanced Technologies Group, and that it would be headed by University of Toronto AI researcher and prof Raquel Urtasun.

The appointment drew criticism in the form of a Globe and Mail article that U.S. firms were poaching Canadian talent, but that view was strenuously challenged in a follow-up opinion piece two days later, calling the new Uber office and Urtasun appointment a “big win for Canada.”

Big ideas, big brains

Meanwhile, the University of Waterloo created a stir as the month opened with the unveiling of its $17-million supercomputer named Graham, after late Waterloo professor Wes Graham, a pioneer in computer science at the university. Funded by the provincial government and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the computer is the biggest on any Canadian campus, the Waterloo Region Record reported, one of four across the country that will boost research in a number of fields.

The excitement generated by advances in technology like Graham, and the ensuing fast growth of the tech ecosystem, was the subject of a thoughtful and cautionary tale penned in the Globe and Mail by Vidyard co-founder and CEO Michael Litt. In a piece entitled “Can tech uplift a community without gentrifying it?” Litt wrote that it’s incumbent upon the companies fuelling growth to be mindful of their impact on a community.

Bank on it

Back-to-back episodes of Communitech’s Nimble Hippo Radio podcast featured a pair of senior Canadian banking executives. The first, in early May, featured a chat with TD Bank President and CEO Bharat Masrani. TD maintains an innovation outpost at Communitech. The second, later in the month, was with RBC President and CEO Dave McKay, a former programmer and graduate of the University of Waterloo. Both men described the efforts their organizations are making to transform the way they deliver financial services to Canadians.

And speaking of delivering financial services, Communitech organized an event in Toronto entitled “Transformative Tech: Winners and Losers,” hosted by Steve Patterson of the CBC Radio show The Debaters.

The event featured four guest speakers, each championing a unique theme changing face of high finance, including the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and blockchain.

In other news

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
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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.