Seeding the ecosystem

Forests thrive when the bigger trees drop seeds. As cybersecurity clusters go, the one in Waterloo Region continues to generate new growth, as evidenced by the launch of its latest entrant, Cavelo Inc., in early February. The data security startup is led by serial entrepreneur James Mignacca, who worked with larger local stalwarts eSentire and Sandvine before he launched Root Cellar Technologies and RootSecure Corp., the latter of which was acquired by Arctic Wolf Networks, a security unicorn with local roots, in 2019.

Cavelo joins a cluster we profiled in an in-depth feature last fall, one with roots that reach back to the pioneering work of a Second World War codebreaker who landed at the University of Waterloo.

Another cybersecurity company to make news in February was Magnet Forensics, a Waterloo-based, bootstrapped scale-up whose technology is used to retrieve digital evidence for investigations. Employees of the company, which turns 10 this year, launched a volunteer initiative called The Auxtera Project, in which they’ll donate Magnet software and forensic services to organizations that help vulnerable populations.

One good turn deserves another

On the topic of giving back, a Waterloo Region tech executive earned one of Canada’s top civilian honours for his work to help skilled refugees find meaningful employment. Omar Salaymeh of Bonfire Interactive, himself a former refugee, co-founded Jumpstart Refugee Talent in 2016. Roundup readers also might recall the story of how Bonfire hired Mohammed Hakmi, a Syrian refugee and software developer, in 2019.

Meanwhile, personal protective equipment (PPE) maker O2 Industries continued its years-long commitment to pitching in during crises. The company, formerly resident in the Communitech Hub, is donating 5,000 of its high-quality, reusable O2 Curve respirators to frontline workers across Canada as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The pandemic, incidentally, prompted the Ontario government to invest $2.5 million in a wearable contact-tracing device, called TraceSCAN, developed jointly by Toronto-based Facedrive and a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo. It was the second Facedrive-UW collaboration to make news in February, related to the pandemic. Facedrive also announced the launch of HiPanda, a platform that allows users to get help with mental health challenges through a web app, which it co-developed with UW’s Engineering Wellness Program.

We built this (future) city

As Canadians increasingly concentrate in urban areas, technology is playing an ever-larger role in meeting the associated challenges. Communitech has convened a new Future of Cities collaborative that includes partners from government, industry and academia, who will study the issues with an eye to helping Canadian cities prepare for what’s to come. In a related development, one of those partners, Rogers Communications, announced an expansion of its 5G network, which now reaches 170 communities across Canada. 

A number of Waterloo Region tech companies have already staked out ground in the smart-cities space, among them eleven-x, whose nationwide internet-of-things network helps cities monitor everything from water supply to parking spaces. In February, the company announced a partnership with Mistall, a parking monitoring provider, that will enable real-time tracking of parking-space status.

Another smart-cities firm with local connections is AirMatrix, which uses aerial mapping to build an air-traffic control infrastructure for drones operating in congested urban airspace. Alexandra McCalla, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, landed on the Globe and Mail Report on Business Magazine’s Changemakers list last month. On the same list was Alwar Pillai, CEO of Fable Tech Labs, a platform that helps businesses test whether their products work for people with disabilities. Both companies took part in Communitech’s Fierce Founders programming for women entrepreneurs, and won the related pitch competitions (Fable Tech in 2018 and AirMatrix the following year).

That programming has since evolved with the addition of Fierce Founders Uplift, a program whose first cohort of 10 companies was announced in February. Uplift offers funding and support to woman-identifying and/or non-binary entrepreneurs from under-represented groups. Successful applicants receive $10,000 in non-matching funds and one-on-one counsel from Communitech growth coaches.

From smarter cities to smarter grids, Tomas van Stee, founder and CEO of Waterloo Region-based EnPowered, penned an opinion piece for the National Post in the wake of last month’s deadly power outages in Texas, arguing that Canada’s grid also has vulnerabilities and needs a healthy dose of innovation.

And, slipping the surly bonds of Earth in February was some specialized technology from FiberTech Optica, a Waterloo Region company whose cables landed on Mars aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover.

In other news

This edition of the Roundup compiled by Anthony Reinhart.

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