An on-ramp, not an exit

As summer wound down, the news cycle ramped back up in September, with Bonfire Interactive announcing its merger with five other govtech startups to modernize the way public-sector agencies do business. In a US$108-million deal, Bonfire, housed in Kitchener’s Lang Tannery, joined GTY Technology Holdings, a new U.S.-based entity that plans to launch on the public markets early next year. Bonfire CEO Corry Flatt told Communitech News the merger will accelerate the company’s hiring in Waterloo Region, where it builds software that streamlines government tendering and procurement.

In other acquisition news, Coreworx was acquired by Vela Software Group for an undisclosed amount. Founded in Toronto in 2000 and moved to Waterloo Region in 2006, Coreworx makes software used to manage more than $1 trillion worth of large-scale energy projects in 40 countries.

Brain gain

Waterloo Region, long a source of top talent for Silicon Valley, turned the tide with its own acquisition of sorts in September, with news that University of Waterloo graduate Alan Cannistraro – ex of Apple and Facebook – will move his startup here from California. The move illustrates the trend of  “Off Silicon Valleying,” as identified in the Economist, that stems from the sheer expense of running a small company in the Bay Area, among other factors.

Another of those factors is immigration, specifically the tightening of U.S. regulations at a time when Canada is making it easier for skilled workers to land here. Vikram Rangnekar – an Indian citizen who moved to Toronto from California in 2016 after six years at LinkedIn amid uncertain immigration status – told Communitech News about his efforts to help other international workers in the U.S. make the move to Canada.

Scaling up

The issuing of three patents, combined with an anonymous but prominent marketing campaign for eyeglasses in Toronto, led journalists to conclude that holographic smart glasses are the secret product Waterloo Region’s Thalmic Labs is preparing to release. Thalmic was among many local scale-stage companies to make news in September.

From smart glasses to smart intersections, Miovision – the traffic-management company that anchors Kitchener’s sprawling, new Catalyst137 hub for Internet of Things technology – is starting to reap the rewards of 13 years of innovating, as the smart-cities movement gains global momentum.

Aeryon Labs, another Waterloo Region company with eyes even higher in the sky, saw one of its SkyRanger drones cleared for takeoff as an investigative tool for the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Back on the ground, OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath Robotics that builds autonomous vehicles for the factory floor, launched a self-driving forklift called OMEGA. Video here.

Microsoft Canada CTO Stephen Tanaka named Igloo Software a company to watch, for its rapid growth in the corporate intranet sector, which aligns closely with Microsoft’s goals.

Meanwhile, two scaling companies from Waterloo Region, Smile and TextNow, landed on the Canadian Business list of 500 fastest-growing companies, at numbers 117 and 149 respectively.

Startup spotlight

Cloudwifi, a Waterloo Region startup that provides low-cost, high-speed internet to apartment residents, took on a titan in the form of Bell Canada. It is appealing to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to prevent Bell from interfering with its use of Bell cables inside apartment buildings.

Fable Tech Labs, a Toronto-based SaaS company, came away the big winner at the Communitech Fierce Founders Finale, where women-led startups pitched for $100,000 in prize money. The company, which took $75,000 of the prize, helps businesses test the accessibility of their online products for people with disabilities. The second-place prize of $25,000 went to PolyGone Technologies, a startup working on a filtering solution to capture plastic microfibres from clothes-washing to keep them from polluting the environment and harming wildlife.

Speaking of Fierce Founders, Martha van Berkel, CEO of program alumni startup Schema App, was profiled by Women of Influence, an organization focused on the advancement of professional women. Incidentally, Schema App – whose software automates the code marketers put into websites to enable search engines to read and understand content – was among six companies named to the latest cohort of Communitech’s Rev program.

Startups that have chosen to build in Waterloo Region have made the best choice in the country, according to a ranking of top Canadian locations to launch a company, which ranked the area No. 1 out of 25.

Back to School

With classes back to full steam, the University of Waterloo made news on a number of fronts in September. One of its highest-profile alumni in the tech realm, Chamath Palihapitiya, returned to address the crowd at the fifth annual Hack the North event, where he urged student entrepreneurs to solve big, meaningful problems.

Many of those entrepreneurs launch their startup careers in UW’s Velocity program, which celebrated its 10th birthday in September. Also celebrated last month was the fact that UW had surpassed its targets for boosting the number of women enrolled in science and math programs, and working in faculty and senior leadership positions, though President Feridun Hamdullahpur acknowledged there is more progress to be made.

Elsewhere at UW, virtual reality will be deployed in a new training lab at the university’s School of Optometry while, also on the theme of vision, a team of UW engineering students has developed a system to help people with visual impairments use touchscreen devices.

UW has also been busy on the partnerships front. In a four-year, $400,000 arrangement between Manulife and the university’s Artificial Intelligence Institute, researchers will look at how AI can be deployed to predict disability claims, detect fraud and understand language used in customer service interactions.

On the topic of AI and predictive software, Plum – a Waterloo Region startup whose software helps managers zero in on top job candidates – has engaged UW to pilot its hiring platform for use in placing students in jobs with the 6,900 employers who recruit from the university each year.

Meanwhile, DarwinAI, a Waterloo-based artificial intelligence startup led by a team of UW researchers, emerged from stealth mode to announce US$3 million in seed investment.

At Wilfrid Laurier University, the Lazaridis Institute announced a new cohort for its Scale-Up Program, along with plans to introduce a second such program for scaling companies led by women. Additionally, the Lazaridis Institute is teaming up with market-data company Hockeystick to launch a new conference called DRIVE, focusing on scale-up companies.

Corporate Innovation

Corporate innovators from 11 large firms that work with Communitech toured the London, U.K. ecosystem in late September, gaining insights into how big companies can move more nimbly.

Back home at the Communitech Hub, the leader of the LCBO Next innovation lab, Danny Ho, told Communitech News how his team has helped Ontario’s publicly-owned liquor retailer save money and streamline processes.

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