The year 2014 proved to be a memorable one not only for the Waterloo Region tech sector, but for Communitech News, which officially launched on Sept. 3. We hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage thus far.
Since no news site is complete without a year-end review, here’s ours for 2014. We decided to go big on the visuals, given what a great-looking year it’s been. Here are some selected highlights.
The year kicked off with a boost to Canadian venture capital from the federal and provincial governments, in concert with OpenText and other private-sector partners, when a $300-million “fund of funds” was unveiled at the Communitech Hub. Also in January, Sandvine announced it had surpassed $100 million in revenue in 2013; OpenText completed its $1B+ acquisition of GXS; we got the skinny on crowdfunding from Ayah Norris of Indiegogo, and Communitech’s Kayleigh Platz weighed in on the topic of women in tech, an issue that continued to gain prominence throughout the year.
In February, our intrepid reporter Trish Crompton trudged through the snow to check out the Vidyard “greenhouse,” which has become an unofficial incubator for high-potential startups. It’s a great example of entrepreneurs giving back to the startup community that helped them through the turbulence that all early-stage companies endure.
Also in February, Google announced the impending move of its Waterloo Region engineering operations to an expanded Breithaupt Block near its current Tannery location; we chatted with Bogdan Frusina of Dejero Labs, the high-flying, live-broadcast-in-a-box maker; checked in with ChangeIt, the longest-serving Communitech Hub tenant, as it left the nest; and featured Homefed, a startup that connects travellers with home-cooked meals.
The winter of 2014 held on tightly through March, but was warmed by the presence of artists making creative use of local technology. When Pascal Dufaux incorporated Christie projection technology in his installation in Kitchener, we caught up with Christie’s Charles Fraresso to ask him about the link between arts and technology, and why artists are good for tech companies.
March also saw success for PiinPoint in securing backing from Y Combinator; the launch of a Women in Tech Peer 2 Peer group; and an update from Canadian Tire Innovations, a year after it broke new ground for enterprise companies by opening a lab in the Communitech Hub.
A year after his Techstars co-founder Brad Feld visited Waterloo Region, David Cohen followed suit with a tour of the local ecosystem and a talk at the Communitech Hub. Like Feld, Cohen felt a sense of familiarity, comparing the feel of Waterloo Region to Boulder, Colo., where Techstars founded its first accelerator in 2006.
Also in April, a couple of startup entrepreneurs spoke frankly about failure and what they learned from it – including Matt Gardner, who has since led Videostream to the top shelf of the Google Chrome web store, now with nearly 700,000 users; the Internet of Things became the focus of a new local meetup group; and a local film, Startup Community, won cheers from a packed house at its premiere.
Jennifer Moss had just given birth to her third child when she was hard at work on her fourth – a startup called Plasticity Labs – which she co-founded with Jim Moss, her husband. She sat down to talk to us about how she juggles entrepreneurship and parenthood.
Also in May, Vidyard CEO Michael Litt talked about the need for Canadian investors to adopt some of the irrationality of their Californian counterparts; global brand-builder Scott Bedbury (Nike, Starbucks, Airbnb) told us why emotional intelligence trumps IQ; and top Canadian tech reporter Matt Hartley gave us an exit interview as he prepared for life after the National Post.
In a sector where the next big thing is usually top of mind, it can be easy to forget how deeply this region’s innovative roots run. Unitron, a leader in hearing aid technology, marked 50 years in business in June.
That same month, we put together a special series, titled BlackBerry and Beyond, that took a close-up look at how Communitech’s Tech Jobs Connex program has helped former employees of the smartphone pioneer to find new opportunities to apply their specialized skills. Part 1 of our three-part series looked at the BlackBerry Wireless Group.
Christie, a multinational maker of projection systems whose engineering operations are based in Waterloo Region, unveiled the world’s first pure-laser projection system with a demo in China. We also profiled StyleID, a fashion-focused startup working out of the Google for Entrepreneurs space in the Hub; and sat down with Kevin Lynch, Vice-Chair of BMO Financial Group and former Clerk of the Privy Council, for his take on what Canada can learn from the Waterloo Region approach to innovation.
Summer slowdown? Not here. Among companies setting the pace throughout 2014 was Wagepoint, whose payroll software solution launched in the U.S. and earned the attention of investors, who went on to put up a $2-million seed round in December.
bitHound, another Communitech HYPERDRIVE company, also took flight over the summer, and settled into a renovated house in downtown Kitchener. It too went on to raise a $2-million seed round later in the year, led by the ever-colourful Michael Wekerle, who took a keen interest in the Waterloo Region ecosystem in 2014.
Thalmic Labs began shipping its long-awaited Myo gesture-control armband, and we updated you on Intelligent Mechatronic Systems (IMS), the Waterloo company that began working on its connected car technology long before anyone had heard of the Internet of Things.
Fast-growing Desire2Learn rebranded as D2L as it announced an $85-million Series B investment round in August. The infusion followed its $80-million Series A round in 2012, which was the first outside investment for the company John Baker founded as a University of Waterloo student in 1999. Its learning management platform, now known as Brightspace, continued its spread to institutions around the world throughout 2014.
Also in August, Fibernetics unveiled a new venture arm to support startup ‘intrapreneurship’ within its telecom company, and also announced a $1.9-million investment in Plasticity Labs, a Communitech HYPERDRIVE alumni company; Manulife opened its RED (Research, Exploration and Development) Lab in the Communitech Hub; and Communitech’s Kayleigh Platz took us inside the Women Entrepreneurs Bootcamp, in which she took part.
A major highlight in September was the first-ever, student-organized Hack the North event at the University of Waterloo, whose 1,000 participants travelled from as far away as China and Brazil. The event drew an illustrious roster of judges, including Y Combinator President Sam Altman, and injected a massive jolt of energy into the entire ecosystem.
Also in September, BlackBerry wowed the smartphone market with the release of its new Passport device; UW’s Velocity program expanded with the launch of the Velocity Foundry; TD opened its innovation lab in the Communitech Hub; cyber security firm eSentire raised $14 million to expand its Cambridge operations; and we sat down for feature chats with Jesse Wilson of Square, and outgoing Kitchener Mayor Carl Zehr, who helped lead the city’s downtown rebirth as an innovation hub.
October means Techtoberfest, that “other” Waterloo Region festival, which celebrates tech entrepreneurship. This year’s focus was venture capital, resulting in a value-packed roster of presenters and special VC one-on-one sessions for investment-ready companies. During Techtoberfest, iNovia Capital announced it was opening an office in Waterloo Region, and managing partner Chris Arsenault sat down for a Q+A about the reasons behind the move.
Also in October, Google launched Inbox, a mobile-friendly update to Gmail developed entirely at its Waterloo Region development office in the Tannery; travel-platform provider Demeure rebranded as MetaMarketplace and announced $4 million in new investment to expand its Waterloo operations; Ottawa-based Shopify announced its new Waterloo Region sales lab; Fibernetics unveiled Cloud at Cost, a startup that developed inside the company; and Waterloo Region hosted its second annual CityAge conference, focused on the challenges and opportunities of developing a Waterloo Region-Toronto innovation supercluster.
In November we brought you the story of DraftingSpace, a UW Velocity startup that helps users automate designs for home renovations; a profile of Auvik and its exciting new space in Waterloo; and news about the Dyson-award-winning Suncayr, whose UV-responsive marker tells you when to reapply sunscreen.
Canon, meanwhile, opened its new innovation lab in the Communitech Hub; mobile messaging platform Kik raised $38.3 million in investment and acquired Toronto-based startup Relay; Manulife held a successful Smart Tech Challenge; and we chatted with Tracey Riese, a New York City angel investor, about the importance of diversity in tech entrepreneurship.
In December we told you about Pout, a new fashion and beauty social network developed by Riley Donelson, and delved further into the Kik story (see November) with a look at the acquisition of Relay and what it means.
We profiled Zap In, which has updated the reception-desk check-in process, and told you how Thalmic Labs’ IT manager hacked his way to developing a smart mirror; BlackBerry went back to the future with the release of its Classic device; and finally, Miovision CEO Kurtis McBride raised eyebrows by arguing that poaching of talent actually strengthens the Waterloo Region tech ecosystem, by encouraging employers to up their game and make themselves as desirable as possible to employees.
We can’t wait to see what 2015 brings, and to tell you all about it here.
Until then, enjoy the holidays.
Main photo: The Communitech Hub’s Jellybean Room got a dramatic update in 2014 when artist Christopher Austin spray-painted a shark mural on its curving walls.