Seeing is believing

After a long wait, Waterloo Region scaleup Thalmic Labs stopped the presses late in October, when it took the wraps off its groundbreaking new smart glasses product, Focals, and opened showrooms in Toronto and New York. As if that wasn’t enough, the company also rebranded from Thalmic to North Inc.

It was a big day and a big bet for the company – previously known for its Myo gesture-control armband – which two years ago raised US$120 million to fund its pivot to Focals and establish a local manufacturing centre.

Focals aims to succeed where Google Glass failed. Communitech caught up with North CTO Aaron Grant on the day of the launch, who explained the thinking behind the company’s decision and why it’s convinced Focals will be a winner.

As big as North’s announcement was, there was no denying the impact of another October rollout: the arrival of legal marijuana across Canada on the 17th. Communitech News posted a story and video that day about Grobo, a startup that builds automated home-growing devices.

But Grobo isn’t the only local tech company aiming to harvest success with the arrival of legal weed, as CBC described in this story.

Less earthly pursuits, meanwhile, were on the minds of more than 200 local participants at the NASA Space Apps hackathon, the Waterloo Region version of which was sponsored by Waterloo startup SkyWatch. Leading up to the event, Communitech News described how SkyWatch’s participation in the same event in 2014 led to the creation of the company – and a cool product that CEO James Slifierz likes to call the “Twitter of the Universe.” The local Space Apps hackathon, by the way, had the largest turnout of all those held across Canada.

Speaking of space, it’s fair to suggest that University of Waterloo was over the moon with the unfolding of a number big events in October.

First there was the news that associate professor Donna Strickland had won the Nobel Prize in Physics for her groundbreaking work with lasers. In so doing, Strickland became the university’s first Nobel laureate and just the third woman in history to win the prize. Later in the month, Strickland was made a full professor by the university.

Next, UW celebrated the official opening of its newest building, Engineering 7, and a decision by electrical engineering graduate Chamath Palihapitiya to donate $25 million to help fund it. Palihapitiya, who grew up in Ottawa, is part-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors and co-founder and CEO of Social Capital, a Silicon Valley equity firm; he was featured in Communitech News story in September when he was in town to help open Hack the North.

Still with UW’s Engineering 7, Terry Pender of the Record described the cutting edge robotics work that the new building now houses.

And cutting edge was certainly the story behind the University of Waterloo receiving $800,000 to help it set up a new virtual reality optometry training lab, the first in Canada.

Tech activity at the University of Waterloo was top of mind for MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy, who paid a visit to Waterloo Region in his capacity of Ontario’s President of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Bethlenfalvy, who controls all provincial government spending, toured UW’s Velocity startup incubator at the Tannery, as well as Communitech, meeting with several startup CEOs and getting a front-row look at the work being done in the region and the value it brings to the province’s economy.

The doctors are in

Medical technology firms and stakeholders gathered for a conference where one of the topics was Canadian Medtech: What’s Holding us Back. The leadoff speaker was Armen Bakirtzian, CEO of Waterloo startup Intellijoint Surgical, who spoke to Communitech News leading up to the event and described the roadblocks associated with homegrown firms gaining sales traction in Canada versus less-regulated markets like the U.S.

At the same event, Murray Gamble, President of the C3 Group of Companies, called for the establishment of a local medtech-specific accelerator in a story published by the Waterloo Region Record.

And the Financial Post weighed in on navigating a move into markets in Mexico and South America, letting David Coode, CEO of Waterloo’s Sera4, tell the tale of his company’s daunting experience. Sera4 is a hardware and software firm that specializes in keyless access control.

Daunting might describe the challenges faced by Magnet Forensics CEO Jad Saliba in his quest to help police forces worldwide solve vexing investigative problems. “When we’re recovering evidence and they’re using our software, if there’s a bug, it doesn’t mean, like, ‘Oh, I can’t print something right now,’” Saliba told a lunchtime audience at Communitech, part of the Pizza with the Prez series. “It means that potentially we didn’t find the evidence that put someone in jail, or didn’t find the evidence that could exonerate an innocent person.”

Talent tales

Bonfire, which was acquired for US$108 million in September, was back in the news, this time in a CBC story about successful hires the company has made from around the world with the help of international non-profit Talent without Borders.

SSIMWAVE, meanwhile, was on the talent hunt, announcing it had recruited onetime Communitech CFO Lois Norris to be its Chief Financial Officer. The company, by the way, has moved offices, from its former Columbia Street location in Waterloo to TextNow’s former space at 375 Hagey Blvd., in order to accommodate growth; the new space is three times the size of the old.

And efforts by Bridgit co-founders Mallorie Brodie and Lauren Lake to take on the problem of talent were featured by Terry Pender in the Record, highlighting a recent event the pair hosted called Getting into Tech, aimed at enticing non-tech workers to consider a technology career.

Finally, some interesting numbers about talent in a study by the job site Indeed, which found that the number of searches from India for jobs in Canada rose six-to-13 per cent between 2016 and 2018, versus a drop of 50-to-60 per cent for jobs in the U.S. during the same period.

Tie-ups and tallying up

Kitchener-based Alert Labs rolled out a new product and at the same time announced it had been acquired by a sizable, Florida-based, heating and air conditioning company called Watsco, Inc.

Two other Waterloo Region companies, meanwhile, did some acquiring of their own: Auvik Networks, provider of network management software, bought Barcelona-based Talaia, maker of network traffic analytics technology, and Cambridge-based eSentire announced it had acquired Seattle-based Versive Inc., a company that specializes in an AI-based cybersecurity product.

As the ink was drying on those agreements, Dozr was doing some wheeling and dealing of a different kind, placing second in a pitch competition held at the Yale School of Management and winning US$1 million in the process.

As sweet as a cool million is, much bigger money was flowing to VueReal, a Waterloo-based maker of micro LED technology. VueReal received $8.5 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada for a nanotechnology fabrication facility.

And VueReal’s figure was eclipsed by Arctic Wolf Networks, headquartered in Sunnyvale, Ca.. The security company, which maintains a Waterloo engineering office, announced a US$45-million Series C round, and will use the cash to accelerate growth.

In other news

– this edition of the Roundup compiled by Craig Daniels

Communitech is a partner of Startup HERE Toronto.  This article originally appeared on their site.