Cleaning up

Guelph-based Friendlier landed $2.3 million in venture capital to help grow its “reuse” services, which aim to reduce single-use packaging by providing reusable plastic containers to the food industry.

The two investors were Waterloo-based Garage Capital and Relay Ventures of Toronto.

Friendlier was started in 2019 by University of Waterloo grads Kayli Dale and Jacquie Hutchings. They participated in Communitech’s Fierce Founders support program and were named to Forbes magazine’s 2023 30 Under 30 listing for social impact.

Aiming high

SkyWatch Space Applications landed a CDN$1.2-million contract with the Canadian Space Agency that could open up a huge new market for the Kitchener-based company.

The contract leverages SkyWatch’s data-management expertise to create new AI-supported software to help the space agency manage the vast amounts of images and data it now gathers from numerous satellites.

“The future of Earth observation is autonomous,” SkyWatch co-founder and CEO James Slifierz told Tech News. “We believe that the entire industry will shift over the next decade from having satellite mission operations managed by humans to being largely autonomous and run by software.”

Translating innovation

Cambridge-based telecom Fibernetics launched a new unified communications platform that promises real-time language translation.

The new system – called Nucleus – is being offered free to Canadian businesses, according to founders John Stix and Jody Schnarr, who held an announcement event in the company’s headquarters in the historic Galt area of Cambridge.

“With voice-to-voice real-time translation, we are leveraging AI to break down existing social, economic, interpersonal and geographical barriers,” said Stix. “You can select an available language for your video call and Nucleus AI will translate in real time.”

Fact and fiction

BlackBerry, a feature film about the once-mighty Waterloo-based smartphone maker, is garnering loads of headlines – and some heated discussion – over its blend of fact and fiction.

Tech News asked Kitchener author Chuck Howitt, who wrote a well-received book called BlackBerry Town, to check out the new film, which is based on another book called Losing the Signal by Canadian journalists Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.

Howitt’s take: the film is entertaining but it takes plenty of liberties with the facts and “should be taken with a huge grain of salt.”

Meanwhile, some former BlackBerry executives are grumbling – with good reason – that viewers of the film who don’t know the real story behind the hugely innovative company may walk away believing what they’ve seen on the big screen.

“The problem with a fictionalization is that, without context, an audience has no way to figure out where the line between fact and fiction lies,” former BlackBerry CFO and COO Dennis Kavelman wrote in the National Post.

Health-care innovation

The Communitech-led Fast Track Health collaborative put out a call for innovative Canadian tech companies to help solve the biggest challenges facing the country’s health-care system.

Startups, scale-ups and at-scale companies were invited to propose innovative solutions to a set of health-care challenges. Communitech received 99 submissions from 54 companies by the May 31 deadline.

The most promising solutions will be considered for pilot or procurement opportunities with health-care organizations nationwide.

In addition to the four Fast Track Health challenges, Pfizer Canada is working with Communitech on a call for solutions to five other challenges involving vaccination tracking, drug shortage planning, patient drug coverage and access, women’s health and oncology diagnostics.

Clubbing it

Communitech President and CEO Chris Albinson was a panelist for a recent lunch-hour discussion at the prestigious Canada Club of Toronto. 

Albinson joined fellow panelist Rasha Katabi, CEO and founder of Brim Financial (a member of Communitech’s Team True North), and moderator Konata Lake to talk about the state of the Canadian technology industry, with a focus on Canada as a destination for international tech workers and entrepreneurs.

Check out the video recording of the discussion.

Talent rollercoaster

A panel of Waterloo Region tech folks took the stage at Catalyst Commons to talk about the state of tech talent.

The discussion, hosted by The Logic news site, addressed the rollercoaster ride that employees and employers have experienced over the past few years. After a red-hot market for tech talent, the industry is now struggling with a number of contradictory trends: mass layoffs here, steady hiring there and highly skilled roles that can’t be filled.

Check out the Tech News story to learn what the panel had to say.

Map-tech champs

A team from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo won an international competition for advancing sea ice mapping.

The UW team included professors, researchers and graduate students in a remote sensing research group that is a subgroup of the larger Vision and Image Processing (VIP) Lab.

The AutoICE competition challenged teams to build machine-learning models to enable automated mapping using satellite data. The Waterloo team developed an artificial intelligence model based on a multi-task deep convolutional neural network.

Tech for good

Tech About Town columnist Alex Kinsella tells us about a unique hackathon to support Grand River Hospital’s $258-million Care Never Stops fundraising campaign. The University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator hosted the Health Innovation Challenge, which brought together talented problem-solvers from the university and staff from the Kitchener hospital to develop solutions to pressing health-care problems.

Kinsella also shares the story of local tech worker Lara Johnson whose work at transit-tech SaaS company Rideco helped her better understand a family member's transportation struggles.

Fellow Communitech columnist Melanie Baker tells us how employee complaints can be a sign of engagement and a gift to employers who are open to improving workplace operations. In another piece, Baker explores ways to interpret staff turnover.

Other news

This edition of the Roundup compiled by Kevin Crowley.

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