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Church & Wellesley - Yorkville - Annex : Innovation + Job News

99 Church & Wellesley - Yorkville - Annex Articles | Page: | Show All

Survey shows greater interaction between academia & industry

The Association of University Technology Managers, among other things, monitors academic technology transfer data. That is, it looks at the rate at which technological innovations that start out in universities and colleges make it out into the wider world. It's an important indicator, as it helps us understand how effectively and often research gets applied—the rate at which innovations have a chance at actually improving our lives and contributing to our economy.

Recently AUTM released their 2011 Canadian Licensing Activity Survey, and their findings are encouraging. Writing on behalf of the organization, assistant vice-president Gina Funicelli said the survey shows "increased activity between institutions and industry." Moreover, says Funicelli, "a greater focus on industry engagement by Canadian institutions is returning dividends in the form of increased income and institutional equity."

One particularly strong result, according to the survey: "The number of startups created by Canadian institutions increased by 36 per cent" in 2011. (This is perhaps especially significant given that research expenditures were actually down.) And those startups are staying close to home: 100 per cent of them are in the home province of their licensing institution.

For those interested in Toronto's position in all this, here's a number that's certainly startling: of the 68 startups described above, a whopping 34 per cent, or 23 startups, formed from a single institution—the University of Toronto.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: The Association of University Technology Managers Canadian Licensing Activity Survey (2011)

Toronto successes at the Digi Awards

It's nearly the end of the year, and a good time for reflecting on the major developments, trends, and successes of the last 12 months.

In that spirit, the Digi Awards were held last week, to celebrate the best of digital media in Canada. Marked with a ceremony at the Carlu, the awards night acknowledged the work of nominees in more than 20 categories in 2012.

The hometown team did Toronto proud, scooping up awards in many key categories. Among the local winners:

Best Use of Social Media: Juniper Park
The agency helped Pearson International Airport run its Tweet-a-Carol program, in which you can tweet a request to have a loved one travelling through the airport be greeted by carollers during the holiday season.

Best in Mobile Applications: Smokebomb Entertainment
Smokebomb is a digital production company. They were recognized for creating Totally Amp'd, an interactive app-based interactive TV-style series geared to teenagers.

Best in Tablet Applications: Aux Magazine for iPad
The monthly digital music magazine melds traditional coverage (such as interviews and reviews) with video and interactive features that allow readers to engage more fully with the music and artists Aux covers. It is produced by Aux TV and Blue Ant Media.

Canada’s Most Promising Digital Media Company: Juice Mobile
Specifically dedicated to mobile advertising, Juice's clients range from Apple to Live Nation. It was founded in 2010.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Digi Awards

Market-driven tutoring platform raises $400K, plans to hire 4 staff soon

"I've always been an entrepreneur my entire life," says Donny Ouyang, "I started when I was 12."

Like many young entrepreneurs, he quickly found himself more intrigued by his extracurricular activities than anything in the classroom. "Because of that I didn't spend a lot of time learning," Ouyang says. And then, after a pause: "School... wasn't my thing."

It's perhaps especially fitting then that Ouyang has just launched what he describes as the world's first market-driven tutoring platform, called Rayku. He's hoping not only to find success with his startup, but to help students like him who have had bad experiences both at school and with traditional tutoring.

Rayku's idea is simple: tutors sign up to provide online assistance to students via the site's whiteboard and other digitial services, and are rated by their students as they go. The higher they rank—in theory, the more effective they are—the more they can charge.

Currently Rayku is focused on high school and first year univerisity students who need help with math. Ouyang plans to expand in a number of directions: first to other areas of the curriculum (science, essay writing), then to other levels of complexity, and then to a broader range of subjects—everything from standardized test preparation services to financial advising.

The startup has raised $400,000 of investment so far, and is "hiring aggressively," says Ouyang. He hopes to add two business development positions and two engineers to Rayku's staff by January.
Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Donny Ouyang, Founder & CEO, Rayku

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

BufferBox acquired by Google

It was only a few weeks ago that we told you about BufferBox, a new network of parcel pick-up stations had just launched in the Toronto area. With a growing list of stations—they're up to about 14 in Toronto and Mississauga and have more going in by the end of the year—and a contract with Metrolinx to help target commuters, things seemed promising for the new startup.

And now, they are looking even more exciting. BufferBox has just announced it has been acquired by Google. Neither BufferBox nor Google would confirm the financial details, but TechCrunch is reporting the purchase price was in the neighbourhood of $17 million.

BufferBox services are free until year's end. When paid service begins they expect they'll be charging $3 or $4 per delivery. The goal is to have approximately 100 stations in the GTA by the end of 2013. Google, meanwhile, is likely looking for a challenger the Amazon Locker parcel delivery program (which is not available in Canada), and is hoping that BufferBox can expand and scale quickly.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Brad Moggach, Sales & Marketing Director, BufferBox; TechCrunch

Toronto among the world's leading cities for startups

"While nearly all high growth technology startups have historically emerged from no more than 3-4 startup ecosystems, namely Silicon Valley and Boston, this trend appears to have reached its end. Simultaneous with a global explosion of entrepreneurship has been an explosion in the rise of new startup ecosystems around the world, and a newfound maturity in others."

So begins a new report from the Startup Genome called the Startup Ecosystem Report (available for free online, though registration is required). And among those ecosystems that are currently flourishing: Toronto, which ranks the highest in Canada on the report's index, and eighth in the world. (Vancouver is right behind us in ninth; more surprisingly Waterloo is further behind, at sixteenth.)

All cities in the index are compared to Silicon Valley (which predictably is the benchmark first-place ecoysystem) across a variety of metrics. While we are similar to Silicon Valley in terms of our level of ambition, our technology adoption rates, our sector mix and mentorship support, one key area of difference, according to the report, is that "startups in Toronto receive 71% less funding than SV startups. The capital deficiency exists both before and after product market fit."

While that may sound like grim news, it actually provides a very useful roadmap for future growth. The report goes on to conclude that the current under-investment in Toronto-area startups "presents a large opportunity for investors. Moreover, "policy makers can help closing the funding gap by attracting late-stage venture funds through tax breaks and incentives, and investor-friendly policies."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Startup Ecosystem Report

Microsoft makes translation breakthrough with help from U of T researchers

Anyone who has had the frustrating experience of telling the nice automated voice at the other end of a customer service help line "no, I meant change of address" over and over again, only to be prompted to repeat themselves, knows that speech recognition software still has a long way to go.

Even more difficult is getting software to not only recognize what you're saying, but translate it into another language. The most advanced translation programs still only get it right about 75 per cent of the time—they still get one word out of every four or five wrong.

Until now, at least. Last month Microsoft's chief research officer, Rick Rashid, unveiled what appears to be a breakthrough in speech recognition and translation software. The new software, which provides simultaneous translation, not only cuts down substantially on errors, it mimics the voice of the original speaker when it produces the translation. (Video of a key part of Rashid's presentation is online; the voice recognition and translation demonstration begins at the seven minute mark.)

The breakthrough is based on research conducted by Microsoft and the University of Toronto, which was published in 2010.

"By using a technique called Deep Neural Networks," writes Rashid in a recent blog post, "which is patterned after human brain behavior, researchers were able to train more discriminative and better speech recognizers than previous methods."

Essentially, this works by processing a great deal more data than previous speech recognition programs had done, allowing the software to more closely mimic the human mind in its attempt to process language. The result is a 30 per cent decrease in errors, according to Rashid, and a much more natural translation experience. That is, if hearing your own voice speaking another language, one you don't even know, doesn't freak you out.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Rick Rashid, Chief Research Officer, Microsoft

Canadian Innovation Exchange celebrates the year's top innovators

Every year leaders from the venture capital, communications and media industries gather for the Canadian Innovation Exchange, a one-day forum dedicated to the country's innovation economy. (This year's CIX takes place in a couple of weeks—at the MaRS Discovery District on November 27.) And every year, a panel of experts selects the CIX Top 20—leading technology-based companies who are showcased at the forum. This year's list has just come out, and there's good news for local entrepreneurs: about half the finalists are Toronto-based companies.

Finalists are divided into two categories: information and communication technology, and digital media. Among the Toronto finalists in the first category are B2B marketers Influitive, audience engagement platform Viafoura and consumer goods software makers Nulogy.

Among the rising stars in the digital media category are liveblogging company ScribbleLive and e-commerce platform Shopcastr. We profiled Shopcastr just a few months ago, when they closed $1 million in new funding.

The other Toronto CIX Top 20 are:
·         Sitescout, which helps small businesses manage their digital advertising;
·         Language learning tool PenyoPal;
·         Employee engagement platform Employtouch;
·         Jibestream Interactive Media, which develops digital wayfinding systems (including 3-D directors for Pearson airport).

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Canadian Innovation Exchange

Federal government invests in 2 seniors health research projects

As Canada's population ages and baby boomers make increasing demands for healthcare support that allows them to live vibrantly and independently, research into technologies and therapies that can provide better quality of life for seniors is ramping up.

The lastest announcement: the federal government is investing nearly $1 million in five research projects aiming to improve seniors' activity levels, including two based in Toronto, at York and the University of Toronto. The projects are funded via the European Research Area on Ageing (ERA-AGE), a Europe-based research program; Canadian participants will be working with colleagues from several European nations, as well as Israel. The overall funding envelope for the projects is approximately $5 million.

The projects tackle a range of issues in seniors' day-to-day lives, ranging from assistive technologies to navigating the complexities of urban life. Toronto researchers will be working on two projects—each of which will receive about $225,000—Healthy Ageing in Residential Places (York University), and Hearing, Remembering and Living Well: Paying Attention to Challenges of Older Adults in Noisy Environments (University of Toronto).

The York University project is exploring ways to use technological supports in the home to allow seniors to maintain both physical and mental activity. The University of Toronto initiative is looking at methods of helping seniors communicate effectively in noisy environments, when it can be harder to make sense of a great deal of incoming auditory information.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Alice Wong, Minister of State  for Seniors

Sick Kids & MaRS Innovation collaborate on new commercialization venture

The Hospital for Sick Children and MaRS Innovation have partnered to create a new vehicle for commercializing new medical technologies.

Bedside Clinical Systems
was formed in March of 2011, with a focus on developing tools that help with clinical care for children. After some pilot studies they are now launching their first tool: Bedside Paediatric Early Warning System (BedsidePEWS).

BedsidePEWS is based on research conducted by a Sick Kids scientist, Dr. Christopher Parshuram, who has a particular interest in patient safety. For several years, says Bedside Clinical Systems CEO Rajesh Sharma, he had been "developing a tool to be an early indicator for kids who might be in danger of cadiac arrest."

That tool is deceptively simple: provide a way for nurses and clinicians to input a patient's vital signs and key health indicators into a monitoring system whenever they are checked, and use those inputs to create a single numerical score to assess the severity of the patient's condition. The advantage, however is that  "it takes the subjectivity out of it," Sharma says. Clinicians no longer need to make tricky judgement calls about, say, whether to wake up an attending physician at 3am if they're not sure whether a patient needs urgent attention. They have an objective measure to rely on.

BCS currently has two full-time staff, and plans to grow to a team of between four to six next year, as they hire for both technical and marketing positions to help find and support customers for this new tool. MaRS Innovation works with member institutions to commercialize "market-disruptive intellectual property."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Rajesh Sharma, CEO, Bedside Clinical Systems

Turning experts into journalists

A problem that we all know about: most mainstream media outlets are currently worried about their futures, facing a dangerous mix of declining revenue, audience fragmentation and eroding public trust.

A problem we discuss less often: the education we offer aspiring journalists hasn't fully caught up to these developments.

Most journalism schools still offer the sort of training they did 10 or 20 years ago: the basics of composition, interviewing, fact-checking and so forth. They've added some instruction to accomodate changes in technology—students can now learn about best practices in social media, for instance—but they haven't adapted to one of the most basic shifts in the industry: newsrooms are relying more on freelancers, ess on staff reporters, to fill their pages and broadcasts. Thus, while graduates of these traditional programs may be able to produce good stories, they haven't been trained to market or sell them to editors—which many, lacking a permanent full-time job, quickly discover is a necessity.

A new fellowship program at U of T is hoping to reverse the traditional order of operations (learn to be a journalist, then acquire a beat and develop subject-specific knowledge): begin with professionals who already have subject-matter expertise, and teach them how to use that knowledge to launch careers or side-businesses in journalism. Because participants already have some professional experience and standing, says program director Robert Steiner, the goal is to "make it about the work, not the degree." This means that participants are focusing on learning how to generate story ideas, pitch them to outlets, and make the most of their expertise by actually doing all of those things (with the help of expert guidance)—not at a university newspaper or through internships, but by pitching major media outlets just a few weeks after starting the program. Early signs are promising: so far one participant has written what became the lead story in the Star's GTA section last week; several others have been published in national newspapers as well.

Steiner freely admits this program won't save journalism as an industry—nor is that his goal ("one of my most liberating moments in this whole experience is when I realized that I wasn't out to save newspapers") but he does hope it will attract some interesting new talent to the field at a time when traditional training methods may not quite be doing the trick.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Robert Steiner, Director of the Fellowship in Glorbal Journalism at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto

Strong words on the future of innovation

"Just a year ago, Ontario’s Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress... published a report that quantifiably demonstrated that in per capital GDP, measured in comparison to 16 other large states and provinces in North America, Ontario ranked 15th. A lack of innovation combined with lower productivity is a significant problem for everyone—especially in Ontario. No amount of handwringing will solve it. No amount of cheerleading should make us believe we are doing better than what we really are. And no amount of naysaying should stop us from tackling this problem head on."

Stark language from Anne Sado, president of George Brown College, who addressed the Empire Club earlier this week. She was there to present findings from a new George Brown study called Toronto Next: Return on Innovation, which surveyed more thn 300 Toronto-area employers to learn more about the state of innovation locally. Sado wasn't just interested in describing problems, however—she was much more interested in proposing some solutions.

There are reasons to be hopeful that the situation can change. For starters, the issue isn't a lack of funds. Companies have the money; they are just risk-averse. "GTA businesses are more interested in productivity than innovation or creativity," said Sado, suggesting that what we need to effect is a cultural shift in our understanding of what innovation is, exactly, and why it's so important.

At George Brown, she explained, they defined innovation as "the process of creating social or economic value from something that already exists"—a contrast with the businesses they surveyed, which defined innovation in terms of novelty (creating new processes or products or thinking in new ways). Because of this definition, Sado believes, those businesses don't see any strong or direct links between innovation and productivity—most new inventions both cost a lot and fail, after all—and thus they don't value innovation enough.

In her speech Sado emphasized that one major key to advancing innovation is collaboration, and especially collaboration between post-secondary institutions and the private sector. This both facilitates the development of those iterative improvements, and mitigates some of the concerns about risk, since various parties can each contribute in their areas of expertise, and work together to improve products before they are brought to market.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Anne Sado, President, George Brown College

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

Feds work with York U, NexJ & McMaster to launch cloud computing system for medical care

Though it can take decades and be fraught with peril—witness any number of eHealth controversies in Ontario—Canadian jurisdictions are gradually making headway in their quest to modernize the delivery of healthcare in this country. The latest initiative: storing medical records via cloud-based tools, to allow both patients and healthcare providers to access them easily, quickly and from anywhere.

Last week the federal government announced what it is calling the Connected Health and Wellness Project, which will aim to drastically simplify our ability to access our own medical files. The project is spearheaded by a partnership between York University, North York-based NexJ Systems (which specializes in cloud software) and McMaster University. It will see the creation of a set of online tools which will allow patients, their health care providers and supporting parties (such as family members involved in medical care) the capacity to access and share information, and also to work collaboratively on ongoing health management issues. For example, a diabetic patient could automatically update her file with the latest information about her diet, exercise and insulin levels, while a nurse or physician could moniter that patient's status remotely by accessing that information in real time.

The Federal Economic Development Agency will be contributing $15.5 million to the project; private investment partners have contributed more than $23 million. In total, there are 16 public, private, not-for-profit and academic partners involved, also including George Brown and Seneca colleges, the University Health Network and Research in Motion.

One potential growth area opened up by projects like this is the relatively new field of health coaching, which governments are hoping will help lower healthcare costs through ongoing management of and support for patients between doctors' appointments.

The technologies being developed under the auspices of the Connected Health and Wellness Projected are expected to be commercialized and reach the market in about two years.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Office of Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario

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
99 Church & Wellesley - Yorkville - Annex Articles | Page: | Show All
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