Public and private investment continues to pour into Canada’s tech sector like water over Niagara Falls. 

The cascade of venture capital alone continues to break records. Just days before the June 30 end of Q2, Canadian companies had already raised more than $3.79 billion in venture capital – eclipsing the previous quarterly record of $3.2 billion set in Q1 of this year, according to a report in the Globe and Mail (Globe subscription required).

The Waterloo Region tech community hit its own high-water mark with a combined $1.1 billion in public and private investment in a recent 30-day stretch – the ecosystem’s richest four-week run ever. To put this in context, that’s more than half of the $2 billion raised over the entire decade between 2010 and 2020 (venture capital only).

“Awesome, incredible, unbelievable – all of these (words) seem too understated to describe the current moment in tech in my books,” Communitech CEO and President Chris Albinson said in an email to the Board of Directors recently. “A tremendous amount of hard work by the founders, their teams, and everyone who has supported them over a long period of time. A moment worth celebrating and a very positive milestone in our collective effort to Own the Podium.”

In the money

Of the several Waterloo Region funding announcements in June, the biggest eye-popper came from edtech unicorn ApplyBoard. Its Series D raise of CDN$375 million was the largest private investment round ever in the area’s tech ecosystem, according to a search of Crunchbase records. The raise was based on a valuation of CDN$4 billion, double what ApplyBoard was valued at a year earlier.

The other show-stopper was Faire’s US$260-million Series E round on a new valuation of US$7 billion. Marcelo Cortes, co-founder of the online wholesale marketplace that launched simultaneously in Waterloo Region and San Francisco in 2017, told Tech News that Faire will be moving its local workforce – 165 and growing – into the former Shopify building at 85 Willis Way in uptown Waterloo.

Tulip, another retail-focused scale-up, announced US$28 million in Series C financing. Founded in 2013, Tulip provides a mobile platform to support frontline retail staff and improve customer experience. It has operations in Waterloo Region and Toronto.

On a more celestial plane, satellite-data specialist SkyWatch announced a US$17.2-million Series B raise. Based in Communitech’s Data Hub, the company plans to double its workforce to 120 by the end of 2022.

Also expanding its footprint in June was Magnet Forensics, the Waterloo-based cybercrime-fighting company that went public earlier this year, which announced plans to establish a presence in Halifax.

Digital wrap

The hugely successful Digital Main Street (DMS) program wrapped up in June after helping thousands of small and medium-sized businesses adopt digital business technology. Communitech led the delivery of the federally and provincially funded program in Southwestern Ontario from July 2020 to June 2021. A few stats speak volumes: more than 5,000 businesses involved, including 700 assisted through the Transformation Teams program and 184 businesses helped through DMS Labs; and more than 800 students and recent grads employed.

On the subject of retail, technology and the pandemic have transformed the nature of the sector. What does the future look like? The Communitech-led Future of Retail initiative held a summit in June that was packed with insights from nearly 30 experts. Check out the top takeaways.

A founder’s tale

Medtech star Northern Digital Inc. (NDI), one of the oldest tech companies in Waterloo Region, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Tech News took a deep dive into the company’s history, which began in a basement apartment where founder Jerry Krist and his wife soldered circuit boards for one of the world’s early personal computers.

In other medtech news, Verily, a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet, announced it will expand to Canada, with a hub at Google’s existing engineering office in Kitchener. Verily specializes in research and innovation in healthcare and life sciences.

Auto, man

Miss Frizzle had her Magic School Bus. The Scooby Doo gang had their Mystery Machine. Now the University of Waterloo has WATonoBus. Researchers launched the driverless, autonomous shuttle in June. Running on Rogers 5G network, the small turquoise-coloured vehicle tootles along a five-stop route on the main campus. Perhaps the technology under the hood should be called “Otto Mann,” a nod to our favourite Springfield school bus driver.

Autonomous vehicles are one of the more obvious applications of artificial intelligence, but AI is quickly making its way into all manner of technology – and Canada is a leader in its development. Canada also has a solid reputation, internationally speaking. Could we marry the two and make Waterloo the birthplace of a global agreement on the ethical use of AI? Find out what a panel of experts had to say at a recent online forum hosted by Thomson Reuters, Communitech and CityAge.

Class of ’21, take heart!

Tech News columnist Jenna Aquino finds inspiration among pandemic-year graduates who are entering a work world full of unknowns. Meanwhile, Alex Kinsella tells us about a more inclusive Pride month in Waterloo Region, and tells us how local podcasts are connecting the community through storytelling. Melanie Baker offers a provocative take on  the notion of culture and “fit” in the workplace, and muses on the value of letting some memories fade.

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