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FedDev Ontario investing $18 million in 24 GTA projects

Recently the federal government announced that it will be supporting two dozen innovation projects in and around Toronto, via the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

"This investment will boost business innovation, skills and product development in the Toronto area," said Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear when announcing the investment, "creating new full-time jobs and greater economic diversity within the region."

FedDev's contribution to the projects comes via a variety of the agency's funds, and will total approximately $18 million, roughly $13 million of the total investment is in the form of repayable contributions. The recipient projects have leveraged this government money to generate up to $55 million more from private sector investors. According to FedDev estimates, the projects are expected to lead to the creation of more than 800 local jobs.

A sampling of investment recipients: 

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology

Who's hiring in Toronto? MaRS Discovery District and more

Welcome to Yonge Street's first ever job round-up, where we highlight a few of the most interesting job opportunities available in Toronto right now.

Community-oriented food organization Not Far From the Tree helps homeowners collect fruit from the trees in their yards, and sends much of the harvest to local agencies like food banks and shelters. NFFTT is looking for a project director to start this spring. It is the organization's primary leadership position.

Also for those with a green thumb, the Toronto Botanical Garden is looking for a new executive director to oversee all programs and fundraising. Candidates should have a background in horticulture as well as organizational leadership.

FreshBooks makes easy invoicing and accounting tools for small businesses and freelancers. The company is seeking an Android developer who will "make FreshBooks a world-class Android development centre."

Another organization on the hunt for a mobile developer: the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. The company needs someone to develop an Android and potentially also an iOS educational app. The app(s) will explain the benefits of citizenship to youth ages 16-24.

MaRS Discovery District, Toronto's best-known innovation centre, is hiring an investment manager for the Investment Accelerator Fund, which puts funds into early-stage technology companies. This business development opportunity is a mid-level position.

Major design firm DIALOG (550+ staff) does work in urban design, interior design, architecture, and engineering. They are seeking a graphic designer to work in their Communications and Creative Services departments.

The Ontario Power Authority is looking for specialist to help support their Conservation Fund, which is OPA's "vehicle for the incubation of innovative approaches to energy conservation and demand side technologies."

Finally, ebook and ereader company Kobo is looking for a front-end web developer to work on merchandising and marketing materials.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan

U of T trio set to launch new high-efficiency light bulb

In the years since compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs started appearing on hardware store shelves, we've all gotten used to the idea of switching to more energy efficient lightbulbs in our homes. Now, in several jurisdictions around the world, the old incandescent bulbs are being phased out by law. In Canada this process will culminate during 2014, as bulbs become subject to new energy efficiency regulations.

Hoping to help consumers become even more efficient, three University of Toronto alumni are preparing to launch a new bulb called NanoLight. It's a new form of LED bulb devised by applied science and engineering grads Gimmy Chu, Christian Yan, and Tom Rodinger.

It took the three entrepreneurs "probably about two or three years" to settle on the NanoLight's design, Chu told us over the phone from California. It uses 12 watts of energy to create the same light as a traditional 100 watt light bulb. A NanoLight will, he says, provide 30,000 hours of illumination. (You can learn a bit more about the technical details in this video.)

The three founders are in the last days of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help them launch the product--a campaign which has already raised more than 10 times the $20,000 they were aiming for. "The last thing you want to do is give up equity," Chu says when asked about choosing to crowdsource their start-up funding rather than pursue more established investment routes. With investors potentially calling the shots, Chu and his co-founders were worried, the entrepreneurs might "end up doing work you don't believe in."

The first NanoLights are expected to ship in May, and the trio's next goal is to build up momentum and generate orders. After that, Chu says, they hope to expand the product line to include dimmable bulbs, as well as bulbs in a range of colours and to fit different sockets. There is also "a solar product" already in the works, though Chu is saving the details of that for now.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Gimmy Chu, co-founder, NanoLight

Innovation Summit aims to boost Canada's innovation rankings

The Conference Board of Canada has announced it will host an innovation summit in Toronto in February. The summit is part of the board's plan to support businesses in their efforts to become more innovative. The Innovation for the Corporation summit is a two-day event that will seek to better understand why Canada isn't as strong a leader in innovation as many think we could and should be.

"We've seen the report cards that put us in a declining space...our innovation performance is ranked 21st," explained Bruce Good, executive director of CBC's Centre for Business Innovation, in a video announcing the summit. As several indices all show that same slip in our comparative success in innovation, Good goes on, "the time for change is now."

He believes infrastructure, stable government, sound fiscal management capabilities, and a lot of latent energy and enthusiasm are raw resources ready to be tapped. The summit will focus on four key areas to help the business community make the most of those strengths, and understand specific areas where we're falling behind: funding mechanisms, people and skills, business strategies, and what has to change for us to do better. Speakers range from the presidents of several major corporations -- IBM, Cisco, and GE, for instance --to researchers and the leads at young startups who are finding success in their own innovative smaller businesses.

The Innovation for the Corporation summit takes place on February 19-20 at the Fairmont Royal York. Online registration is now open and early bird fees available until January 18.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Conference Board of Canada

Piloting a house that keeps itself warm

Canadians pride themselves on being hardy—and especially on being able to withstand weather extremes. We compare notes on the depth of our snowfalls, then go out and play hockey when it's -20 degrees.

The homes we live in aren't quite that immune to the cold though.

According to the National Research Council of Canada, up to 60 per cent of our residential energy use goes to heating our homes—a number that is often so high because much of the heat that's generated rapidly escapes. In an effort to retain more of that heat, and cut energy use, some Toronto researchers and architects are now piloting a nested thermal envelope home design: essentially creating a home within your home, to facilitate heat retention.

Ryerson professor Russell Richman is the co-principal investigator exploring the design. He's working with a colleague from the University of Toronto, Kim Pressnail, as well architecture firm ERA. The idea arose soon after Richman had a baby, he says, and his family had to go from a cooler house to one that was constantly heated to keep the baby comfortable. This got him wondering "Why can't I warm just one little zone?" So that's what Richman then proceeded to do, by installing a space heater. But it also got him thinking about how that effect could be recreated in a larger living space.

The nested design works by creating two zones within a home: a main, fully heated zone at the centre of your house where you do most of your living, and a perimeter buffer zone, which is kept at five degrees. The temperature difference between the zones reduces heat loss off the bat, and then a heat pump installed between the core and the perimeter pumps heat back into the central core of the house before it escapes entirely.

Richman and his colleagues are piloting their concept at a house owned by the University of Toronto, which will provide them with some information about the viability of the nested design as a retrofit for existing homes. That's the harder case. Future investigations will look at how the zone model can be incorporated into new construction from the outset.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Russell Richman, Professor of Architectural Science, Ryerson University

U of T opens new bioengineering centre

When asked to imagine the future of innovation, most of us tend to conjure up ever-fancier gizmos and gadgets: Hal 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, say, or the replicator from Star Trek which produces anything from a cup of tea to a uniform in a shimmer of light.

Many of the innovations we might actually benefit from, however, are less about hard edges and new materials, and more about using the natural world to our advantage. These innovations are still high tech, but they also rely heavily on organic processes. In the real-world and not-too-distant future, bacteria may clean up chemical spills and cells may be engineered to heal themselves.

Helping faciliate those developments: the just-expanded and renovated BioZone, a centre for applied bioengineering research at the University of Toronto.

BioZone "came about because a lot of the research we do now is at the intersection of biology and engineering," says director Elizabeth Edwards. As a society, she goes on to add, "the problems we are facing are really complex, and we need integrated teams to work on solving them." This includes everything from finding alternative ways to make renewable energy to meeting the nutritional needs of a planet with an expanding population.

In addition to the 130 researchers working out of BioZone, the centre also has outside partners and policy experts involved, and initiatives like a commercialization committee which aims to help take that research and make it available more broadly. "I would like to see more biologically-based innovations in the marketplace," Edwards says. The hope is that the expanded facility will allow the centre to support exactly that.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Elizabeth Edwards, Director, BioZone

Tesla opens first Canadian store in Yorkdale

When engineer Nikola Tesla died, it was as a penniless eccentric. Though he had attained wealth and recognition for his many technological breakthroughs and patents, later in his life he lost hold of those achievements as he pursued a great many further experiments.

Over the past decade or two, his reputation has undergone significant rehabilitation. Like many innovations, it turns out, his work faced several setbacks before it found a firmer footing. The car company founded in 2003 and named after him—Tesla Motors—makes electric vehicles, with motors based on his original designs. And earlier this month, Tesla Motors opened its first Canadian store to help showcase those electric vehicles. It's located, perhaps surprisingly, in a mall: Yorkdale, where it's part of the shopping centre's recent renovation and expansion.

Vice-president of worldwide sales George Blankenship highlighted that seemingly incongruous location choice in a press statement, explaining that Tesla's primary goal "continues to be focused on informing as many people as possible about EVs.... Customers in our store are invited to ask questions and engage with informative product specialists to learn more about the many advantages of driving an electric car."

It's certainly an education many of us lack right now—for the moment, electic cars remain novelties in Toronto. We are, however, slowly building up more infrastructure to support them. Charging stations are available in several locations across the city, and a city-run pilot project for several more is in the works.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: George Blankenship, Vice-President, Worldwide Sales and Ownership Experience, Tesla Motors

Ryerson launches Innovation Centre for Urban Energy

As more and more of us live in cities, the challenges of maintaining urban environments multiply. The Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University is dedicated to studying some of these issues, ranging from renewable energy sources that are scaled for cities to building techniques which reduce our need for energy in the first place. To help develop the community of people working to address these challenges, the CUE has just launched a new accelerator program: i-CUE.

The Innovation Centre for Urban Energy is a business incubator—essentially an innovation lab within the centre—that will provide support for up to 10 projects at a time. Ryerson students and faculty, and members of the community at large, are all able to apply. The goal is to provide those with a "mature business idea" some tools to help get it off the ground, says executive director Dan McGillvray, which can mean anything from guidance for writing government grant applications to help overcoming technical challenges.

If a proposed project fits within the centre's scope and makes a convincing case, i-CUE will offer three months of free lab support to develop a business plan. If things are moving well, you might get another three months, McGillvray says (albeit with a bit of "pain" in the form of paying to offset some of the lab's costs). On the other hand, "you might be asked to go." It is, he says, "a fail fast model... It's not a lab where you will live forever; it's a lab where you will graduate out... into another location—[because] now you're business."

Four companies are currently being incubated at i-CUE. Among them is one project led by Ryerson students aimed at educating the public about energy conversation, and another developing public charging stations for mobile devices.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Souce: Dan McGillivray, Executive Director, Innovation Centre for Urban Energy

George Brown College to open Green Building Centre

With the help of $6.6 million from the federal government, in addition to $6.8 million of its own money, George Brown College recently announced that it will be creating a dedicated Green Buildings Centre on its Casa Loma campus. They are renovating existing facilities and building new ones to house the centre, which has a target completion date of March 2014. The project is expected to create 35 new jobs.

Robert Luke, assistant vice president of research and innovation for George Brown, says that creating this new centre will be a bit like "changing the wheel on a moving car." Since George Brown already does some work in this area, they will maintain their current activities while managing the expansion simultaneously.

Luke came to the college about five years go to establish a research office, he says, after "the federal government recognized that we needed to pull the lever for industry in the education space.... That imbalance is very dangerous to our long-term competetivness." That's why George Brown has been working to integrate industry partners in their activities, providing many hands-on formal and informal opportunities for students to learn from them while also pursuing their studies.

Industry partners, meanwhile, have the opportunity to pursue applied research. That practice will continue at this new centre, which will focus on environmentally friendly "advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Robert Luke, Assistant Vice President of Research and Innovation, George Brown College

Allstream Centre awarded LEED certification

"Eight years ago, in 2004, the board of governors of Exhibition Place established Exhibition Place as a world leader in energy-efficient technologies: employing green practices in our daily operations; creating new, clean energy sources through initiatives such as our wind turbine and photovoltaic arrays; and conservation efforts such as major lighting retrofits, LED pilot projects and our recycling and waste diversion efforts.... Today, we are proud to celebrate the success of our environmental commitment with the announcement of our first LEED Silver building at Exhibition Place."

With those words—part of a speech delivered before city councillors, Exhibition Place staff and supporters and members of the press—Hugh Mansfield, vice-chair of the board of governors for Exhibition Place, announced that the Allstream Centre is now recognized as an environmentally friendly place to do business.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification provides an internationally recognized standard for sustainabie building; the Allstream Centre is the first conference centre in Canada with that designation. It follows on a 2009 renovation, and has been accorded in recognition of a variety of design and operational features, including the building's reliance on renewable energy for its power, a rainwater harvesting system and the installation of LED lighting.

The Art Deco building dates back to 1929, and was once used to display car models to the public as part of the Canadian National Exhibition, which is why many of us know it by its original name, the Automotive Building. The building was renovated by Norr Limited (their project summary: [PDF]) and comprises 160,000 square feet, with spaces that can be configured to accomodate gatherings ranging from 50 to 3,000 people.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Hugh Mansfield, Vice-Chair, Board of Governors, Exhibition Place

Thornhill gets a new electric-vehicle charging station

Electric vehicles (EVs) are as old as cars themselves—the first ones date back to the 1830s, and in the early 20th century they constituted a significant portion of the market. They eventually lost ground to their gasoline-powered counterparts, but as calls for sustainable transportation options grow louder, so are calls for modern, commercially viable electric cars.

Right now electric vehicles largely remain the purview of enthusiasts. The provincial government is hoping to change that; it wants five per cent of all new cars to be electric by 2020. If they're going to succeed, we're all going to need to get better acquainted with the technology.

That is one reason that the South Central Ontario chapter of the Canadian Automobile Association just opened its first electric-vehicle charging station outside its head office in Thornhill. Electric vehicle owners, CAA members or not, can use the station free of charge, and the rest of us can get a better glimpse of what the future of driving might look like.

Teresa Di Felice, director of government and community relations for South Central CAA, told us that currently there are about 400 electric vehicle owners in Ontario. CAA is hoping to help that number increase: they've made submissions to the government, seeking partnerships to facilitate future growth.

"There are a lot of people talking about [EVs], and a lot of interest, but like anything new, there are hurdles," she says, pointing out that the government's five per cent goal is "very aggressive."

The CAA charging station joins three others in the GTA; you can find them all via the map on ChargePoint.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Teresa Di Felice, Director of Government and Community Relations, South Central CAA

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

U of T researchers break new ground in developing more efficient solar cells

While solar cells are becoming more common across North America, we are far from making the most of this green energy source. One challenge is increasing the number of people who choose solar over other energy sources; the other is that the solar cells most commonly in use come with several significant problems.

The dominant kind of solar cell right now is silicon, which itself is quite difficult to manufacture and relatively expensive to produce. Moreover, the solar cells which result are more fragile than the industry would like: they can be shattered by something like a severe hail storm, which limits their appeal and use. 

Among solar researchers, therefore, the big goal right now is to come up with something that is easier and cheaper to produce, and also more durable. One such candidate is what's called a colloidal quantum dot solar cell, which meets those goals—but comes with its own liability, At its current early stage of development, CQD cells are much less efficient than silicon solar cells.

Recently, however, researchers at the University of Toronto and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology have made a breakthrough on that front, setting a record for producing the most efficient CQD cell ever.

Solar cells need to reach about 10 to 15 per cent efficiency in order to be commercially viable. As recently as 10 months ago CDQ cells were at about five per cent efficiency; now researchers, under the leadership of U of T engineering professor Ted Sargeant, have hit the 7 per cent mark—a 37 per cent increase in efficiency, and an important step along the way to make these much cheaper cells ready for the market. The results were published in the July 29, 2012 issue of Nature Nanotechnology.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Liam Mitchell, Communications & Media Relations Strategist, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, University of Toronto

Clean energy executive recruitment firm Hobbs & Towne opening Toronto office in July

Further proof that Toronto is a burgeoning hub of the clean technology sector: an executive search firm that specializes in that area is setting up shop here.

Hobbs & Towne
, which currently operates in five US cities, will open its first Canadian office in Yorkville next month.

"We founded the company in 1997," says managing partner Bob Hobbs, "doing work in North America with clean tech company and venture capitalists that have invested in energy tech and sustainability."

The firm has been placing executives in Canada for about 10 years. "Just based on all the activity in Canada over the past few years and the amount of work that we've done with clean tech companies [there], we decided it was important for us to actually have feet on the ground."

Initially several of the firm's partners will be rotating through the Toronto office on a weekly basis; the plan is to hire several recruiters to cover placements throughout the country. Hobbs and Towne's three-year plan calls for further expansion—specifically, they hope to open a second Canadian office in Calgary within that timeframe—but Toronto was the place they needed to start.

"Some of our longer lasting relationships with investors are with investors in Toronto," Hobbs says.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Bob Hobbs, Managing Partner & Co-Founder, Hobbs & Towne, Inc.

Prolucid wins $887,820 in funding to demonstrate smart grid management system

Increasing the amount of energy we get from renewable sources—an aspiration that was once the province of idealists—has become a much more common goal in recent years, one trotted out by politicians of many different partisan stripes. But as the pressure to move to sustainable energy grows, so too do the technical challenges in implementing the needed new technologies effectively, and on a large scale.

One of these challenges: because renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, are less consistent and predictable than their traditional counterparts, energy companies are reluctant to rely on them for a significant percentage of their power. How do you manage on a cloudy day or a still one, if you need constant source of power to keep the grid up and running?

Hoping to help solve this is Prolucid Technologies, a Mississauga software engineering firm that has just received nearly $900,000 in funding from Ontario's Smart Grid Fund. That money will support a two-year demonstration project in which the company will install its power grid management platform, including both hardware and software, at Exhibition Place.

"The goal," says company president Bob Leigh, "is to monitor the state of the local grid, keeping tabs on both the amount of energy being used as well as the amount being produced by the various local power producers—solar panels, wind turbines, or other."

This effort will help combat the problem power companies face with managing the more erratic renewable energy sources.

"By actively monitoring the system and having the ability to control its various components on the fly, we hope to increase the amount of renewable generation that can be connected to the local grid beyond the current low limits," says Leigh. Exhibition Place, he explains, makes the perfect testing ground because it already has a mix of energy sources on-site, most famously, it's large wind turbine.

Prolucid currently has nine staff members, and will double in size to manage this new project: they are currently hiring for five positions, and expect to hire for an additional three later this year, when the demonstration period begins. They have also announced the creation of a new offshoot, Prolucid LocalGrid Technologies Inc., which will work on bringing the company's technology to market.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Bob Leigh, President, Prolucid Technologies Inc.
189 sustainability Articles | Page: | Show All
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