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Sir Richard Branson co-launches local startup seed fund

It's not often that a knight visits Toronto, but on Friday of last week that's exactly what happened as Sir Richard Branson came to town to co-announce a new partnership between his charity, Virgin Unite, and MaRS.

The partnership will see Branson and company seed $1-million towards a new social impact investment fund that will be overseen by MaRS. An additional $500,000 is in the process of being added to fund by various individuals, companies and organizations. Once MaRS closes the fund sometime in the new year, Tim Jackson, lead executive at the Centre for Impact Investing at MaRS, says he expects it grow to somewhere between $3-million and $5-million.

According to Jackson, MaRS will use the fund to invest in early stage startups—that is, startups that are seeking seed or Series A funding—that are for-profit but have a component of social good as a part of their mandate. He listed companies like SunFarmer and Lucky Iron Fish as examples of the type of startups the fund will target. The latter, for instance, is a company that is attempting to solve iron deficiency in Cambodia.

“We’re trying to get rid of this mess that you have to decide between social good and return,” says Jackson, explaining the rationale behind the fund. “We believe that you can accomplish both, and we also view this as a demonstration fund.”
“Every entrepreneur that needs capital will tell you that there’s not enough capital, so while $3 to $5-million is not a lot of money, we think this fund will open up the wallets of other investors who will say I want to get into the impact investing space.”

For his part, Sir Richard Branson said in a press release after the event, “I strongly believe that entrepreneurs have a key role in tackling environmental and social issues with solutions that will last for the long run and help create jobs. Our partnership with MaRS will support inspiring entrepreneurs with the mentoring, training and investments they need to succeed.”

Source: MaRS

Who's hiring in Toronto? CivicAction, SummerWorks, Literary Review of Canada and more...

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

CivicAction, a local organization that is dedicated to solving the city's social, economic and environmental woes, is attempting to fill two positions. The project officer position it's hiring for involves working with various stakeholders to design and implement the organization's new programs. In contrast, the project manager position involves being responsible for overseeing all of CivicAction's leadership programs, including its Emerging Leaders Network and DiverseCity Fellows. The deadline to apply for both positions is January 2.

For those with a journalism background, the Literary Review of Canada is hiring a new editor. According to its posting, the ideal candidate is someone with extensive experience in print media (sorry, young journalists!), an ability to work cordially with a wide array of writers and a knack for networking. In other words, everything one would expect from an editorial position. The deadline to apply is January 2.

Also on the culture front: SummerWorks, the city's venerable summer theatre and music festival, is hiring a new general manager (PDF link). A minimum of four years of experience in arts administration is required for this role. Reporting to and working extensively with Artistic Producer Michael Rubenfeld (check out the interview Yonge Street did with him), the festival's new general manager will be responsible for helping manage the festival's budget, deciding on its critical path, and overseeing staff hiring—among many other duties. The deadline to apply is January 10.

Finally, The Art Gallery of Ontario is hiring an assistant for its development division. Not only is this an opportunity to work in one of the city's most handsome building, it's also a chance to help the gallery execute on its special events. Responsibilities include drafting relevant written materials as needed, maintaining a record of each event, and helping with the logistics of each event. The deadline to apply for this position is December 24.

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

Regenerative cell therapy might be around the corner

Mainstream regenerative tissue therapy may be available sooner than previously thought and may be more affordable once it arrives thanks to a major local breakthrough.

A group of international scientists led by Dr Andras Nagy, a researcher at Mount Sinai hospital, announced last week that they had discovered the process by which a specialized cell can be reprogrammed into a stem cell.

A byproduct of this discovery is that the group also discovered a new stem cell type. According to Dr Nagy, this new so-called F-type has slightly different properties compared to the types he and his colleagues were previously familiar with. He says these new F-type cells are faster, easier and less expensive to grow in a lab compared to regular embryonic-like stem cells. Once a process for growing these F-type cells is perfected, it could take days or hours to grow them compared the several weeks it takes to grow stem cells currently.

Taken together, these two discoveries may soon enable doctors to create “designer” cells that do no exist in the body, but that are safe and efficient when used to cure a disease.

Eric Hoskins, Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, said, in a press release following the announcement, “Stem cell research was pioneered here in the province, and I am proud that we continue to make world-class breakthroughs in this life-saving area of research."

Indeed, those following Yonge Street over the the last couple of weeks will know that the Government of Ontario recently announced $3-million toward the creation of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. To date, the provincial government has invested $150-million into stem cell research, no doubt hoping for exactly this kind of breakthrough.

Source: Mount Sinai

A University of Toronto researcher wants Ghostbuster backpacks to spray your roof

It used to be that it was only feasible to harness portable solar power on a scientific calculator. However, thanks to a major breakthrough by a group of researchers from the University of Toronto, almost any surface, including ones that aren't so smooth and symmetrically shaped, could soon be used to exploit the power of the sun.

It’s all possible thanks to a new manufacturing process called sprayLD. The system allows a light sensitive substance called colloidal quantum dots (CQDs) to be sprayed upon a flexible film that can then be applied to almost any surface. According to the press release that accompanied the announcement, a car roof coated with a film of CQDs could produce enough energy to power three 100-watt lightbulbs.

Illan Kramer, the researcher that led the team that developed the technology, said in a press release, “My dream is that one day you’ll have two technicians with Ghostbusters backpacks come to your house and spray your roof.”

If such a future does come to pass, it will be because of the manufacturing technology Professor Kramer and his colleagues have developed. In contrast to films created by its predecessor, atomic layer deposition (ALD), films created with sprayLD are fast, easy and inexpensive to produce. In fact, Professor Kramer and his team built their prototype using parts already available and relatively inexpensive. The manufacturing system Kramer and company have developed is so effective that films produced with sprayLD show little to no loss in solar-cell efficiency over their ALD counterparts.

Now this technology just needs to make its way to mobile devices. I can't be the only one who has had enough of their smartphone lasting less than a day.

Source: University of Toronto

Photo courtesy of Marit Mitchell.

Industrial Biocatalysis Network aims to develop Earth-friendly plastics

Plastics! Plastics! Plastics! It turns out they don't have to be environment destroyers. 

On November 28, the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and Concordia University announced the formation of the Industrial Biocatalysis Network (IBN). Funded through a $5-million grant by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the partnership will see some of Canada's leading bio-chemical engineers try to find enzymes that produce byproducts that enable the creation of environmentally-friendly chemicals and plastics.

The team is being lead by Professor Elizabeth Edwards, a member of UofT's Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry. The study is excepted to take five years and will involve several partners from Canada's manufacturing industry.

 Professor Edwards and her colleagues decided to embark on this project after completing a study that saw them sequence thousands of different enzymes. “Rather than doing more sequencing, we decided we wanted to focus on what these enzymes actually do,” she says. “We want to find out what their jobs are and how we can put them to use.”

Part of the reason several universities have partnered on this project is to avoid potential overlap and to increase the speed at which the research team is able to zero in on promising leads. “There are thousands of reactions we could potentially look at... and the goal of this network is to help prioritize what we look at. That’s the value of a network: communication and exchange of information and knowledge,” says Professor Edwards.

With even more evidence that the world is going through a period of significant climate change as a result of human activity, Edwards and her team are all too aware of the importance of their research. “There are more people than twice as many people on the planet than when I was born. The pressures on us to adapt are immense, so much so that I don’t like to think where we’ll be if we don’t,” she says. “Everyone feels this pressure and everyone aspires—and deserves—a great standard of living, so we need to come up with solutions that are different from the ones we've used in the past.”

Source: University of Toronto

Photo courtesy of Sara Collaton.

Who's hiring in Toronto? Nascent Digital, Heritage Toronto, Artscape and more

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

For the technically inclined, Nascent Digital, a local software design and development house on Adelaide Street, is attempting to fill multiple positions. They're hiring a front end developer, a full stack developer, a QA analyst, a QA lead, a support engineer and an UX designer.

All told, the firm seems like a great place to work; they've worked on some compelling projects in the past—they helped Tumblr create a unique Windows Phone version of the company's mobile app, for example—and they have a diverse and talented team already in place. Each position has slightly different requirements, though the common theme here is that they're seeking candidates with about three to five years of experience in a related field.

Heritage Toronto is seeking an executive director. The person that takes on this role will become the organization's de-facto CEO, responsible for leading it in its planning, fundraising and outreach initiatives. The group hasn't listed overly detailed requirements, though one imagines they're looking for an organizational maven. It should also go without saying, but only those with a strong passion and love for this great city should apply.

For those not ready to take on a significant leadership role at present, but see themselves in such a role down the line, Artscape has an interesting opportunity. The arts charity is looking for an executive assistant. The role involves working with the organization's president and CEO, Tim Jones. In other words, this is an opportunity to learn from one of Toronto's leading social entrepreneurs.

Finally, Textbooks for Change, an Ottawa-based startup that's moving to Toronto in 2015, is hiring a business developer. The company collects textbook donations from Canadian post secondary institutions and sends the majority of them to African universities—the other half is either recycled or resold to students in North America. According to its positing, Textbooks for Change is growing quickly and needs help expanding its operations into the United States, which is where the business developer comes in.

Like the Heritage Toronto's listing, this listing is light on specific requirements, though the company does warn this is not a “cushy” or “easy” position. “This job will be the most challenging role you've ever had,” they say in their posting.

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

Province makes a giant leap forward in stem cell research

In the 1960s, a pair of researchers from the University of Toronto discovered the existence of stem cells.

In a way, Ontario has been a hotbed for this type of research since then; various provincial governments have invested more than $150-million towards helping unlock the powerful medicinal qualities of stem cells. Diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Crohn's and cancer are just some of the diseases where regenerative cell therapy may present treatments that are far more effective than what we have access to today.

Last week, the provincial government announced that it was reaffirming its commitment to stem cell research by investing $3-million in the creation of the so-called Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a joint partnership between the Ontario Stem Cell Initiative (OSCI) and the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM). The two organizations will towards developing new treatments and finding ways to monetize the treatments they create.

According to the province, the commercialization of regenerative medicine represents a major potential source of revenue for Ontario. In 2011, the global market for regenerative tissue therapy reached $10-billion. By the end of 2015, that figure is expected to reach $19.4-billion.

In a press release that accompanied the announcement, Reza Moridi, Ontario's then-minister of research and innovation, said, “Ontario is thrilled to support this collaborative initiative, which holds the promise to help treat, manage and cure some of the world's most devastating diseases while offering significant economic benefits.”


First-ever CODE Hackathon set for 2015

Hackathons have become all the rage across North America and the world as governments, companies and organizations scramble to find ways to solve some of the world's most pressing problems. The Government of Canada, not one to be left out, has created its own hackathon.

Last week, the federal government announced the 2015 iteration of its Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) Hackathon. Now approaching its second year, CODE asks the country's most talented and creative coders to make use of the wealth of data that the federal government posts on its open data portal.

This year's iteration starts on February 20th—that's the same weekend that International Open Data Day happens—and will last for 48 hours. Coders across the country will be able to participate, though cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal will have special events to mark the occasion. Those that take part will be asked to create applications in three different categories—youth, commerce and quality of life. Participants have a chance to win the $15,000 grand prize, or one of the $5,000 category prizes.

The federal government decided to create the hackathon after Treasury Board president Tony Clement was asked to judge a hackathon that was hosted by XMG Studio, a local mobile game development studio. “The inspiration to do a hackathon arose out of the fact that we were putting these tens of thousands of data sets online, and what we wanted to do was to unlock the creativity of coders and entrepreneurs outside of government in order to kickstart the application of all these data sets,” says Clement.

Last year, one of the winning entries was an application that used the government's data on pollution to tell users if a neighbourhood they were planning to move into suffered from significant air pollution. Minister Clement expects that participants will come up with even better applications this time around, and that some of them might even be inspired to pursue a new career path.

“I'm hoping we get some applications that excite people and let them be creative. I'm also quite convinced that it will give some budding entrepreneurs the ability and motivation to create a career for themselves.”

Source: Government of Canada

Who's hiring in Toronto? Teach for Canada, Hot Docs, Canadian Diabetes Association and more

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

An exciting organization called Teach For Canada is attempting to fill multiple positions at its Toronto head office. They're hiring a director of teacher recruitment, a director of teacher selection and support, a director of community engagement and a director of teacher development.

Those with a passion for education reform should take a look; this non-profit recruits and trains students that are about to complete their bachelor of education and places them in remote and aboriginal communities throughout Canada, all in an attempt to narrow the education gap between Canada's big cities and its more remote towns.

The Toronto International Film Festival is looking for a director of digital. This role involves taking a leadership role in developing the film organization's digital strategy, as well overseeing the creation of its online assets. A minimum of eight years of experience in a related field is required.

Also on the film front, Hot Docs is hiring a publications coordinator. The individual that takes on this role will be responsible for overseeing the creation of all the public and industry facing literature that Hot Docs publishes throughout the year. The requirements—managing a team of contributors, copy editing and overseeing printing—are all things that should be familiar to anyone that's managed a publication in the past, so, current and former editors, take a look.

Finally, the Canadian Diabetes Association is seeking a web designer to develop and update their internal and external web content. Additional responsibilities include creating one-off email layouts for special events and ensuring the organization's web content has a consistent look and feel. The only requirement the Canadian Diabetes Association has listed for this position is two years of experience in web design—experience with a non-profit is a plus, though not necessary.

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


Who's hiring in Toronto? Artscape, Toronto Arts Council, Sun Life Financial and more

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

Push, a Toronto-based startup, is hiring an Android developer. Besides the usual core requirements—experience with Android Studio and a previously released app on the Google Play store—the company is also asking that potential candidates be able to show that they’ve completed at least one bicep curl at some point in their life. Good stuff.

Sun Life Financial is hiring a health and wellness consultant. This role involves helping the company implement its healthy workplace initiatives. Major responsibilities include working with Sun Life’s group benefits group, as well as researching ways for the company to improve its offerings. Sun Life is looking for candidates that have between one and three years of experience implementing similar programs at other workplaces.  

The Toronto Arts Council is seeking a grants assistant. The role involves being the first role of contact and support for those applying for a TAC grant. The organization does not list specific experience requirements for this position; instead, it says that they’re looking for someone that possesses “strong organizational skills, attention to detail and ability to multitask.” Additionally, TAC is looking for someone with a positive attitude and a “willingness to pitch in”. 

Also hiring on the arts and culture front is Artscape. The organization is looking to fill a sales and events manager position at its nearly completed Artscape Sandbox location. The new building, which is located at 21 Widmer Street, will provide space for artists to rehearse, exhibit and teach at, as well as provide space for private and public events. The sales and events manager will be responsible for implementing many of the services that will define the building.  
Do you know of a job opportunity with an innovative company or organization? Let us know!  

Toronto startup leads search for ebola treatments

Since its resurgence at the end of last year, ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 people in West Africa. Its return has sparked panic throughout the world and left researchers and officials scrambling to find a cure. 

Enter a Toronto-based startup called Chematria. The company may hold the key to stopping the disease before it spreads any further. 

Chematria has developed software that allows a supercomputer to analyze how thousands of different drugs might affect a disease like ebola. What’s game changing about the software is that allows researchers to skip the time consuming step of physically synthesizing and testing drugs. 

“We are going to explore the possible effectiveness of millions of drugs, something that used to take decades of physical research and tens of millions of dollars, in mere days with our technology,” says Dr Abraham Heifets, one of Chematria’s co-founders and its CEO. 

The company’s research is possible because it has access to IBM’s Blue Gene/Q, one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Chematria, which is based at the University of Toronto’s Impact Centre, has access to the supercomputer through the Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Partnership (SOSCIP), an agreement that grants 11 Ontario universities and their host of researchers access to IBM’s suite of supercomputers.

Although clinical trials will likely remain an important part of drug testing, Chematria’s research has the ability to dramatically reduce the time it takes to hone in on the drugs that have the best chance at treating a disease or illness. If the company is successful, the face of medicine could be changed forever. 

Source: Chematria

Social Venture Connexion links Toronto and California startups

California has long been seen the centre of the tech world. With companies like Apple, Facebook and Google all calling the relatively small confines of Silicon Valley home, many aspiring to helm their own tech juggernauts move to the Golden State to launch a startup.  

For decades, this has meant that a wealth of talent and capital has flowed to the state at expense of other North American territories. 

Now, that flow is set to become a bit more reciprocal. 

On November 6, the Province of Ontario and State of California announced a new co-investing and collaboration partnership.
The agreement will see the two jurisdictions work together to foster job creation, increase access to capital and attempt to create positive social and environmental change. It will also see Ontario’s Social Venture Connexion, a platform that connects investors with high impact social ventures, expand into California, marking the first time a Canadian platform of this like has scaled to a place outside of the country. 

Toronto will see wealth of benefits from the partnership, says Adam Spence, the associate director at MaRS’s Centre for Impact Investing.  

“If we’re looking at the impact, one is an better access to markets outside of Canada for Toronto-based entrepreneurs,” says Spence,
"An additional impact is a strong demonstration of leadership. We’re showing that we can build and share a platform that’s made in Ontario. We’ve successfully deployed the SVX platform south of the border, and that’s an indication that we have a strong, vibrant and leading impact investing space.” 

Source: MaRS

Who's Hiring in Toronto? Top Hat, City of Toronto, Metro News and more

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

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is looking for a community operations coordinator. This multifaceted role involves a variety of responsibilities, including providing the foundation with data management support, business management support, as well as helping with the onboarding and management of volunteers. Despite the the long list of responsibilities, only a minimum of one to two years in a related field is required to apply.

Top Hat, a Toronto-based startup that creates interactive learning software for classrooms around the world, is looking to fill a variety of positions. Those with a background in software development should check out the company's postings for a full stack developer and a senior quality assurance and test engineer. Those with more of marketing background should look into the company's marketing operations manager posting. Check out Top Hat's website for a full list of positions they're looking to fill.

Journalists looking for a new job should navigate over to Metro's website. Like Top Hat, Canada's second largest daily newspaper is in the process of filling a variety of positions. In Toronto, Metro is seeking two reporters/photographers and a single digital campaign specialist. Those living outside of Toronto are also in luck; Metro is hiring in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax and Ottawa, as well. For the reporter position, Metro is looking for candidates that have at least four years of experience in the newspaper industry, are well versed in CP style and have familiarity with web content management systems.

Finally, the City of Toronto is looking for someone to take over as the manager of events at Yonge-Dundas Square. The person that takes on this role will be expected to oversee all aspects of the square's yearly events schedule. Major responsibilities include and hiring and managing event coordinators and responding to public protests with "tact and respect towards participants".

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

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. 

NXNE announces it's moving its festival headquarters to MaRS

After more than a decade at the Hyatt Regency hotel, the North by Northeast music and arts festival (NXNE) is moving its festival headquarters to MaRS.

NXNE announced the partnership last week, as well as the fact that Pitchfork Media would be taking part in the festival in 2015. The partnership will see the MaRS complex, located at 101 College St, host several of NXNE's most important functions, including its delegate registration, keynote address and all of its interactive panels.

The decision to leave the Hyatt Regency comes after NXNE saw its 2014 interactive panels draw greater crowds and a more varied and accomplished list of speakers.

"Last year we realized that we needed a space that better reflected the level of talent we were bringing in," says Christopher Roberts, NXNE's festival director. "We wanted something that made more of a statement, and something that reflected the mandate of what our conference wanted to do and achieve. Looking through that lens at Toronto's landscape, there really were no other options: MaRS was the perfect marriage of our mandate and what we wanted the conference to be."

As for how the change of locale will affect the festival, Roberts says he hopes attendees feel a new energy when they visit the complex in June.

"I think because its venue where there’s already a culture of people trying to create, rethink and retool ideas, that that energy will permeate to the rest of the conference. You will see a band playing in one corner and someone will be discussing their startup in another. That’s the energy and buzz I want to create, and I think that MaRS already has a great ecosystem to help foster that kind of environment."

NXNE 2015 takes place June 17 through 21. 

Source: Christopher Roberts
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