Winds of change

Women who start or work for tech companies still face gender-based hurdles, some subtle, others not. In late August, Communitech took another step towards lowering those hurdles, as eight female-led startups took to the stage for the Fierce Founders Bootcamp Pitch Competition. Winner of the $40,000 first prize was Daniela Roeper, a mechanical engineer and founder of Borealis Wind, whose technology prevents ice from forming on wind turbines. Communitech has also established the Fierce Founders Accelerator to help women commercialize their innovations and overcome gender-related barriers. The first cohort of seven companies will take up residence in the Communitech Hub this month.

The scale-up imperative

Sexism is but one of many challenges Canadian tech companies face as they work to gain traction and global reach. Another is talent; specifically, people with experience in scaling startups into world-leading enterprises. Gerry Remers, recently retired from his leadership role at Christie Digital’s Waterloo Region operations, underscored the issue in a Globe and Mail op-ed.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs Sarah Prevette and Stephen Lake, both directors of Communitech, laid out four ways Canada can address the shortage of technical talent faced by its high-growth companies. Michael Litt, CEO of Vidyard, was featured in a Globe and Mail piece about the lengths some companies will go to find top sales expertise.

The Toronto Star also highlighted Canada’s challenges as it strives to build itself into a world-leading innovation nation, while the Financial Post looked at the issue of financing as it relates to Canadian startups’ ability to scale.

Enterprise tech

Of course, large companies in more-traditional industries face challenges of their own in remaining relevant and nimble in an age of accelerating innovation. Craig Haney, Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, launched Nimble Hippo Radio – a podcast that springs from his weekly column of the same name – to share expertise from top corporate innovators.

FairVentures, the offshoot of Fairfax Financial Holdings that opened an innovation lab at Communitech earlier this year, is betting on fintech as it seeks to ensure the long-term success of its insurance holdings.

GM Canada, another Communitech corporate innovation partner, is also investing heavily in innovation as the role of the personal automobile evolves in an age of shifting travel patterns and talk of autonomous vehicles. Tony LaMantia, CEO of the Waterloo Region Economic Development Corporation (WREDC), appeared on BNN to talk about this “seismic shift” and how the automotive and tech sectors can work together to succeed through it.

Changes in transportation and technology are also a public-sector concern, as cities look for ways to mitigate gridlock, maximize infrastructure and ease the daily commute. To that end, Miovision has developed a tool to help municipalities get smarter about traffic.

Smarter cities

Speaking of smarter cities, the Guelph Civic Accelerator has engaged Alert Labs – a Kitchener company and Communitech Rev Accelerator client – to help reduce water waste.

Kitchener, meanwhile, is marking the 100th anniversary of the city’s name change from Berlin. The occasion gave the Globe and Mail’s John Allemang a chance to talk to local figures, including Vidyard’s Michael Litt, about revived interest in the city’s heritage as it evolves into a world-ranked innovation hub.

That evolution will no doubt be enhanced by better transportation links between Waterloo Region, Toronto and major U.S. centres. A pair of airlinesare hoping to capitalize on demand for such links with new services out of Waterloo Region’s airport.


Back in the virtual world, bots are an increasingly important tool for mobile messaging companies as they compete for text traffic. Waterloo-based Kik has amassed an arsenal of more than 20,000 bots since April, as it takes on Facebook in the messaging race. Ted Livingston, Kik’s CEO (and Communitech director), told Fast Company that bots “become a way to get software in front of people” in an age when people are spending a lot of time on their phones but not downloading apps.

In other news

    • The Fluxible conference on UX design returns to Waterloo Region during an action-packed month.

    • 26 Ontario companies are among 142 semifinalists in 43North, a Buffalo-based global startup competition that offers a $1-million grand prize.

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