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Social Graph Studios reaches 8 million Facbook users, looks to hire 2

If you are a Facebook member, and you almost certainly are, then you likely saw a lot of Social Graph Studios in your news feed earlier this month -- though you may not have noticed. They're the Thornhill-based application developers behind the "My Year in Status" and "My Year in Photos" apps that, for the second year in a row since their development, attracted millions of seasonal users as the calendar turned from 2010 to 2011.

Founded in 2009 by Oz Solomon, under the motto "The shortest distance between friends is laughter" with the mission of creating applications that bring people together to have fun, the local company has exploded into one of the more successful application developers. They boast the evergreen products "Status Shuffle" and "Status Statistics," as well as "xo Hearts xo" alongside their grand-slam holiday season favourites in their suite of products. They have earned the top satisfaction rating for Status Shuffle of any application on Facebook, which the company claims makes them a trusted venue for advertisers.

In all, the company claims 8 million users ("and we've only just begun," they say), and is growing rapidly. Right now, the company is looking to add two developers to their staff to accommodate that growth.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Oz Solomon, Social Graph Studios

Toronto-based Pink Martini sends spring collection to 700 stores, launches new logo + blog

Israeli-born, Vancouver-raised fashion designer Amir Bahar moved to Toronto and founded his label Pink Martini Collection in 2006, a distinctly Canadian label, the company says, that combines its founders love of vintage fashion and his passion for travel.

At home as a child, Bahar learned the business from his father, a textile producer and distributor. When he originally got into fashion, he travelled frequently as an importer, looking for hip-hop inspired fashions from Europe and Asia. Eventually he decided to create his own label.  Four years after its founding, the company's designs are available on retail racks at over 700 locations across North America.

According to Zoe Mills, the PR and Marketing Manager for Pink Martini Collection, the company wants to connect more closely with Toronto consumers, and to do so launched a new logo, website and blog this month to go along with its new Spring 2011 women's wear collection.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Zoe Mills, Pink Martini Collection

Foundation offers $1,000 no-strings grant "to do something awesome... that's it"

Armed with a paper bag full of cash and a love for design, urban planning, art and science, the newly formed Awesome Foundation Toronto is looking to encourage people to improve the city, make it more fun and encourage serious social projects with a decidedly unserious-sounding grants program. They're offering $1,000 to the person who submits the best idea to "do something awesome."

The Toronto project is spearheaded by Mozilla Foundation consultant and "pitch designer" Geoffrey MacDougall, and joins the growing international Awesome Foundation network. As outlined in the Boston founder's founding post, the project is a sort of "micro-MacArthur Foundation for your flashes of micro-genius": "The idea is simple: create a monthly $1,000 grant awarded to a person doing things to forward the interest of Awesome. The money will be spent on a project, activity, or research, and it will be (intentionally) broadly defined. We don't even really care if it's for fun or for profit. We will never claim your intellectual property or anything like that, and anyone in the world is eligible. So long as you need the money and the idea is awesome, you will receive it with no strings attached. Period. End of story."

The Toronto chapter's first call for submissions asks for videotaped entries explaining the awesome idea, and why it needs $1,000 to be realized. The deadline for submissions is February 15th.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Geoffrey MacDougall, Awesome Foundation Toronto

Markham-based AMD launches "game-changing" processor, development created 122 new jobs

At the the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which could be considered the world series of the tech world (it's where Apple's iPod, iPhone and iPad were unveiled in past years), last week Markham's Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) launched a world-leading technology of its own. The Fusion family of Accelerated Processing Units (APUs) are chips that AMD claims will revolutionize computing.

The Fusion APUs allow home computers, laptops and processing devices to perform tasks that were previously only available to industrial computers, including displaying high-definition graphics, supercomputing through access to GPUs and extending the battery life of laptops up to 10 hours. AMD senior VP Rick Bergman says the company believes this is "quite simply, the greatest advancement in processing since the introduction of the x86 architecture more than 40 years ago."

The development of the Fusion APU chips took place at AMD's GTA plant, helped along by an investment last year of $56.4 million from the provincial government. In addition to the previous AMD staff of 637, the development of this processor created an additional 122 jobs. Ontario Minister of Economic Development Sandra Pupatello congratulated AMD on their "game-changing" technological leap, noting that this APU will "help put made-in-Ontario technology inside millions of computers, laptops, notebooks, netbooks, tablets and other mobile devices," and said that AMD is continuing to help establish the Greater Toronto Area's reputation as a global hub for innovation in graphics and media processing.

Outside reviews were equally effusive. Matthew Murray of PC Magazine writes that the Fusion APU was one of two technologies at CES that are already "reshaping the industry as a whole," and notes that the APUs will put a surprising amount of power into very cheap laptops. Jeremy Laird of TechRadar writes that AMD has developed the "the most revolutionary CPU architecture in living memory," and that, "Its design fundamentally challenges the very concept of a CPU core."

AMD says it expects to announce soon that major laptop manufacturers will be shipping laptops containing the APU processors in the coming year.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Sarah Youngbauer, AMD; Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade; PCmag.com; TechRadar

Savvica is based in Toronto and is booming in India, hiring 2 now

Savvica, founded and headquartered in Liberty Village in Toronto, is India's largest educational marketing and recruitment services company. Unpacking that sentence and the story behind teaches some lessons in how to succeed in the global technology market.

According to a history told on StartupNorth, the company was originally founded by Malgosia Green in Toronto in 2004, but was shelved when she took a job in San Francisco in 2006. However, she and her husband and co-founder John "kept burning a little midnight oil, still looking for a deal or an opportunity, and most of all, they kept their dream alive." In 2007, an India-based e-learning company provided investment to expand the company, and Green located the Savvica office right back here in Toronto.

Just over three years later, Green is the CEO of what has become a giant in the Indian educational marketing and recruiting industry, operating the student web hubs learnhub.com, studyplaces.com and jumbotest.com. In the words of the company, they offer marketers and recruiters "unique access to students in India and other countries." As their web list of clients shows, their dominance in India is not a limit to their reach -- since their core service is study abroad information, they provide services to hundreds of colleges in Canada, the US, the UK and in other countries.

What's more, Savvica is expanding now, hiring two developers in Toronto. (If you're reading this from afar, they are hiring a VP to work in their India office, too).

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Malgosia Green, Savvica; startupnorth.com

New independently-produced iPhone app from Adam Schwabe show riders when next streetcar arrives

A new iPhone application called Rocket Radar shows TTC riders when the next streetcar will arrive at their stop. The application was developed and designed independently by Toronto interactive designer Adam Schwabe and is on sale at the iPhone App Store for $1.99.

Schwabe says that he'd been wanting for some time to create an application that would answer the question "Where's my streetcar?" (He notes wryly that sometimes the phrase would contain crude expletives.) But he says, "It wasn't until the City of Toronto and TTC released the Next Vehicle Arrival feed late last year at http://www.toronto.ca/open that the app became feasible." The feed provides real-time GPS data from streetcars in a format that allows independent developers to then use it in various other formats.

Schwabe works days as a designer for Teehan+Lax and developed the app in his spare time. For this project assembled a team including Jason São Bento, who executed the visual design, and Mohammad Kurabi and Jeremy Koch at nFuse Inc. to develop the application. Schwabe says the total time from rough sketches to finished product was about two months.

Schwabe says the data made available from the city was "absolutely critical" to delivering a project like this. "This is one of the best things the City of Toronto and TTC have done in years." He says he hopes this will be one of many apps that capitalize on the data initiative. "City officials need to recognize that Toronto is full of extremely talented designers and developers who are eager to build really cool applications, and just need the data to do so."

Schwabe says sales in the first week since the project launched have been "outstanding," topping the Navigation category in Canada on iTunes. He says that in many ways the project was a test for him to see how viable creating such an app with no up-front capital would be. Up next? "There's been a surprising amount of demand for an Android application, but for now, my plan is continue improving Rocket Radar, then I'll have some time to breathe and think about other platforms and future app ideas."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Adam Schwabe, Rocket Radar

Months after conception, Guardly adds 2 staff and seeks seed capital for rollout

When Yonge Street introduced the local startup Guardly back in October, the company's founders were just getting ready to unveil the concept and begin work on developing the product, a personal security application for mobile phones that will allow the devices to act as "panic buttons" that will notify loved ones through multiple communications networks.

Two months later, the company has hired two staffers, bringing the total number of employees to four (plus one intern), and is nearing completion of a market-ready product. Company president Josh Sookman says his "OnStar for mobile phones" should be ready to launch this month.

"The team is really meshing and we're probably going to get the first product out by the end of January," Sookman says, "but since we're dealing with personal safety, we want to make sure it absolutely works before launch -- we can't afford to release it and debug later."

Sookman says the current team is exactly what the company needs to take it through the launch phase, at which time he'll be looking to secure a round of funding to commercialize and monetize Guardly. "We've had some great conversations with investors," he says, "we speak to investors and they go home and talk to their wife and kids, and the family helps us do our sales job for us." Sookman notes that he's also been negotiating some partnerships with large social service organizations and companies who seem eager to offer the product to their clients.

The company is currently working out of the Yonge Street offices of Extreme Venture Partners, a breeding ground for apps in Toronto that has produced some of the world's most successful application development startups. "It's a really exciting time," says Sookman.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Josh Sookman, President, Guardly.

Toronto-based Kobo goes from 35 to 185 staff in one year, hiring 17+ as it seeks global dominance

You've likely heard of Amazon's eReader, The Kindle. You may also have heard of it's upstart competitor, Kobo, which was launched in December 2009. What you may not know is that Kobo, which was called a "global powerhouse" by TechVibes, is headquartered right here in Toronto -- the company's ownership is led by Canadian book retailing giant Chapters Indigo Books & Music.

According to company Marketing VP Liz Ridout, the company's strategy of open formats has led to explosive growth. Offering digital books and reading software and support for pretty much every device -- eReaders, smartphones, tablets -- on the market, including its own reader, the Kobo, the company has grown from 35 employees to 185 at its Toronto office in the past year. "We've definitely outgrown a few spaces," Ridout says.

Ridout says that for all this rapid growth, more is on the horizon, as the service will be pre-loaded on over 20 million devices sold in the coming year. "I don't see the pace of growth slowing down," she says, "we're really focused right now on developing global markets." While Ridout says the future may soon seen more offices established around the globe, the growth here in Toronto continues: the company is currently hiring 17 new staff.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Liz Ridout, VP Marketing, Kobo, Inc.

Cavet Tech wins its 10th innovation award in seven months, growing rapidly

It was just in early may that Yonge Street reported on the launch of Cavet Technologies' lighting control system LumiSmart ILC. Then, weeks later, we reported that the company had already won an innovation award for the "Intelligent Lighting Controller" from the Canadian Advanced Technological Alliance Innovation Awards.

As the year comes to a close, the company has racked up nine more awards for the LumiSmart ILC, most recently the New Technology Award from the 2010 Ontario Regional Awards for New Technology presented by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) and the National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Albert Behr, Cavet's president, says the company is "thrilled" to accept the award, and the slew of awards they've previously racked up. He adds that just months after launching, the company is now shipping to more than 30 countries across the world. "This thing is being installed everywhere," he says. "We're very proudly Canadian, but for sales Canada is a small part of the mix."

Behr notes that the product is manufactured at Celestica in Toronto, and that production there is going full-tilt. "We just officially launched -- as it had units ready for sale -- in November, and we've already got a run-rate most companies would kill for after two or three years."

The technology, designed and manufactured in Toronto, allows people to control their lighting automatically in a way that saves energy and money. It takes advantage of "adaptive lighting" by using sensors to increase or decrease lighting levels based on whether people are in a room or not. The company claims it can produce a 30 per cent power reduction instantly without the installation of any new lights or fixtures. Behr says this is a huge competitive advantage in a field in which most companies require installation of big infrastructural retrofits to conserve energy. He expects the company to grow exponentially in the next 12 months. "2010 was about commercializing the product. 2011 is really about harvesting sales from around the world."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Albert Behr, President, Cavet Technologies

Toronto startup Clear Onboard aims to let companies "focus on innovation, not administration"

"Working as a consultant means I've been through the 'on boarding' processes a lot of times," says Yang Yu, founder and president of Prognex Group. "Usually, either my email wasn't setup, or I had no parking pass, or I had to wait a week for my voicemail. I wanted to change that."

So Yu's Prognex developed the startup Clear Onboard, launching later this month at Sprouter's Toronto Sprout Up conference. Clear Onboard offers software to manage the hiring and orientation process. "Most of the talent management software that's available is really enterprise level," says Yu. "We saw an opportunity in the market serving small and medium sized business."

The company -- headquartered in the Financial District and currently run by four team members, including Yu -- has been in operation since 2008, previously offering Yask, a business process management platform that is more enterprise level, Yu says. With Clear Onboard he hopes to prove the concept over the next few months before seeking capital through investors.

Author: Edward Keenan
Source: Yang Yu, President, Prognex Group

Four Toronto companies get combined $1.92 million from experimental media fund

Last week, the Canada Media Fund announced the recipients of its first round of "Experimental Stream" funding for innovative media projects. A total of 27 projects across Canada will receive a combined $12.9 million in production financing. Projects from four Toronto companies will receive $1.92 million of that money:

*The CBC -- the national broadcaster headquartered in Toronto -- will get $434,400 for Kids' CBC Augmented Reality, which will allow children to "explore augmented reality and ... interact with 3D images rendered on screen by their own movements through a webcam and digital marker."

*Toronto-based My City Lives will receive $586,686 to produce a mobile application that will let users "learn about places to visit in the city through a growing library of geo-tagged videos contributed by the user community."

*Smokebomb Entertainment Inc of Toronto will receive $639,044 for a mobile application called Big Break, which "consists of 13 original live-action 'appisodes' featuring entertainment, music, celebrity and performance themes where tweens can create their own content and share it with others within a fully moderated community."

*And Peace Point Entertainment Group, also of Toronto, will get $260,138 for an application called Olson Anytime Anywhere Recipe Maker which will generate recipes for users based on ingredients available in their kitchens.

In addition, three Toronto companies received funding for projects in development or for support in marketing.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Betsy Chaly, Director, Marketing & Communications, Canada Media Fund

Edithvale, T.O.'s first new community centre in five years opens, $14.75M innovative green design

In 1984, the Edithvale Community Centre opened in a disused Willowdale Public School. Now, more than a quarter century later, it has finally grown up into a new, innovative $14.75 million building of its own. The new centre -- the first community centre opened in the city of Toronto since 2005 -- was officially opened this past weekend. The bill for its two-year construction was funded by levees on developers of condominiums in the area.

The new building features an innovative green design that includes low off-gassing building materials, an efficient ventilation system and motion sensitive light fixtures, in addition to a green roof. To serve the community, the facility includes a gymnasium, a banquet hall, lounges, a demonstration kitchen, fitness facilities and an elevated track. The U-shaped structure was constructed around a 50-year-old tree at the centre of the site.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation

New $30.6 million park Sherbourne Common brings innovative green features to TO

A new park opened on the Toronto Waterfront this week will not only serve its neighbourhood as a public space; it also features an innovative underground UV treatment facility that will collect and treat stormwater from the surrounding area. The treated water will flow out through three "art features" in the park to form a river flowing back into Lake Ontario.

The design of the $30.6 million Sherbourne Common park has already won architectural awards. At the opening of the park, Councillor Pam McConnell was joined by provincial Minister of Innovation Glen Murray and federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. All three politicians lauded the park, noting both the park's likely future as a destination on the waterfront and the jobs its construction has created.

In addition to green space and the innovative urban river, the park features a pond that will allow public skating during winter and an area for concerts and public gatherings. Waterfront Toronto Chair Mark Wilson noted it was the largest of three new parks opened on the waterfront in the past two months. "Today we are opening another must-see park on Toronto's waterfront," Wilson said. "By combining required municipal infrastructure with excellence in design, architecture and public art, Sherbourne Common offers a new model for city-builders nationwide and a fabulous year-round destination."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Samantha Gileno, Waterfront Toronto

Toronto office design company Teknion wins innovation award for new LED lighting system

Toronto-based office furniture design firm Teknion won the "Best in Show" Innovation Award at the IIDEX/NeoCon Canada design conference last week. The company presented its LED lighting system Conflux to the conference, which is Canada's largest design expo.

The Conflux system includes task lighting, floor lamps, desk lamps and undercabinet lighting, and introduces innovations, according to the company, with its flat-panel structure and body heat occupancy sensor. The quality of the light produced is said to be similar to daylight, with little shadow or glare.

The body heat sensor is particularly innovative: to save energy (in the already energy efficient LED lights), the lights contain an infared sensor that automatically detects if someone is present and shuts the light off at intervals if the room is empty. The Conflux system also acts as a power source for electronic devices, reducing clutter on desks.

Designer Carl Gustav Magnusson said that he wanted "refined lines and precise details ... to act as an anecdote to the visual clutter of busy work areas and elevate the aesthetics of LED lighting."

Interior Designers of Canada President David Hanson, in announcing the awards, said that the products featured had been thoroughly tested and would be "sure winners" in the marketplace.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: IIDEX/NeoCon; Mark Harris, Media Relations, Teknion Corporation

Startup iPad revolutionaries NuLayer sell 20% stake to Score, are hiring

When the Globe and Mail reported in late May that the two 25-year-old founders of NuLayer Inc. were at the "hub of the iPad app revolution," the company had recently launched its innovative photo application Crowdreel and had landed a job developing Score Media's iPad application.

Last week Score Media announced that they had bought a 20% stake in the innovative, Liberty Village-based company, with an agreement that NuLayer will develop "disruptive" technologies for the media giant and continue to develop its own products. "Crowdreel was just the beginning and we have several exciting products on our road map," said NuLayer co-counder Jeff Brenner, calling the partnership with Score Media  "a new era for our team."

That team has grown to six employees since the company's recent launch by two McMaster graduates. The team is growing now, seeking a rails developer.

On the acquisition, Score Media Executive VP and COO Benjie Levy said, "We've now created an environment where NuLayer and Score Media can work together to develop innovative digital offerings while giving NuLayer the resources they need to achieve explosive growth."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Sharon Lassman, Director of Communications, Score Media

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