Tech Roundup for November 2020

Written by: Kevin Crowley | 07 December 2020 | Monthly tech roundup

( Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart )

Topping the charts

The Waterloo Region tech ecosystem rocked the rankings in November as both the region and individual companies scored high on a number of prestigious tech scorecards.

CBRE’s Scoring Canadian Tech Talent report named Waterloo Region the fastest-growing major tech market in Canada. Tech jobs in the region grew 51.4 per cent between 2014 and 2019, more than Vancouver at 47.9 per cent and Toronto at 36.5 per cent. According to the report, the top five overall tech talent markets in Canada are: Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Waterloo Region and Montreal.

Waterloo Region also earned props for fintech. The combined Toronto-Waterloo area was ranked among the world’s top 20 fintech ecosystems, according to Startup Genome’s Global Fintech Ecosystem Report 2020. The only Canadian jurisdiction on the list, the Toronto-Waterloo area ranked 12th internationally. The report says the top five global fintech ecosystems are: Silicon Valley, New York City, London, Singapore and Beijing.

Individual tech companies in Waterloo Region also felt the rankings love. Intellijoint Surgical Inc. bagged top spot on Deloitte’s 2020 Technology Fast 50 list of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies. The No. 2 spot went to ApplyBoard, another Waterloo Region company that recently reached “unicorn” status as a privately held company with a value over $1 billion. Other local companies on the Fast 50 list include: Avidbots (No. 8); Auvik Networks (No. 12); Bonfire (No. 30); and (No. 48).

On the topic of unicorns, wholesale platform Faire – based in Waterloo Region and San Francisco – garnered more headlines recently with the announcement that it completed a US$170-million Series E investment round this fall. The raise more than doubles its valuation to US$2.5 billion.

Downs and ups

Venture capital funding tumbled in the third quarter of 2020, according to a report from the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA). Year-over-year, Q3 investment fell 63 per cent on 126 deals totalling $891 million. Looking quarter to quarter, VC investment dropped 47 per cent from Q2 of 2020.

Bucking the trend, however, Waterloo Region blockchain startup Axelar reported a USD $3.75-million raise from Silicon Valley investors, including DCVC of San Francisco. Axelar, launched by Sergey Gorbunov of the University of Waterloo’s Cheriton School of Computer Science, is a decentralized network that connects application builders with blockchain ecosystems, applications and users.

And Tulip, a Kitchener- and Toronto-based provider of cloud-based retail mobile solutions, announced that it had secured an undisclosed amount of financing from BDC Capital as part of the bank’s support for high-potential Canadian tech innovators. Tulip says it will use the capital to accelerate research and development, grow its sales, and further expand into global markets.

Tapping into talent

The Communitech Outposts program has expanded to help small- and medium-sized businesses across Canada tap into talent in more than 160 countries. Communitech first launched the employer-of-record service in 2019 to help Canadian companies hire sales employees and foster revenue growth in international markets. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the trend to remote work, prompting companies to consider hiring a broader range of talent – not just sales people – outside Canada.

Speaking of foreign talent, a recent media story says Canadian firms have made frequent use of the federal government’s fast-track program for skilled foreign workers, but the flow of workers coming to Canada through the United States may slow down in the near future.

The story notes that thousands of skilled foreign workers have applied to Ottawa’s Global Skills Strategy (GSS) from the U.S., where the current administration tightened work-eligibility access and paused its H-1B visa program, which many U.S. tech firms have used to acquire talented foreign workers. Those restrictions may ease up with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden in January.

And while we’re on the topic… the CEO of the Toronto-based MaRS Discovery District, Yung Wu, makes a compelling case in Business Insider for why U.S. tech companies should look to Canada to expand their operations. Political and economic stability, a welcoming immigration policy, excellent universities, cutting-edge research facilities, and significant public-private collaborations make the Great White North an attractive jurisdiction for tech companies.

In August, Communitech launched a billboard campaign in San Francisco urging skilled foreign workers affected by the H-1B issue to come to Canada. The campaign drew international media attention and was expanded to New York City and other key U.S. markets in September.

Closer to home – like, right in your home – Communitech co-hosted another wildly successful online job fair. Called Tech Jam from Home, the event featured more than 22 tech employers and 1,250 job openings in the tech industry.

Meanwhile, a new non-profit is trying to create a pipeline of tech talent by tapping into the stream of military personnel who leave the Canadian Armed Forces each year.

Coding for Veterans provides Canadian military vets with basic and advanced training in software programming – with an emphasis on the cybersecurity sector. The organization’s promotional caravan made a cross-province tour this fall, with a stop in Waterloo Region.

And how do you keep women in the tech workforce during a pandemic? Kelly Pedro of Zeitspace explored this question with a number of companies in the Waterloo Region tech community.

Let’s get digital

The Digital Main Street (DMS) initiative continues to transform small- and medium-size businesses in Ontario by helping them embrace e-commerce, social media and other tech enhancements. DMS was first launched by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas in 2016. After the onset of COVID-19, DMS was extended across Ontario with federal and provincial funding. Communitech was asked to deliver key components of the DMS program for Southwestern Ontario. To date, Communitech has worked with more than 100 businesses and is aiming to help up to 1,000 by the spring.

In addition to helping businesses up their digital game, the Ontario government is redoubling its efforts to digitize provincial services and programs. Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Ontario Treasury Board and Minister Responsible for Digital and Data Transformation, visited Communitech in early November to talk about the province’s new Ontario Onwards Acceleration Fund. The money – $500 million over four years – is intended to digitize more public-sector services to make them easier and more efficient for individuals and businesses.

Freezing out COVID

Two companies in the Waterloo Region tech orbit are working on ways to keep COVID-19 vaccines at the required ultra-cold temperatures. As CTV reported, Guelph-based appliance maker Danby — run by tech entrepreneur Jim Estill — says it has designed a refrigerator with the capacity to hit -80C. Meanwhile, sensor-monitoring firm blueRover, based in Cambridge, Ont., is applying its technology to the challenge of making sure ultra-cold refrigeration is sustained throughout the transportation and storage of vaccines.

And at the University of Waterloo...

Vivek Goel has been appointed the next President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Waterloo. Goel, a public-health researcher, has held a number of senior leadership roles at the University of Toronto, including Vice-President and Provost, and Vice-President of Research and Innovation. Goel’s five-year term will begin on July 1, 2021. He will succeed Feridun Hamdullahpur, UW’s President and Vice-Chancellor  since 2010.

Many in the tech community are mourning the loss of Pearl Sullivan, UW’s former Dean of Engineering and the first woman to hold the position, who passed away on Nov. 28 after a 12-year battle with cancer. Sullivan was only the fourth woman across Canada to head a school of engineering. She led the university’s renowned Faculty of Engineering from July 2012 to December 2019.

UW has announced plans to expand its Health Sciences Campus in Kitchener’s downtown Innovation District. The university plans to redevelop a 90,000-square-foot warehouse to create an “Innovation Arena” that will house product development labs, manufacturing and collaborative office spaces, and serve as the new home of Velocity, the university’s noted entrepreneurship program and startup incubator.

And speaking of arenas… Rogers has partnered with Sportsnet and the University of Waterloo to launch a virtual hackathon to enhance sports media technology. The ‘Sportsnet Hockey Hack: Powered by Rogers 5G’ hackathon invited students to design applications that enhance the fan experience for Sportsnet viewers using Rogers’ 5G technology.

Scope Photonics was named a runner-up for the prestigious James Dyson International Award. Scope, founded by a group of UW nanotechnology alumni, creates custom-built imaging lenses that have applications for smartphones, AR/VR, machine vision, microscopes, and more.

Like the notion of “tech for good,” the term “peacetech” is gaining traction in tech circles around the world. Professor Paul Heidebrecht, who has degrees in engineering and theology, sees real potential to make Waterloo Region an international leader in a growing field – the combining of technology with peace-advancement initiatives.

In other news

  • According to media stories, Waterloo-based BlackBerry is looking to sell a significant chunk of its patent portfolio. Intellectual property is a hot issue in Canada, with some government and tech leaders urging a rethink of the country’s approach to protecting and maximizing the value of IP resources.
  • Your Neighbourhood Credit Union has launched Shop Your Neighbourhood to point shoppers to local merchants in Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph, Stratford and London, among other communities.
  • Waterloo Region-based Bridgit Solutions, which makes project-management software for the construction industry, continues to attract positive media coverage. CEO and co-founder Mallorie Brodie also found time for an interview with Communitech’s True North TV.

This edition of the Tech Roundup compiled by Kevin Crowley.

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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.