The countdown to the May 29 opening of the three-day True North conference is now inside of two months, and some big speakers have been unveiled, none bigger than Kumail Nanjiani, star of the Emmy-nominated show Silicon Valley and Oscar-nominated co-writer and star of the recent hit movie, The Big Sick.
A couple of True North speakers were in the news last month, too, including entrepreneur and journalist Sarah Lacy, who was featured in Forbes, and Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva, who sat down with PCMag and talked about raising the “Emotional Quotient” of your laptop.
And speaking of True North, be sure to catch Waterloo mayor Dave Jaworsky and tech entrepreneur Liam Horne, who were featured in a pair of striking videos by Communitech News videographer Sara Jalali, part of a continuing series, as they explain why True North is written in ink in their respective calendars.
Issues surrounding True North’s theme – Tech for Good – were in no shortage in March. Start with the sensation generated by the news surrounding data usage by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, discussed here in a Communitech News column by Melanie Baker.
Then there’s the work being done locally by University of Waterloo English professor Marcel O’Gorman, who is exploring our ambivalent relationship with electronic devices at the Critical Media Lab, described in a View From the ‘Loo column by Communitech News’ Editorial Director Anthony Reinhart. Late in the month, O’Gorman followed up with a Globe and Mail opinion piece examining tech’s current moment of contrition.
Meanwhile, tech for good is very much on minds these days at Tulip Retail. In February, we told you how CEO Ali Asaria was pledging his Tulip shares to charity. The company has since launched an initiative called Bridge, a free, 11-week program for women, agender and non-binary people who are interested in building technical and software skills.
Yet another tech-for-good themed story appeared under The Waterloo Region Record’s banner. Dana Fox, who several months ago started The Institute for Smarter Government based at the Communitech Data Hub, talked about mining data to solve the opioid crisis.
As preparations for True North continued, so too did the starting of companies, nurturing of ideas and forming of partnerships. Velocity startup Labforge announced it had received $1 million from the Build in Canada Innovation Program (BCIP) thanks to the interest of the Royal Canadian Air Force in test-driving Labforge’s AI-driven solution for perimeter security.
Velocity companies, meanwhile, appeared on more than the RCAF’s radar. Four startups walked away with $25,000 cheques at University of Waterloo’s 21st Velocity Fund Finals, including SannTek, Fuzzbuzz, Bibu Labs and A-Line Orthopaedics.
There was a big cheque being cashed over at Waterloo-based cleantech company Accelerated Systems, which received $800,000 from FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Business Innovation initiative.
And nearly $100,000 was being logged as a receivable over at Aeryon Labs, on the strength of a decision by the Waterloo Regional Police Service to buy one of its drones for use mostly in the investigation of crash scenes.
But the biggest cheque of them all belongs to BlackBerry CEO John Chen, who was rewarded with a $128-million contract over five years to continue guiding the company’s resurgence, detailed in a Communitech News story that coincided with the launch of secure software products from the former smartphone maker.
BlackBerry was in the news on other fronts: Chen told The Waterloo Region Record that he believes it will now be 2025 before autonomous vehicles – many of which are loaded with BlackBerry software – reach the streets of North America in earnest.
And in a story that appeared in Inc., Chen described his secret sauce when it comes to leadership, words that would play well at True North: “Transparency is very important, and I think fairness is very important,” he said. “If you could be transparent and could be fair … people will follow you.”
Leadership was very much on the minds of a trio of diplomats – including the European Union’s ambassador to Canada, Peteris Ustubs; the Canadian Ambassador to the EU, Dan Costello; and the Canadian Ambassador to Italy, Alexandra Bugailiskis – who jointly paid a visit to Waterloo Region mid-month and stopped by Communitech to talk about efforts to generate trans-Atlantic trade with the implementation of CETA, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
A quintet of female leaders, meanwhile, took to the stage on International Women’s Day at Waterloo’s CIGI, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, and talked about the growing female influence in the technology sector.
That influence has been hard won, something Plum CEO Caitlin MacGregor reminded a Communitech audience in March at one of an ongoing series of talks called Pizza with the Prez.
Late in March, Cupertino, Calif.-based technology giant Apple launched a beta version of a new platform called Apple Business Chat and named Waterloo’s InTheChat as one of the customer service platforms supporting the rollout. InTheChat will enable companies like TD Ameritrade and Newegg to offer their customers a way to communicate with them via the Messages app on the iOS operating system.
Waterloo Region’s tech scene is drawing interest from China, as well as Silicon Valley. Two Chinese institutions have signed a research partnership with University of Waterloo aimed at advancing research into connected and autonomous vehicles. The partners will provide a total of $1 million per year for five years as part of the deal.
Still with the University of Waterloo, its students have long been noted for sparking up technology companies, so perhaps it’s not surprising that a new study described in TechVibes states that a higher percentage of students from Canada started companies within four years of beginning a Bachelor of Science program than anywhere else in the world.
Keeping Waterloo companies stacked with the necessary talent, however, will require an ongoing effort to enhance the region’s attractiveness on a number of fronts, Vidyard CEO Michael Litt wrote in the Globe and Mail.
- SkyWatch, a Communitech Data Hub-based company that’s working on making satellite data accessible worldwide, won the Audience Choice Award at Google’s Demo Day in San Francisco in late March while representing Communitech in a pitch competition against 10 other companies.
- Ted Livingston, CEO of Waterloo-based Kik, penned an explainer piece in Betakit about what he believes to be the transformative power of Bitcoin.
- Waterloo’s HockeyTech, maker of digital tools for hockey leagues, announced the acquisition of Halifax maker of mobile platforms Buzzer Apps.
- Kitchener’s Alert Labs, maker of home and office products that monitor water use, has moved into a new 7,500-square-foot facility in the former Schlichter Automotive garage site at 132 Queen St. S., and is already looking for more room.
- ApplyBoard, whose platform helps international students land coveted spots in post-secondary institutions, also moved into larger offices at 30 Duke St. W. in Kitchener, to accommodate up to 80 employees by year’s end.
- Plasticity Labs, based out of Communitech, is awaiting confirmation from Guinness World Records that it has set a milestone for the largest gratitude wall made from Post-it notes in the wake of an event that invited the community to express their happiness. The final number was 6,115 Post-it notes pasted to the wall in eight hours. The previous record is believed to be 2,500.
– This edition of The Tech Roundup compiled by Craig Daniels and Anthony Reinhart
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.