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Richmond Hill : Innovation + Job News

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York Region seeking homegrown social entrepreneurs

Every city and region has its challenges and often the best authorities—both on the nature of the problems and the value of potential solutions—lies within the local community, the residents who encounter these issues first-hand. That's the principle underlying communityBUILD, an ongoing collaboration between VentureLAB, a York Region innovation accelerator; York University; and United Way York Region. It is "is a partnership from three very different organizations," says VentureLAB project lead Heather Crosbie, "and the partnership itself breeds quite a unique approach to what we're tying to do, which is tackle York Region social issues through the lens of social entrepreneurship."

That ongoing project has an upcoming major event: communityBUILD Mash-UP, a two day intensive workshop to help better understand some specific challenges within York Region, and to spur local social entrepreneurs to develop innovative approaches to tackling those issues. By the end of the Mash-Up, some participants will be selected for a prize pack that includes mentoring, office space, and other in-kind support.

With the help of the United Way, two specific social problems were identified: food insecurity and youth unemployment. The goal of the Mash-Up is to spend "two intense days to work on solutions to two of these 'grand challenges,'" explains Crosbie. 

One of the features that makes this event unique, she says, is "you can apply to be a collaborator, to join an existing team, as well as pitch as a team or an existing early-stage project." Applications for partipating in either capacity are being accepted online until March 8. A panel of local experts will winnow down the list of applicants; those selected will participate in the two-day workshop, which runs March 27-28.

After that, says Crosbie, there are "three hurdles to get over" before the winners are selected: whether the proposal is relevant to one of the "grand challenges"; whether the team proposing an initiative "has experience in either living the reality or working on the problem"; and whether everyone else participating in the Mash-Up sees merit in the proposal.

The workshop will begin with everyone pitching their ideas and it'll be up to the Mash-Up participants to select which of those ideas seem most promising. Those will be the ones that teams will work on over the course of the two days—developing business plans, rollout schedules, and the like. A panel of four or five entrepreneurs will determine the "viability, scalability, and sustainability" of the fleshed-out proposals, and select the ultimate winner.

It's one of many new initiatives the organizing partners hope to develop over time. "The long-term objective," says Crosbie, "is to build out an ecosystem of social entrepreneurs tackling social issues in York Region specifically."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Heather Crosbie, VentureLAB project lead

BufferBox acquired by Google

It was only a few weeks ago that we told you about BufferBox, a new network of parcel pick-up stations had just launched in the Toronto area. With a growing list of stations—they're up to about 14 in Toronto and Mississauga and have more going in by the end of the year—and a contract with Metrolinx to help target commuters, things seemed promising for the new startup.

And now, they are looking even more exciting. BufferBox has just announced it has been acquired by Google. Neither BufferBox nor Google would confirm the financial details, but TechCrunch is reporting the purchase price was in the neighbourhood of $17 million.

BufferBox services are free until year's end. When paid service begins they expect they'll be charging $3 or $4 per delivery. The goal is to have approximately 100 stations in the GTA by the end of 2013. Google, meanwhile, is likely looking for a challenger the Amazon Locker parcel delivery program (which is not available in Canada), and is hoping that BufferBox can expand and scale quickly.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Brad Moggach, Sales & Marketing Director, BufferBox; TechCrunch

Richmond Hill's iSign shows off its smartphone advert system at DX3; grows staff to 16 from 6

Richmond Hill's iSign has been offering its patented software to retailers since before 2008—and the company went public in 2009. But it had a coming out of sorts in its GTA hometown late last month. "We've demonstrated this product at shows all across North America," says founder and CEO Alex Romanov. "We must do 10 shows a year, but I think the DX3 show last week was the first time we've ever really done a show in Toronto."

Romanov said the product was well received at DX3, Canad's premier trade show dedicated to digital marketing, advertising and retailing. iSign's product allows retailers to use Bluetooth and wifi to send advertisements and offers to shoppers who are in close proximity to their store. Romanov says that the units contact phones within a 300-foot radius, ensuring that discounts are being offered to people in a position to make an impulse buy.

Originally founded in 2006 in Vancouver, the company moved to Richmond Hill after becoming a partner with IBM's POS kiosk division. In 2007, iSign rolled out in 620 store locations in Singapore, and has since been expanding steadily in North America. Romanov says the company's biggest Canadian customer used to be Pinpoint Media, which operated displays in 5,600 Mac's Milk locations—until iSign purchased Pinpoint.

Romanov says the company has grown in the past 12 months to 16 employees from six. While he anticipates possible hiring in the near future, he says the company is more likely to expand through contracting. A pending three-year agreement with convenience and grocery-store display giant SelectCore will soon see iSign's technology in 7,000 locations across the US and Canada.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Alex Romanov, Founder and CEO, iSign Media

$22.2 million innovation investment helps food manufacturer Protenergy create 60 Richmond Hill jobs

In the seven years since it opened, Protenergy has grown into a private label food manufacturing powerhouse, a major supplier of Tetra Pak soups, broths and sauces. Now a $22.2 million investment by the company will double production capacity, introduce innovative new processes, expand the product offerings and create 60 new jobs at its Richmond Hill facility.

In addition to increasing its production capacity, the company says the improvements to its facility will allow it to produce chunk-style soups in re-closable cartons-- a first for a Canadian company. The changes are also expected to reduce production costs.

Kevin Tracey, Protenergy's president, said the move will also help increase the stringency of its safety standards. He credited a $6.67 million loan from the provincial government for helping the project move ahead.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Kevin Tracey, Protenergy; Tim Weber, Office of the Minister of Economic Development

Intertainment Media secures $5M investment, announces a slew of new product innovations

Richmond Hill-based Intertainment Media has had a busy month announcing rapid growth, including new investment, increased revenue and a series of new product launches.

On July 15, the company announced that it had secured $5 million in equity investment from GEM Global Yield Fund, to be used to enhance existing product lines and create new ones. The announcement of new capital comes alongside a slew of new product announcements this month for its application itiBitti: an app for web personality Toby "TOBUSCUS" Turner, an app the "Hip Hop Bible," and a partnership with major sports and entertainment venue representative Ballena Technologies.

Most recently, they announced just this week the launch of Ortsbo, the world's first "multi-client, multi-conversation real-time translation platform for social media and email," which will allow translation of online conversations instantly in over 50 languages.

All of this comes on the heels of already encouraging growth. In a letter to stakeholders dated July 5, company CEO David Lucatch reported that quarterly revenue in 2010 was up more than 300 per cent over the same quarter of 2009. On the phone, Lucatch says that in the past year, the company has opened new offices in New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, and roughly doubled the size of its staff to just over 40 employees.

"We've been putting our plan in place for three years now, our products are exceptional, and that's given us the foundation to start growing as we execute the plan to commercialize the products we have," he says.


Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: David Lucatch, CEO, Intertainment Media

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Open Text will add 400 jobs in Ontario as part of $225 million software research project

Open Text, Canada's largest independent software company, will embark on a five-year, $225 million research project at its Waterloo, Ottawa and Richmond Hill offices, it announced last week. The undertaking includes a grant of $33.75 million from the Ontario government and is expected to create 400 jobs across the province.

The company -- whose current products are used by 100 million users in 114 countries -- specializes in digital data storage and management. This new project will conduct research into emerging market sectors, including green computing and mobile applications.

According to company media spokesperson Stephanie Fazio, the new jobs will be overwhelmingly for R&D professionals, though she said that at this time the company was unable to project exactly how many of the new employees would work from Open Text's GTA hub in Richmond Hill.

Author: Edward Keenan
Source: Stephanie Fazio, Media Relations, Open Text

Got an Innovation and Job News tip? Contact Edward Keenan at edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.



Richmond Hill's Canadian-best magnetism starts with innovation, study says

When you think of the GTA as a hotbed of innovation and a magnet for newcomers looking to relocate, the Town of Richmond Hill may not be the first locale that springs to mind. But according to a study of 50 cities conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, the suburban municipality just north of Toronto is among Canada's elite "City Magnets."

"It's not that Richmond Hill blows away everybody on all the indicators," says Mario Lefebvre, director the Conference Board's Centre for Municipal Studies, "but it offers a perfect mix of very well-balanced results across the field." Lefebvre notes that Richmond Hill was second in all of Canada in the "Innovation" category of the study, a result of its high proportion of well-educated citizens and of those employed in the sciences or in computer-related fields. It also did notably well in the "Education" category, partially a result of the high ratio of teachers to students in its school system.

Of course, for some people whose sense of Yonge Street is already oriented north of Steeles, the news was no surprise. "We have always known that Richmond Hill is a great place to live, play and work," said Mayor Dave Barrow in a statement by email. "But it's always nice when it's statistically proven and people outside the community recognize this as well."

The Conference Board of Canada is a non-profit public policy think tank. The report, entitled "City Magnets II: Benchmarking the Attractiveness of 50 Canadian Cities" graded municipalities for their performance in seven major categories thought to be attractive to migrants: Society, Health, Economy, Environment, Education, Innovation, and Housing. Alongside Richmond Hill, Calgary, Waterloo, Vancouver, St. John's and Ottawa also managed an overall "A" grade. Five GTA cities scored "B" grades on the survey (Markham, Vaughan, Oakville, Toronto and Burlington), with the region securing five of the 14 top spots.

Many might have expected the City of Toronto to score better, particularly since it attracts some 85,000 immigrants per year from outside the country, more than any other city in Canada -- surely a testament to its status as a "magnet." But Lefebvre notes that this is partially offset by the 25,000 people per year who migrate out of Toronto to other Canadian cities. "Some of those 25,000 were originally international migrants who decide to move on.... in this case Montreal and Toronto are not doing so well when it comes to inter-city and inter-provincial migration," he says.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Mario Lefebvre, Director, Centre for Municipal Studies, Conference Board of Canada
Office of Dave Barrow, Mayor, Town of Richmond Hill

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