Minister on tour

Just days before the Labour Day weekend closed out the summer, Ontario’s new Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Jim Wilson, paid his first visit to Waterloo Region and came away impressed by the tech-fuelled growth and innovation he encountered, describing the experience in an interview with Communitech News as “overwhelming.”

Wilson met with several company leaders, made stops at Waterloo’s Magnet Forensics and Kitchener’s Thalmic Labs, toured Communitech and Velocity, and said the rest of the province and the government have much to learn from the activity taking place in the region.

There was some learning taking place by teams and riders involved in the Tour de France cycling event earlier this summer, as technology and expertise provided by Waterloo’s Dejero helped power cyclist British rider Geraint Thomas and Team Sky to victory. Dejero’s technology, installed in the team’s chase vehicles, delivered improved remote Internet connectivity and communication during the three weeks of the race. The result was that the team enjoyed better situational awareness and had access to near-real-time news and video feeds, allowing a level of tactical response during the event that previously had been unattainable. The payoff has been a recent spike in demand for Dejero’s products and services.

A spike in demand is the ongoing story at Encircle, the Kitchener firm that has developed a mobile app which speeds up the processing of insurance claims. As Terry Pender explained recently in The Waterloo Record, climate change and extreme weather events are generating more insurance claims, and that has meant more use of Encircle’s product, pushing annual growth north of 100 per cent.

Growth is the watchword at Cambridge robotics and automation firm TriTed Innovation. The company now has 30 employees, doubling its complement in the past year, and is looking to move to a larger facility to accommodate a burgeoning order book.

A similar story is underway at Nicoya Lifesciences, which recently launched the second version of a desktop device that measures interactions among proteins, spurring medical research. The Kitchener company, which employs 30, raised $2 million late last January.

And speaking of companies that are spurring medical research, Huron Digital Pathology, based out of St. Jacobs, has embarked on a partnership with the University of Waterloo and the Grand River Hospital to create a medical image search engine fuelled by Artificial Intelligence. The database will give medical personnel a powerful tool to speed research and diagnosis.

Boots on the ground

The latest cohort of the Fierce Founders Bootcamp – a six-day, two-part growth program for early stage, female-led companies – was announced last month. The 25 participating companies, which met Aug. 7-9, will be back in early September for the program’s second session, with the best eight taking part in a pitch competition, slated for Sept. 6 with $100,000 up for grabs.

Still with Fierce Founders, BridesMade co-founders Mallory McKewen and Victoria Vandenberg were the subjects of a recent We Built This video by Communitech News, where they talked about their entrepreneurial journey. BridesMade was a finalist at an earlier edition of the Fierce Founders Bootcamp and a graduate of the first cohort of the Fierce Founders Accelerator.

And another former Fierce Founders alumnus, Toronto-based Pressed News, is rolling out a new podcast to augment its daily email roundup of current events.

Fact-based news is the prime mission of Ground, the Velocity-based company and news app which is potentially in line for some pitch-related prize money. The company has earned a spot as a finalist for the WeWork Creator Awards, with semifinals set for Sept. 13 in Nashville, Tenn. Ground will pitch for prizes that range from US$18,000 to US$360,000.

Rewards for good work in the tech sphere aren’t only monetary in nature. Software developer Stephanie Wilson, who works at Google’s Kitchener engineering facility, had the pleasure of watching the effort she put in with Google Home software team directly benefit her parents. Wilson installed a Google Home voice-activated speaker device in her parents’ Toronto home, giving her father, who is confined to a wheelchair due to Parkinson’s, increased autonomy and quality of life. The Record quoted her telling her parents: “Now you can actually use a product that I work on.”

Strictly business

Descartes Systems Group, the Waterloo-based logistics software and services company, bought Toronto-based PinPoint GPS Solutions for $15million. PinPoint provides real-time tracking of truck fleets and mobile workers.

Meanwhile, in August reported that Bungalow, a Silicon Valley startup that connects people looking for long-term accommodation with available rooms in houses, raised a total of US$64 million, including a US$14 -million Series A and a US$50 million debt facility. Bungalow maintains a five-person (and soon to be seven) Kitchener engineering office which is housed within Terminal’s King Street offices and it’s expected that the money will have a positive impact on the company’s operation here. “The new money raised [by Bungalow] is going to create Canadian jobs,” Nabil Fahel, Terminal’s Head of Partnerships, told Communitech News.

Yahoo Finance recently turned the spotlight on a 138-year-old insurance company called Trillium Mutual and its efforts at “intrapreneurship,” or innovation from within. The story credits Communitech with helping Trillium  personnel learn the intrapreneurship ropes.

Waterloo Region’s goals of civic intrapreneurship got a boost last month in the form of a $5-million low-interest loan and a $750,000 grant from the federal government, money that will go toward renewable energy technology projects at three local wastewater treatment plants. The cogeneration project is slated for completion by 2020.

Civic minded

Speaking of local government, municipal elections loom in the fall, and a group of local tech employees calling themselves CivicTechWR have pulled together a website designed to generate voter engagement, answer questions and serve as an election information portal. CivicTechWR was started by Kristina Taylor, a product manager at TextNow. “Municipal politics affects your life far more than any other level of government,” Taylor was quoted as saying in The Record.

The tech community’s impact on the region’s cities continues to be felt at street level, too. With office space for burgeoning startups in demand, two local developers have purchased the oldest building in Kitchener, The American Hotel at King and Queen streets, aiming to repurpose it as brick-and-beam office space.

In other news

    • Betakit reports that 40 developers from a worldwide pool of 200 have been accepted into the initial Kin Developer Program, which provides financial incentives of up to $115,000 to produce apps for Kik’s Kin cryptocurrency ecosystem. The Waterloo-based company, previously known for its popular Kik messaging app, is in the process of a pivot toward a blockchain-based currency.

    • Forbes last month shone the spotlight on the value of peer networks, which have long been central to the Waterloo Region tech communityas seen through the eyes of Lisa Cashmore, Director of Network Operations and International Strategy for CDMN, or the Canadian Digital Media Network.

    • StartupHereToronto featured several Waterloo Region companies and personalities on its website in August, including MappedInSkyWatchVidyard and Carol Leaman of Axonify,

    • Interac, the payment processing company, was the subject of a feature in, where it talked about it digital transformation. Interac opened a corporate innovation lab at Communitech earlier this summer.

    • In the spirit of bridging the tech and arts communities, Communitech has launched a gallery wall at the Hub, and has invited Waterloo Region artists to submit pieces of work for display and sale.

– This edition of the Tech Roundup compiled by Craig Daniels

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