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Local inventors win Ontario Water Innovation Award for most efficient toilet in the world

The Proficiency ultra-high efficiency toilet is the most water-efficient toilet in the world, requiring just three litres of water per flush (versus the standard high-efficiency level of 4.8 litres, and previously standard levels of 6 litres or 13 litres per flush). It was invented in the GTA by the firm of Hennessy and Hinchcliffe and is distributed by Mississauga's WaterMatrix.

Recently, this homegrown success in sustainable washrooms was recognized by the provincial government with an Ontario Water Innovation Award. Rock Rotman of WaterMatrix says that this latest in a long string of awards for innovation is significant because it comes from the government. "It's validating, especially when you've got the government onboard, because they're the ones who can really help promote this, he says, pointing to regulations in various jurisdictions that require high efficiency in toilets and rebate programs that reward homeowners who replace lower-efficiency models.

WaterMatrix has distributed the Proficiency since its launch two years ago, Rotman says, and they've seen the market growing as environmental awareness grows and the stigma attached to older models of efficient toilet -- which were known not to work as well -- fades.

Rotman says the benefits of conservation are not just government recognition and environmental good feelings: those who replace even a six-litre model with a three-litre one see savings in water usage of 33-44%. And as the world market for water heats up and conservation efforts force prices higher, the market for this local innovation will only grow, he says.

Writer: Edward Keenan

Source: Rick Rotman, Marketing Communication Coordinator, WaterMatrix

ZooShare seeks investment to turn waste into biogas energy in Toronto

In 2006, the Toronto Zoo launched a clever initiative designed to turn all the animal dung they produce into a profit: a biogas energy generation facility. But when they launched a request for proposals last summer, they found no partners. The reason, according to Daniel Bida of Regenerate Biogas is that the plans were too ambitious, calling for too large a plant.

So Bida and a host of other community partners stepped in with a more modest proposal for a 500 kilowatt biogas facility to be owned and operated by a cooperative made up of community members. That proposal, formalized as ZooShare received approval in early June and is now seeking investors for its project.

The facility will divert waste from landfill while producing heat, water and usable fertilizer. The non-profit cooperative is selling membership bonds to finance the project that promise a 7% return on investment. Zoo members and those who live within a kilometer of the zoo can invest for $500, while other Ontarians can purchase $5,000 bonds.

Bida says that bond sales await the approval of financial authorities. The co-op plans to offer bonds for sale between September 2011 and May 2012, and to then immediately commence construction on the project. "The reception from the public so far has been overwhelmingly positive," Bida says. "People are attracted to it as an investment, as an environmental project, and as a way to help out the zoo. They just ask, how can I sign up."

Writer: Edward Keenan

Source: Daniel Bida, ZooShare

My City Lives's interactive map of urban storytelling prepares to hire 6-9, go global

The two-year-old start-up My City Lives, based at the Centre for Social Innovation at the Annex, is dedicated to local storytelling. As founder Adil Dhalla explains, after a grassroots recession-beating brainstorming initiative he and his business partner set up in 2009, "we realized our city required innovative ways to support local business people, artists and creative people, and to find ways to help people better appreciate Toronto." After meeting with various community leaders and thinkers--including the office of David Miller--they founded their project: an interactive online map that allows people to post stories about places in the city.

Since beginning in earnest in 2009, My City Lives has shown impressive growth, attracting more than 150,000 views of videos of Toronto stories, and growing from the two founders to six staff. Now, armed with more than $500,000 in funding from the Canada Media Fund, the company is "a couple months away from relaunching the website and mobile platforms that will position us for global growth." Dhalla sees the coming expansion growing the staff to 12-15 people over the next 12 months.

But in addition to business success, Dhalla sees the project as contributing to the cultural life of the city. "What's important for us to articulate is that the site is not simply a collection of videos, it's a collection of stories of individuals that collectively tell the story of the city." Dhalla, who has a history background, sees the eventual global network as offering a new perspective on local history, once the archive of location-based stories is five or 10 years old. "It could have a dramatic impact on how people can learn about not just where they live, but where other people live--places they'd like to visit or possibly move to."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Adil Dhalla, Founder, My City Lives

Local video search startup LeanIn looks to add 6 staff

Local startup LeanIn reached a significant milestone earlier this month when it was among 20 Canadian firms that made a trip to Silicon Valley for the C100"48 Hours In The Valley" pitch and mentorship conference. The event allowed LeanIn and the other companies to meet and pitch venture capitalists and mingle with mentors in the digital capital of the world.

"It was pretty awesome to go and hang around in San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a 48 hour period," says Luke Davies, president of LeanIn. "We got to meet  a lot of influential Canadians who live in the valley who are incented to help us...we met 100 or so new friends in the valley who have joined our support network."

LeanIn's technology allows users to use search and social media tools within videos. As Davies puts it, the product allows users to search within videos for specific scenes, and to share specific scenes within videos with their friends on social media. Davies says the motivation came when founder and CEO Hescham Ghazal, already a successful technology engineer, set out to "look at online video because it's a massive market, and it's broken." Davies says that one of the key "really cool" assets of the software is to provide companies with analytics based on how users interact with their video content at the scene level.

LeanIn was incubated at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone beginning in May of 2010, graduating from the space just last month. The software can be set up by creators within any of the major online video platforms within 10 minutes. The company has developed key partnerships Brightcove and YouTube, among other key video giants, though Davies says that parterships they are attempting to set up with social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter could be just as key to their success. Already, they have grown to six employees, and plans are afoot to hire another six. "We're incredibly resource restrained right now, like a lot of startups, everyone is incredibly overworked. I'm literally the dishwasher," says Davies. "But we're undergoing a fundraising round in the next few months and we expect to hire another six or so people--to essentially double our staff--soon after that."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Luke Davies, President, LeanIn

Toronto's Beanfield Metroconnect will create ultra-high-speed broadband network on Waterfront

Waterfront Toronto announced last week that the residential condos it is building will feature ultra-high-speed fibre-optic internet service. The project will be the first residential connection by Toronto-based internet service provider Beanfield Metroconnect. "It's our first foray into residential service," says Beanfield president Dan Armstrong. "We've built quite a fibre optic network around the downtown core near the waterfront, but we've never had the critical mass to get into condominium buildings."

The service Beanfield offers will see download speeds about double what are possible through conventional providers such as Rogers and Bell, and upload speeds 50 times as fast. "What we're going to see is a significant shift in the way residents in this community use the internet," Armstrong says. While it may seem that such features would be attractive to many condo developers, Armstrong explains that typically service providers pay developers a "doorway fee" to be allowed to install their service into buildings at the construction phase. He says that while many condo boards might prefer the faster service Beanfield offers, the retroactive installation of fibre-optic cabling to every unit post-construction and occupancy is a significant hurdle. And since it is very expensive for Beanfield to install the service, it would be impractical for them to pay doorway fees.

So Waterfront Toronto exercised unique foresight in awarding the contract that will see this project offer premium service to residents. Armstrong says that his company plans to offer a support centre located in the waterfront community, staffed with people who will be available for onsite service. Armstrong says that while specific numbers are difficult to project, he expects to hire "dozens" of staff to fill new jobs on the project.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Dan Armstrong, President and CEO, Beanfield Metroconnect

Rapidly growing tech innovators BNOTIONS expand by 3 more

BNOTIONS, which bills itself a "technology agency," set up shop in the Yonge and Bloor area just over three years ago with a team of four. Today, through a dedication to growth and innovation, says company CEO Paul Crowe, they have 30 employees and are looking to add another three or four immediately.

Crowe says that as the company has evolved from a Flash-based web design firm to developing social media and mobile content, their dedication to hiring just the right people and taking risks has fed their growth in an increasingly competitive field. "We move very quickly and take a lot of risks--often we hire people we don't have a position for and hope that soon a project will come along that suits their talents. So far it's worked out that way. If you surround yourself with great people, great things happen."

He says they also give those great people a very relaxed, youthful office culture--Crowe notes that the office opens for the day at 11am--that makes it feel like home to the broadly experienced and talented staff. "People aren't itching to go home, they hang out, work on pet projects, even sometimes on outside projects from the office, share notes and ideas."

He says that his company has something a little extra to offer in the development market, beyond simply their "refusal to be OK with just OK," when it comes to quality. "You see a lot of mobile development shops popping up all over, and with us you get something different. We're a technology agency, and with our staff of about 20 software programmers in-house, there are very few code languages we don't know. So you have a highly skilled group of people who collaborate with you on a a project from beginning to end, as opposed to the more standard vendor-client relationship you often see."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Paul Crowe, CEO, BNOTIONS

Toronto company Rent frock Repeat launches innovative luxury fashion service, prepares to hire

Kristy Wieber and Lisa Delorme were invited to a wedding about a year ago and faced a prospect familiar to many women: buying a designer dress for the event, "a dress I'm going to wear once and then it will sit in my closet making me feel guilty for years," says Wieber. The experience led the pair to think of solutions, culminating in the launch of Rent frock Repeat last week.

The innovative service offers a wide range of designer dresses, in sizes ranging from 0-14 or 16 in most cases, for rent. Wieber says the pair was inspired by a similar service they encountered in the US that did not ship to Canada.

The business just launched last week, so it is still early to measure success, but Wieber notes that before they officially launched they already has over 200 followers on each of Facebook and Twitter, and that since the launch, "Things are moving so quickly and growing so quickly, it's an absolute certainty we'll do some hiring soon." Wieber says the pair, currently working out of Delorme's Scarborough Bluffs-area home, are now identifying in which area of the business an additional employee would be most effective.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Kristy Wieber, co-founder, Rent frock Repeat

Ryerson-based budget app-maker Spenz launches at prestigious TechCrunch event

Spenz, a downtown Toronto startup that has created a personal budgeting app for the iPhone and the web, officially launched late last month at the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield event in New York City. After competing with almost 1,000 other companies to be included in the event, Spenz was the only Canadian company accepted.

The company was founded by Justin Hein and Pavel Choulguine in November 2010. They secured angel financing and moved into space at Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, and wound up growing their team to nine staff members in a little over six months.

According to Hein, "Spenz started off slow, with bumpy design, slow development and lost business guys. We were building a business model, coming up with feature sets and constantly changing what Spenz was." In a news release, he added that the Disrupt launch, "was grueling but ultimately rewarding that the judges view Spenz with the same enthusiasm as our investors and team do."

The company claims to offer many more features than standard budgeting applications, with an intuitive back-end that anticipates tags and inputs users will need. Most transactions reportedly take less than three seconds to enter, a major benefit in the market, and the program features a competitive game-like incentive system.

Next up, the company is pursuing another round of financing while it develops its application for the Blackberry, Android and other mobile platforms.

Writer: Edward Keenan

Source: Calvin Sribniak-Jones, Director of Marketing, Spenz

Flash for mobile innovators Animated Media grow by 3 this spring

Anyone with a mobile device will know that Flash animation--such a wonderful tool on the desktop--doesn't translate all that well to mobile devices. That very problem inspired Chris Brady to found his startup Animated Media in late 2008. "He saw that Flash was a good tool to create content but not a good tool to run content on anything besides a desktop," says Lisa Brady, Director of Marketing (and, incidentally, Chris Brady's spouse). 

Brady and his team developed a technology that allows Flash to run on a less than 1 gHz machine, and to run in native applications for mobile phones including the famously Flash-free iPhone. The recent rapid acceptance of the company's product in Europe and around the world recently drew notice from the provincial government, who labelled Animated media an "Ontario Success Story."

The company has grown, Lisa Brady says, to six employees (they added one just this spring), and she says they're "always looking for other talent." She says that for now the company's focus is continuing to market the product and pick up more traction in an international ecoomic environment that has, over the past few years, seen R&D budgets shrink. "The prospects are really good, but the process takes time. We're just six people trying to get the message out there."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Lisa Brady, Director of Marketing, Animated Media

Launched this spring, video comment innovators Viafoura win pitch-off competition and add a staffer

In September 2009, sports fan Jesse S. Moeinifar was listening to a radio talk show debate an essential boxing question: Mike Tyson or Muhammed Ali? "I tried calling in to share my opinion, and I was put on hold for 45 minutes, then nothing. I decided to put together a company that meets the challenge of communication between news organizations and their consumers."

The result, Viafoura, was incubated at MaRS and recently moved into Ryerson's DMZ. Moeinifar says the coding took some time to perfect,but his product--a user engagement platform that allows users to interact with content providers through video, text and video debate--has recently gained notice for its innovation. After launching at the prestigious DEMO conference in California, Viafoura gained notice in the New York Times, among other publications (you can see their launch presentation here).

"Before we even got off the stage, we had six emails from news organizations around the world interested in our product," Moeinifar says. And the momentum continues to grow. After adding a staffer this spring, the company (now three employees strong) recently won the Canada 3.0 pitch-off competition.

The next step? "It pretty much comes down to getting the product out there," Moeinifar says. "Having the product really speaks for itself."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Jesse S. Moeinifar, Founder and CEO, Viafoura

Ontario's most-read wine resource, Natalie MacLean, launches wine-label-scanning app

Natalie MacLean has made a name for herself as Ontario's most-read wine web writer, publisher of an email newsletter with 120,000 subscribers and editor of the wine hub NatDecants. Recently she worked with the developers at Fluid Trends to create an innovative mobile application for buyers at the LCBO.

"It was both fun and painful developing this newfangled, label-scanning mobile app ... the fun part is being done," says MacLean by email. The application allows shoppers at Ontario liquor stores to snap a picture of the bar code on any label and get tasting notes and food pairing suggestions.

This label-scanning innovation builds on the success MacLean and Fluid had with their original Tips and Tastings app, highly rated by the New York Times (and, according to the creators, the best-selling wine app in Ontario). Sales, according to MacLean, have grown more than 200% over the past year. MacLean says that so-far feedback from wine lovers on the new label-scanning innovation has been good.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Natalie MacLean

Plastic Mobile sole Canadian firm to win Webby Award--sees innovation rewarded

Just two weeks ago, we reported that rapidly growing Toronto agency Plastic Mobile had been nominated for a Webby Award for its innovative Pizza Pizza mobile app. Last week, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences put a happy ending on that story for the local agency by awarding the Webby for Mobile Shopping to Plastic.

The award was the only one in a mobile category presented to a Canadian company, beating large American giants such as Target and Walgreens.
Melody Adhami, co-founder of Plastic Mobile says that the award is payoff for the leadership role her agency has taken in the mobile arena. "Winning the Webby Award serves as our validation and compensation for innovating and pushing boundaries. Receiving this honour continues to propel us to innovate by reassuring the team that the time and effort invested in innovation is highly worth it."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Melody Adhami, co-foudner, Plastic Mobile

Local toy maker Spin Master launches youth innovation fund, hiring 16 in GTA now

Toronto-based children's entertainment company Spin Master Ltd. has partnered with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation to launch a $500,000 Youth Innovation Fund that offers young entrepreneurs up to $50,000 in start-up financing, as well as mentorship support. In a prepared statement, Spin Master chairman and co-CEO Ronnen Harary said the fund was inspired by 2011 being the Year of the Entrepreneur, and that it was a chance for his company to "give back."

The focus on youth startups is appropriate for Spin Master, not just because they make products for children, but because the company got its start in 1994 when founders Harary, Anton Rabie and Ben Varadi were in university. They had $10,000 to launch a company, and began with an "Earth Buddy" novelty toy—a doll stuffed with seeds that grew living "hair" when watered. Since then, the company has launched dozens of other products for the children's market, opened offices around the world and hired more than 1,000 employees. It is the third-largest children's consumer products company in North America.

It also claims to be the fastest-growing such company, and that growth is evident locally. The company is currently hiring 16 employees for its Toronto office (more in Los Angeles and elsewhere).

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Harold Chizick, VP of Global Communications and Promotions, Spin Master Ltd.

Downtown Toronto startup Synaptop launches new cloud-based operating system

Synaptop, a Toronto startup company based at the foot of Yonge Street, launched it's innovative cloud-computing operating system last month. "It's a virtual operating system built for the current times," says Sami Siddique, Synaptop's president and CEO. He says the system adjusts the focus of software to recognize how people really use the internet, allowing the collaborative and sharing functions of applications such as Facebook and Twitter to apply to every application. "You can follow anyone in any application. You can co-DJ, co-edit, co-browse with your friends."

Siddique, who has a background in computer science and healthcare applications (he did 3D research at the Princess Margaret Hospital) launched the company in 2007. He set out to build a "new entry point to the internet" that allows users to collaborate in work, education and entertainment. That vision was realized with last month's launch.

The product is in Beta mode now, and Siddique says the company plans to launch an assortment of new applications to go alongside the ones available at launch.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Sami Siddique, Synaptop

Toronto agency Up Inc hits it big with innovative iPad app, hiring 4 now

Earlier this year, the creative team at Toronto-based marketing, design and branding agency Up Inc wanted to test a new bookbinding technique. So they recruited local photographer Sandy Nicholson to shoot the faces of people from every age between 0 and 100. The book, 0to100, was published in March.

But it was the iPad application version of the book that has really become a smash success for Up Inc. Through it's innovative use of Adobe Digital Publishing Suite, a company spokesperson says, it has managed to reach the top of the App store's "What's Hot" list in over 70 countries, as well as drawing raves from Gizmodo, Fast Company, and other international media.

The award winning firm was founded in 2007, and continues to grow (they're hiring four now).

Source: Sue McCluskey. Up Inc.
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