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Showcasing Toronto's young gaming talent at Level Up

"One of the first things I did when I got here [in 2010]," says Emma Westecott, assistant professor of game design at OCAD University, "was try to find out who else was teaching games."

She found a kindred spirit in Steve Engels, a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Toronto. They met, and they had their students meet, and "one of the things that became evident was that a lot of the games our students were making could be much better if they were working together." So they started doing just that, and it went well enough that they decided to set up a showcase at the end of that first year of collaboration.

It's four years later, and this past weekend Level Up marked its fourth instalment: an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional showcase of student work in gaming that allows graduating and senior students to show off their work, engage in a bit of friendly competition, and—crucially—meet potential employers.

This year more than a dozen institutions participated, and over 50 team projects were included in the showcase. Organizers estimate that 1,000 people attended—200 more than last year.

Why an off-campus showcase? "It became obvious to me that with a new subject matter," Westecott explains, "that working with community was the best way to build expertise."

Toronto has a well-established gaming sector—it's a growing and dynamic part of our local economy—and one key goal of Level Up is to help introduce students into that community, sniff out potential internship opportunities, and tap into a network that will help them as they leave school. It's also a great way to measure your progress.

"For our students, it helps them see what their games are like in comparison to what other games are being made; from potential employers' point of view, it makes it easier to see everyone in one place."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Emma Westecott, Assistant Professor, Game Design, Digital Futures, OCAD University

Ontario using the Pan Am Games to expand apprenticeship opportunities

Last week, the provincial government announced that it would be be investing an extra $3 million over the next two years in its pre-apprenticeship training program, creating spots for 200 new participants. (A total of 1,100 pre-apprentices are participating in the program this year.) The impetus: the 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, and the massive infrastructure projects that are underway to prepare for those Games.

"it's something that's going to build a stronger workforce for us in the years ahead," said Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, while announcing the program expansion, "but it also provides young people in our province with an opportunity for a new career."

The pre-apprenticeship training program is designed to help would-be apprentices prepare and develop the trade-specific skills they need in order to be eligible for full-fledged apprenticeships. An individual participant may be involved in the program—which is free, and also covers program-related related costs such as textbooks—for up to a year. Pre-apprentices may find themselves taking safety courses, doing in-school training, and in short-term work placements, depending on their goals and needs.

Because of the Pan Am Games' many infrastructure projects, skilled construction workers are needed in large numbers; the hope is this program expansion will provide participants with on-the-job learning opportunities, while helping to ensure those projects are delivered on schedule.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities

Toronto Startup Weekend coming August 9-11

Toronto is stocked with an increasing array of incubators, accelerators, mentorship programs, and commercialization programs. But how do you know if you're ready to apply and participate in those full-fledged programs? One way to find out: try out an idea in a low-risk environment, and garner reaction before you get too far along.

Would-be entrepreneurs will have the chance to do just that at Startup Weekend, coming to Toronto August 9-11. Startup Weekends run in cities across the world, organized by a non-profit of the same name, and the goal is simple: help someone launch a startup in just 54 hours.

This upcoming Toronto installment has a theme: education.

"The startup weekends are a movement of entrepreneurs across the world who want to get together and practice the startup process in a really compressed timeframe," explains MaRS education specialist Joseph Wilson, one of the event's co-organizers. "The EDU angle on it is that there's so much interest in the education entrepreneurship space that specific verticals of startup weekends [became appealing]."

Startup Weekend EDU will be the first sector-specific weekend in Toronto, and the first education-themed weekend in Canada. "Toronto and Ontario are very good relatively speaking in education," Wilson continues, "and this has informed the entrepreneurship scene in the city. In the last few years we've seen an explosion of ed tech companies...and there are even more in the water, which we're hoping to draw out with something like this."

The weekend is open to people with a wide variety of skill sets, ranging from developers to designers to educators. The weekend is structured progressively: at the outset anyone can pitch an idea, and then based on the strength of various pitches, teams form around the most promising and work through them throughout the weekend.

"You can't build a product" in a weekend, of course, Wilson concedes. But what you can do, "is push yourself to push out a prototype or a quick beta, to test the concept, to quickly test the idea in the most practical way possible." It's a form of crowdsourcing, in a way, except not to raise money but to establish an idea's viability.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Joseph Wilson, co-organizer, Startup Weekend EDU

Who's Hiring in Toronto? ArtsSmarts, Harbourfront and more

The most interesting opportunities we've spotted this week:

Harbourfront Centre is looking for an integrated communications specialist. It's a fulltime contract position for someone to develop marketing and media plans--both strategy and implementation.

Also in the cultural sector is ArtsSmarts, which helps organize classroom-based arts education programs. They are on the hunt for a project coordinator to help with several programs. It's an early (but not entry) level position, and the post is a nine-month contract.

Finally in this area, WorkInCulture, which supports career development in the cultural sector (in fact, it's the source of those previous two job listings) is seeking a marketing and communications manager; the position is permanent and fulltime.

MaRS Discovery District has a video production unit, which creates event and promotional videos for MaRS and its clients. They need a production/post-production manager to oversee this work and provide strategic advice as necessary. Meanwhile, the Mozilla Foundation is hiring a web developer with at least two years of experience.

For those with an interest in the environment, the Georgian Bay Land Trust needs a new executive director. The position is based in Toronto, but does require frequent travel to Georgian Bay. The charity is hoping to find someone with five to ten years experience, preferably in a non-profit.

In the social services sector, the Jane/Finch Community Centre is looking for a program manager for their Women Moving Forward initiative, a poverty-reduction program for mothers in their twenties. The centre is also looking for a mobilie community financial worker. This position is for someone who works from a variety of locations in the community providing financial management education.

Finally, the Ministry of Transportation is looking for a communications lead to oversee stakeholder and public engagement for the PanAm Games. It's a senior, temporary position that will run for up to two years.

Are you hiring or do you know of a great job opportunity? Let us know!

Who's Hiring in Toronto? Twitter, CivicAction, and more

The most interesting of the job opportunities we've come across this week:

News broke this week that Kirstine Stewart, executive vice-president of English-language services at the CBC, was leaving that position to spearhead Twitter's first Canadian office. She's not the only person they're hiring: the social media company is currently on the lookout for an account executive and an account manager.

Also in tech openings, digital ad agency Dare Toronto is looking for a front end web developer with 4-5 years experience. Another firm, Usability Matters, is on the hunt for a graphic designer.

The Women's Healthy Environment Network works on promoting environmental health. They are looking for a volunteer, part-time executive director to lead their board.

In the cultural sector, the Ontario Public Service is looking for a senior program consultant to work in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, and specifically to work on major events and festivals. Canada Arts Connect is seeking a managing editor for their magazine about Canadian cultural news. It's a part-time position--about 10-15 hours per week. And the Toronto International Film Festival continues its spate of seasonal hiring: they are now on the hunt for a senior marketing coordinator for a contract that runs from May through early October.

CivicAction, the non-partisan advocacy group dedicated to city-building in the GTA, is seeking a project manager to manage the development of new programs directed at youth facing challenges in finding employment. The post is for a nine month contract.

Also in urban initiatives, non-profit developer Artscape is looking for a development associate to help with three of their major annual fundraising events.

Finally, the Toronto Society of Architects is hiring an executive administrator with some scheduling flexibility (ranging from 20-40 hours per week) to oversee their day-to-day operations.

Are you hiring or do you know of an innovative job opportunity in Toronto? Email Yonge Street's innovation and jobs editor Hamutal Dotan to let her know. 

Projexity aims to build a better city one local project at a time

If you, like many Torontonians who love their city and want to get more involved in it, have an idea for a neat new neighbourhood initiative or community project, but aren't quite sure how to go about implementing it, there's a new online platform that might be able to help.

It's called Projexity, and while it offers some familiar tools--notably, it serves as a crowd-funding platform--it also includes some distinctive elements such as design assistance and advice navigating the sometimes tangled webs of red tape at City Hall.

Projexity is the brainchild of a couple of urban designers, explains co-founder Marisa Bernstein. She saw, "a lot of the pitfalls in how urban design is carried out...due to many things like lack of resources, lack of guidance, and we think lack of transparency in the process--we think a lot of people don't know what is going on in the community."

Projexity is currently supporting projects in Toronto and Philadelphia, and hopes to expand to other major cities such as New York, Vancouver, Montreal, and San Francisco shortly.

Another way that Projexity differs from larger-scale crowd-funding platforms: there's an approval process potential projects needs to go through. You don't get to automatically put your project online.

The Projexity team reviews applications from prospective participants, which Bernstein says is important "because we want to make sure the project has all the ducks in a row to ensure success."

In order to be accepted projects, "need to enhance the city in a definite way," she says. There must be a specific plan with a clear scope (so it isn't suitable for ongoing projects), and that plan must "improve the community." Bernstein concedes that can be hard to define more concretely--especially in urban contexts where not everyone agrees about how a community should develop or how a particular bit of public space should be used--but points out that the crowd-funding element also helps ensure there is strong support for a project. Even if approved, a proposal won't get off the ground unless there is sufficient local support for the fundraising effort.

For projects that are approved and which are successful in their fundraising, Projexity offers additional kinds of support. "One of the main ways that we differentiate ourselves is that we enable people to not only gather the funding but gather the design work and the volunteer work," Bernstein says.

Projexity is trying to give young designers exposure by helping connect them with "people who may have an idea in mind for a project they might want to spearhead, but don't know how it would look."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Marisa Bernstein, Co-founder, Projexity

Who's Hiring in Toronto? The United Way, Ubisoft, Twitter, and more

The best of the job opportunities we've spotted this week:

Major charity umbrella organization United Way is looking for someone to tend to its relationships with member and funded agencies, and serve as its manager of community investment.

Video game developer Ubisoft is hiring for a number of positions, including an animation director, a lead gameplay programmer, and a lead 3D programmer. The international company unveiled the first game to emerge from their Toronto studio last summer.

In slightly more traditional entertainment media, Cineplex is hiring a motion designer to work on their pre-show content.

And among the very newest of media: Twitter is hiring an account manager to help with business development.

Solar company PURE Energies, which makes and installs rooftop photovoltaic panels, is on the hunt for a new project assistant. Alternately, if you like the idea of smarter construction but are a bit more of a creative type, ReNew Canada (an infrastructure magazine) needs an editor. Also in the category of better building: Habitat for Humanity, which is looking for a national manager for individual partnerships.

Finally, innovation incubate MaRS is hiring a facilitator for entrepreneurship education. It's a part-time position that involves providing guidance and support to emerging technology companies as they establish their businesses.

Are you hiring or do you know of an innovative job opportunity in Toronto? Email Yonge Street's innovation and jobs editor Hamutal Dotan to let her know. 

Who's hiring in Toronto? MaRS Discovery District and more

Welcome to Yonge Street's first ever job round-up, where we highlight a few of the most interesting job opportunities available in Toronto right now.

Community-oriented food organization Not Far From the Tree helps homeowners collect fruit from the trees in their yards, and sends much of the harvest to local agencies like food banks and shelters. NFFTT is looking for a project director to start this spring. It is the organization's primary leadership position.

Also for those with a green thumb, the Toronto Botanical Garden is looking for a new executive director to oversee all programs and fundraising. Candidates should have a background in horticulture as well as organizational leadership.

FreshBooks makes easy invoicing and accounting tools for small businesses and freelancers. The company is seeking an Android developer who will "make FreshBooks a world-class Android development centre."

Another organization on the hunt for a mobile developer: the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. The company needs someone to develop an Android and potentially also an iOS educational app. The app(s) will explain the benefits of citizenship to youth ages 16-24.

MaRS Discovery District, Toronto's best-known innovation centre, is hiring an investment manager for the Investment Accelerator Fund, which puts funds into early-stage technology companies. This business development opportunity is a mid-level position.

Major design firm DIALOG (550+ staff) does work in urban design, interior design, architecture, and engineering. They are seeking a graphic designer to work in their Communications and Creative Services departments.

The Ontario Power Authority is looking for specialist to help support their Conservation Fund, which is OPA's "vehicle for the incubation of innovative approaches to energy conservation and demand side technologies."

Finally, ebook and ereader company Kobo is looking for a front-end web developer to work on merchandising and marketing materials.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan

U of T trio set to launch new high-efficiency light bulb

In the years since compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs started appearing on hardware store shelves, we've all gotten used to the idea of switching to more energy efficient lightbulbs in our homes. Now, in several jurisdictions around the world, the old incandescent bulbs are being phased out by law. In Canada this process will culminate during 2014, as bulbs become subject to new energy efficiency regulations.

Hoping to help consumers become even more efficient, three University of Toronto alumni are preparing to launch a new bulb called NanoLight. It's a new form of LED bulb devised by applied science and engineering grads Gimmy Chu, Christian Yan, and Tom Rodinger.

It took the three entrepreneurs "probably about two or three years" to settle on the NanoLight's design, Chu told us over the phone from California. It uses 12 watts of energy to create the same light as a traditional 100 watt light bulb. A NanoLight will, he says, provide 30,000 hours of illumination. (You can learn a bit more about the technical details in this video.)

The three founders are in the last days of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help them launch the product--a campaign which has already raised more than 10 times the $20,000 they were aiming for. "The last thing you want to do is give up equity," Chu says when asked about choosing to crowdsource their start-up funding rather than pursue more established investment routes. With investors potentially calling the shots, Chu and his co-founders were worried, the entrepreneurs might "end up doing work you don't believe in."

The first NanoLights are expected to ship in May, and the trio's next goal is to build up momentum and generate orders. After that, Chu says, they hope to expand the product line to include dimmable bulbs, as well as bulbs in a range of colours and to fit different sockets. There is also "a solar product" already in the works, though Chu is saving the details of that for now.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Gimmy Chu, co-founder, NanoLight

OCAD issues report on the future of mobile in Ontario

The presence and capacity of mobile devices have outstripped the services available on them, according to a new report from OCAD University, but dealing with this problem could provide ample opportunity for Ontario, including job creation. 

The Taking Ontario Mobile report examines, "how to engage mobility in order to better realize the full potential of all of Ontario's residents, bring significant increases in productivity, create and retain jobs in the knowledge industries, allow inclusion and engagement, and build on Ontario's extant leadership in the broadcast of mobile industries."

The goal is to lay out some courses Ontario should be charting in order to become more productive, create more jobs, and and increase engagement with the development of new mobile strategies.

In general terms, the report argues that "public services can be delivered in a more cost-effective and efficient manner" with the help of mobile technology -- important at a time where deficit-fighting is the government's prevailing concern. More specifically, the report considers mobile opportunities in five key sectors (some governmental and some commercial).

1) Education, including applications in primary and secondary classrooms, at the post-secondary level, and in retraining to create a more flexible workforce. 

2) Health, for instance providing more efficient care to seniors with remote monitoring.

3) Government services, where a large range of efficiencies may be found by managing data more effectively and making it available more quickly, and where mobile may be an invaluable tool for offering necessary services to rural and remote populations.

4) Cultural industries, where we already have a strong talent pool, can be made even stronger by using mobile to create larger audiences for the work we produce.

5) Commerce, especially significant given that Ontario is home to most of Canada's banks and financial institutions. "The face of m-commerce is still undeveloped," the report finds, "and the area is ripe for design, creating opportunities for the traditional finance sector and for new players."

"Failing to act now," the report warns, "will disadvantage Ontario in numerous ways."

The full text of the report is available online [PDF].

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: "Taking Ontario Mobile" (OCAD)

Piloting a house that keeps itself warm

Canadians pride themselves on being hardy—and especially on being able to withstand weather extremes. We compare notes on the depth of our snowfalls, then go out and play hockey when it's -20 degrees.

The homes we live in aren't quite that immune to the cold though.

According to the National Research Council of Canada, up to 60 per cent of our residential energy use goes to heating our homes—a number that is often so high because much of the heat that's generated rapidly escapes. In an effort to retain more of that heat, and cut energy use, some Toronto researchers and architects are now piloting a nested thermal envelope home design: essentially creating a home within your home, to facilitate heat retention.

Ryerson professor Russell Richman is the co-principal investigator exploring the design. He's working with a colleague from the University of Toronto, Kim Pressnail, as well architecture firm ERA. The idea arose soon after Richman had a baby, he says, and his family had to go from a cooler house to one that was constantly heated to keep the baby comfortable. This got him wondering "Why can't I warm just one little zone?" So that's what Richman then proceeded to do, by installing a space heater. But it also got him thinking about how that effect could be recreated in a larger living space.

The nested design works by creating two zones within a home: a main, fully heated zone at the centre of your house where you do most of your living, and a perimeter buffer zone, which is kept at five degrees. The temperature difference between the zones reduces heat loss off the bat, and then a heat pump installed between the core and the perimeter pumps heat back into the central core of the house before it escapes entirely.

Richman and his colleagues are piloting their concept at a house owned by the University of Toronto, which will provide them with some information about the viability of the nested design as a retrofit for existing homes. That's the harder case. Future investigations will look at how the zone model can be incorporated into new construction from the outset.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Russell Richman, Professor of Architectural Science, Ryerson University

Toronto successes at the Digi Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Digi Awards

Canadian Innovation Exchange celebrates the year's top innovators

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

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

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

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

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Canadian Innovation Exchange

George Brown College to open Green Building Centre

With the help of $6.6 million from the federal government, in addition to $6.8 million of its own money, George Brown College recently announced that it will be creating a dedicated Green Buildings Centre on its Casa Loma campus. They are renovating existing facilities and building new ones to house the centre, which has a target completion date of March 2014. The project is expected to create 35 new jobs.

Robert Luke, assistant vice president of research and innovation for George Brown, says that creating this new centre will be a bit like "changing the wheel on a moving car." Since George Brown already does some work in this area, they will maintain their current activities while managing the expansion simultaneously.

Luke came to the college about five years go to establish a research office, he says, after "the federal government recognized that we needed to pull the lever for industry in the education space.... That imbalance is very dangerous to our long-term competetivness." That's why George Brown has been working to integrate industry partners in their activities, providing many hands-on formal and informal opportunities for students to learn from them while also pursuing their studies.

Industry partners, meanwhile, have the opportunity to pursue applied research. That practice will continue at this new centre, which will focus on environmentally friendly "advanced construction systems, green energy and computer-enabled, efficient buildings."

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Robert Luke, Assistant Vice President of Research and Innovation, George Brown College

Allstream Centre awarded LEED certification

"Eight years ago, in 2004, the board of governors of Exhibition Place established Exhibition Place as a world leader in energy-efficient technologies: employing green practices in our daily operations; creating new, clean energy sources through initiatives such as our wind turbine and photovoltaic arrays; and conservation efforts such as major lighting retrofits, LED pilot projects and our recycling and waste diversion efforts.... Today, we are proud to celebrate the success of our environmental commitment with the announcement of our first LEED Silver building at Exhibition Place."

With those words—part of a speech delivered before city councillors, Exhibition Place staff and supporters and members of the press—Hugh Mansfield, vice-chair of the board of governors for Exhibition Place, announced that the Allstream Centre is now recognized as an environmentally friendly place to do business.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification provides an internationally recognized standard for sustainabie building; the Allstream Centre is the first conference centre in Canada with that designation. It follows on a 2009 renovation, and has been accorded in recognition of a variety of design and operational features, including the building's reliance on renewable energy for its power, a rainwater harvesting system and the installation of LED lighting.

The Art Deco building dates back to 1929, and was once used to display car models to the public as part of the Canadian National Exhibition, which is why many of us know it by its original name, the Automotive Building. The building was renovated by Norr Limited (their project summary: [PDF]) and comprises 160,000 square feet, with spaces that can be configured to accomodate gatherings ranging from 50 to 3,000 people.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Hugh Mansfield, Vice-Chair, Board of Governors, Exhibition Place
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