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ViXS will add 44 to its staff as it develops new generation video chip

Toronto's ViXS Systems has long been a leader in developing and supplying semiconductors and multimedia processors for the growing industry of manufacturers of TVs, DVD players and computers.

Now, with the help of a $6.15 million grant from the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, ViXS is in the midst of developing a next-generation video chip for the industry. The research and development project represents a $40.97 million investment for the company in total (including the provincial grant), and is seeing the company's existing staff of 96 grow by 44 new employees.

ViXS CEO Sally Daub says the government grant is allowing the company to "hire world class talent" while building on its position as a leader in video engine technology. She says the investment is also allowing the company to expand its global reach to new customers.

The company has been exploding, consistently ranking for the past three or four years high on both the Profit 100 and the Deloitte Fast 50 lists of fastest growing companies in Canada (it's shown roughly 300% revenue growth in the past three years). According to Profit magazine, the company is also the 15th fastest growing female-led company in the country.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Janet Craig, ViXS; Leigh Ann Popek, office of the Minister of Economic Development and Trade

Normative Design's mobile location research goes from Red Rover to Sousveiller with OCAD partnership

Normative Design is a interactive company that provides a full suite of web and mobile consulting services to clients -- as company COO Jon Tirmandi says, that's "how we pay our bills." But as a sideline that is of growing interest and importance to the company's bottom future, Tirmandi says, they have been conducting research into location-based mobile services.

This began last year when the company partnered with OCAD University's Mobile Innovation Experience Centre on the Red Rover project, which used a developmental location-based gamin platform to facilitate city-wide games such as Red Rover, tag and capture the flag. Users are able to map their interactions and movements within the game using their mobile phones.

In a new project announced last month [PDF], also in conjunction with OCAD's MEIC and with support from a grant from FedDev Ontario, Normative Design is working on the Sousveiller Project, which will use crowd sourcing techniques to map the presence of security surveillance cameras throughout the city. Tirmandi says that at some point the map, which will show both the locations of cameras and the areas they are able to see, it would be possible to plot games in which participants move through the city without appearing on camera, for instance.

In the long-run, Tirmandi says, these experiments have a variety of practical, marketable applications, ranging from enabling physical gaming to innovative hyper-local news media delivery options.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Jon Tirmandi, COO, Normative Design

Toronto-based global leader GestureTek will pursue autism treatment application with federal grant

GestureTek got its start in 1987, when Vincent John Vincent and his University of Waterloo classmate Francis MacDougall came up with a technology that would allow people to move their bodies to interact with a video display -- a system similar to the Wii, but requiring no controllers or wires.

Since then, the company has grown into a global giant in the gesture-recognition field, with applications ranging from interactive advertising displays, to theme-park rides to retail gimicks to healthcare uses.

Now, a grant from FedDev Ontario, the federal government's economic development agency, will see GestureTek partner with OCAD University to conduct research into an application that could be used to treat children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The project will use a "smart carpet and chairs" to enhance a musical therapy program that allows ASD-diagnosed children to interact with their peers. In early testing, the project has reportedly shown encouraging results.

The grant will help fund exploration of marketability and healthcare and manufacturing partnerships.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Vincent John Vincent, GestureTek; Sarah Mullholland, OCAD University

Enviro social game My Green City, innovation award winner, partners with MEIC to move to market

We reported last year after the inaugural Green Innovation Awards, co-sponsored by the City of Toronto and the Toronto Community Foundation, that Robert Kori Golding was the big winner -- his My Green City concept took home $25,000. His plan was to create a social game (similar to FaceBook giant Farmville) that encouraged people to take real-world steps to help the environment in order to earn points in the game.

A little less than a year later, his idea seems absolutely prescient, as "gamification" -- using games and game-design theories to encourage better behaviour and performance in the real world -- has become a hot subject, as demonstrated most emphatically last month with the publication of Jane McGonical's book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

During a recent check-in, Golding reports that he is progressing well towards creating the game -- he and his company Albedo Informatics have now partnered with OCAD University's Mobile Experience Innovation Centre to begin the serious development of the game for multiple platforms and devices.

In fact, last month the federal government announced a commercialization grant to OCAD to fund several projects, including My Green City. This is planned as the first of several projects for Albedo Interactive, which Golding says will be focused on creating games that are not designed simply to addict people and generate revenue, but to inform and connect people.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Robert Kori Golding, Albedo Informatics

GTA students and grads can test their civic App-titude in $5,000 development battle

Current university and college students and recent grads from across the GTA are being challenged to find innovative ways for people to interact with the city of Toronto in mobile applications. The Battle of the Apps, sponsored by both the City of Toronto and Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone, asks students to form teams to design applications that enhance the city or showcase it to users. The winners of the contest will get more than $5,000 in prizes.

The contest is being run by mobile development company D1 Mobile. Company President Daniel Ezer says he was tired of constantly hearing about how rich with talent Silicone Valley is. "Toronto is an amazing and diverse city. Battle of the Apps is our way of bringing out students' innovative minds and encouraging them to develop something which benefits our city," he says.

Registration for the contest is open until this weekend. Finalists will be announced on March 21, and the winners will be chosen and announced April 7. More details are available at www.battleoftheapps.com.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Daniel Ezer, President, D1 Mobile

Toronto data sharing initiative will make Ontario world's first true "wiki-mobile-digital economy"

At an event in downtown Toronto last week, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation Glen Murray suggested that investing in knowledge should be the provincial government's re-election issue -- a position he compared favourably to the Conservative party's plan to offer cheaper beer prices. He said there's a reason such an investment is important.

"The economy is changing at a pace unheard of in human history. This is bigger than the industrial revolution, which took 200 years. This is bigger than the agricultural revolution which took 2,000 years. These revolutions are happening in months. It took less than two years for Facebook to get 58 million participants, it took television 20 years to get that many people. The pace of change is monthly for what used to take place in decades. The pace of change in society has become a social challenge in itself."

In what he said he thought was one of the "most important things I'll ever be involved in in my life," Murray announced the launch of a "multi-year, fully funded project" to share data. While details were not made available, Murray said the "core strategic research centre" would be set up at MaRS and rolled out over the next four months. The plan, he said, is to "try to create a collaborative open-source platform where companies, government and not-for-profits will provide data" and knowledge that would be available to other researchers of all stripes across the province. "My goal is, in the next decade, to drive this collaborative centre to make us the first true wiki-mobile-digital economy."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Research and Innovation

Green Mantra Recycling turns waste plastic into sellable wax, wins cleantech award

At the recent CIX conference, Green Mantra Recycling Technologies was honoured as Canada's Hottest Innovative Company in the CleanTech sector. That's high praise, but to those who have long followed the recycling industry, it will appear completely justified.

Green Mantra has developed a proprietary technology that can recycle products such as plastic bags and bottles -- they've long been thorns in the side of recyclers because plastics are made of different compounds that cannot be recycled together -- and turns them into waxes and greases. The products are commercial quality and can be sold for uses such as industrial lubricants, car and floor waxes and candles. The process produces no greenhouse gases.

Founded by Indian-born Pushkar Kumar, the company is currently headquartered at MaRS. "I bring a unique international perspective to GreenMantra -- having grown in Indian business environment, I have an acumen to successfully run operations in cost effective manner," Kumar writes in his profile. A graduate of the Richard Ivey School of Business, he says that, "Canada is my new home and I want to work towards improving the place."

The company's business model sees municipal recycling stores (through which less than 5% of plastics currently wind up recycled) as a resource for materials to supply a manufacturing business that sells wax on the market to manufacturers of consumer and industrial products.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Pushkar Kumar, Founder and CEO, Green Mantra Recycling Technologies

Innovative Composites Int. file three new patents, see 600% growth potential rebuilding Haiti

Toronto's Innovative Composites International was born in 2007 when some former Magna engineers struck out to find applications for a new type of thermoplastic material they had developed. The composite compound they developed, suitable for building things (shipping containers, houses) is lightweight, fireproof, hurricane-proof. As company spokesperson Clive Hobson says, the composite can be used to build "virtually anything" and is "virtually indestructible."

Now up to 22 staff members at the Front Street office and the Michigan manufacturing facility, the company brought its product out to market last year. Since then, it's started to see tremendous growth -- their materials have been used to construct a 125-foot pedestrian bridge in Chicago, and they just signed another contract for storage containers last month. All the while they've continued to innovate with their product line, as evidenced by their late-January announcement of three new patent applications.

But Hobson says the potential for growth an order of magnitude larger is on the horizon: the company is on the list of six finalists for contracts to rebuild the shattered country of Haiti in cooperation with the Clinton Foundation. While Hobson says there are a lot of "ifs and buts" remaining in the tendering process there, but the firm is optimistic that they and their partners may soon be constructing 5,000 or more homes using ICI's materials. "I'm trying not to use hyperbole, but that would be represent a 'home run' in terms of growth in revenue." Hobson says ICI would need to construct a new manufacturing facility to accommodate such an order -- and hire approximately 100 more staff (representing a sixfold increase in employees). A decision on the Haiti rebuilding contract is expected within the next 60-90 days.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Clive Hobson, Innovative Composites  International Inc.

Startup Unata seeks 3 staff as it prepares to launch "Loyalty 3.0"

It's a little early in the company's development to say they're attracting buzz, but development-stage startup Unata has already landed on the watchlist of tech entrepreneur and CommunityLend CTO John Phillip Green.

Specific information on the tech startup's developmental product is still under wraps, but according to founder Chris Bryson, Unata is developing customer loyalty applications that are "data-driven" applications that will both generate customer loyalty and allow companies to "really understand their customers better." Bryson, who was formerly employed by Aeroplan, thinks that while some programs in the UK are delivering more of the potential of loyalty programs, the field is ripe for reinvention, especially in North America. Hence the company's pre-launch tagline, "Loyalty 3.0."

The project is funded fully by angel investors, and Bryson is currently looking to double the size of his team. Until now Unata has consisted of three developers, and they are looking to add three more immediately. Bryson says the company should have much more to announce by mid-to-late February.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Chris Bryson, Unata

Shiny Ads sees its local marketing revolution take off, doubles to 4 staff last month

Shiny Ads President Roy Pereira got the idea to change the advertising industry in May 2009. "Some really small advertisers were coming into a friend's website, and unfortunately it was very different than the traditional media buy with a large brand advertiser and a large budget and a lot of understanding. These guys were coming in, they had $50 in their budget, they knew nothing about online advertising, they didn't have any ads designed and ready to go. And taking their ads was a losing proposition because it would cost you more to service them than the revenue they'd bring in. So I looked for a solution, and didn't find one. So I thought, well, we can build one."

He says that when he built his business plan that year, it dawned on him what a large opportunity he'd stumbled on in small advertisers. "Really every niche and news site has a good chance of converting their readers into advertisers -- everyone at a niche website is interested in that one topic, and so you have this great targeted audience. News is interesting because its mostly local or topical."  Custom-made for small, "long-tail" advertisers, in other words.

Pereira launched his service, a fully automated self-serve ad platform that connects web publishers with smaller-scale advertisers, in January 2010. Since then they've attracted a lot of large websites, according to Pereira. The success led the company to move into a new, larger office space and to double the size of the team from two to four staff last month.

VP of Business Development and Sales Zunaid Khan, brought onboard to professionalize the sales end now that the technology has been demonstrated, chips in that even while the company continues to add to its offerings, the existing product is already serving up ads on smartphones and other platforms. "Essentially, whatever the customer is willing to sell, they can do it through our system."

He notes that the technology is turning heads in the industry: they were invited to present at the recent Toronto DEMO event; they'll be presenting at Innovation Alley at the upcoming ad:tech conference in San Francisco; and they were recently named by IDC as one of the 10 hot tech companies in Toronto to watch.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Roy Pereira and Zunaid Khan, Shiny Ads

Toronto-based Innovation Accelerator will give three start-ups a Silicon Valley crash course

Rick Nathan is the managing director of Kensington Capital and co-chair of the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) conference. "What we're trying to do at CIX is strengthen commercialization in the technology sector in Canada," he says of the mandate of the organization behind the annual meeting of Canada's best and brightest technology innovators.

Last week, CIX announced a new program to further that mission, called the Canadian Technology Accelerator. "It can be a challenge, when you're in Toronto, to break into the whole Silicon Valley culture of get noticed. This program is a great chance for an emerging tech company to jump into the heart of Silicon Valley for three months," Nathan says.

The program, run in conjunction with the federal government's Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and with the Consulate General in San Francisco, will give three early-stage Canadian tech firms the opportunity to spend three months working, rent free, out of the Plug and Play Tech Centre in California.  Nathan says the companies will have improved access to Silicon Valley venture capital and an opportunity to establish a presence in the Bay Area, the heart of North America's digital sector.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Rick Nathan, co-chair, Canadian Innovation Exchange

237 solar panels from GEMCO deliver hot water sustainability to the city

Solar panels installed by GEMCO (Glennbarra Energy Management Company) at three city-run agencies will provide hot water through solar power. The zero emissions water heating is expected to meet almost half the hot water needs of the Toronto Zoo, Birchmount Community Centre and True Davidson Acres. The truly inspired touch is that the installations and the water will cost the city no more than regular hot water usage would have, thanks to an innovative financing arrangement through the Toronto Atmospheric Fund.

"The innovation we provide is a utility-style service -- we install and maintain the solar system and the city facilities get hot water at the same price as fossil-fuel heated water, without up-front capital costs, operations and maintenance responsibilities or pollution," Darren Cooper, President and CEO of GEMCO, said in a statement.

The 237 solar panels that will provide the power were financed through the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, who expect to get a competitive return on their investment. The city agencies have contracted to pay rates equivalent to what they would pay a carbon-based utility for their water usage for the next 20 years. Glennbarra expects to see a profit as a result of that contract. Everyone wins.

Tim Stoate of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund says that this type of financing arrangement represents a new model for clean energy companies and users that offers both financial return and environmental benefits.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Tim Stoate, Toronto Atmospheric Fund; Darren Cooper, GEMCO

Billing innovators Freshbooks hiring 17, from executives to developers to support staff

Getting to work at a company whose product was recently named by the Huffington Post as one of the "Most Underrated Innovations of 2010" might be attractive to some people. That the company will soon have doubled its size in the past year may also be a plus. But how about sharing an office with a "giant talking doughnut"?

Freshbooks, the billing software company based in Toronto and taking the world by storm (see our previous articles on them here and here) is looking to add 17 new staff -- from a VP and a Chief Technical Officer right on down to IT support -- and to ensure potential hires get the tone right, they created an unconventional video (scroll down after the link to see it). It features a talking doughnut (who likes the good looking co-workers), a staffer who's under the impression he works for Facebook, and a "Stereotypical Canadian Hockey Guy" chatting up the company's dental plan.

But the company's growth is no joke: when we wrote about them in January 2010, the company had gone from five to 38 employees in four years. Today, according to company "Firestarter" John Coates, they now have about 60 staff and are hiring "pretty much constantly." Coates notes that their number of users has doubled year-over-year pretty much every year since they launched, to a current peak of 2 million people using Freshbooks.

Now, about that talking doughnut? "It's a casual, laid back office -- if someone wears a suit, we ask if they have a job interview. But it's also not," Coates says. "We don't take ourselves too seriously, but we take the product and our users seriously."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: John Coates, Freshbooks; The Huffington Post

Toronto's Pushlife launches new media product with Virgin, hiring 2 now

2010 was a banner year for Toronto startup Pushlife -- enough to get it named to IDC's list of 10 Toronto Digital Media Companies to watch. And that momentum continues into 2011 as the company seeks to add two team members, a mobile developer and a software developer, to its staff.

Founded in 2008 by former RIM executive Ray Reddy, Pushlife's mandate is to take on iTunes and the iPod pretty much straight on. Pushlife's software allows any phone or mobile device -- Blackberrys, Androids and plain old cell phones -- to play music, to synch with iTunes or Windows Media Player, and to share playlists and music information on social media. The only catch? You can't get it for the iPhone.

In May 2010, Pushlife pushed its software live, and by the end of the year it had launched a partnership with Virgin Mobile internationally to distribute the app for free. In addition to breaking up the iTunes monopoly, Reddy has said that the application eliminates the need to buy a dedicated music player, since it can turn virtually any phone into one. This holds particular promise for market share in developing countries, where mobile phones are ubiquitous but consumer spending dollars are scarce.

For information about the companies current hiring, click here.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Ray Reddy, Pushlife; IDC; PaidContent; RedCanary

OCAD gets $360K to drive innovation, appoints famed architect Will Alsop to faculty

It's been a big month for news out of the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD).

First, on January 13, the school announced that famed architect Will Alsop, who designed the university's iconic Sharp Centre for Design, has joined the faculty as an adjunct professor. OCAD's Martha Ladly, chair of the Art, Media and Design masters program, said that Alsop has "proven to the world his commitment to standards of excellence, and to the necessity of design for humanity through sustainable practices, creativity and imagination." Ladly noted that both graduate students and upper-level undergraduates will benefit from Alsop's advice and instruction.

The internationally renowned designer is scheduled to begin teaching an undergraduate course at the school in September. His appointment runs through 2013.

Shortly after that, the school was the recipient of $359,800 in funding from the federal government through the Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative. The funding will see OCAD partner with small- and medium-sized businesses for research, design, development and commercialization projects. MP Paul Calandra, speaking on behalf of the government, said the initiative will both create jobs locally and drive innovation among local businesses.

Sara Diamond, president of OCAD, said that projects under this initiative are "game changers" in their industries, and that the school's history as an incubator of applied research and market-ready innovation means it is well-suited to fulfill the program's hopes. Diamond said that the program will focus on innovations in the mobile, health, environmental and digital sectors.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Sarah Mullholland, OCAD University; Gary Toft, Ministry of State for Economic Development for Southern Ontario

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