exactEarth moves toward IPO as interest in satellite data soars

Satellite data mapped onto the world map

Six years after its launch by Cambridge, Ont.-based satellite equipment maker COM DEV International Ltd., exactEarth has announced plans to go public. The company analyzes and sells marine shipping data collected by low-orbit satellites, and was a key partner in Communitech’s DATA.BASE project to build a commercial ecosystem around satellite data. The latest Globe and Mail Report on Business Magazine features COM DEV among Canadian companies with a global mindset; its components are on board “almost every communications satellite in space.”


In a rare public appearance, former BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie took part in a talk with the authors of Losing the Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry, where he cited the failed Storm touchscreen smartphone as a key factor in the company’s reversal of fortune. At its annual shareholders meeting later in the month, BlackBerry announced rising software revenues, dropping handset sales and a US$28-million quarterly loss.

The Internet of Things (IoT) figures prominently in BlackBerry’s turnaround strategy, as illustrated by the company’s participation in an innovation initiative at a Toronto-area hospital.


On the topic of IoT and health, Medella Health, a University of Waterloo Velocity startup, is developing a smart contact lens to monitor health indicators and help manage conditions such as diabetes.

Medella’s CEO, Harry Gandhi, was one of two Waterloo Region entrepreneurs among the latest 20 from around the world chosen to receive the Thiel Fellowship, a controversial and highly competitive award given to students willing to drop out of university or college to build startups. The other was Liam Horne of PiinPoint, a Velocity company whose software helps retailers decide where to open new locations.

Securing the Internet of Things will undoubtedly become a growing concern as data gathered by billions of connected devices accumulates. A three-way partnership involving private enterprise and academia is looking to meet those concerns as the world edges toward quantum computing.

In other hardware news, Bartesian, a cocktail machine for home use, launched June 16 on Kickstarter, and was nearing its $100,000 goal late this week. The Los Angeles Times likened Bartesian, a Velocity Foundry company, to "a Keurig for idiot-proof cocktails."

The Foundry did not exist when a young Velocity student named Eric Migicovsky developed his first smartwatch, for the BlackBerry platform, in 2008. Today, Migicovksy’s Pebble smartwatch for iOS and Android is contending with a slate of far larger competitors, most notably Apple. Migicovsky, whose California-based company has twice set the Kickstarter record for most successful campaign, returned to Waterloo to share wisdom during a public appearance.

From sky-high crowdfunding to the climbing fortunes of drone makers, Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been on a steady ascent since its first sale in 2009. Aside from the durability and ease of use of its products, Aeryon enjoys an advantage over American competitors: Canada’s more relaxed drone regulations, which enable plenty of testing.

Hardware from P&P Optica was destined for far higher altitudes last month, when its spectrometry equipment was chosen for a mission to the International Space Station. Alas, those hopes were dashed when the unmanned SpaceX rocket carrying the equipment exploded moments after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla. P&P remains hopeful for success on a future space mission.

The next generation of hardware was the focus of international interest at the PCH Hardware Hackathon at the Tannery Event Centre on June 12-14. We dispatched Darin White, a local photographer and maker, to cover the event.


Turning to software news, UW Velocity startup DraftingSPACE, which helps homeowners design rooms, was acquired by Vancouver-based home-improvement platform BuildDirect. The DraftingSPACE team will remain in Waterloo Region to head up a design centre for its new parent company.

Meanwhile, the founders of another construction-related service, Bridgit, travelled to California for 48 Hours in the Valley, the C100’s twice-yearly crash course for Canadian entrepreneurs looking to plug into the world’s biggest tech community. Co-founder Mallorie Brodie shared some cogent insights on the trip with the Globe and Mail.

Education continues to undergo disruption as technology enables new forms of learning, instruction, interaction and assessment. Waterloo Region’s D2L, now 16 years old, is still "just getting started" in tapping this vast market, CEO John Baker told BNN.

Fast-growing Magnet Forensics celebrated the opening of its spacious new headquarters with a party attended by a slate of dignitaries including their landlord, Michael Wekerle, the colourful investor who bought several former BlackBerry buildings last year.

WeMesh, one of the current crop of startups working from the Google for Entrepreneurs space in the Communitech Hub, is working on a mobile app that enables friends to watch videos together while chatting or texting.

Meanwhile, Ansik Inc., a UW Velocity company, has landed a spot in a new Techstars accelerator in Detroit, focused on the automotive sector. Among other things, Ansik is looking to make automotive diagnostics and servicing more efficient through app-based tools.


PixStream, a late-1990s Waterloo startup in the then-emerging field of online video streaming, didn’t last long, but its legacy continues to enrich the region’s tech sector.

Organizers took the wraps off Year of Code, an initiative that launches July 4 to demystify technology and teach anyone and everyone in Waterloo Region how to write computer code.

On the topic of tech education, Toronto-based entrepreneur Sarah Prevette’s latest venture is the Future Design School, which is bringing a summer camp for young innovative entrepreneurs to the Communitech Hub in August.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics has secured another $4 million to fund its groundbreaking research. The institute, founded by former BlackBerry co-CEO Mike Lazaridis, is the largest of its type in the world, and aims to "jump-start a revolution in physics," according to the Globe and Mail.

While Perimeter’s researchers probe the secrets of the universe, Waterloo native Martha Lenio emerged from an eight-month mock mission to Mars, spent in a dome in Hawaii with her five fellow crew members. Lenio, a UW grad and co-founder of a renewable energy company, led the NASA mission and plans to return to Waterloo.

Diversity on teams is a recognized benefit to tech companies, but has been difficult for many to achieve. Steve Woods, Senior Engineering Director for Google Canada, addressed questions around diversity at a public event.

Despite a recent spate of retail and restaurant closures, downtown Kitchener continues to gain momentum as a preferred destination for Waterloo Region’s technology companies. Office space of the brick-and-beam variety is in particularly high demand (and thus, short supply), a fact that the new owners of the former Goudies Department Store at 8 Queen St. N. hope to capitalize on.

In other news

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