| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter Youtube RSS Feed

design : Innovation + Job News

109 design Articles | Page: | Show All

Ladies Learning Code establish an office & expands to Ottawa

Ask Heather Payne to describe how Ladies Learning Code came to be, and it'll all come out in a rush. How she  went to a workshop for women who wanted to learn Python (a coding language) in Los Angeles in May of 2011 and "had such a good time that I wanted to learn everything for ever." How she came back to Toronto and tweeted about the experience. How that sparked so much enthusiasm that she held a planning workshop in July to explore the feasibility of holding similar events here (85 people signed up). How, one month later, Ladies Learning Code held its very first workshop.

LLC's workshops range from basic HTML to higher-level coding, photo editing and design. While they are geared primarily towards women, men are welcome to attend as well. Six hour-long workshops are about $50, more for girls' classes, which have a lower instructor-student ratio. In the year since LLC held that first workshop it has grown in any number of ways and directions: in addition to the 1,700 people who've attended workshops in the first year, they held a coding camp for girls this summer, and have been adding more classes for girls during the year.

LLC also just opened their first office, in the Centre for Social Innovation, and now has expanded to add chapters in Vancouver and Ottawa (the latter of which will host its own first event later this fall).

LLC isn't planning on adding any new organizers or staff anytime soon—they've got a lot to manage already—but Payne says their work wouldn't be possible without the help of countless people and companies in the city. I ask her what she's learned about Toronto in the process of setting up LLC, and she's immediately effusive: "I have learned mostly about how amazing and generous supportive Toronto's startup and tech scenes are…. LLC is only possible because of that support."

In another year? Payne hopes LLC's space at CSI will "become a community hub for people who want to learn," and that the new chapters in Ottawa and Vancouver will be joined by others across the country.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Heather Payne, Founder, Ladies Learning Code

JOLT technology accelerator announces its first cohort of startups

Earlier this year we wrote about JOLT, a technology accelerator created by the folks at MaRS Discovery District. Back then, executive director Susan McGill explained that the goal was to facilitate the rapid and efficient development of startups by funding and mentoring them in groups, rather than one by one.

Last week McGill unveiled the first group of startups that have been selected to participate in JOLT. Each will receive $30,000 in seed funding, as well as work space, design and development support, and guidance from an advisor. The participanting start-ups are:
•  tout.it, a social media platform aimed at sports fans
•  SlingRide, a tool for connecting drivers and passengers who want to cut costs by ridesharing
•  eProf, which creates "interactive virtual classrooms"
•  Venngage, a user-friendly tool for creating infographics
•  ShelfLife, a socially-driven e-commerce platform for collectibles
•  Greengage, which wants to help employers help their employees become more environmentally friendly

"These startups beat out dozens of other applicants from all over Canada," wrote McGill in a note introducing the first JOLT group last week.

In a few months they'll try to build on that success, taking what they learn at MaRS in order to pitch venture capitalists on the services and products they've been refining.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Susan McGill, Executive Director, JOLT

Shopcastr closes $1M in new financing, plans roll out in US cities

Like many startups, Shopcastr is learning to roll with the punches.

Founder Matt O'Leary began his adventures in online shopping experimentation in July 2011, with an idea called Hipsell. His idea was to create a "beautiful shopping experience in the classified space"—essentially to "disrupt" existing sites like Kijiji and Craigslist and help users "unleash the power of [their] basements." What he quickly learned, however, is that the stock in people's basements runs out very quickly; it's retailers who have the capacity to meet ongoing consumer demand.

At least, they have the products to do so. Putting those products online, however, isn't the easiest task. Order satisfaction, suppy management, keeping listings updated—there are a host of new tasks that come with opening an online version of your shop, tasks which can be difficult and expensive for small retailers to manage. And so after conducting a series of customer-discovery interviews, O'Leary changed his approach and developed Shopcastr, a platform that enables small Toronto retailers to easily conduct online sales. He's racked up more than 600 participating stores so far, with the help of an initial $150,000 round of seed funding.

Now Shopcastr is planning to take its model of hyperlocal online shopping to new cities. They've just announced $1 million in new financing from a number of investors, including initial backer Mantella Venture Partners (MVP) and the MaRS Investment Accelerator Fund.

First on the expansion list: sites for New York and San Francisco, which O'Leary is aiming to do by the end of the year. His next Canadian target is Vancouver.

To accomodate this growth, Shopcastr is hiring, hoping to double their current staff complement of six within the year.

"We are in desperate need of some additional support on the tech side more than anything else," O'Leary says; they are looking for at least one more developer and some design talent to start in the coming months.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Matt O'Leary, Founder & CEO, Shopcastr

Ubisoft unveils first game emerging from its Toronto studio

French video game developer Ubisoft opened a Toronto studio in September, 2010. Finally the company has released details about that studio's inaugural production: the sixth installment in the Tom Clancy video game series Splinter Cell, called Splinter Cell: Blacklist.

Unveiled at the Electronic Entertaintment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles this month, the game (whose protagonist is black-ops agent Sam Fisher) will incorporate new movement and voice recognition features. The game has been in development for two years, and is expect to launch in the spring of 2013.

When Ubisoft first launched in Toronto, it was with four staff. They are currently at 220, says communications director Heather Steele, and they plan to grow to 800 staff by 2020. She added that Ubisoft is currently hiring "in all different functions."

While Toronto is known for its indie gaming community, Ubisoft is the first major player to open up a production facility here. Steele says they draw inspiration from those independent developers, and says the company hopes to "round out" the local gaming culture with its larger game products. Until recently the Toronto studio was also working on the development of another game, Rainbow Six; they have completed their deliverables on that project and are turning their attention exclusively to Splinter Cell for the time being.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Heather Steele, Director of Communications, Ubisoft Toronto

Rosehill launches wine-rack design and manufacturing facility in Mississauga

"Years ago, I was a hired general contractor," says Gary LaRose, "and I got a commission to do a wine cellar."

The experience of the building project sparked a love affair with wine, he says, leading him to take "about 10 wine courses and become an avid collector." His passion and his business merged when 17 years ago he decided to specialize in building wine cellars, founding Rosehill Wine Cellars.

That collected experience led him finally to the recent opening of a dedicated wine-rack manufacturing facility in Mississauga, the first of its kind in Canada, unveiled publicly through press announcements this month after two years of preparations and testing.

"It takes a while to set it all up," LaRose says, noting the gradual collection of robotics and computer design equipment. Now the facility is operating at full speed, serving custom orders from across Canada and around the world. Rosehill may soon start seeking dealer arrangements with agents to compliment its online sales and Toronto retail store. "I didn't want to do this until the factory was ready," LaRose says.

At the factory and in Rosehill's Etobicoke retail location, LaRose now employs 17 staff in what is a growing, highly specialized area of industrial home design. "It's actually a very specialized subfield," he says. "You have to think like a wine collector—what types of wines will it house, the size of the bottles, displays.... Some people buy only by the case, some have lots of magnums of champagne, some will have no magnums. And then you need to know how to refrigerate the room, and build your racking all around it."

He says Rosehill has grown with the growing interest in food and drink appreciation over the past decade.

"At one time the people who would hire us were avid collectors looking to make a perfect home for their collections," he says. "Now it's quite a lot of people who just have a big home and are interested in starting a collection—they want to build the home first and add the wine collection later."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Gary LaRose, Owner, Rosehill Wine Cellars 

Design crowdsourcing platform Majoura wins $25K startup competition

"I cannot wait to start my business," Noura Sakkijha told StartMeUp Ryserson as it announced she was the winner of this year's $25,000 Slaight Business Plan competition. The company she's starting, Majoura, is a crowdsourcing platform for designers, allowing them to get feedback from consumers before manufacturing and distributing products.

In addition to $25,000 in seed money, Sakkijha will get mentoring from StartMeUp, an organization designed to foster entrepreneurship among students at Ryerson University.

To win this year's competition, Sakkijha beat out 31 other entrants, including four other finalist companies: Soapbox (recently profiled by Yonge Street), engineering consultants Peytec, homelessness documentarians Make Treks, job board My TaskRunner and discount postboard Bank My Coupons.

Past winners of the contest include former Yonge Street subject Damn Heels.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Piotr Makuch, StartMeUp Ryerson

Upverter grows user base 700% in 3 months, expect to double staff in 2012

When Upverter officially launched its web-sharing software for hardware design at the prestigious Demo conference in fall 2011, the company went from 500 Beta users to 1,500 users in a single day. Now they're up to 3,500 "early adopter" users, says company co-founder and CEO Zak Homuth, as they plan to launch a second version of the software this spring.

In a nutshell, the product can be described as "Google Docs for hardware," allowing designers and engineers to collaborate on the web while designing machines and other real-world objects. "Building real things is really hard and it costs a lot," Homuth says. "We're trying to make that easier."

Homuth and his two co-founders were friends and roommates as engineering students at the University of Waterloo, when they decided to try to solve some of the field's problems by introducing the kind of team-sharing software that had already been introduced to office functions and software design. Homuth says the field of industrial design software was well-established and can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and perhaps because of its maturity as a software sector, it has been slower to see innovation.

The company got an early boost through a Silicon Valley residency at the Y Combinator incubator, but came home to Toronto to establish itself. "We came back for the talent," Homuth says. "The money goes three times as far, and we're hiring the same guys as the companies in the Valley hire, from the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto, but we're offering them the city environment that they want, that feels like home."  The company has raised three rounds of funding so far, and expects to raise more revenue for a broader marketing push after the new version is launched this spring, likely in April.

Homuth says his team has grown from the three original founder to seven staff now, and expects that after the spring launch, the team will double in size.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Zak Homuth, Founder and CEO, Upverter

Eve Medical's innovation brings women's health home from the clinic

"We were all talking, and someone brought up a pap test," says Jessica Ching of a conversation in her industrial design class at OCAD. "No really likes going, and it's a problem. This is something that's potentially life-saving, yet people hate it. That's a shame." That observation led Ching and her business partner Evan Moses to found Eve Medical, a Toronto medical device startup that aims to improve health outcomes for women.
Since incorporating in 2010, the two-person company has attracted a series of small but significant sources of encouragement and funding, including grants and loans from the provincial Ministry of Innovation, winning the MaRS Up-Start contest and the Martin Walmsley Fellowship for Technical Entrepreneurship.
Eve Medical's first product is HerSwab, a device that allows women to collect their own samples to test for vaginal infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and, especially, HPV (human papillomavirus). The last is important because the presence of certain strains of HPV can indicate a high-risk of cervical cancer, and diagnosing cases more easily could lead more women into screening for the life-threatening cancer. The device allows women to overcome the significant barrier of needing to visit a clinic for an intimate and sometimes invasive test administered by a doctor.

Ching says she hopes to have the device finalized by next month, after which a launch to market—likely in Europe first, partly because getting regulatory approvals there is easier—will follow.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Jessica Ching, CEO, Eve Medical

Toronto's Pressly offers publishers tablet functionality on the web

Jeff Brenner, CEO of Toronto startup Pressly, says that the company was born out of two core perceptions. "It comes out of our belief that the battle for publications on touch devices is going to be fought on the web, through browsers, more than through native applications. And the web today is really broken on those devices—it's build for a click and scroll desktop environment."

That led Brenner, through his company Nulayer, to build a platform that allows publishers to automatically optimize their websites for the touch-and-swipe world of tablets. The platform, launched a few months ago with the Toronto Star, is very low maintenance for publishers, who need only drop an RSS feed into Pressly to let the platform do its work.

The innovative approach and the success of the Star's launch recently led Startup North to proclaim Pressly one of the Canadian startups to watch in 2012. The company already provided much to watch at the tail end of 2011. Over the holidays, they launched with the tablet-optimized retail site logicbuy.com, and just this week prestigious UK business magazine The Economist launched an entirely new publication on Pressly.

Brenner says that within the next two to three months, he expects the company to launch its self-serve platform for smaller publishers. So far, the Pressly team has grown to 10 staff members, Brenner says. He expects that number to grow. "I can tell you the rate we've been growing the past few years is to double every year, and I expect that to pretty much continue on into the future."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Jeff Brenner, CEO, Pressly

Toronto startup BuzzData brings social media tools to information sharing

"I started out to write a book about data literacy," says Pete Forde, co-founder and CTO of Toronto startup BuzzData, "to galvanize people to understand that data, as a democratic, free resource, could be used to create both good in the world and business value. That turned into a working principle." And that, says the web developer-turned-entrepreneur, turned into a company.

BuzzData, which had a soft launch roughly six weeks ago, sets out to allow people to share and work with data sets more effectively, improving on the traditional top-line presentation of spreadsheets and databases, while allowing direct and archived interaction between users. Already, with no formal marketing or advertising, the site has quietly attracted 1,800 core users to its free public version. These "data VIPs," as Forde calls them, are building a community the company hopes will demonstrate the utility of a premium collaboration product marketed to companies who work with data.

The project sprung out of a consulting job Forde and his firm Unspace were working on for an outside investor. He says their efforts began in earnest when a core team of three people, including co-founder and CEO Mark Opausky, started collaborating. Over the summer, BuzzData began hiring, staffing up its office near Queen and Spadina to employ 11 people. Their current staff size, Forde says, is expected to support the company as it scales up, with any future employment growth coming in customer support and logistics.

And the book? "You could say it's being written every day," Forde says. "There is still much to be written."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Pete Forde, co-founder and CTO, BuzzData

MaRS research and innovation hub to expand: Phase two construction will create 4,000 direct jobs

The MaRS Discovery District, opened in 2005, has rapidly fulfilled its intended function as a hub of research and an accelerator of innovation—an incubator of dozens of start-up companies and a link between researchers, hospitals, universities, entrepreneurs, financiers and venture capitalists. Today, more than 2,300 people are directly employed by the various tenants housed at its College Street MaRS centre, and it recently announced an expansion that will see it almost double in square footage and make it, according to the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation, "the largest urban innovation hub in the world."

The phase two construction—which was always part of the long-term strategy—was halted when the global economic crisis struck in 2008. Now it's back on, with committed tenants and provincial government financing, according to MaRS Discovery District CEO Ilse Treurnicht.

The construction, now underway and scheduled for completion in September 2013, will employ 4,000 workers. Information supplied by the office of the minister of innovation suggests the job gains will not all be temporary, either: after completion, 5,000 people are expected to work at the facility, including employees of anchor tenants Public Health Ontario and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

"Today, start-ups are blooming and growing across the GTA," Treurnicht writes. "These young, high-growth companies create the majority of new jobs in modern economies.... The expanded MaRS Centre will catalyze more startups and help grow companies that will generate thousands more knowledge-based jobs in the years ahead."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Ilse Treurnicht, CEO, MaRS Discovery District; Office of the Minister of Research and Innovation; Chris Stevenson
Communications Director, MaRS

Toronto washroom hygiene innovators Hygienna flush with $50,000 from Spin Master Innovation grant

Yonge Street reported this spring that Canada's largest toy maker (and one of its fastest growing companies), Spin Master, had teamed up with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to sponsor an innovation fund that would give recipient companies $50,000 and team them up with mentors to help their businesses grow.

Citing the "innovation, passion, integrity and outstanding character" of all the recipients, Spin Master CEO Ronnen Harary announced the eight recipients of grants from the fund. Among them was one Toronto-area company, Hygienna, founded by local entrepreneur Christopher Kang. The company is focused on design innovation in the personal hygiene field; its first product is a screw-top attachment for water bottles that turns them into portable bidets.

As Kang explains here, his company was inspired by the simple realization that for many people, going to the washroom, especially a public washroom, "can be a complicated and traumatic experience, so we're out to help them solve their problem."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Harold Chizick, VP of global communications and promotions, Spin Master Ltd.

Top Toronto startup 500px goes from 2 to 8 staff this summer, is hiring two more

Earlier this year, the Toronto-based photo-sharing platform 500px was a two-person, home-based, self-financed operation. It had been that way since 2003, when it launched on the former blogging giant Livejournal, and remained that way as it slowly grew in popularity after it migrated to its current site on the web in 2009. The site allows users to share photos and to create galleries and portfolios. But when the number of the site's users suddenly grew by 60 per cent this spring to 85,000, 500px jumped into another league.

An announcement of $525,000 in venture capital financing in early June and a move to office space at Ryerson's Digital Media Zone drew notice, and soon 500px rose to the top of the TechVibes list of Toronto's hottest startups (seventh on the Canada-wide list). As reported recently in the Globe and Mail, the company's growth had been on the verge of sinking it. With the new funding, it instead seems to be rising fast.

This summer, the startup has grown from the original two founders to a staff off eight, and they are currently hiring two more developers now, as they look for new office space.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Evgeny Tchebotarev and Oleg Gutsol, fournders, 500px; The Globe and Mail, TechVibes, TechCrunch

Toronto startup DataAppeal launches free app to map information, is hiring 2

Toronto startup DataAppeal launched a new application in June that allows users to easily create well-designed 3-D and 4-D maps of geo-location data. The new product, which had its genesis in founder Nadia Amoroso's PhD thesis about two years ago, has already drawn notice from the people at Google Earth (who called the product "neat stuff" and a "solid tool" and has been put to use by the Globe and Mail (scroll down to see data maps). Amoroso says that DataAppeal is getting good traffic now, during a free Beta phase. After further refinements, the plan is to make DataAppeal work on a freemium model where a basic version is available at no charge and more sophisticated elements are available for a price.

DataAppeal CEO Amoroso says the project was built by professionals to ensure the data maps are both visually appealing but useful, "The models have been created through a collaboration of GIS specialists and artists to ensure that data is displayed in a more visually appealing manner to create a stronger response to information."

In its infancy, the company is now hiring people with expertise in software development, and 3-D rendering and modelling. Amoroso says the plan is currently to add two members to her team, "Particularly those with experience with KML or KMZ languages, or with php and CakePHP. A visual or graphics background is very helpful too."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Nadia Amoroso, CEO, DataAppeal

Toronto's Innovative Composites lands "game-changing" $68 million overseas housing contract

Earlier this year, Clive Hobson of Innovative Composites International told Yonge Street that the local manufacturer of innovative building materials expected to soon land a contract that would be a "home run in terms of growth and revenue." A $68 million deal to supply housing in Haiti and Ghana announced last week appears to fit the bill.

Innovative Composites will supply 2 million square feet of its patented EcoScape housing under the deal, and will construct and operate a new manufacturing facility in North Carolina to serve the contract.

"This is a game changer for ICI. One we have been working on for the last two years," said Innovative Composites President and CEO Terry Ball in a release. "We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but I believe we haven't even scratched the surface in terms of market penetration and will be able to accelerate project roll out once the SC facility is up and running,"

The company was founded in Toronto in 2007 by former Magna International employees who have developed new thermoplastic building materials used to construct bridges, shipping containers and housing, among other things. Company spokesperson Hobson says it is hurricane-proof, fire-proof and virtually indestructable, and can be used to make almost anything.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Clive Hobson, Director of Communications, Innovative Composites International
109 design Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts