Plum Director of Marketing Andy Pandya and CEO Caitlin MacGregor (Communitech photo: Craig Daniels)

Diversity by design

Plum CEO Caitlin MacGregor has grown weary of the excuses companies make for not hiring more women. MacGregor, whose Waterloo Region software firm helps employers screen for the best candidates, offered a succinct response to hiring managers who say they can’t find qualified females.

Her comments come at a time when diversity remains top of mind in the tech industry, which has been buffeted in recent months by controversies involving gender and racial discrimination. In a nod to that fact, Carol Leaman, a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Waterloo-based Axonify – whose leadership team is 50 per cent women – weighed in with a BetaKit piece listing five strategies for building a more diverse tech company.

Meanwhile, our M-Theory columnist Melanie Baker pointed to the sad-but-true tale of a pair of female tech entrepreneurs who invented an imaginary male co-founder and noticed an immediate improvement in how their company was treated by software developers and graphic designers.

On the education front, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur reported that UWaterloo is three years ahead of schedule on its quest to boost female enrolment in STEM disciplines. It had set a goal of 33 per cent female enrolment by 2020, but has already reached 35 per cent, Hamdullahpur said, adding that “we hope that we are going to go way above it.”

And Canada’s reputation for inclusiveness – particularly in a time of tightening borders in the United States – has helped in efforts to attract immigrant entrepreneurs, the Financial Post reported.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored that reputation in his remarks to kick off Hack the North at UWaterloo, the country’s biggest student hackathon, where 14 teams were chosen from among 250 to present their innovations after 36 hours of hacking.

Growth industry

Of course, U.S. tech workers themselves have increasingly been looking northto Canada for opportunities. A recent MaRS survey of high-growth firms in Canada found nearly two-thirds had seen a jump in job applications from south of the border.

Locally, prospects for job growth have rarely looked so good, with Waterloo Region poised to add an estimated 6,000 jobs in the coming year, CTV reported. Affordable real estate relative to Toronto was cited as a factor in the region’s attractiveness, which should be music to the ears of its talent-hungry tech employers.

Among those local employers are Sortable, Axonify, Magnet Forensics and Dejero, all of which landed in the top 100 on Canadian Business’s annual list of 500 fastest-growing companies. Additionally, Waterloo Region-based Swift Labs made an associated list of the country’s 50 fastest-growing startups. Speaking of lists, Waterloo medical tech startup Elucid Labs was named among the Canadian Innovation Exchange’s 20 most innovative companies for 2017.

Moving into the future

Growth, of course, means talent, and transportation is critical to connecting the right talent with high-growth companies. In the long-running push for two-way, all-day commuter rail service between Waterloo Region and Toronto, an official from Metrolinx – the Crown agency responsible for public transportation in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe region – said relief could come sooner than the projected seven years.

The availability of public transport will no doubt play a key role in Amazon’s search for a suitable location for its second North American headquarters, which was announced to great fanfare and set off a flurry of jockeying among cities eager to capitalize on the promise of a potential 50,000 new jobs. Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic spoke with BNN about how Waterloo Region could play a role if Amazon chooses the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor, while others across the country pointed out the potential downsides of Canada landing the new facility.

At the same time, private transportation is poised for wholesale transformation as autonomous vehicle technology advances, highways become ever more congested and personal preferences evolve. Brian Tossan, Director of Canadian Engineering for GM Canada, sat down for an interview on our Nimble Hippo Radio podcast to talk about how these changes have reshaped the way GM thinks about the car.

Moving from cars to trucks, BlackBerry continued its evolution beyond the smartphone as it partnered with Toronto-based Fleet Complete, which will resell BlackBerry’s new IoT asset-tracking device, called Radar, to the trucking industry.

Transportation is just one sector among many undergoing upheaval, a fact made clear at the 2017 Waterloo Innovation Summit, where hopes and fears for the future were laid out in compelling detail on day one and day two.

The way we pay for things is another area rife with change, as embodied by the initial coin offering issued by Waterloo-based messaging platform Kik, whose CEO, Ted Livingston, spoke at the innovation summit. TechCrunch ran a piece on how Kik could be paving the way for other companies to issue ICOs, while the Financial Post reported on how Kik shut  Canadian investors out of its cryptocurrency offering, citing what Livingston called “weak guidance” from the Ontario Securities Commission on the legality of the initiative. When it ended on Sept. 26, Kik’s ICO had raised an estimated US$100 million.

The great indoors

Waterloo Region’s MappedIn, which makes indoor wayfinding technology for large commercial clients such as shopping malls, announced it is collaborating with Apple to bring its capabilities to iPhone and iPad users via Apple Maps.

Inside the Communitech Hub in Waterloo Region’s sprawling Tannery complex, two companies – one a large and venerable retailer, the other a small, scrappy startup – had no trouble finding something to talk about. After meeting at a lunch, the retailer (Canadian Tire) and startup (Alert Labs) formed a relationship, resulting in two Canadian Tire stores deciding to stock, on a trial basis, Alert Labs’ devices, which measure water use and detect flooding. The case exemplifies Communitech’s corporate innovation model, in which large, established clients such as Canadian Tire gain access to innovative startups – to the potential benefit of both parties.

Meanwhile, Globe and Mail readers were afforded a detailed look insideShopify’s unique Waterloo office, which houses its fast-growing Shopify Plus division, while an expected 16,000-plus visitors lined up for tours of 50 local facilities – including the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo and Google’s engineering office in Kitchener – during Doors Open Waterloo Region.

In other news

  • Communitech’s Craig Daniels brought us the riveting account of William Werth – a Waterloo Region software developer, veteran of Canada’s military campaign in Afghanistan and Campus Ambassador for Communitech – in the lead-up to the Invictus Games, where he competed in golf.
  • Waterloo-based Aeryon Labs supplied a drone to relief workers helping victims cope with Hurricane Irma’s aftermath in St. Maarten.
  • Engineers at Google’s Waterloo Region office are playing a key role as the company ramps up development of cloud-based services.
  • Sandvine shareholders approved the Waterloo company’s sale to an affiliate of U.S.-based private equity firm Francisco Partners.
  • The University of Waterloo named Raymond Laflamme to a new $8-million research chair dedicated to quantum error correction, a critical component in the development of a quantum computer.


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