True North: A Canadian call to action

Diverse, dazzling, dizzying – you could run out of adjectives trying to describe the experience at True North 2018, Communitech’s new, flagship conference, which debuted with a bang on May 29-31. With a topical theme of “tech for good,” True North drew a sold-out crowd of 2,400 delegates from the tech, corporate, government and community sectors to Waterloo Region’s Lot42 campus, plus hundreds more to a free community festival crammed with cultural events over three nights.

The industrial ambience of Lot42 – a former steelworks built by an immigrant entrepreneur – aligned perfectly with the conference’s ultimate call to action: To focus our technological efforts on building a better future for everyone. The call was issued from True North’s two stages by speaker after speaker and taken up in a pair of workshop sessions in which delegates collaborated to write the Tech for Good Declaration, a living document of guiding principles for Canada’s tech community. Former governor general David Johnston, whose Rideau Hall Foundation will oversee the evolution of the declaration, unveiled the document on the final day of True North.

With presenters from around the world, from fields that included everything from robot ethics, AI and investigative journalism to toxic Silicon Valley “bro culture,” filmmaking and community activism, True North left delegates with a palpable sense that a crucial conversation is just getting started, one that will reconvene in Waterloo Region next year.

In an opinion piece for Global News, Mike Colledge, President of Ipsos Public Affairs Canada, wrote that he was struck by the positive outlook of True North attendees, despite concerns his firm uncovered in public opinion polling in advance of the conference.

Dollar developments

Amid the build-up toward True North, the business of starting and building technology companies continued apace. Several local companies attracted serious investment.

The largest raise was logged by Auvik, the Waterloo-based software-as-a-service company, which announced a successful Series C lift of CDN$20 million, money that will support what CEO and co-founder Marc Morin calls “a massive growth phase.”

Meanwhile, Kitchener IoT company Miovision, which specializes in smart traffic tech, logged a CDN$15-million investment that the company says will allow it to advance distribution of its TrafficLink product.

Kitchener’s Primal, which makes software that can read social media feeds and then push out products and related content, received CDN$2.3 million in loan financing from BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Velocity startup Gamelynx, a Y Combinator alumnus, announced a US$1.2 million investment that will help it continue to create games for mobile devices. Gamelynx co-founder and CEO Alexander Mistakidis, by the way, was the focus of an article in Forbes which described how he overcame issues with depression and mental health and helped others do so, as well.

And, as Day 2 of True North was unfolding, close to 50 investment-ready startups from Waterloo and Toronto were pitching to 180+ investors across town at the Tannery Event Centre, at Corridor Demo Day. The event was billed as the largest of its kind to date in Canada.

Tech for good

In the days leading up to True North, several stories emerged about companies working to make a difference beyond the bottom line.

Stonehenge Therapeutic Community, based in Guelph, talked to Communitech News about the way an app designed by Waterloo startup Preemptive is helping it better deliver services that help people suffering from drug addiction to manage withdrawal.

And the CEO of Toronto startup Fiix, Marc Castel, who played a key role in the drafting of the Tech for Good Declaration at True North, talked about the way that allocating revenue for investment in social and environmental programs and maintaining a robust corporate responsibility culture improves his company’s bottom line.

And in the midst of True North, Kiite, which makes an intelligent sales coach and is based out of the Communitech Data Hub in Waterloo, announced the launch of the Kiite Community Fund, which will make donations to the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation. The foundation allocates funding to charities in need.

True North also spawned a story in the Financial Post about the Waterloo maker of the social messaging app Kik. Ted Livingston, Kik’s CEO, talked about technical difficulties the company has faced rolling out its cryptocurrency, Kin, based on the Ethereum blockchain. Livingston said the company is now building its own blockchain, a hybrid of Ethereum and another open-source model, Stellar.

Talent tales

Early in May, the Kitchener branch of Terminal – a Bay Area company that helps U.S. tech firms access Canadian engineering talent and provides workspace and backend administration that enables remote work – held a party to celebrate the opening of its new, larger offices on the top two floors of 305 King St. W.

Concurrently, Terminal, which has locations in Vancouver and Montreal and will shortly move into Toronto, announced a US$10.25-million raise and was the subject of a much-discussed story in the Globe and Mail, about whether or not it was of net benefit to the Canadian tech ecosystem.

Indication of the gains being made on the talent side in Canada were discussed in this Globe and Mail piece, and yet another Globe story talked about the foreign talent being attracted to Canada by jobs and the ease of negotiating the visa process.

In other news

    • FunnelCake, an alumnus of the Communitech Rev program, won $100,000 at Salesforce's Dreampitch event in Toronto.

    • A team based out of University of Waterloo that is building a wearable vest that can flag whether a person is at risk of developing respiratory or cardiovascular problems was featured in a recent CBC story.

    • TrustRadius, a review site for business technology, ranked Kitchener’s Vidyard in its highest echelon for enterprise video platforms.

– This edition of The Tech Roundup compiled by Anthony Reinhart and  Craig Daniels