Ray Kurzweil’s bold future

Sooner than you think, you’ll be able to 3D-print your own clothes at home, connect your brain to the cloud and live indefinitely, thanks to nano robots swimming throughout your body, repairing it as problems arise. These were a few among many predictions Ray Kurzweil – noted futurist, inventor, author and Googler – shared at Communitech’s annual Tech Leadership Conference. The sold-out event addressed some of tech’s biggest issues, from robot ethics to artificial intelligence to the so-called sharing economy. Kurzweil also sat for an exclusive interview with Communitech News, highlights of which can be found on our YouTube channel.

Smarter cities

From nano robots to hovering pods travelling at the speed of sound, the future was on many minds in May, including those of the 40 University of Waterloo students working on a project dubbed the “Waterloop” – their answer to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop challenge to build a solar-powered system of elevated tubes and passenger pods to carry commuters at ultra-high speed. The UW team was among 31 chosen from 1,200 international applicants.

In the meantime, car commuters might be pleased to know Kitchener-based traffic-tech company Miovision has released a new cloud-based platform to help cities centralize their traffic data, resulting in streamlined projects and better data analysis.

Waterloo Region tech workers who are skipping car ownership altogether have been snapping up a batch of newly converted apartments in downtown Kitchener, despite the units having no accompanying parking.

Revving up

Amid a welcome surge in Canadian venture capital activity, companies from Communitech Rev – an accelerator focused exclusively on increasing revenue through better sales and marketing – pitched before investors at a Demo Day in Toronto.

Dozr, a third-cohort Rev company that joined the program in February, bulldozed the competition in pitching its online marketplace for construction equipment rentals. The company took home all the prize money – $100,000 – despite strong pitches from fellow Rev startups.

One of those other companies, edtech startup Knowledgehook, could take some consolation from having won the Game Changer Award at Google Demo Day in California earlier in the month.

Meanwhile, Rev welcomed its fourth cohort of five companies, who have taken up residence in the newly expanded Communitech Hub.

Scaling up

Of course, the challenges Canadian startups face in scaling up continues to be a focal point for concern. Micheàl Kelly, dean of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University, had pointed words for policymakers over Canada’s chronic failure to produce globally significant tech companies despite an abundance of startups. Communitech has partnered with the Lazaridis Institute for the Management of Technology Companies – which operates within the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics – to support high-growth small and medium-sized Canadian tech companies in cultivating the talent they need to take on the world.

Kevin Lynch, Vice Chair of BMO, a former Clerk of the Privy Council and a member of Communitech’s board of directors, called on the federal government to learn from other countries’ success and develop an innovation strategy that sets ambitious goals. That strategy, Lynch argued, should include a focus on developing the Toronto-Waterloo Innovation Corridor.

Risk capital is key to any scale-up strategy, and on that front, the Ontario-government-supported ScaleUP Ventures fund named Kent Thexton, formerly of OMERS Ventures, as its lead general partner. The fund, backed by a high-powered roster of advisers, will also grow from $50 million to $75 million, the Globe and Mail reported (subscription only). Still, Canadian entrepreneurs continue to work both sides of the border in search of investment, and typically find a lot more of it in the U.S.

Capital is not the only reason high-growth Canadian tech companies look south for help in scaling. Many, including Waterloo-based mobile provider TextNow, are setting up satellite operations in Silicon Valley focused on finding new customers.

Showing up

Cross-border activity works in reverse as well, as demonstrated by Paul Singh, a celebrated U.S. startup investor who rolled into Waterloo Region with his Airstream trailer in tow. Singh, who is on a North American tour of startup communities, was duly impressed with what he found, though he feels Canadian entrepreneurs could use a dose of urgency. He also imparted some wisdom in a series of video clips for Communitech News.

The Vancouver Economic Commission, meanwhile, came to town on a different kind of mission: to pitch B.C.’s booming tech community to talented engineers from the University of Waterloo. Doing so will admittedly be a challenge given the Vancouver housing market’s status as the third most unaffordable in the world, behind Hong Kong and Sydney.

In other news

    • Craig Haney, Communitech’s Director of Corporate Innovation, launched The Nimble Hippo, a weekly column about how large companies are disrupting themselves by engaging with startup ecosystems.
    • Members of the arts and tech communities debated whether Waterloo Region’s tech companies are doing enough to support cultural activities.

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