Photo: Anthony Reinhart for Communitech

Talent, people & hires

Canada’s long-awaited Global Skills Strategy launched in June. Just a few weeks later, fresh on the heels of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, its impact was being felt north and south of the Canada-U.S. border. Vanity Fair,  Wired and the Globe and Mail were among media to highlight the program and contrast Canada’s welcoming climate for tech talent against the protectionist, anti-immigration rhetoric of Donald Trump’s America. “The Canadian brand has never been better in the eyes of the [international] community. Never,” said Michael Tippett, a Vancouver entrepreneur and co-founder of True North, which helps U.S. tech workers land positions in Canada. The parade of praise reached its peak at the end of the month when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, with a glowing feature inside titled “The North Star.”

But it wasn’t just media attention that the Global Skills Strategy generated. It soon emerged that Waterloo Region’s Thalmic Labs had taken advantage of the program to achieve a number of hires, including engineers from Iran and Pakistan and another with R&D bonafides from Israel.

Thalmic also announced the hiring of former Nokia and Microsoft executive Jari Niemela as its Vice-President of Engineering.

Thalmic, by the way, hinted at what those new hires might be working on in a CNBC story late in July. CEO Stephen Lake said the company isn’t aiming at a Myo 2.0 – Myo being Thalmic’s gesture control armband – but is working on a wearable device that “will change the way people interact with technology.”

Still with talent, TextNow, a Waterloo company that offers low-cost, cloud-based mobile service to mostly U.S. customers, announced it would offer its employees a $13,000 bonus for making a successful hiring referral, with another $13,000 being awarded to the new employee. The initiative is designed to involve the company’s staff in clearing a backlog of 30 open positions.

And on the talent development front, ComIT, a six-year-old program from South America that helps would-be programmers who can’t afford traditional post-secondary training, graduated its first cohort at Communitech. Two students found jobs before the program had even ended – one of them at OpenText – and plans are in the works to expand across Canada.

Talent comes and sometimes talent goes. Google announced that its head of its Canadian operations, Sam Sebastian, was leaving to become CEO and President of Pelmorex, Corp., owner of The Weather Network. Call it a net gain for Canada, though: Sebastian, an American, made it clear he was smitten by Canada (link requires a subscription) during his stint at Google, which played a role in his decision to remain north of the border. “I … fell in love with Canada in my three years here,” he said, adding, “… the momentum in this country is pretty special.” Sabrina Geremia will take over Google’s Canadian interests on a temporary basis.

Sebastian, by the way, is a director at Waterloo Region startup Bridgit, which makes software that helps construction companies manage projects. A Waterloo Region Record story featured the company’s Executive Vice-President of Sales, Sean Erjavec.

Meanwhile, TD Bank, which operates a lab at Communitech, was in Silicon Valley recently to take part in a Go North recruitment event. The bank wasfeatured in American Banker, which highlighted TD’s plans to hire 1,000 technology workers this year, “including data scientists and artificial intelligence experts,” to fuel its goal of becoming the “bank of the future,” in the words of CIO Jeff Henderson.

Toronto-Waterloo Corridor connections

Kitchener-based Sortable, the digital advertising optimization platform, was busy making hires to staff a newly announced Toronto office. Jennifer Fields, formerly of Kijiji, will become Head of Strategic Partnerships and Lisa Hunt, formerly of Index Exchange, will take on the role of Publisher Solutions Architect. Sortable CEO Chris Reid’s name, meanwhile, surfaced on the list of four entrepreneurs from Waterloo Region and Guelph who are among 46 finalists for the 2017 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Others are: Phil Geldart, Eagle’s Flight, Guelph; Adam Belsher and Jad Saliba of Magnet Forensics in Waterloo; and Gavin Armstrong of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise in Guelph.

Toronto’s tech growth continued to generate international attention: CBRE, the commercial real estate services provider, named the city the fastest growing tech market in North America. The company’s 2017 North American Scoring Tech Talent report said Toronto outgrew Silicon Valley and New York combined in new technology jobs generated and ranked as the second cheapest centre to operate.

Google’s Toronto plans surfaced in a recent item: Sidewalk Labs, a unit of Google’s parent, Alphabet, has applied to develop a 12-acre site in downtown Toronto for a new tech campus. Toronto got the nod over candidates like Detroit and Denver.

At the other end of the corridor, Cambridge has joined seven other cities around the world, including Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and Dubai, in a linked data network to share knowledge and ideas about how cities grow. Gary Dyke, City Manager for Cambridge, said the shared data will help the city manage water, waste, transit, social programs and more.

Big moves, big bucks

Waterloo-based Internet traffic management company Sandvine created a stir at mid-month with news it had sold to U.S. private equity firm Francisco Partners for CDN$562 million. Francisco ultimately outbid another U.S.-based firm, Vector Capital.

Francisco plans to combine Sandvine with one of its existing portfolio members, Procera Networks of Fremont, Calif., which has come under scrutiny in the past. Under terms of the deal, the blended company will retain the Sandvine name and current Sandvine CEO Dave Caputo will become Non-Executive Chairman.

As Sandvine was selling, OpenText was buying. The Waterloo Region-based information management software firm announced it was set to acquire Guidance Software of Pasadena, Calif., for CAD$300 million. Guidance Software develops solutions for digital investigations and forensic security.

IBM joined with the Province of Ontario, the Ontario Centres of Excellence and Communitech to announce the opening of the IBM Innovation Incubatorat the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo. The initiative is part of the IBM Innovation Incubator Project and is funded through $22.75 million from the province and $24.75 million from IBM. The aim is to help small-to-medium startups access big data and launch new products.

Big thinkers, big honours

John Baker, President and CEO of learning software company D2L, penned ablog post describing his award of the Meritorious Service Cross from Governor General David Johnston. “The award is one of Canada’s highest civilian decorations, and recognizes the work I’ve been privileged to do to advance learning across the country and around the world,” Baker wrote.

In a similar vein, Guelph investor and businessman Jim Estill was named to the Order of Ontario, the province’s highest honour, for personally sponsoring 50 Syrian refugee families. Estill described the logistics of his extraordinary philanthropy, and his motivation, in an interview with Communitech back in 2015.

And speaking of helping, Waterloo Region entrepreneur Eric Migicovsky, founder of the since-sold smartwatch startup Pebble, is mentoring early-stage companies at Y Combinator, the influential Silicon Valley accelerator. Migicovsky, who was the subject of a recent feature in the Waterloo Region Record, founded Pebble in his fourth year at the University of Waterloo, eventually growing the company to 120 employees. He recently served as a judge at the Velocity Fund Finals pitch competition.

Pebble was featured in an intriguing tale called Made in Waterloo Region – The Gamechangers, the most recent of Communitech’s series Communitech @20, a celebration of Communitech’s 20th birthday.

Home grown

And while we’re talking local, one of Communitech’s venerable contributors, Melanie Baker, produced not-to-be-missed commentary this month.

Baker stepped up during the controversy that erupted in  Silicon Valley over its “bro culture” – sparked by the resignations of Uber CEO Travis Kalanickand Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck – and penned a sharp opinion piece offering insight into the uphill climb women face in tech.

She followed that two weeks later with a cautionary tale about the re-emergence of the company town, courtesy of Facebook and Apple, and what that says about the future of employment and healthy communities.

In other news

  • “The next insanely great thing may not come out of Stanford, it may come out of Toronto,”, writes in a July story about the recent three-day VRTO Conference.
  • Don’t miss this blog item from ODX, the Open Data Exchange, on how parents, anglers and home buyers are gaining an edge by leveraging big data.
  • U.S. online hub AngelList has launched Intros for Canada, to help Canadian startups access seed-stage funding.
  •, the job search site, says AI and machine learning job opportunities in Canada have grown by almost 500 per cent since June, 2015.
  • Four companies claimed a $25,000 share of prize money at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Fund Finals pitch competition, including Innovative Protein Technologies, a startup that makes a spray-on foam that helps farmers protect crops from killer frost.

This edition of the Roundup compiled by Craig Daniels.

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