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Downtown Eastside - Old Town - Corktown : Innovation + Job News

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Spacefy wants to help Toronto's creatives find spaces for their projects

A new Toronto startup wants to help the city's local artists create their art. 

Describing itself as "an Airbnb for the creative industry," Spacefy gives creatives from musicians to photographers an online platform to find spaces for their creative endeavours. 

If the concept behind Spacefy sounds familiar, it's because a similar service called SpaceFinder Toronto launched earlier in the year. The crucial difference here is that Spacefy was started by a group of three Canadians: Judeh Siwady, Alyas Ali and Moya Semaan.  

As of its recent launch, the company's website already includes hundreds of creative spaces across the city, including some well-known ones like the Phase One recording studio and Cube Nightclub near Queen and Spadina. That said, like the service that inspired it, Spacefy was designed to help creators from across disciplines. So, while it's possible to rent a $10,000 per-day venue through the site, many of the spaces found on Spacefy start at a far more reasonable $25 per hour. 

Spacefy plans to expand to Vancouver in the near future. 

Canada's top 100 corporate research and development spenders

On Friday, Research Infosource Inc. released its annual list of Canada's top 100 corporate research and development spenders.

According to the report, Canadian corporate R&D spending increased by 4.1 per cent in 2013 from $12-billion to $12.5 billion.

“4.1 per cent year over year growth is pretty reasonable. Having said that, we’ve seen stronger growth in previous years," says Ron Freedman, the CEO of the company that compiled the report.

Freedman adds that 57 of the list's top 100 companies managed to increase their R&D spending, while 41 companies decided to decrease their R&D spending. Compared to previous years, this represents a slightly worse performance by Canada's corporations.

Indeed, the report's findings will likely reinforce the commonly held opinion that Canadian companies do not spend enough on research. However, Freedman is quick to point out that more, in this case, is not always better.

"Bombardier’s R&D spending went up this year, but the fact is that a large portion of that spending was bad spending. It was spending that was put toward correcting mistakes in the design of their new aircraft. It’s money that they should not have had to spend."

Check out the full list of Canada's top 100 R&D spenders on Research Infosource's website.

Source: Research Infosource Inc. 

Who's Hiring in Toronto? SickKids Foundation, Canada's National Ballet School and more

Some of the more interesting employment opportunities we've spotted this week include:

Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, a non-profit devoted to preserving Ontario's Greenbelt, an area surrounding the Golden Horseshoe, is hiring a research and policy analyst. As the title suggests, the role involves significant amounts of research, though there's a major outreach component as well. Specific requirements include engaging with a variety of government and non-government organizations.

The SickKids Foundation has two new openings this week.

First, they're seeking an associate graphic designer. The position requires three to five years of experience in digital marketing or communications, and will see that the person that takes on this position help the non-profit with its fund raising initiatives on behalf of Sick Kids Hospital.

The foundation is also seeking to hire an associate events director. The role has a significant emphasis on building and mentoring a team, as well as building new and existing events. This position requires five to seven years in a related leadership role.

On the culture side, Canada's National Ballet School is hiring a digital media co-ordinator. The role involves creating audiovisual material that will help with the school's promotional, marketing and educational needs. Three-plus years of related media experience is a requirement of this position, as well as expertise with programs such as Sony Vegas and DVD Architect.

Finally, the National Reading Campaign is looking for someone to join its board of directors as an executive director. Much of the role involves working with a volunteer board, and managing the campaign's initiatives. Candidates living in Toronto are preferred, though those living outside of the city with an exceptional skill sets will also be considered.

Do you know of a job opportunity with an innovative company or organization? Let us know!  

Ryerson announces major Church Street development

Ryerson University unveiled a major and exciting new property development last week.

The as-of-yet unnamed building will replace a parking lot that sits on Church Street, north of Dundas. For the time being, however, the university is referring to the project as the Church Street Development—or, CSD.

Once completed, the 166,000 square-foot facility will host the university's Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, the School of Nutrition and the School of Occupational and Public Health, Communications, Government and Community Engagement. Additionally, it will house a variety of administrative offices, as well as offer space for students and retail ventures.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the building is its Fabrication Zone. This cutting-edge centre will offer a suite of 3D printers, robotic arms and laser cutters aimed at creating a space for rapid prototyping.

Ground has yet to be broken on the development. However, the university expects construction to be completed in the spring of 2018, with the facility to be opened to faculty and students in the following fall semester.

This announcement comes as the university nears completion of its new student centre at Yonge and Gould.

Source: Ryerson University

Airbnb takes up residence in Toronto

A major outside player has joined the Toronto startup ecosystem. 

On Friday, Airbnb, the San Francisco-based, peer-to-peer marketplace for rental spaces, officially became a resident at MaRS Discovery District after opening a new office at the Toronto-based Regional Innovation Centre. This new home base will house three of the company's Canadian employees. 

Aaron Zifkin, who was brought on as the company's Canadian manager this past September, said at the time: "Our goal in Canada is to create and support a thriving community for hosts and guests, enabling unique and meaningful travel experiences like never before. The Canadian Airbnb community is already one of the largest and most passionate in the world and we believe there are ample opportunities to help it continue to grow as the favourite option for domestic and international travellers."

Since being founded in August of 2008, Airbnb has raised almost $800-million in venture capital. The company is currently valued at over $13-billion. Representatives from Airbnb say the company is "experiencing hyper growth in Canada," with more than 18,000 Canadian listings on its website at any given time. 

According to its most recently publicly released statistics, Airbnb has more than 800,000 listings in 33,000 cities across 192 counties. 

Source: MaRS

Using digital tools to help St. James Town residents manage their own health care

Let's say you've just arrived in Toronto, moved here from abroad. You'll immediately be faced with a host of challenges—everything from navigating the city's streets to finding an apartment and a job.

Among those challenges: managing your health in an entirely new environment. This includes everything from learning how the health care system works to understanding how to cook nutritious food when you can't necessarily find some of the ingredients that you're used to, or see different fruits and vegetables at the market than the ones you are familiar with.

Enter Self Care Catalysts, a health care company, and local charity Community Matters. They have teamed up to launch a new project in St. James Town, a Toronto neighbourhood with one of the highest concentration of newcomers in Canada. The project, called "Healthy Living in St. James Town" will enable residents to participate in their own health care management by allowing them to create customized platforms that can tackle anything from diabetes monitoring to dietary goals. Users will be able to access their personalized platforms either via mobile devices, or through desktop computers at Community Matters.

Because the majority of the population at St. James Town are newcomers, says Grace Soyao, CEO of Self Care Catalysts,  “many of them do not have an understanding of the health care system in Toronto."

What local community workers realized is that these residents "needed a tool to help educate them about things like differences in the types of food you can buy and consume here versus their home countries. Many residents also have different beliefs about health and how to manage their health—culture essentially defines the way that they manage their health," and our health care system works differently than what residents may have been used to in their countries of origin.

Right now the service is provided in English, but given that many newcomers are also new to English, the goal is to add in other languages over time.

As for Self Care Catalyst, their business model doesn't rely on user fees: the service is free for all residents. What they do is gather information from their user base, stripping out all identifiable information about individuals, and create data sets that they can then sell to governments or health care companies, to help them improve health services based on the real behaviours of specific populations.

"We collect [various] kinds of data and correlate it with patient groups and profiles so that way we are almost collecting voices by patients…that can be used to develop better health care solutions," explains Soyao. So, for instance, with enough information about dietary habits, a data set could be used to generate a more culturally diverse food guide (or to create a series of culturally specific food guides, based on the kinds of ingredients different cultures tend to rely on).

It's a way of allowing patients to participate in their own care, the new partners hope, and also a way of allowing health care providers to learn from those very patients about how to serve them better.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Grace Soyao, CEO, Self Care Catalysts

Local researchers pilot GPS-style tool for surgery

Explaining breakthroughs in medical technology can be difficult. The tools are precise and specialized, and the difference new innovations can make can be hard to grasp.

But here's one that's relatively easy to wrap your head around: researchers at Ryerson University and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre are piloting a new imaging technology for use during surgery.

The goal is simple: give surgeons a clear and near-instant ability to see exactly what they are doing and where they are going within a person's body during the course of an operation.

"Everyone knows how to use a GPS when they're driving," says Victor Yang, the researcher leading the project.  "This is a GPS for surgeons."

The system, 7D Surgical Navigation, is now a spin-off company, and has started pilot testing in a number of patients.

Essentially the problem until now is that surgeons have had to choose, Yang explains, between operating largely blind, learning about a patient's precise anatomical condition as they go, or ordering images such as x-rays, but having to wait up to 30 minutes during surgery for those images to be developed.

Practice tends to vary from doctor to doctor, with some preferring to wait for x-rays while patient is on the table, and others working much more quickly, but free hand, and thus with less accuracy. 7D allows surgeons to benefit from the accuracy imaging provides, without sacrificing time with patients open on the table—both a cost savings in terms of reducing operating times, and a health benefit since it's generally preferable to keep surgical times to a minimum.

The trials of the new device began in March. So far, 13 patients have been enrolled, with a variety of medical problems: some have tumours in the middle of their brains, some were in car accidents and had broken their spines. The ultimate goal is to have 60 participants in this pilot phase.

"The technology is broadly applicable," Yang says, "but the engineering team that I have is very focused on spine and brain surgeries [at the moment]—these are the surgeries that require highest precision. Afterwords we will go on to ear nose and throat, and then orthopaedic surgeries."

As with all new medical devices 7D will need to clear several regulatory hurdles, including  licensing from Health Canada and the FDA. Yang says his team is aiming to hit those targets within 12-18 months.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Victor Yang, lead researcher, 7D Surgical

Ryerson launches business incubator program with South African University

While on an official tour of government and institutional sites in South Africa recently, Ryerson president Sheldon Levy announced that the university would be launching a new business incubation program, offering a total of eight fellowships to students from four different South African universities. The fellowships will allow student entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop their ventures at one of Ryerson's several incubators, including the Digital Media Zone, Centre for Urban Energy, and the Fashion Zone.

“The future of the global economy is in the hands of our young people,” said Levy, while making the announcement at the University of Witwatersrand. “Ryerson is proud to partner with South African universities in promoting entrepreneurial innovation and great ideas.”

Meanwhile, Professor Adam Habib, Wits University Vice-Chancellor, emphasized that international partnerships like this are crucial for regional development. “Entrepreneurs play a pivotal role in the social and economic development of South Africa and Africa. It is imperative for higher education institutions to play their part in nurturing, training and developing future entrepreneurs."

Fellows will be selected in a two-stage process: first the originating universities will generate a short list of candidates, and then each Ryerson incubator's steering committee will make the final selection based on proposed business plans and video pitches. The fellows who make the cut will have travel and accommodation costs covered, and will each receive a three or four month placement at the most suitable incubator for their needs.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ryerson University
Photo: Wits University

Ontario using the Pan Am Games to expand apprenticeship opportunities

Last week, the provincial government announced that it would be be investing an extra $3 million over the next two years in its pre-apprenticeship training program, creating spots for 200 new participants. (A total of 1,100 pre-apprentices are participating in the program this year.) The impetus: the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, and the massive infrastructure projects that are underway to prepare for those Games.

"it's something that's going to build a stronger workforce for us in the years ahead," said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, while announcing the program expansion, "but it also provides young people in our province with an opportunity for a new career."

The pre-apprenticeship training program is designed to help would-be apprentices prepare and develop the trade-specific skills they need in order to be eligible for full-fledged apprenticeships. An individual participant may be involved in the program—which is free, and also covers program-related related costs such as textbooks—for up to a year. Pre-apprentices may find themselves taking safety courses, doing in-school training, and in short-term work placements, depending on their goals and needs.

Because of the Pan Am Games' many infrastructure projects, skilled construction workers are needed in large numbers; the hope is this program expansion will provide participants with on-the-job learning opportunities, while helping to ensure those projects are delivered on schedule.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Ryerson prof finds that gender-diverse groups produce better science

Trying to improve gender diversity in organizations started out as a question of equity and justice—it was just the right thing to do. But there's been a growing body of anecdotal evidence that it actually may lead to not just different but better decsion-making. A Ryerson professor, along with some colleagues at Rice University in Houston, decided to research that issue more formally. They've just issued  the results of a study they conducted looking at the impact of gender diversity in the conduct of science, specifically.

The upshot: "Here we present the first empirical evidence," the authors write, "to support the hypothesis that a gender-heterogeneous problem-solving team generally produced journal articles perceived to be higher quality by peers than a team comprised of highly-performing individuals of the same gender."

In short: scientific investigations conducted by gender-diverse teams tend to produce work that is independently assessed to be better than work produced by teams that aren't diverse.

Lesley Campbell is a professor in Ryerson's department of chemistry and biology. "Gender diversity, at a minimum, improves the likelihood that you are going to be doing effective science," she said in a statement explaining her work. "Gender diverse groups and groups that are diverse in a variety of ways might actually be more effective ways to do team science and team work.  We now have scientific evidence to back that suggestion up."

Her study analyzed work produced by 157 research groups from a California-based ecological institution, spanning 1997-2006. Work produced by gender-diverse teams were cited 34 per cent more than homogenous teams; that work was also deemed to be better quality during the peer assessment process.

"We all come to the table with different ways of problem solving," Campbell says. "It’s not just about the facts that we know but the way that we do things really does differ between men and women…There are very different ways that groups with gender diversity complete things."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Gender-Heterogeneous Working Groups Produce Higher Quality Science (Study)

Ontario announces new Health Innovation Council

Ontario is a growing force in medical technology research, and now the provincial government wants to bolster the sector further. Last month Queen's Park launched the new Ontario Health Innovation Council to help support the commercialization of medical innovations and new technologies. The council's task: identify growth opportunities and strategies for market-oriented development.

The council is specifically focused on small- and medium-sized businesses, and has a mandate to create the conditions for job growth in this sector.

The provincial government estimates that Ontario's health technology sector generates $9.1 billion a year. In job terms, the medical devices sector employs more than 17,000—49 per cent of the total nationwide.

The 15 council members represent academic institutions, hospitals, private companies, and non-profits. (Toronto-based members include the heads of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, MaRS Innovation, UofT's Institute for Health Policy, and the University Health Network.)

Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, said via a written statement that, "Ontario’s capacity to provide the best care and get value for our precious health dollars depends on harnessing our strengths in health research and innovation. The Ontario Health Innovation Council will help us improve the quality of care while creating valuable new jobs."

Catherine Zahn, president of CAMH, echoed those sentiments in her own comments, writing that "OHIC is an opportunity to ‘think big’ and broadly about health innovation in Ontario and make it real for patients, people and communities.”

The council's members will be looking at a range of issues beyond commercialization, too. They'll be examining ways to lower health care costs in the province, and try to focus on new ways to improve patient care.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care
Photo: Courtesy of the University Health Network.

Ryerson and St. Michael's Hospital partner on new research centre

The development of medical science has always been driven by advances in technology, and modern innovations are bringing the two closer together than ever. To help make the most of that relationship, St. Michael's Hospital and Ryerson University have announced a new partnership: an initiative that will allow clinician scientists from the former and engineers from the latter to work together collaboratively.

The Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Science Technology (iBest) will be housed in the Keenan Research Centre at St. Michael's, and will include space for about 15 Ryerson faculty members and another 40 or so students—researchers whose work has health care applications. It will also include a new incubator, similar to Ryerson's well-known Digital Media Zone, specifically for the development of biomechanical products that can be commercialized and used in patient care.

"I think it's the increased reliance on technological developments in the delivery of medical treatment that has catalyzed collaborations" like iBest, says Dr. Ori Rotstein, director of the Keenan Research Centre. "In the era before computing to have a computer scientist to help you manage data wasn't really something that you did," he adds by way of example. "Before computers and advanced engineering it was kind of ad hoc."

These collaborations reflect an advancement that certainly is welcome, and perhaps overdue. Though there are many sectors that have been working in this interdisciplinary way for a long time, it has come more slowly in academic medical contexts. Rotstein goes on: "Industry has been doing this for a long time. There are lot of companies that make medical devices that have been doing this for a long time. Academic institutions have been siloed…but the need is really an imperative."

In addition to advances in patient care, iBest will provide new opportunities for student training. "The idea will be that we're going to collaborate in student supervision," Rotstein explains. "That means it's possible if there's a medical student or a resident who wants to do his or her research training in an area that's relevant to science and engineering…they could be co-supervised."

iBest is slated to open in the spring of 2015.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ori Rotstein, Director, Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science
Photo: Yuri Markarov, Medical Media, St. Michael's Hospital

Ryerson unveils plan for smart grid lab

With the help of the provincial government, and in conjunction with private sector partner Schneider Electric, Ryerson University will soon be launching a new laboratory dedicated to smart grid innovations.

A smart grid is simply one that gathers fine-grained information about electricity users—where they are, what their usage patterns are, when peak and lower demand times are, and so on—and uses it to more efficiently and effectively distribute power across that grid. It can empower users to be more collaborative energy consumers (by helping us know when the grid is nearing capacity), minimize blackouts and brownouts, and also facilitate the better use of renewable energy as a power source.

The smart grid lab will provide students with a learning ground, so they can receive specialized training in smart grid technology, and also be a research hub, a venue for the development and testing of innovations in smart grid technology.

“Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Energy is committed to solving urban energy challenges,” Sri Krishnan, interim dean of Ryerson's engineering school, emphasized. “Working with Schneider Electric to develop this lab enables us to take this even further and work towards creating innovative solutions within the smart grid technology space, while also providing Ryerson students the benefit of being trained in a state-of-the-art facility."

The lab will be constructed at Ryerson's Centre for Urban Energy, and is scheduled to open in July of 2014.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Matthew Kerry, Marketing and Communications Manager, Centre for Urban Energy, Ryerson University

Cause School now accepting applications

Toronto's got no shortage of well-intentioned people who care enough about various issues to devote their days to launching non-profits, charities, social enterprises, and businesses with social or environmental missions. Not everyone who starts such a venture knows quite how to make it succeed, however, which is why we're seeing more and more incubators and accelerators targeting this sector in particular.

The latest entrant: Cause School, a project that was just launched by Julia Howell in conjunction with communications firm Corktown Seed Company. The idea is to provide a sort of bootcamp for a new venture, Howell explains—just one to start off with, as all the time and support involved are being donated.

Cause School has recruited 12 "faculty" members with expertise in a variety of fields. The founder(s) of the winning project will spend two hours with each one, learning about everything from funding and networking to community engagement. After that, Corktown will provide branding and marketing support, helping the project polish its identity.

What's most important is that applicants demonstrate that they have an initiative that's ready to go, Howell says. It could be a new venture or a project launched by an existing group, and that group can take any form (social enterprise, registered charity, etc.).

Cause School is looking for something "that isn't already being done," she goes on, and "it could be anything: it could be a cultural initiative, it could be an environmental project, it could be in social justice."

What will matter in selecting the winning project is that the applicants have "the basic framework to make [their project] happen"—that they have reliable people involved, perhaps have completed some market testing, and have other fundamentals already in place. It's a crash course for those needing to fine-tune, in other words, rather than a place for people who aren't sure how to begin.

If you're interested you can apply via a simple online form; the deadline is October 14. A shortlisted group will then be invited to make more detailed pitches in person.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Julia Howell, Founder, Cause School

A new standard for fair wages

When the question of how to ensure workers are compensated reasonably for their work arises, one standard that is often invoked is the minimum wage: the notion that governments should protect workers from exploitation by ensuring they are paid a rate than covers their basic needs. (Whether or not current minimum wages accomplish that goal is a separate question.)

More recently though, a new kind of question has emerged, namely one about equity within a company--not just establishing a minimum threshold for every worker, but assessing the difference between how much the lowest and highest earners within a company make. Especially in the wake of movements like Occupy, the idea that senior executives make twenty or thirty or a hundred times more than their junior employees strikes many as unfair, unhealthy for corporate cultures, and damaging to the well-being of the economy overall.

Enter Wagemark, a new international standard for this metric. The Wagemark Foundation just launched specifically to promote this standard, one which it suggests should be an 8:1 ratio:  that is, in any company, the top earner should make no more than eight times as much as the lowest earner.

Peter MacLeod, executive director of the Wagemark Foundation, is also the co-founder of MASS LBP, a consultation firm that focuses on increasing public engagement. Explaining the relationship he sees between these projects, MacLeod told us that "at MASS, we're really interested and concerned in issues like trust and confidence in public institution and well being of members of society... how people can be better involved in policy-making, and work with institutions that they will then hopefully be more inclined to trust." However, he goes on, "this only gets you so far if the economic picture is concerning. Inequality is just unhealthy...it affects everything from crime rates to maternal health to mental health.'

Though the greatest wage disparities are found in the largest corporations, Wagemark is in its first stages aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses. MacLeod says that it's important to note that it isn't just a company's size that helps determine the disparities among the wages its workers earn--geography and culture matter as well.

In countries with the lowest overall wage disparities, such as Japan or Scandinavian nations, there are cultural influences (such as an emphasis on the values of modesty or the common good) that "have influenced contemporary compensation structures."

Wagemark's goal in beginning with smaller companies is "to begin to create that as a cultural norm in North America and [western] Europe"--to start shifting our expectations, and then have those expectations begin to percolate up into larger corporate structures.

We asked MacLeod whether it was mere coincidence that a new standard like Wagemark would emerge here. "If there is fertile ground in this country," he replied, "it's because we have a huge middle class that hasn't recovered…and has huge anxiety that we're being sorted out into different groups and income brackets...and I think that's out of step with Canadian values. I hope that Wagemark speaks to Canadian values."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Peter MacLeod, Executive Director, Wagemark Foundation
59 Downtown Eastside - Old Town - Corktown Articles | Page: | Show All
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