Golden Gate

The Golden Gate Bridge. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

The Trump effect

The election of Donald Trump as U.S. president on Nov. 8 had a seismic impact worldwide and in particular on the North American tech landscape.

Trump’s election immediately sparked a wave of speculation that Canadian expats working in Silicon Valley and their American colleagues would move north. On election night, the Canadian government’s immigration website crashed from what was believed to be a sharp increase in traffic.

All of this followed the appearance of billboards in Silicon Valley just days earlier that read “,” an initiative of agencies including Communitech and the City of Toronto to woo experienced Canadians back home. That initiative coincided with Google hosting in early November its Go North Summit, where a main theme was the repatriation of talent.

The drumbeat around moving north hadn’t ebbed by month’s end, as  tech companies in Canada and Waterloo Region were continuing to report spikes in job enquires from south of the border.

Money matters

While U.S.-based talent looked into moving north, U.S.-based capital continued to flow in the same direction, in the form of US$27 million in growth equity funding for Axonify, the Waterloo-based employee-learning software company.

Intellijoint Surgical, maker of a device that helps surgeons make precise measurements for hip replacements, announced it had raised CDN$11 million from investors in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor and planned to use the money to boost sales in the U.S. market.

And speaking of money, the latest figures show Canada is on track for another strong year in venture capital investment. The first half of the year generated CDN$1.5 billion VC dollars across 255 deals, up 41 percent from the year before. Canada has seen CDN$2.1 billion invested in the first three quarters, just nine percent less than that invested in all of 2015 (CDN$2.3 billion) and more than any previous year since 2007.

Dealing in diversity

BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada, made news with plans to inject CDN$50 million into women-led technology firms. Some $40 million will be used for venture and growth capital, with another $10 million for pre-seed and seed funding for startups, with money flowing by the end of this year. Communitech will be the delivery vehicle for much of that $10 million.

Women in tech were front and centre on a host of fronts. Some 200 developers took part in the Break Inequality Hackathon at Google’s Waterloo Region office, an event aimed at generating solutions for women and children in developing countries. The winning app, Natal Net, was developed by an all-female team from University of Waterloo and helps women in rural areas connect with community health-care workers. The winning team earned $1,000 and a place in Communitech’s Fierce Founders’ summer cohort boot camp.

Meanwhile, Emily Rudow and Kayla Nezon, co-founders of Waterloo-based Oneiric Hockey, pitched their hockey equipment product on CBC’s Dragon’s Den and landed a deal from Dragon Manjit Minhaus. That agreement is being revised and is in due-diligence stage.

Oneiric was one of seven members of Communitech’s first Fierce Founders cohort to pitch to investors at Rev Demo Day in Toronto. The event is an opportunity for companies from Communitech’s Rev program – a revenue-focused accelerator for established and growing tech companies – to attract venture capital. More about Rev Demo Day below.

Microsoft Vice-President Mary-Ellen Anderson was the featured speaker at Communitech’s Women in Tech breakfast, and she led a round-table discussion about generating opportunities for women in tech. Microsoft recently announced a new program tying the compensation of its senior leadership to improved metrics on the hiring of women. The number of women employed at Microsoft has slipped for two consecutive years.

Getting their Rev on

Fierce Founders pitches at Rev Demo Day were followed by presentations by six Rev companies, including Alert Labs, Chalk, LiveGauge, Pitstop, reebee and LMN (Landscape Management Network). The $100,000 prize went to Alert Labs’ co-founder George Tsintzouras, who sat down with Communitech the next day and talked about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for his company. Alert Labs, which makes a device that monitors water use and flags problems before they turn costly, gained a mention in a story by the Waterloo Region Record about a Kitchener couple who experienced a sudden, unexplained jump in their water bill.

Planes, trains and automobiles

Drone-maker Aeryon Labs was flying high with the public unveiling of a CDN$3-million research lab at its main Waterloo campus. The 7,000-square-foot lab, repurposed from existing space, is outfitted with state-of-the-art testing equipment to permit Aeryon to subject its unmanned aerial vehicles to a range of environmental conditions and is expected to speed product development.

Aeryon Labs, by the way, was among seven Waterloo Region companies named to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 list for 2016, a compendium of Canada’s fastest growing technology companies. Others on the list were Sortable (8th), Axonify (10th), Clearpath Robotics (17th), Magnet Forensics (19th), eSentire (35th) and Dejero Labs (37th). Aeryon was 24th.

Speaking of unmanned vehicles, three autonomous automobiles will soon take to Ontario’s roads, part of a pilot project being conducted by the University of Waterloo’s Centre for Automotive Research, BlackBerry and German recreational vehicle manufacturer Erwin Hymer Group. Fittingly, given the Great White North test site, one of the vehicles, a Lincoln MKZ, will be named the Autonomoose.

On the transportation theme, a team of University of Waterloo students unveiled the “Waterloop,” a prototype of a levitating pod designed for a competition in late January at Elon Musk’s SpaceX headquarters in California. The Waterloop is the only Canadian entry remaining in the competition, the purpose of which is to accelerate the development of a hyperloop prototype. Hyperloop is an open-source transportation concept put forward by Musk, whereby a small pod would travel inside a vacuum tube at speeds faster than a jet aircraft.

Close to home

Thalmic Labs’ CEO Stephen Lake appeared on BNN’s The Disruptors to announce that the maker of the Myo armband was going put its recent US$120-million Series B funds to work on an undisclosed project, hire 32 more staffers for its Waterloo Region office and fill eight positions at its San Francisco location.

Lake, meanwhile, spoke to Maclean’s about taking part in a recruiting drive this past September for Next 36, the not-for-profit educational initiative that combines academics and real-life business applications into an eight-month course. Lake is a graduate of the program and spoke about how valuable it was when it came time to negotiate financing for Thalmic.

The LCBO announced it was opening an innovation lab at Communitech to leverage the flow of new ideas and modernize the way it interacts with customers.

And Communitech CEO and President Iain Klugman was named to Toronto Life’s list of 50 Most Influential People of 2016, coming in at No. 43.

In other news

  •  Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the youngest-ever President of Croatia and the first woman to hold the office, visited Waterloo Region, touring the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre at the University of Waterloo and Communitech and Velocity in downtown Kitchener’s Tannery building.
  • PiinPoint, which develops software that helps retailers, landlords and real estate agents find locations for businesses, moved its 12 employees into its newly renovated office in downtown Kitchener, continuing an evolution of the downtown core. There are now more than 50 startups with more than 850 employees in the city centre. PiinPoint is a graduate of Communitech’s Rev program.
  •  Medella Health was named runner-up for the James Dyson Award, an international competition in product and industrial design “that solves a problem.” Medella, working out of the University of Waterloo Velocity Garage in the Tannery, is developing a smart contact lens for people with diabetes that monitors glucose levels and transmits the data to a user’s mobile phone. The company raised CDN$1.4 million in seed financing last June.
  • Deep Trekker, maker of remote underwater vehicles, is moving from a 3,000-square-foot facility in Ayr, Ont., into a 15,000-square foot location in Kitchener. The company, which began making devices for boaters and treasure hunters, has expanded into aquaculture, commercial diving, salvage and a host of other verticals and now sells products in 80 countries.
  • Maluuba, a Waterloo Region company which is developing artificial intelligence that can read and comprehend, was featured in a story in FastCompany about the promise and risk associated with AI.
  • Waterloo Region’s Conestoga College has applied for CDN$500,000 from the City of Cambridge to help fund a new research and technology hub in downtown Galt. The hub, which would be modelled after Communitech, is expected to be a component of the new Gaslight District, a mixed-use development proposed for the current Southworks mall. It would focus on robotics, automation and cyber-security.

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