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Markham : Innovation + Job News

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New study shows York Region is a digital leader

Though there's a growing appreciation that Toronto and the surrounding regions are fast becoming a major hub for tech and digital innovation, just how sizable we've become in those sectors isn't always apparent. A new study highlights the significance of southern Ontario in particular, as "one of the most concentrated centres of technology leadership and growth in the world."

Conducted by tech sector analysts The Branham Group, the report identifies what it calls "Ontario’s own Digital Corridor: a concentrated cluster of innovative technology firms across the York Region, GTA, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Hamilton areas." In that corridor, the report finds, are "176,000 skilled professionals working in the technology sector, generating an average of $387,000 in revenue per employee."

The report is in part an attempt to not just identify the strength of the Toronto-Hamilton corridor in the tech sector, but to highlight one major shortcoming: our lack of effective marketing to celebrate this concentration of talent when compared to, for instance, Silicon Valley.

Our corridor "has everything offered by its U.S. counterpart: talented entrepreneurs, innovative companies, supportive governments, major post-secondary institutions (at least 12) and a track record of success." The report coins the term "Digital Corridor" as an attempt to begin to rectify that situation, developing a local analogue to the Silicon Valley branding that made that part of northern California so famous.

Comparing the two regions, the report notes some interesting differences: per capita income and overall population is higher here, but revenue per employee and total revenue generated are higher there. One potential explanation for this raised in the report: Canada tends to spend less on research and development than our neighbours to the south.

In an interview with John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures that is included as part of the report, Ruffalo says: "Your data is concerning and supports other research indicating that Canada’s track record in R&D spend trails other nations around the world. We have to reverse this and make sure R&D spend is a key priority. It is a central strategy for viability of our industry and in individual companies."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: The Branham Report (Issue 2)

Helping musicians find their soulmates

Between Craigslist and the variety of social networks now available, you might think that finding a new bandmate might be as easy as posting an ad or a status update. Many musicians, however, find it isn't so easy.

This is what led Shaan Singha and Troy Fullerton to co-found DownToJam, a start-up social network created specifically for musicians.

The idea came up during a casual conversation: Fullerton was helping Singha move a motorcycle and was complaining about his trouble finding someone to jam with. Singha asked, "Isn't there anything like [a dating website] where you can see someone's profile, what they're doing?"

It turned out that there wasn't, and so the two decided to create one. It was, says Singha, "born out of desperation, trying to find compatible friends to play with."

Their goal is to help people build actual friendships over music, and to have the range of people participating be as diverse as possible. Fullerton is an experienced musician and Singha is a beginner: they hope to be able to match people at all parts of the spectrum of expertise.

The site is still technically in beta, with an official launch coming later this summer. So far Texas and Toronto are the two biggest user groups; DownToJam has a total of about 3,000 members so far.

"Services for our members free," Singha says—something they are committed to maintaining. The business plan includes beginning with ad revenue, and then moving on to including a classified-style section of enhanced profiles.

DownToJam also includes a third co-owner, Neil McWilliam—their developer—and they plan on hiring in coming months for a forthcoming blogging division.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Shaan Singha, co-founder, DownToJam

Who's Hiring in Toronto? Soulpepper, TIFF, and more

The most interesting of the opportunities that we've come across lately:

The University of Toronto has two particularly interesting openings right now. The Department of Family and Community Medicine is looking for a research assistant to support a study examining the delivery of healthcare to patients with chronic pain issues. Applicants should have a master’s degree in social sciences, health administration, or psychology. Meanwhile, the office of the vice president for research and innovation is seeking an entrepreneurship manager to identify company creation opportunities that emerge from the university's research.

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), which helps young Canadians who want to launch their own ventures, has two opportunities of note right now. They are looking for a regional marketing manager who will be based in their Toronto office, but focus on supporting the regional offices in the western provinces. And they are also on the hunt for a social media and content creation coordinator to handle online content across all platforms.

In the cultural sector, TIFF also has several openings at the moment. Among them: a scheduling coordinator for festival programming for candidates with at least one year of arts administration experience; an assistant for festival programming to provide administrative support; and an assistant for volunteer and intern resources for someone with at least one year of experience in volunteer management.

Also in the cultural sector, Soulpepper, Toronto's largest theatre company, is looking for a development coordinator, ideally with at least two or three years of experience in non-profit fundraising. The Literary Press Group of Canada, a non-profit that represents the country's literary publishers, is looking for an education and engagement manager, to tackle both internal and external projects. Finally, the City of Markham has a nine-month contract available for a discovery coordinator to manage and administer several theatre-related programs.

Do you know of a creative and innovative job opportunity? Let us know!

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

PowerStream unveils micro grid demonstration project

Like many municipalities, ones in Ontario are starting to play a larger role in energy production and distribution. One local company, PowerStream, is owned by three such municipalities together: Barrie, Markham, and Vaughan. And like many of these smaller companies, the focus is increasingly on using smart grid technology and renewable energy sources to lower the environmental burdens of providing power. A few weeks ago, PowerStream unveiled a new micro grid demonstration project in an attempt to further explore those possibilities.

Smart grid technology is essentially a way of fine-tuning the collection and distribution of power across a network, by working with real-time, fine-grained information about energy demands, sending power to where it is most needed and in some cases bringing power sources on- and off-line dynamically, to meet changing demands. PowerStream's micro grid works in the same way, but on a much smaller scale than the provincial power system—it's scaled to meet local needs, ideally with local, renewable power sources. It also latches into the provincial grid, drawing power from it when needed, and sending power to the grid if it's producing more than it requires.

PowerStream's micro grid demonstration project is installed at its head office in Vaughan. John Mulrooney, director of smart grid technologies for PowerStream, explains the project in a video guide as: "a two-phase initiative that will evaluate the micro grid's effectiveness as an alternative energy supplier for PowerStream's head office. It will test the ability to utilize different power sources and storage while delivering safe, reliable service."

In the first phase, power—coming from solar panels, wind turbines, and natural gas generator, and stored in three different types of batteries—will be used to provide electricity for the building's  lighting, a/c system, and refrigeration, plus charging stations for their electric vehicles. The goal in this first phase is to test how well the system operates when it's disconnected from the provincial grid. The second phase will see new sources of power generation added into the mix; the goal at that point will be to test the grid's ability to feed power into the provincial network.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: PowerStream

Fedex opens new 89,000-square-foot facility in Markham

Shipping isn't, let's face it, a particularly rivetting subject. Parcels and waybills and tracking numbers are hardly the stuff entrepreneurs' dreams are made of. They are, however, necessary in every business: shipping is one of those mundane but utterly essential services companies need in order to function effectively.

Responding to that need is FedEx, which officially opened a new 89,000-square-foot facility in Markham earlier this month. Markham—itself getting used to its new role as a city, having just graduated from being a town—is now home to nearly 900 high-tech companies and 400 other company headquarters.

Its needs, in short, are growing.

"It's not by any mistake that we found ourselves in Markham," says Jason Anderson, a spokesperson for FedEx. "A lot of business [in the GTA], we're finding. is coming directly out of the Markham area." That business will be served by 150 staff working at the new site, which has been in development for 18 months and is built to accommodate further growth in the coming years.

While it's not yet clear just what kinds of companies will be most contributing to that growth, it is certainly the case that when shipping companies get busier, it's a sign of economic health. As Anderson puts it: "FedEx is a good economic bellwether."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Jason Anderson, Media Relations, FedEx Express Canada

Ideacia ONE's new Markham innovation centre encourages tenants to learn from each other

Co-location has, in recent years, become increasingly prevalent in the small business and non-profit sectors. It's a useful alternative for enterprises that are smaller or just starting out. Pooling costs for essentials like office space and phone service helps keep overhead costs down, not to mention cutting down the time time spent managing infrastructure and logistics.

Stepping into the co-location world is consulting firm Ideacia ONE Inc., which has just launched a space specifically geared to innovative businesses. The 3,000-square-foot facility is located in Markham, in an office tower at Woodbine and Steeles; they are currently accepting applications from prospective tenants.

Ideacia's aim, says co-founder Jennifer Powers, is to create a middle ground between "typical business centres where you can rent space, [but] if you walk through the aisles everyone has their door closed" on the one hand, and intervention-oriented government incubators on the other. Ideacia's Innovation Centre, if things go according to plan, will "bring [a] diverse group together into an environment that's very open… that will really encourage them to share ideas and support each other in their growth."

Powers says prospective tenants will be screened to ensure than none are in direct competition with each other. The founders hope tenants will eventually develop business relationships with each other as an organic outcome of sharing physical space.

Ideacia's current roster of clients—about 150 in total—ranges from companies that have worked with NASA to smaller entrepreneurs who want help streamlining their day-to-day operations. On this effort, Ideacia is specifically seeking technological enterprises and other small businesses that provide relevant support services.

As for the "innovation" in "Innovation Centre," Powers emphasizes that it's important not to invest the word with some sort of mythic weight. Innovation, she says, "doesn't necessarily have to be incredibly earth-shattering. People can absolutely use innovation in every sector, every business—it's really a mind-shift."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Jennifer Powers, Principal and Co-Founder, Ideacia ONE Inc.

Markham eco-muffler manufacturer Novo Plastics lands $975K investment for global growth

Markham-based injection-molded plastics manufacturer Novo Plastics has developed a muffler system for cars that it says is more ecologically friendly, cheaper, lighter and more durable than conventional mufflers. And with a recent investment of $975,000, it will be expanding its GTA manufacturing facility to improve distribution.

Founded in 2006, the company has grown to employ more than 70 people in its 80,000-square-foot factory in Markham, manufacturing plastic parts for heating and air-conditioning systems, as well as automobiles. Its innovative muffler system has been undergoing testing and continued development over the past year.

Novo Plastics CEO Baljit Sierra says that because plastic is far lighter than steel, the muffler system vastly improves gas mileage. "There's been a huge push by car manufacturers to take weight out of the vehicle, and this muffler represents a significant weight reduction, which makes the car much lighter. It also has a far cooler surface temperature which eliminates the need for other equipment."

The injection of capital comes courtesy of the federal government's Ontario economic development arm, FedDev Ontario, which announced the funding last week under its Prosperity Initiative. The repayable investment is targeted to allow the company to tool up to be the first to bring this type of system to market and to distribute it around the world.

Sierra says he expects to be growing the size of the company's workforce over the next year or two, once the ongoing testing phase of the product is complete; he declined to guess at a specific number of hires at this stage. In addition to its Markham headquarters, the company operates sales and distribution offices in the US, Germany, India and South Korea.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, Novo Plastics

GTA's PowerStream becomes first electricity company in Ontario to win two LEED Gold certifications

PowerStream, an electricity distribution utility jointly owned by the cities of Markham, Barrie and Vaughan, has become the first company in the 905 and the first electricity company in Ontario to have two different buildings certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold.

In announcing the new green credential at the company's south operations centre in Markham, president and CEO Brian Betz said the recognition was a tribute the company's commitment to "innovation and forward thinking."

The facility is home to more than 150 staff, about a third of the company's workforce. Among the sustainability innovations that earned the facility recognition were 16.5 kilowatts of solar energy generation capacity, along with a host of conservation features including a white roof to keep the building cool, drought-resistant landscaping to lower water usage, and heating and air-conditioning systems the company says are "free of harmful gases."

Markham mayor Frank Scarpitti, chair of PowerStream's board, says that the efforts put into the building show the company's dedication to innovative social and environmental consciousness. "This building's achievement of LEED Gold certification is consistent with PowerStream's corporate vision," he said in a statement, "committed to the environment and sustainable growth."

PowerStream's head office in Vaughan was certified LEED Gold three years ago.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Eric Fagen, PowerStream Inc.

Markham's Novo Plastics gets $1 million loan from province for eco-friendly auto parts

Markham-based injection-moulded plastics manufacturer Novo Plastics, whose manufacturing facility employs 70 people in the GTA, has received $1 million in support for an innovative car parts line. The money, provided in the form of a loan facility, is provided by the Ontario Ministry of Innovation through its Innovation Demonstration Fund.

The company was founded in 2006 to design and manufacture parts for heating and air conditioning systems and for automobiles. It's products for cars aim to be more environmentally friendly than alternatives. Novo Plastics President and CEO Baljit Sierra said in a statement that the loan from the government will help fund the continued testing and commercialization of a muffler system that is lightweight and offers lower carbon emissions than traditional metal mufflers. "Novo Plastics in honoured to have this vote of confidence from the government of Ontario," Baljit said, calling it an "investment in advanced, green technology."

In its five years of operation, Novo Plastics has grown to fill an 80,000-square-foot headquarters in Markham that runs three production shifts, as well as establishing sales and manufacturing facilities in the US, Germany, India and South Korea.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Baljit Sierra, President and CEO, Novo Plastics

Marham's DVS Sciences opens new Markham facility, sees growth of more than 25 staff by end of year

The U of T spin-off company DVS Sciences opened a new R&D headquarters in Markham last week, a step forward in what company President and CEO Scott Tanner describes as a "significant success story" for the local innovation scene.

Tanner said the company had its origins around 2005 within U of T spin-off company Sciex when he began research to apply mass spectrometry to biology through individual cell analysis. DVS was launched in 2009 and moved back into the University of Toronto fold, where Tanner says they were able to take advantage of "multi-faculty, multi-disciplinary" collaboration.

Since then the company has launched six instruments, and recently got a significant boost for its innovative products with the publication of a large paper from Stanford University published earlier this month in the journal Science. "The technology has had great support already, and we had several research papers published. But this is the first big paper in the biological sciences press that people will see...Just since the paper was published, we've been getting four or five inquiries a day."

The gangbusters growth is manifesting in many ways. In addition to opening the new office, Tanner says the company has just finished a round of hiring, adding three staff in the past week. He says that the company will open a sales office in California this summer and he anticipates hiring an additional 22 or so staff by the end of the year (about 13 of them in Markham).

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Scott Tanner, President & CEO, DVS Sciences

Electric car demo centre--and 8 charging stations--now open in the GTA

The California-based company Better Place, who promote the use of electric vehicles, officially opened their Toronto operations earlier this month.  As of March 4, the company is operating a electric vehicle demonstration centre at Toronto's Evergreen Brick Works in the Don Valley just east of Rosedale, where members of the general public can learn more about electric vehicles and see a sample of a charging station.

The project, which received $1 million in funding form the provincial government, also includes eight GTA charging stations that will mostly serve participating corporate partners for now, located in Barrie, Toronto, Bowmanville, Markham, Vaughan and Ajax.

Better Place's North American VP, Jason Wolf, says in a statement that this type of project is part of setting the stage for "mass adoption" as the first-generation of electric vehicles rolls off the assembly lines. "This project highlights some of the key building blocks to get there: government leadership; public education; and a smart network system that scales and delivers benefits to the grid, rather than strains it." In addition to the provincial government, Better Places is working with the City of Toronto and regional utilities in the suburbs.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: John Proctor, Better Place; Leigh-Ann Popek, office of the Minister of Economic Development

Computing innovators OnX recognized again for management excellence, hiring 11 now

When Markham-based OnX solutions was recently recognized for the third year in a row for its commitment to its ongoing drive to "grow, innovate and deliver continuous business value," by being named to the Deloitte list of the 50 Best Managed Companies in Canada, OnX President Ed Vos issued a statement attributing the honour to the strength of his "world-class team of IT professionals."

Now, the company is looking to expand that team by adding 11 staff in its offices in Markham and Toronto.

The company, founded in 1983, was also recognized in 2010 as one of the best places to work in Canada. OnX designs, builds and operates "mission-critical computing environments" and cloud computing solutions to companies across Canada and around the world.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Ed Vos, President, OnX Solutions

York region opens first of 11 stations on its Viva rapid transit bus network

York Region's so-far-successful bus network, Viva, launched the next innovative faze of its development with the opening of Warden Station in downtown Markham on March 6, the first of 11 stops on its planned 35.8 kilometer Bus Rapid Transit Network. Branded VivaNext, the network features buses running on dedicated, separated lanes that could at some future time be converted to light rail if York Region decides it would be advantageous.

The entire network is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and the construction process is expected to create more than 11,000 jobs. Viva's bus service has consistently featured innovation since the launch of its conventional bus service in 2004 -- it was launched as the province's first transportation public-private partnership and from the start featured GPS navigation and real-time scheduling information for riders as well as the province's Presto card fare system, features the larger Toronto Transit Commission is only now implementing.

The entire network is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Dale Albers, York Region Rapid Transit Corporation

GE Canada will open $40 million sustainable energy innovation centre, hiring 146 over 4 years

GE Canada announced last week that it will open a new $40 million "Grid IQ Innovation Centre" in Markham. The 200,000-square-foot centre will be devoted to developing and manufacturing sustainable energy products to modernize the electrical grid. It will also contain a global testing and simulation lab.

This is the second major innovation centre in the GTA announced by GE this year. Just last month, we reported that the company would be opening a Digital Pathology Imaging research centre. As in that case, the new Grid IQ centre draws on provincial government investment -- the Government of Ontario will be contributing $7.9 million towards the project.

GE General Manager of Smart Substations Juan Marcias said the project would create approximately 146 new "innovation-related jobs" over the coming four years, and would also have an even greater indirect job creation effect through design and manufacturing, which are scheduled to begin within months. Marcias said that Markham's population of "highly skilled, educated and multi-lingual workforce" were a contributing factor to the planned location, which he expects to engage in significant global collaboration. The facility should be completed by July 2012.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Sarah Triantafillou, GE Canada
32 Markham Articles | Page: | Show All
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