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

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

Royal Conservatory of Music takes its innovative national music standards project to the US

Passing through the grades of the Royal Conservatory of Music's education program is a rite of passage for many Canadians: approximately 100,000 take an exam each year. The program provides for a comprehensive syllabus and testing standards that are clear and consistent across the country. If you move from Moncton to Mississauga, you can pick up right where you left off.

Things aren't so organized south of the border: currently there's not a nationally recognized set of music education standards that provide uniformity in testing or a common curriculum. So when Carnegie Hall, which offers a wide range of music education programs, was looking to help bring some order to this state of affairs, it was natural for the organization to look to Toronto, where the RCM is based.

After some initial meetings and talks, last year RCM and Carnegie announced the creation of a new organization, called The Achievement Program. Its goal is to provide "a framework to help students and teachers set goals musically and then pursue those goals," explains RCM's academic vice-president Angela Elster, "so they can have a sense of benchmark of what they're achieve and accomplishing."

The Achievement Program provides independent music teachers with a curriculum, and will help students across the United States prepare to take RCM exams. Over time, the goal is to have RCM's grade system used widely, providing the kind of national standard that is currently missing.

Last week Minister of Labour Lisa Taitt was in Toronto to announce financial support for RCM and for its contributions to The Achievement Program. The $7.5 million in funding will go to RCM's ongoing development, and her announcement highlighted this new business venture.

Both RCM and Carnegie expect to see growth in staffing as enrollment in The Achievement Program ramps up. As Elster points out: "shared mission and values [aren't] enough—we need a sustainable business model for all three organizations."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Sources: Angela Elster, VP Academic, Royal Conservatory of Music; Sarah Johnston, Director, Weill Music Institute; David Batchelor, Chief Marketing Officer, Royal Conservatory of Music

University of Toronto opening new institute to study innovations in city building

For the first time in history, more people throughout the globe and in Canada live in cities than in rural areas. Cities are becoming more prominent in policy discussions, in setting environmental standards and in shaping the day-to-day lives of their billions of inhabitants. Cities, for their part, are still learning how best to cope with these demographic shifts.

Helping us to understand how cities work, and to explore the innovations which might make them work better, is a new institute that will open this fall at the University of Toronto.

The idea for the cross-disciplinary Global Cities Institute started about six months ago, says newly appointed director Patricia McCarney. The institute will be housed in a new campus building that includes a state-of-the-art visualization theatre, and the anchor activity will be work surrounding the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF), which was created in 2009. GCIF's goal is to create a standardized "authoritative compilation of validated, self-reported, worldwide urban data"—information which allows researchers to compare cities across a large number of metrics. Until GCIF, says McCarney, "there [was] no common platform for cities to have a set of indicators." GCIF was originally funded by the World Bank (which chose Toronto to be the home of this indicators work) and has grown rapidly; it now has 200 cities belonging to it worldwide.

With that growth, McCarney says, came the need to process the growing cache of data: "We decided that we were at a turning point—we started to think about visualization of the data, to build analytics around the data and to start to think about how to build research into the university and to start to think about how to improve city mangement and city governance." And so the Global Cities Institute was born.

Governance doesn't just mean governments: McCarney sees international agencies, banks "and increasingly also industry partners" as playing a role in the cities of the future.

As for its location in Toronto, McCarney says:  "I work in cities around the world and they always look to Toronto as a successful city, they always look to Toronto as a demonstration of what is good in cities. Despite [the fact] that people complain—that we're slow, or whatever—we're still seen as having one of the best quality of life, high efficiency in services, creative talent, innovation. We're a great place to have an innovation."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Patricia McCarney, Director, Global Cities Institute

Top Hat Monocle closes $8M in new funding, hiring dozens by year's end

For years, teachers and professors have struggled with suppressing the use of cellphones in classrooms. As the phones got smarter, students got more absorbed, and the fight against distracton grew only more challenging as laptops and tablets became ubiquitous, too.

Going with the flow instead of against it is software company Top Hat Monocle, which was started—fittingly—by two students as a graduate project. Described as a "classroom response system," Top Hat provides instructors with a suite of tools they can use both during class and after to make learning more interactive, and provide students with real-time feedback. A professor can use it, for instance, to administer a quiz at the end of a lecture, and both she and her students could see the results instantaneously, while still in class together.

Top Hat formally launched in 2010, and secured its first found of financing—$1.5 million—in November 2011. Last week it announced a major new round of funding: $8 million, drawn from several venture capital investors. The significant influx will help the company accomplish two key goals, says chief revenue officer Andrew D'Souza.

"One, we're really hoping to expand the functionality and increase the interactivity." (One such expansion: in the fall the company will be adding the capacity to "turn your in-class experience into a competetive type game," where students challenge each other to test their familiarity with course material.) Second, says D'Souza, the financing will "really drive the sales and marketing." More precisely, the aim is to grow from a current base of 200,000 users to one million users in the next two years.

Top Hat currently has 35 staff, and is now hiring at the rate of 2 to 3 positions a week; the target is to hit 80 staff in total by year's end. The majority of those positions will be at the company's home base here in Toronto, where they do product development and are hiring "aggressively," particularly on the engineering side. The company also has a distributed sales team, and a small office in San Francisco; staffing in those operations will be growing as well.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Andrew D'Souza, Chief Revenue Officer, Top Hat Monocle

Centre for Social Innovation expanding... to New York City

The Centre for Social Innovation wasn't, as it happens, looking for additional opportunities to grow.

CSI, which offers shared spaces geared to small- and medium-sized social innovation organizations, started out with one facility on Spadina, in 2004, and had been adding rapidly to that: they bought a building in the Annex in 2010, expanding to a second location, and are currently implementing plans for a third site, as part of the massive Regent Park revitalization effort. They had a fair bit on their plates already.

But then came the call from New York. A real estate company had recently purchased, for nearly $1 billion, the Starrett-Lehigh building. At 2.3 million square feet, it's one of the 10 largest office buildings in Manhattan. They were looking for innovative tennants, they wanted CSI and they weren't going to take no for an answer.

The developers are trying, says CSI CEO Tonya Surman, "to find a way to bring some magic and life to the building—to do something that had more life, more energy, more community." Slated to open this winter, CSI Starrett-Leigh will offer mentoring, networking and tennant support services similar to its Toronto locations.

It's something that CSI, after eight years developing its co-location model—one which incorporates community animation and other engagement tools—is uniquely equipped to do. And it is, she adds, a model that is very characteristic of this city.

"I do think that Toronto and Canada—we're better at collaboration than most other cities and countries. I think that there's something in our DNA that's related to our history, our diversity.... We've had to learn to work across differences better than others. The DNA of collaboration runs in our blood."

"Toronto has played a leadership role," Surman says, in exploring new economic models that rely on innovation. It's leadership, clearly, that others are eager to benefit from.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Tonya Surman, CEO, Centre for Social Innovation

New organization lures more clinical trials back to Ontario

Several years ago the Ontario government began noticing a trend: major clinical trials were being conducted here less frequently. Pharmaceutical companies, it turned out, were increasingly choosing to run trials in developing nations, where costs are lower.

Clinical Trials Ontario is a new organization that hopes to combat that trend and attract major clinical trials back to Ontario. The nonprofit, which is right now fully funded by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, wants to make us more competitive again, by making the most of our key advantage: the quality of our research and clinical practices.

"We are not going to compete with emerging economies on an absolute cost levels," says CTO executive director Ronald Heslegrave, "but we do have the support clinically… Quality is as important or more important than cost itself. If you fail on the quality side, the regulators will never approve your product anyways."

CTO's first step will be to streamline the regulatory hurdles that can make it onerous for pharmaceutical companies who need to conduct large-scale trials. Currently, if you want to run a trial with a large population distributed across multiple sites, for instance, you need to get separate sign-off for your trial procedures according to the approval process of each of those sites. Twenty sites? Twenty approval processes. This, says Heslegrave, is unnecessary. "We can devise a centralized approval process which maintains the highest standards in trial protocols, but make the process more efficient and easier to navigate." (Ontario instituted a centralized review system for cancer trials several years ago; CTO hopes to expand that centralized approach to cover other disease areas.)

If Ontario does see an increase in clinical trials, Heslegrave says, there are two key benefits that follow. One is that "we need clinical trials for the health of Ontarians—this provides access to investigational drugs prior to them being approved on the market." The other is a job creation spin-off. "If the trials are conducted here... they are more likely to be analyzed here as well." In other words, our biomedical research sector would grow to provide support for the trials.

CTO's board includes pharmaceutical industry representatives as well as academics and business experts. Collectively, they hope, they can make the case that cost shouldn't be the determining factor in where clinical trials are conducted.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ronald Heslegrave, Executive Director, Clinical Trials Ontario

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.

U of T professor leads team to new hacker-thwarting encryption innovation

Professor Hoi-Kwong Lo of the University of Toronto, working with fellow U of T researcher Bing Qi and Spanish professor Marcos Curty, has published research on a new encryption method that could present a quantum leap forward in the attempt to thwart hackers. And that's a literal quantum leap.

The method, Measurement Device Independent QKD, is detailed in the physics Journal Physics Review Letters. It is an advancement in the field of quantum encryption, the technique for securing data transmitted over the Internet from hackers.

"Standard quantum encryption method is currently being used by various Swiss banks in encrypting critical data traffic. I have personally been an expert in the task force on the standardization of quantum key distribution products in Europe," says Lo.

The complicated field employed to secure information from prying eyes has long suffered from an "Achilles' heel" in the form of photon detectors, a problem Lo's group proposes it has solved. "We believe that our new method will significantly contribute to the standardization process and can be a game-changer in future quantum cryptographic products," Lo says.

The research team, who have already tested their method as a "proof of concept," expect to have a prototype available within five years. Lo says that the product could be commercialized within five years—and possibly much sooner—of the building of a prototype. "We are very interested in bringing our new method to the market. Currently, we are looking for industrial partners that will help us to co-develop our prototype."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Hoi-Kwong Lo, Professor, University of Toronto

Financial company Apex to expand by 50 staff in Toronto

When Global financial fund administration company Apex Fund Services announced the opening of its Toronto office just over a year ago, managing director Peter Hughes declared he saw "significant potential for growth" in the Canadian market.

Just last week, Glen Murray, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, announced that as part of the government's efforts to "secure our position as a global financial services hub," the province would invest in the company, helping finance an expansion of its Toronto operations. The expansion, which will lead to 50 new hires in the Apex Yorkville office, will see new or expanded risk reporting and administration services offered by the company to Canadian clients.

Hughes said in the release that Apex was helping to "put Canada firmly on the map as one of the world's fastest growing financial centres."

Canadian managing director Alex Chapman said that Toronto appears ripe for growth, one year after he and his company located here. "As a global company, Apex sees Canada to be a key location for the expansion of its personalized services for fund managers—domestically and internationally."

Parent company Apex Bermuda has 23 offices around the globe administering funds and asset classes over $16-billion.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Andrew Block, office of the Minister of Economic Development and Trade; Alex Chapman, Managing Director, Canada, Apex Fund Services

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

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

Solar Energy installation at Trinity college will fund student aid programs

It was $250,000 in student fundraising that got Trinity College's solar panel development started, and soon they will been giving money back to students as an innovative--and sustainable--source of student aid funding.

The 252 solar panels installed on the roof of the school by a team led by consultant Oxtoby of CarbonFree Technology, which were unveiled last week, are a direct result of a student fundraising drive in 2007 that generated $250,000. An additional $262,000 for the project was provided as an interest-free loan from the City of Toronto. Now that the panels are plugged into the grid, generating revenue for the school through the province's feed-in-tarrif program, the school estimates it will repay those loans in approximately 12 years.

After that, the revenue generated by the panels will be used to fund student aid at the school. They will generate approximately 67,000 kiloWatt hours per year of sustainable energy.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: David Oxtoby, CarbonFree Technoloy

UofT students launch academic social networking platform uBuddy.org

The power of social media has made it ever easier for students to connect with one another (Facebook, remember, was launched as a Harvard University social tool). The internet is a powerful driver of social interaction. But when it comes to serving students' academic needs, according to Ryan McDougall, the range of services and how they interact has been pretty poor.

McDougall is the Communications Director of uBuddy.org, a brand-new academic-oriented social networking site created by and for University of Toronto students. After launching in mid-February for beta testing, McDougall says the site has already attracted 1,200 users. "It is designed to be an efficient and powerful tool for--among other things--note sharing, meeting classmates and starting course discussions," McDougall says.

The site was the brainchild of U of T grad Charles Qu, who recognized a hole in the market when he himself was a university student, and developed the platform and startup company with help from MaRS.

McDougall says that during the pilot phase, the service is available exclusively to U of T students. But he says there are plans for expansion to other universities in the fall of this year.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Ryan McDougall, Communications Director, uBuddy.org

Cleantech startup MMB Research looking to hire 6 new staff in next 6 months

Yorkville-based cleantech startup MMB Research recently closed a deal to secure $1 million in angel financing, which will be used to expand its sales and development staff to build its business in North America, Europe and Asia. According to MMB Director of Business Development Kevin Downing, the financing will mean adding six new technical and sales employees over the next six months.

The company, founded in January 2008, specializes in smart-grid products. It has developed a software and hardware platform called RapidSE that allows manufacturers of home appliances and electronics devices to communicate better in a smart-grid energy saving network. Downing says that the platform is already being used by "several multinational organizations" to build smart appliances and devices.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Kevin Downing, Director of Business Development, MMB Research

Real Estate info entrepreneurs BuzzBuzzHome launch online forum, add 2 staff

As we reported in June 2010, BuzzBuzzHome was launched in 2009 with the aim of revolutionizing the new homes business by providing an online resource that shows all new developments in the GTA. Since then, the company has continued to grow by leaps and bounds.

BuzzBuzzHome is adding two more staff -- one just starting now and one joining the team in April--bringing their total number of employees to 14, which founder Matt Slutsky points out is 700 per cent growth in the past 18 months.

Slutsky says that among the most successful initiatives on the site was the recent addition of forums where users can post conversations. "We realized that we'd grown into more than just a listings resource, that we'd become more of a social network. So we added a spot for people to have discussions." Topics posted often draw dozens of comments from real estate agents and other industry watchers in a matter of hours, which tends to underscore Slutsky's point about the desire for information about real estate in the city.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Matthew Slutsky, President, BuzzBuzzHome

$28.8 million U of T-led project will bring regenerative medical innovation to market

Professor Peter Zandstra of the University of Toronto's Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering sums up the dilemma facing medical innovators nicely. "The problem is that many new and potentially life-changing regenerative medicine-based treatments never reach patients because they are not successfully moved from the laboratory to a stage where they can be used in medicine," he says. That's why he's heading up, as chief science officer, the new Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM), a partnership among research and private sector entities to commercialize innovations.

The project, which focuses on advancements in regenerative medicine -- which includes cutting edge techniques such as stem-cell therapy, regenerative biomolecules, tissue engineering and the use of biomaterials -- will aim to bring lab advancements to market. "Our plan is twofold -- to leverage our advances in biomedical research and engineering and create an RM commercialization pipeline to get our innovations into the marketplace and to people suffering from these difficult health conditions," says Zandstra.

The project got a shot in the arm from the federal government's Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research competition, which awarded CCRM $15 million on Dec. 6. That money will be added to $13.7 million contributed by private sector partners to fund the project.

In addition to  U of T, the project partners include the University Health Network, The Hospital for Sick Children, McMaster University, Mount Sinai Hospital, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and 16 private sector companies.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Laurie Stephens, University of Toronto
99 Church & Wellesley - Yorkville - Annex Articles | Page: | Show All
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