Special Report: The Talent War
For tech companies with global ambitions, there is no topic hotter than talent – how to attract it, keep it and grow it. Graduates from the University of Waterloo, a school long known for producing smart, job-ready engineers, are in especially high demand in Silicon Valley, whose tech giants recruit aggressively and pay handsomely. Canadian companies are left with a stark choice: Step up and compete or risk losing out on the best candidates. While much has been written about the “brain drain” of Canadian tech talent to the U.S., we’ve seldom heard directly from graduates about how they weigh their decisions to leave or stay. With that in mind, Craig Daniels of Communitech News produced this special report in which he spoke with several UW grads, along with some tech employers, to gather their perspectives on the talent war.
Women out front
March being the month of International Women’s Day (March 8), Waterloo Region saw several events that explored the issues, challenges and opportunities facing women, including in the tech community, where gender imbalance has been especially pronounced. At a Women in Tech Power Panel at Communitech, a crowd of women post-secondary students were encouraged to challenge themselves and embrace discomfort.
Doing its part to confront the gender gap in tech, the Lazaridis Institute at Wilfrid Laurier University selected 10 women-led companies to fill the fourth cohort of its program for scaling companies, BetaKit reported.
In an IWD blog post, OpenText CEO Mark Barrenechea laid out various initiatives the Waterloo-based enterprise software giant is undertaking to address the gender imbalance within its ranks; 30 per cent of the company’s global workforce are women, while the number at its Waterloo headquarters is 48 per cent.
Meanwhile, the women who lead two fast-growing local companies in construction tech – Bridgit and DOZR – talked about their recent investment rounds and approaches to leadership in this video produced by Communitech’s Sara Jalali.
And, later in the month, eight women touted their companies at the standing-room-only Fierce Founders Pitch Competition, but only one – Alexandra McCalla of AirMatrix in Toronto – took home the $100,000 prize.
Fuel for growth
On the topic of investment rounds, Bridgit (CDN$7.75 million) and DOZR (CDN $14 million) weren’t alone in raising new funds to grow their operations. Early in the month, high-growth cybersecurity firm eSentire announced a US$47-million round and that it will move its 300 local employees from Cambridge to Waterloo in the coming months.
Avidbots, Kitchener-based maker of the Neo floor-cleaning robot, is set to add to its 130-member team after raising a US$23.6-million Series B round, bringing its total investment to US$36 million. The Neo uses artificial intelligence to learn the layout of new environments and avoid obstacles.
Money will soon be moving across Africa in an entirely mobile way, as Hong Kong-based Be Financial Group launches Be Bank, an all-mobile digital banking service. Led by Cédric Jeannot, who previously founded cyber security company APrivacy in Waterloo, Be Financial Group has built a set of secure digital tools to allow organizations to launch their own digital banks and financial services.
And, for the first time since its 2011 inception, the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Fund Finals saw winning companies compete for direct equity investments of $50,000 each, rather than the $25,000 grants awarded in previous competitions. Jay Shah, Director of the highly successful Velocity incubator program, told Communitech News that the new funding model reflects the steadily rising calibre of Velocity startups.
On the move
One of Velocity’s early graduates – Kik Interactive – was also one of its biggest benefactors, when founder Ted Livingston launched the previous Velocity Venture Fund with a $1-million donation at age 23. These days, Kik and its 80 local employees are settling into their new home at Kitchener’s Catalyst137 complex, having moved from their longtime Waterloo headquarters, the Waterloo Region Record reports.
Another Velocity alumnus, the wearables scale-up company North (formerly Thalmic Labs), was the focus of a long-form, first-person featureby the Record’s Terry Pender, who described the experience of wearing Focals, the new smart glasses that North launched earlier this year. The company, which recently trimmed its Waterloo Region workforce, continued a road trip to tout Focals and fit prospective customers with the fashion-forward device.
Speaking of road trips, Waterloo-based ESCRYPT was tapped by Transport Canada to develop a security credential management system for connected vehicles, to ensure safety and protect the privacy of communication between sensor-equipped vehicles and smart-city infrastructure.
A startup based at Communitech, meanwhile, is looking to put electric scooters under the feet of urban commuters, the Waterloo Region Record reported. Zip Dockless founder Luke Mydlarz is hoping for regulatory changes to allow the scooters to operate in more locations than are currently allowed.
And, as reported by BetaKit, Waterloo Region smart-cities tech company Miovision led formation of the Open City Network, which aims to develop best practices around data governance and technology in smart cities.
The play’s the thing
At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, Google CEO Sundar Pichai caught the attention of the gaming world when he unveiled Google Stadia, the company’s cloud-based gaming platform. What much of the world didn’t hear, but that Canadian tech site MobileSyrup reported, was that Stadia was developed in Waterloo Region at Google’s Kitchener engineering office.
From gaming to gambling, March also brought news of a company operating out of the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo, called SmartLines. The startup is taking on the online wagering space with an algorithm that sifts through betting opportunities in search of the biggest payout with the lowest risk.
In other news
- Jim Estill, a tech veteran, investor, mentor and philanthropist, received the Order of Canada for his generosity in sponsoring the resettlement of 61 families of Syrian refugees.
- Metrolinx, the Ontario agency that manages commuter transit in and around the Greater Toronto Area, sent executives to Kitchener to assure residents that two-way, all-day GO train service between Kitchener and Toronto is on the way.
- Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, visited Communitech to underscore the federal government’s determination to help businesses sell into foreign markets.
- NATO chose BlackBerry to secure its voice communications against attacks by cyber criminals and espionage agents.
- Waterloo-based Aexos, which makes tech-embedded sports wearables, shipped its first “smart shirts” that protect athletes against whiplash-induced concussions.
Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto. This article originally appeared on their site.