Welcome to the Tech Roundup, the dog days of summer edition – and what more fitting way to start off a wrap of summer tech news than with the story of Backpacker College, the Waterloo startup that links would-be vacationers with affordable accomodation in university dorms, space that comes available when students themselves pack away the books for summer holidays.
With back-to-school specials already in the stores, you know that autumn can’t be far away, and sure enough, looking ahead, the federal government has set Oct. 17 as the day marijuana will be legal for recreational use. With that mind we brought you the story of SannTek, a Velocity company that is utilizing nanotechnology to build a roadside-style breathalyzer device capable of testing for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. SannTek, which emerged out of fourth-year University of Waterloo design project, is aiming to roll out a prototype by the end of this year.
Speaking of Velocity, four companies – SheLeads, Micromensio, Hodlbot and HITCH – emerged as winners of $25,000 each at the latest edition of the Velocity Fund Finals, held at the University of Waterloo. Velocity, by the way, has begun gearing up for its 10th anniversary on Sept. 28.
The University of Waterloo campus was a busy place in July, summer break or no. Terry Pender of The Record delivered a story about Larry Smith, a UW economist who is helping students identify big-time problems that can be solved with technology.
Joseph Emerson, an associate professor at UW’s Institute for Quantum Computing, is already headed down the road of solving big-time problems, as described in a piece by The Financial Post. Emerson, in addition to being affiliated with UW, is the CEO of Quantum Benchmark, a company working on software tools that address problems with quantum computing. A year ago, the company landed $1 million in funding from Vanedge Capital.
Another pair of University of Waterloo professors, Monica Emelko and Alexander Wong, are working on artificial intelligence designed to safeguard water supplies from toxins and bacteria. And a UW team led by engineering professor George Shaker is using AI and radar to devise a way for diabetics to monitor their blood sugar.
Finally, Plum, the maker of software that helps companies make better hiring decisions, has partnered with University of Waterloo to connect its students with employers that recruit from the university. Plum, which has raised $1.9 million to date, recently announced it has released a new version of its Ultraviolet product, which combines AI and psychology to reduce hiring bias.
Waterloo messaging app maker Kik, in the midst of a pivot toward a cryptocurrency ecosystem it calls Kin, announced a $3 million fund to be dispersed to developers who design apps that will allow users to earn and spend within the Kin environment.
Meantime, Kitchener’s RootSecure emerged as a new company after the $2-million sale of assets of RootCellar to Vancouver-based Uniserve.
And, on the topic of new entities, Waterloo educational software maker Maplesoft announced the creation of a spinoff called DigitalEd, the focus of which will be to teach STEM subjects online, aiming to tap what it believes to be a $1-billion market.
Coincidentally, tapping funds was the subject of a Banknotes column on Communitech News by the BDC’s Ryan McCartney. Tangentially related, Melanie Baker penned a thought-provoking M-Theory piece about the apparently illogical willingness of some investors to allow companies to make multiple trips to the funding well.
Movers and shakers
The Toronto Star generated smiles and doubletakes at The Tannery with its story of Dub J, the larger-than-life hip-hop artist and producer whose alter ego, Jonathon Pitman, quietly develops software and is working out the CarProof lab at Communitech.
Pitman wasn’t the only Communitech-affiliated personality profiled in the news. The Waterloo Record featured the binary life of Mandy Bujold, a Communitech business development specialist who is also an Olympic-level boxer.
Meanwhile Sam Pasupalak, ex of Maluuba, dropped by Communitech to talk about his transformation from co-founder and CEO of a company that exited to Microsoft for $200 million to that of world traveller and, soon, Master’s degree student at the London School of Economics.
And Communitech’s Anthony Reinhart reported on lessons learned by Carol Leaman en route to transforming Axonify into one of the region’s fastest growing companies. Axonify now has 165 employees and expects to end the year with US$20 million in annual recurring revenue.
Speaking of transformations, CEO of another of the region’s fast-growing companies, Kurtis McBride of Miovision, was front and centre in a story and video, the latter by Communitech videographer Sara Jalali, about the reinvention of Catalyst137 from a warehouse into a state-of-the-art makerspace anchored by McBride’s Miovision.
Miovision specializes in the IoT space, which happens to be a topic much on the mind these days of Digital Kitchener Innovation Lab director Karl Allen-Muncey, who sat down and chatted about the ways Kitchener has begun to harness the promise of IoT.
Making a splash
OpenText held its Enterprise World 2018 showcase in Toronto. Mark Barrenechea, the U.S. CEO of the company, explicitly described his intention to keep the company, which had 2017 revenues of US$2.3 billion and operates in 40 countries, headquartered in Waterloo, citing the importance of Canadian values.
In the same vein, former BlackBerry CFO and COO Dennis Kavelman, who is advising and mentoring fast-growing Kitchener companies Vidyard and Thalmic Labs in his role as general partner with venture capital firm iNovia, was singing the region’s praises in a Record article: “I am a big believer that Canada is ready, and has the right ingredients in place now to grow some more huge tech companies,” said Kavelman. “I think our region and our corridor are the heart of that.”
Velocity Director Jay Shah would nod in agreement with those words. Shah penned a rebuttal in the Globe and Mail to an op-ed piece that appeared in the same publication stating Canada’s innovation economy needs a reality check. In a letter to the editor, which he also posted to Twitter, Shah said: “It is troubling to see a suggestion that the startup support ecosystem encourages premature acquisitions. I’ve worked with partners across the Waterloo-Toronto Innovation Corridor in Ontario and I have not found this to be the case.”
Tech for good
Clearpath Robotics co-founder and CTO Ryan Gariepy was among high-profile signatories of 160 AI-related organizations from 36 countries who have pledged not to participate or support trade or manufacture in lethal autonomous weapons. “No nation will be safe, no matter how powerful,” Gariepy said.
In a similar vein, Project Ploughshares, the highly regarded Waterloo-based NGO that tracks arms sales and advances policies that reduce armed conflict, published a blog post citing the importance of events like True North, the Communitech-led conference held late last May with a ‘Tech for Good’ theme, as a way to advance ethical technology.
In other news
- BetaKit detailed a partnership involving Communitech and T-Hub, an incubator based in India, on an initiative called the Global Bridge program, designed to help Canadian startups crack Indian markets.
- Systematix Inc., maker of robotic assembly lines, now has 150 employees on its payroll, a 50 per cent increase in two years, and has moved into 90,000 square feet of expanded quarters at 815 Bridge St. W., double the size of its previous location.
- Fast-growing Waterloo forensic software firm Magnet Forensics acquired the software platform Tracks Inspector from Tracks Inspector B.V., which is based in The Hague, Netherlands.
- Waterloo’s 2G Robotics has had to postpone its planned involvement with a North Atlantic expedition to document the Titanic and its debris field. A lightning storm last April in the Bahamas damaged the electronics of the company’s five-person research submarine; the mission will now take place next year.
- Huron Digital Pathology, which makes scanners capable of digitizing microscopic images of tissue samples, has moved into custom-built digs in St. Jacobs, and now has 20 employees on staff.
Likewise, Mappedin, which makes digital maps for commercial clients, has moved from Kitchener to 13,000 square feet of space in Waterloo at 410 Albert Street. Mappedin now has 56 employees, an increase of 50 per cent within the previous 12 months.
– This edition of the Tech Roundup compiled by Craig Daniels
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.