As the post-pandemic sunrise peeps over the horizon, it’s clear that a new day is dawning for Canadian tech. The global health crisis has accelerated the uptake of technology worldwide and thrown a fresh light on Canada’s potential to become a global tech powerhouse.
The recent flurry of IPOs, financings and high-value exits reflects a growing “competition for awesome,” as Communitech CEO Chris Albinson described it during a recent BetaKit panel discussion.
The video chat was sparked in part by an opinion piece that Albinson penned for the Globe and Mail in which he argues that Canada is a top contender for the world heavyweight tech title, a prize he believes we can win by establishing an “own the podium” strategy.
Meanwhile, renewed interest in Canadian tech IPOs and the ongoing flow of private investment has many growth-stage founders weighing their financing options. Communitech News took a deep dive into the topic and came up with some great tips and insights from veteran tech leaders.
One company that’s riding the private-investment wave is Ada Support, a chatbot software maker that became the latest tech pony to join the growing herd of Canadian unicorns. A graduate of Communitech’s Rev accelerator and co-winner of the top prize at Rev’s 2017 Demo Day, Ada announced a US$130-million Series C round in May that boosted its valuation to US$1.2 billion.
Also riding high is Substack, the newsletter platform that connects journalists and bloggers with paying subscribers. The latest issue of the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine profiles founder Chris Best, the University of Waterloo grad who co-founded Kik Interactive with Ted Livingston in 2009 (Globe subscription required).
Tech the #@!& out of COVID
Throughout the pandemic, tech companies in Waterloo Region have pivoted their talents and products to help fight the spread of COVID-19. The Record ran a story recently about the work of Alexander Wong, a University of Waterloo AI expert whose team is developing artificial intelligence in partnership with startup DarwinAI that can help assess the severity of COVID-19 in patients.
A community report from the YMCA of Three Rivers is a sobering reminder that we’re not out of the COVID woods yet. The YMCA’s new WorkWell unit, headed by workplace wellness expert and former Plasticity Labs CEO Jim Moss, surveyed nearly 1,500 residents and found that the pandemic has stressed the mental and physical health of a larger number of people – and to a greater degree – than previously known.
Meanwhile, a panel of experts at a recent “ask me anything” session hosted by Communitech said the best way for companies to protect their workplaces from COVID-19 is to stick with the basics – mask wearing, frequent handwashing, social distancing and rapid antigen testing. (Check out the free StaySafe workplace resources from Communitech.)
Speaking of basics, The Canadian Shield is working with the City of Waterloo to donate another round of plastic face shields to essential workers and businesses in Waterloo Region. See the city’s website to book a pick-up appointment.
Another ‘C’ pandemic
The CEO of Waterloo Region cybersecurity company Magnet Forensics is warning of a “cybercrime pandemic.” Writing in the National Post, Adam Belsher said Canada lacks a “cohesive vision” to fight cybercrime and needs to update its national cybersecurity strategy to thwart digital “criminals and geopolitical adversaries.”
Earlier in May, a report from another Waterloo Region cybersecurity firm, eSentire, attracted headlines with news that a number of digital gangs compromised 292 organizations globally between Jan. 1 and April 31, 2021.
Sticking with digital security, BlackBerry and the University of Waterloo signed a five-year agreement to drive “research-powered innovation.” According to a news release, the intent is to convert research into market-ready products in cybersecurity, AI, machine learning and safety assurance.
Leading by example
It’s been quite a journey for Omar Salaymeh, the recently appointed CEO of Kitchener-based Bonfire Interactive. Born in Syria, he and his family were stateless Palestinian refugees who came to Canada when Salaymeh was 12. He went on to study engineering at the University of Waterloo and has made his mark as both a tech leader and a humanitarian. Salaymeh was recently awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Medal for co-founding Jumpstart Refugee Talent, a non-profit that helps refugees find meaningful employment in Canada.
Waterloo Region’s Quantum Benchmark has been acquired for an undisclosed price by Keysight Technologies Inc., a U.S. company that trades on the NYSE. Quantum Benchmark, which was spun out of the University of Waterloo’s Institute for Quantum Computing in 2017, creates software for improving and validating quantum computing hardware capabilities.
Start ’em young
Alyssa Jamal is helping kids learn to love math at an early age. As Communitech writer Alex Kinsella tells us, the University of Waterloo grad and mother of three has launched a startup called the Little Sheep Shop that creates low-tech games and toys – including a wooden coding board – designed to introduce wee folk to math and technology concepts.
Kinsella also tells us about the links between startups and charitable organizations after spending time with Waterloo Region radio host and dedicated community booster, Mike Farwell.
Also on column front, Melanie Baker looks at the issues employers will have to juggle as they contemplate reopening their offices post-pandemic.
In other news
X-ray imaging company KA Imaging had a busy month, installing two mobile X-ray units within the Toronto-based University Health Network, signing a U.S. distribution agreement with Alpha Imaging, and announcing Bio Scan S.A de C.V. as its sole distributor in Mexico.
Life-sciences startup Rapid Novor says it has reached a major milestone by sequencing polyclonal antibodies directly from proteins without DNA sequencing data, a feat the company says helps in decoding immune systems and developing new diagnostic tests.
Education unicorn ApplyBoard is partnering with global e-learning company Pearson to make it faster for Canada-bound international students to prove the results of a standard English language test taken through Pearson.
Waterloo Region’s Scispot.io, which helps life-science companies digitize and automate their operations, is working with HelaPlex to create a digital life-science lab, accelerator and co-working space in Philadelphia.
Talent-acquisition platform Jobvite is hosting another Summer to Evolve series of educational programming to help recruiters and talent acquisition professionals improve their skills, tactics, and strategies.
This edition of the Roundup compiled by Kevin Crowley.
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