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Pickering's Pucker-Up brings hockey dad innovation to stores across Canada

One day in 2008, after spending too long collecting assorted pucks up off the ice after hockey practice, 12-year-old Christopher Wright asked his father to invent a device to make the task easier. His dad, Bill Wright, went home and came up with a prototype for a puck-lifting and storage device that proved to save time and wear and tear on backs and hands.

That product, tested on the ice at Pickering's Don Beer Arena, has been picked up for distribution by Canadian Tire. After signing a deal to become Canada's official retailer for National Hockey League equipment, the chain is making a significant push into the hockey market this year, and it expects the Wright's Pucker-Up innovation to be a hot seller, spectators were told at a media event at a Pickering Canadian Tire store on Sept. 10.

"From the mind of a child, to the ingenuity of his father," Mark Guinto of the Pickering mayor's office says by email, "this locally invented and tested product will be on Canadian Tire shelves across the country. And Mr. Wright didn't even have to go on the Dragon's Den to pitch it."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Mark Guinto, Public Affairs Coordinator, Office of the Mayor of Pickering

Rock Parlor t-shirts find success in tattoo culture, recruiting sales reps

Twenty four-year-old entrepreneur Jay Manara is the frontman for a rock group called the Broken Sons, and is a drummer on the side who has toured opening for KISS. He says that while he was a business student at Ryerson, he was inspired to start his clothing line, Rock Parlor, by his work as a musician. "I'd been slugging it out playing in a band for six years, playing shows where we  were not even earning enough to put gas in the car. So I was looking for simple ways to make an extra buck."

The way he thought of -- a line of t-shirts inspired by tattoo and rock 'n' roll culture -- was promising enough that his business plan won him $25,000 in seed money in a Ryerson competition in 2009. His marketing approach was to have the shirts sold in tattoo shops, where, as a heavily inked man himself, he had connections, and where his target customers would find them. One year later, his shirts are sold at 30 locations across the country, he's earning a living himself, and he's looking to expand.

"I'm currently in the process of hiring a bunch of sales reps to work at pretty much every single university campus across the country," he says. He envisions using a model similar to Avon or Tupperware, where part-time reps who embody the brand's attitude serve to hand-sell the product.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Jay Manara, founder, Rock Parlor

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Innovative Mackay & Co. program mentors 3 fashion designers per year in communications

Long before he founded the public relations firm Mackay & Co, John Mackay was a fashion journalist -- among other gigs, he was the founding editor of Toronto Life's Fashion magazine. Now, he says, "you reach a certain point in your career where you want to start giving back," and his fondness for the fashion business has suggested a way to do that.

He's running an innovative mentorship program that will help three fashion designers per year -- one at a time, for four months each -- learn how to effectively do their own marketing and public relations. "Originally we thought we could take on a young designer and do their PR for them," he says, "but then we realized that if your doing this business in Canada, you'll probably always have to do your own PR and marketing. So we want to teach them to be the best communications people they can be."

Mackay says he's looking for designers who have a line of clothing up and running -- those who have completed their first collection and are working on their second. Then he and his team will work with them to help them develop their own skills to communicate with buyers and the media.

The first mentorship in Mackay & Co's program is coming to a close, and he's currently looking for the next participant.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: John Mackay, founder, Mackay & Co.

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Interactive Exchange conference announces Jordan Mechner as keynote speaker

Last week, Interactive Ontario announced that Jordan Mechner, creator of the Prince of Persia video game and Hollywood film franchise, will be the keynote speaker at their upcoming Interactive Exchange conference.

"We're excited because he's a super-dynamic person and a huge success in making the cross-over from video games to film -- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is the highest grossing video-game crossover film ever," says Danielle Engels, director of communications for Interactive Ontario. She adds that his presence creates a crossover between Interactive Exchange and the Toronto International Film Festival running in Toronto at the same time, which mirrors the convergence taking place in the industry.

The Interactive Exchange (formerly called ICE) is a conference dedicated to exchanging information through panel discussions and speeches for the interactive media industry, including video games, social media and mobile technology. It is run by Interactive Ontario, an organization whose mandate, according to Engels, is to drive the innovative interactivity industry in Ontario. This year's conference takes place at the Carlu September 12-14.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Danielle Engels, Director of Communications, Interactive Ontario

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

ArtBarrage.com plans to democratize the sale of contemporary art

ArtBarrage.com co-founder Kelly McCray says that in his years working as co-director of the Edward Day Gallery, he's noticed that the purchase of art can be somewhat mystifying. "I've realized there's an intimidation factor -- you've got to walk into a gallery and perhaps you aren't sure of the language, you've got to talk to a dealer and maybe you aren't sure how to proceed." That was one of the factors he and partners RK Mann and Walter Willems hoped to address with the launch of their innovative new online contemporary art marketplace, which "soft" launched last week and will formally debut in September.

"We thought there should be a progression of the gallery-dealer model of art sales. This is a way for artists -- whether they're represented or not -- to get their work out to the worldwide marketplace, and for galleries and representatives to reach a broader audience as well."

The marquee feature of the site is the "barrage," where artists or representatives can post art for sale, initially free of charge. After the first month fees of less than $10 apply for posting, and the site takes a 17% per cent commission for work sold. Though the site is based in Toronto, the founders expect to host a global marketplace, and will conduct transactions in US dollars.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Kelly McCray, Co-director/Curator, ArtBarrage.com

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

New innovative online community 5 Blocks Out crowdsources local, sustainable living

Oshoma Momoh, a former Microsoft developer and manager who moved from Seattle to Toronto in 2005, says that he and his partner in life and business Katrin Lepik began thinking about how to bring "neighbourhood word-of-mouth" online a few years ago. "We realized there's more going on in this city, in every neighbourhood, than you could possibly track. It's the 'alone in the big city' problem ... and we were also thinking a lot about local and sustainable living, a real local lifestyle," he says over the phone.

The result of that thinking -- and over a year of design by Lepik and web development by Momoh -- is 5 Blocks Out, a new online community launched in July that allows members to share information about their neighbourhoods with their neighbours. People can sign up and share tips on places to play or eat or shop, share event notices or post "missions" that ask other members for specific information.

While the enterprise is a for-profit business ("or at least we certainly hope it will be," Momoh says), the couple have, in proud web business tradition, yet to settle on a business model. "If we can make it great for end users, then we're confident we can find some ways to make money from that without degrading the experience for users," he says. He notes that they don't want to start "yet another advertising company" but that their vision includes ways to connect small local businesses with a devoted group of people who "actually care about them."

Perhaps it's fitting that a couple who chose to relocate their established lives to Toronto should set up an ultra-local enterprise serving this "city of neighbourhoods." Momoh says that while being near Lepik's family was the driving force behind their moving decision, they also felt that "Toronto is really hitting it's stride -- we were excited that we could be part of the city as it is finding itself and gaining confidence."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Oshoma Momoh, co-founder, 5 Blocks Out

Distility Branding finds $350K in angel investment to "shake up" industry, will expand, hire

Distility Branding, a Toronto-based company housed in the MaRS building, announced this week that it had procured $350,000 in angel investment funding to expand its business.

In a release, Distility CEO Axle Davids said the funding "provides the capital for us to aggressively expand our sales networks and pursue businesses and marketing partners who find traditional branding too slow, complicated and expensive." Company spokesperson Andrew Stewart says that expansion will include both expanding the office and hiring.

The company has banded itself as a new type of branding company -- using a presentation called "Brand Scammed" to highlight the sometimes too-long and foggy process as it is practiced elsewhere. As Stewart says, the old "expert model" of branding was often expensive and based on a consultant bringing an outside impression, hazily conceived, to a client. Distility pitches its own "1day1brand" approach, which includes collaboration with company employees and the use of  innovative software, that it claims shortens the process  and makes it cheaper and more effective.

Founded in 2001 as aXle Branding (named after founder Axle Davids), the company evolved into Distility Branding in 2008. In 2009, they became a client of the business innovation incubator MaRS and, working with advisor Lance Laking, are pursuing expansion through their new technology-based model of innovation. Stewart says that in the past year, the company has grown from three full-time staff to four full-time and four part-time staff, and has also been contracting out some work.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Andrew F. Stewart, Public Relations and Customer Relations Manager, Distility Branding

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Behind the G20 "fake lake": Toronto-based cultural empire Lord Cultural Resources (hiring 3 now)

Over the past month, there's been much reporting -- and complaining -- about the so-called "fake lake" that was housed in the media centre for last weekend's G20 summit in Toronto. Lost in the outrage over federal government spending was the quiet success story of the Toronto company that was hired to build the media centre to showcase Canadian culture and companies to the international media.

Lord Cultural Resources, who assembled and led a team of companies including Hariri Pontarini Architects, Infinite Stage Design, Astound Group and Nüssli Canada to build and manage what they called "a series of engaging, interactive, technologically-enhanced and story-driven exhibits for the International Media Centre in Toronto for the 2010 Muskoka G-8 Summit and the Toronto G-20 Summit," was founded in Toronto in 1981 by Barry Lord and Gail Dexter Lord. The company, according to its materials, was started "in response to an emerging need for specialized planning services in the museum, cultural and heritage sector."

Since then, they have managed over 1,800 projects in 45 countries, and have opened offices in the US, France, Spain, China and Bahrain, and have become what they call the "world's largest cultural professional practice." In addition to the G20, Lord Cultural Resources was also involved recently with planning and implementing the show-stopping Ontario House pavilion at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

According to their website, they are hiring three staff in Toronto now.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Andrea Ott, Director of Client Relations and Marketing, Lord Cultural Resources

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Ossington boutique Jonathan + Olivia expands to accommodate Canada's first Topshop, is hiring

The opening of a Toronto location of the trendy British fast-fashion giant Topshop has been long anticipated. It's location was also the subject of speculation -- as far back as last fall, some were speculating that it would be hosted by The Bay. When it finally arrived with an opening last week, it was in somewhat hipper, cozier quarters, residing in an expanded Jonathan + Olivia on Ossington, a coup for what many consider to be one of Toronto's best fashion retail outlets.

Jonathan + Olivia proprietor Jackie O'Brien originally opened the store on Vancouver's Main Street in 2005 -- the store is named after her niece and nephew -- in response to a quest to control her own destiny. "After 10 years of working in the fashion industry ... I decided it was time to be my own boss," she told blogger Marcus Troy. In 2008, she moved to Toronto to open her location at 49 Ossington, helping to define one of the trendiest strips in Toronto and drawing accolades from the local fashion press.

With the introduction of Topshop to her wares, and the buzz that has accompanied it, O'Brein seems poised for explosive growth this summer. Fittingly, Jonathan + Olivia is currently hiring a store manager and a stylist.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Sources: Jonathan + Olivia, Marcus Troy, torontolife.com, The National Post 

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Preloved hires for innovative new "pop-up shop" -- still hiring now

For a few years now, there's been a trend in retail to introduce "pop-up shops" -- locations that open on month-to-month or short term leases to introduce a store and its new products to a new area. The concept was embraced this week by local retailers Preloved, who opened a new and likely temporary location at 230 Danforth Ave.

"I only lasted 45 minutes before I placed a frantic call over to our Queen Street location for back-up staff!" Preloved CEO and founder Julia Grieve said in an email release. According to company spokesperson Ashley Parr, that frantic call has led to hiring -- and the shop is still hiring now.

Though this was Preloved's first foray into pop-up retail (according to Parr, it won't be their last), the shop has long had a presence in Toronto as a retailer of fashions remade from vintage clothing. The store and label were founded by Grieve in Toronto in 1995, and since then has grown to open locations in Montreal and Australia, employing between 40-60 people, according to Parr.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Ashley Parr, Warehouse Manager, Preloved

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Accessible, Toronto-made tech innovation will help Paris Metro (and soon GO Transit) passengers

Students working at the Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ) have developed an app for the Google Android that will revolutionize travel in the Paris Metro -- especially for those passengers with special needs such as vision and hearing loss.

The application, called "Mobile Transit Companion," will provide passengers on the Metro system with real-time updates and information contextualized to their location. Among its functions are service availability notices, elevator locations and other station navigation information and alerts from operators directly to the passengers. The app relies heavily on the visual, touch, sound and vibration capabilities of smartphones to serve passengers with various special needs. You can check out a video demonstration here.

According to a statement by Ryerson post-grad student and DMZ member Hossein Rahnama, the team that developed the application at the DMZ focused on passengers with special needs because they believed "those communities could really benefit from such applications, even though they are often not considered when [people are] developing apps." The DMZ is working on other, similar projects for airports and other transportation hubs, and is working with regional transit authority Metrolinx on a project for GO Transit to be launched in the fall. Plans also call for the application to be developed for other smartphones such as the Apple iPhone.

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Heather Kearney, Public Affairs Officer, Ryerson University

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Boutique cycling company Beater Bikes surveys future, sees growth online

"Doesn't everyone want to design a bike?" asks David Chant, in explaining how he came to launch his boutique bicycle company Beater Bikes in the summer of 2009. The self-described "bike nerd" -- who owns an assortment of high end pedal-powered vehicles -- felt that there was a particular niche waiting to be filled. A quality bike built for city driving -- ready to go with fenders and chain guards -- that would ride well but be priced low enough that you "wouldn't have to worry about locking it up on the corner."

After a year or so of designing and learning the ins and outs of contracting manufacturing in Europe (and a two-month shipping delay in Amsterdam), his first shipment of bikes arrived late last summer. The ladies model sold out within months, and, as Chant says, "the bikes are flying out the door -- we even have a waiting list for the women's model." Is this success? "It's not bad for a one-man operation selling bikes out of an art gallery," he says.

Chant already has his eye on next spring, when he plans to launch a new and improved model. To that end, he's conducting a survey online right now to see what people are looking for in a bike. Chant says he sees Beater Bikes' future in "going a bit more international" -- doing most of his sales through e-commerce.

Still, as he speaks, it's clear he sees it as much as a calling as an empire-in-the-making. "I love bikes and I want more people in Toronto to ride them. Putting more bikes on the road is my form of advocacy."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: David Chant, Owner, Beater Bikes

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

TD brings its "bank branch of the future" downtown as new concept banking innovation hits T.O.

A banking phenomenon sweeping North America over the past few years, known as "relational banking," "boutique banking" or, simply, "new concept" banking, relies on a seemingly simple innovation to the bank-branch experience: the human touch. Featuring open concept designs, more direct and informal contact with employees and better amenities (from coffee to toys to community spaces), the branches are intend to make people's relationships with their large multinational financial institutions a little more homely -- a model of warmth borrowed from retailers such as Starbucks and Chapters/Indigo.

TD Canada Trust introduced the first of its take on the concept with a branch in Brampton last fall, and opened a second in Windsor thereafter. Now what one TD manager calls "the future of retail banking" has arrived in downtown Toronto, with a branch opened June 4 at Yonge and Imperial Streets that features a community boardroom, a "community wall," a children's play area and a customer coffee lounge, among other comforts.

"We've received very positive feedback about the new concept branches we recently opened in Brampton and Windsor and we think they'll love it in Toronto too," branch manager John-David Di Rezze said in a release about the new 5,600-square-foot-location. "Our new open concept space ... tells customers as soon as they enter that this place is all about them."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Tashlin Hirani, TD Canada Trust

Got an Innovation & Job News tip? Email edward@yongestreetmedia.ca.

Damn heels offers fashion innovation to save women's feet

Hailey Coleman was backpacking across Europe with a friend when she found herself "in London, England, hobbling home barefoot" with her heels in her hands. She realized then that an innovation was needed to keep the feet of nighclubbers safe.

Now, at age 22, she's the founder of Damn Heels, a company that produces and sells foldable slippers in a small case designed to be carried in a handbag. At the end of the night, the slippers fold out to fit on a woman's tired dancing feet, and the case folds out to fit her heels. She sells the product for $20 (including tax) on her website, and is now seeking Toronto retailers to carry it.

The path between inspiration and corporation was a natural one, Coleman says. As a student, she was taking a business-plan-writing class. "I found myself going through all the steps of creating a company -- hiring a designer, finding manufacturers -- so I thought I'd just continue until I had a company."

After launching the company in December 2009, Coleman remains the sole employee -- for now -- running her business from her Chinatown apartment. But she doesn't expect to stay small for long, as she says the response to her product since it was introduced at a Motionball event has been "awesome."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Hailey Coleman, Damn Heels

Art Starts opens 4th community arts hub, relocates headquarters

Art Starts is a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to "build healthier communities using the arts." It runs neighbourhood cultural centres in at-risk neighbourhoods where artists of all ages can find "relevant creative opportunities."

In an email to supporters, Managing Director Liz Forsberg recently announced the opening of the org's fourth neighbourhood hub, located in Lawrence Heights. Also, Art Starts is moving its headquarters to the Yorkdale Community Arts Centre at Yorkdale Mall as of March 18, a move that Forsberg writes, "is a very exciting opportunity for us; not only will it allow us to share a state-of-the-art facility with all four of the communities we work with, but it will also give us the opportunity to begin developing and offering fee-for-service programs as a means of providing some sustainable funding to our free programs in underserved neighbourhoods."

Writer: Edward Keenan
Source: Art Starts
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