Tech Roundup for August 2021

Written by: Kevin Crowley | 05 September 2021 | Monthly tech roundup, News

( Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart )

On fire

Tech companies in Waterloo Region burned up the track in the second quarter, setting a Q2 record with a collective CDN$749.7 million in venture funding raised.

According to a report from Hockeystick and [b], the pace was set by two supercharged deals – Applyboard’s CDN$375M Series D round (the biggest ever single raise in Waterloo Region) and Faire’s CDN$314M Series F raise. 

Other notables include Magnet Forensics’ CDN$100-million IPO, a CDN$10-million raise by the Archangel Network of Funds, and two private equity deals – a CDN$313-million investment in Axonify and a CDN$60-million raise by Dejero.

The University of Waterloo’s Velocity program also took a victory lap in August. The startup centre announced that companies with current or past ties to the program have collectively raised more than US$2.4 billion in investment since Velocity launched in 2008.

Meanwhile, autonomous-transport startup Gatik keeps on trucking. The company, a recent grad of the AVIN Waterloo Ventures at Communitech program, announced a US$85-million Series B raise led by the investment arm of Koch Industries. 

Water and energy conservation startup RainStick is making a splash with investors, announcing CDN$1 million in seed funding. CEO Alisha McFetridge, who won Communitech’s 2020 Fierce Founders Pitch Competition, says the money will help the company bring its water-saving high-flow shower system to market.

Brave new work world

It’s pretty cool to create a new tech solution. Sometimes it’s just as cool to spot an opportunity to apply an existing solution to a new challenge.

As a growing chorus of businesses and institutions – including Communitech – announced mandatory vaccination policies late in the month, edtech unicorn ApplyBoard unveiled a new proof-of-vaccination tool that governments could quickly deploy as part of a vaccine passport system. The tool is based on ApplyBoard’s existing technology, called ApplyProof, which universities and students already use to securely share documents. Why reinvent the wheel, right?

Then again, sometimes the wheel needs reinventing. Or at least tweaking. As workplace wellness expert Jennifer Moss told Tech News, the traditional workplace is having its “Uber moment.”

COVID-19 has disrupted the very nature of work – the how, when and where, not to mention a whole new set of expectations around work-life balance. Throw in the fourth wave, and employers and employees are pulling their hair out trying to come up with some form of return-to-workplace certainty.

Communitech is helping founders and tech leaders navigate these choppy waters with a handy return-to-work playbook. Developed by the Communitech-led Future of Work and Learning Coalition, the online content outlines what to consider, and in what order. It’s full of resources to help you create your own new normal.

M-Theory columnist Melanie Baker takes her own look at workplace change, urging readers to learn from the pandemic experience and seek out ways to improve work culture. She also riffs on “work jerks,” and urges employers to hire folks who make the work environment a better place for all.

Talent, talent, talent

The fierce competition for tech talent has spiked even higher during the pandemic as a flood of investment into Canadian technology companies has combined with the transformative impact of remote work. The Financial Post spoke to Communitech CEO Chris Albinson, who said the shortage of talent is the “number one, number two issue, and number three issue” for founders.

Like Albinson, Tulip CEO Ali Asaria said he has never seen a hotter market for talent. The intense competition has prompted the retail-service platform to go above and beyond to look for innovative ways to attract and retain top-quality staff – including a shortened work week. As Asaria told Tech News, early results have been promising – a refreshed workforce and increased productivity.

As Canadian tech companies deal with the talent challenge, many are also struggling with supply chain disruptions linked to the pandemic. Voltera, a Kitchener-based maker of circuit-board printers, and Sera4, Waterloo-based keyless-lock business, shared their stories in a Canadian Press article.

Investing in innovation 

Ottawa announced a $10-million investment to establish a health-tech innovation hub in Southwestern Ontario. The funding, which flows through the Federal Economic Development (FedDev) program, will support a new partnership involving the University of Waterloo, Western University, the City of Kitchener and the Kitchener-based Medical Innovation Xchange.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo are collaborating with Bruce Power, the federal government and a UW spin-off company called Palitronica to enhance cybersecurity for Canada’s energy infrastructure. The feds are contributing $407,000 to the project; the university and Bruce Power are kicking in their own funds, bringing the total investment to more than $830,000. Palitronica, which was launched in 2019 but exited stealth mode just two months ago, will provide hardware sensors to enable the technology development.

Waterloo-based BlackBerry has pivoted significantly since its smartphone heyday. Today, it’s making headlines for automobile technology. The company’s QNX software already tracks real-time data for things like Google maps, GPS navigation and infotainment systems. Now it’s collaborating with a number of partners on BlackBerry Ivy, a cloud-based system that will play a role in self-driving technology and may even pay for things like fuel, parking, tolls and maintenance from your vehicle’s digital wallet.

Tech for Good

Veteran tech founder and community builder Jim Estill is at it again. The Guelph entrepreneur is spearheading an effort to bring 50 families from war-torn Afghanistan to settle in the Royal City. Estill led a similar effort five years ago to support 50 Syrian families.

A new startup incubator to support Black entrepreneurs is set to receive its first cohort in early 2022. Called LiftOff, the incubator will be located in the University of Waterloo's Velocity space, adjacent to Communitech in downtown Kitchener. LiftOff is a collaboration involving UW, the Caribbean Canadian Association of Waterloo Region, the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre, Conestoga College and Wilfrid Laurier University, with financial support from the federal government.

Tech About Town columnist Alex Kinsella brings us a trio of stories about the role of tech in building community. In the first, he tells us about the great work of Carizon Family and Community Services, which received funds from Communitech’s “This, Too, Will Pass” campaign in 2020.

Kinsella also shares the story of Waterloo Region musician Jay Leonard and his efforts to connect venues, musicians and audiences through a mobile app called Social Kindred.

And finally, he tells us about SHAD Canada’s successful 2021 summer program, which brought more than 1,000 Grade 10 and 11 students from across Canada together online to complete their final tech and entrepreneurship projects.

In other news

  • Esteban Veintimilla, co-founder of edtech startup 1Mentor, has been chosen to participate in Google’s North American Sales Academy program in September.
  • Two recent University of Waterloo engineering graduates earned two runner-up spots for Canada in the 2021 James Dyson Award competition for designing a non-toxic alternative to traditional flame-retardant materials.
  • The COVID-19 rapid screening program developed by Communitech in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo and Cambridge Chambers of Commerce continues to help other communities set up similar programs. The latest kudos come from the North Bay and District Chamber of Commerce.
  • Jay Krishnan, the new CEO of the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, has unveiled a new strategic plan that expands the centre’s virtual programming, extends it to startups across Canada, and enhances the organization’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

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Kevin Crowley

Staff Writer, Communitech
Kevin Crowley is a Staff Writer for Communitech News. He is a Michener-Award-winning former newspaper journalist with the Waterloo Region Record, and former Director of Communications and Public Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont.