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Bell Media and Yellowpages team up for #shopthehood campaign

For the third year in a row, Bell Media and Yellowpages are partnering to run their Shop the Hood campaign, a program designed to support small businesses by advertising the benefits of local shopping.

Bell Media will support the program by airing televised profiles of Canadian neighbourhoods through its media properties. These include the Marilyn Denis show, which will host four experts like Charles MacPherson, Tommy Smythe, Vijaya Selvaraju, and Rodney Bowers, who will show off their favourite neighbourhoods. ETALK hosts will feature profiles from four major Canadian cities, including Queen West in Toronto and Gastown in Vancouver.
“There is a digital gap that exists at the local level in Canada. Canadians are global leaders in terms of digital media usage, however, adoption of these tools is much slower among Canadian businesses,” said Paul Brosseau, vice president of brand communications at Yellow Pages. “Three quarters of Canadians will research purchases online but less than half of Canadian businesses have a digital presence.”
At the same time, Yellowpages is promoting the #shopthehood hashtag to encourage Canadians to promote their favourite local shops, and their YP Shopwise app that shows off local deals.

“Access to placement in YP Shopwise free to all participating businesses offering promotions,” said Brosseau. “By downloading the YP Shopwise app, Canadians can instantly access exclusive Shop The Neighbourhood promotions available nearby at local stores.”

Youth entrepreneurship program Future Design School comes to the the North York Region

After a successful launch in Toronto, Future Design School (FDS) is expanding to other parts of South Western Ontario.   

Last week, the school announced a partnership with ventureLAB—a regional innovation centre that supports entrepreneurs in the York Region, Simcoe County and Muskoka District communities—and Southlake Regional Health Centre. 

The three organizations will work together to host a one week summer camp that will provide students entering grades six to eight an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship. Starting on August 17, Sarah Prevette, the founder of FDS, says the aim of the program is to help youth unlock their inner creativity. 

"Our summer program is really about getting kids involved in exploring what they’re interested in, what they’re passionate about and what they’re good at," she says.  

Since the last time Yonge Street spoke with Prevette, the program she and her colleagues started at MaRS has quickly expanded to offer not just workshops for youth but programming for teachers, as well. It's all part of her plan to help Canada's youth become independent self-starters. 

"I think the program enables kids to see themselves as capable entrepreneurs. They’re able to look at the world and see all the opportunities around them," says Prevette. "I think that’s an important cultural shift we need to be making. The more we can enable kids to see themselves as empowered problem solvers, the better off we’re going to be as a society." 

Interested parents can learn more about this particular program and all the initiatives Future Design School run on its website

New coding academy ThoughtKite wants to give Toronto a startup education

Toronto has a new coding academy. The name of the school is ThoughtKite, and it hopes to differentiate itself by giving students a clear goal to work towards.

"We don't accept students unless they have a focused product idea they want to take to market," says Ian Gerald King, the school's founder. "We cater to those with entrepreneurial [inclinations] who have not made the leap yet." 

King is reluctant to classify ThoughtKite as a coding school; instead, he says the focus of the school is on providing what he calls a startup education.  

"I wouldn't consider ThoughtKite a coding academy per se: learning how to use technology is not the primary focus of our programs," says King. "Out initial course offerings are iOS product development, product design and lean product growth—a triple interest interest in technology, design and business, but crafted with a product launch as the end goal. ThoughtKite was foundered after seeing the startup education gaps existing between coding academies and accelerators."

King notes that one other differentiator between ThoughtKite and its coding academy competitors is that its courses are almost exclusively held during the weekend. King believes this is the best compromise between offering a learning experience that immerses students in what they're learning and respecting their time. 

ThoughtKite's first set of classes start on April 25. The cost of the iOS development course, the longest and most immersive the three the school is offering, is $5000. The other two, product design and lean product growth, are $2000. 

Sir Richard Branson co-launches local startup seed fund

It's not often that a knight visits Toronto, but on Friday of last week that's exactly what happened as Sir Richard Branson came to town to co-announce a new partnership between his charity, Virgin Unite, and MaRS.

The partnership will see Branson and company seed $1-million towards a new social impact investment fund that will be overseen by MaRS. An additional $500,000 is in the process of being added to fund by various individuals, companies and organizations. Once MaRS closes the fund sometime in the new year, Tim Jackson, lead executive at the Centre for Impact Investing at MaRS, says he expects it grow to somewhere between $3-million and $5-million.

According to Jackson, MaRS will use the fund to invest in early stage startups—that is, startups that are seeking seed or Series A funding—that are for-profit but have a component of social good as a part of their mandate. He listed companies like SunFarmer and Lucky Iron Fish as examples of the type of startups the fund will target. The latter, for instance, is a company that is attempting to solve iron deficiency in Cambodia.

“We’re trying to get rid of this mess that you have to decide between social good and return,” says Jackson, explaining the rationale behind the fund. “We believe that you can accomplish both, and we also view this as a demonstration fund.”
“Every entrepreneur that needs capital will tell you that there’s not enough capital, so while $3 to $5-million is not a lot of money, we think this fund will open up the wallets of other investors who will say I want to get into the impact investing space.”

For his part, Sir Richard Branson said in a press release after the event, “I strongly believe that entrepreneurs have a key role in tackling environmental and social issues with solutions that will last for the long run and help create jobs. Our partnership with MaRS will support inspiring entrepreneurs with the mentoring, training and investments they need to succeed.”

Source: MaRS

New venture capital firm launches in Toronto

The city has a new venture capital firm to call all its own.

On Monday morning, news came out that Information Venture Partners had been formed in Toronto.

The firm was created in early October when co-founders Robert Antoniades and David Unsworth completed a management buyout of their former firm, RBC Venture Partners.

Several co-investors, both inside and outside of Canada, assisted in the buyout, and those same investors are helping the firm set up a new $100-million fund. Antoniades and Unsworth say they hope to have the fund up and running by mid-2015. Once it is ready, the firm will invest in early stage startups that are seeking funds at the Series A and B levels. That is, they plan to fund startups that at the stage where they've successfully gotten off the ground and have found a potential market fit for their product or idea.

The firm revealed that it will specialize on funding startups that create enterprise software.

In an interview with Reuters, Antoniades told the publication's Kirk Falconer: “Whether it is enterprise software or fintech, we are interested in North American companies that can sell into SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) or large corporate buyers.”

Given that statement, it remains to be seen what kind of effect the firm will have on Toronto ecosystem.

The financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. 

Source: Reuters

Airbnb takes up residence in Toronto

A major outside player has joined the Toronto startup ecosystem. 

On Friday, Airbnb, the San Francisco-based, peer-to-peer marketplace for rental spaces, officially became a resident at MaRS Discovery District after opening a new office at the Toronto-based Regional Innovation Centre. This new home base will house three of the company's Canadian employees. 

Aaron Zifkin, who was brought on as the company's Canadian manager this past September, said at the time: "Our goal in Canada is to create and support a thriving community for hosts and guests, enabling unique and meaningful travel experiences like never before. The Canadian Airbnb community is already one of the largest and most passionate in the world and we believe there are ample opportunities to help it continue to grow as the favourite option for domestic and international travellers."

Since being founded in August of 2008, Airbnb has raised almost $800-million in venture capital. The company is currently valued at over $13-billion. Representatives from Airbnb say the company is "experiencing hyper growth in Canada," with more than 18,000 Canadian listings on its website at any given time. 

According to its most recently publicly released statistics, Airbnb has more than 800,000 listings in 33,000 cities across 192 counties. 

Source: MaRS

Municipal Election 2014: Olivia Chow's economic development platform

As Toronto's municipal election enters its final weeks, we're looking at each of the major mayoral candidates, and, specifically, at their economic development and job-creation platforms.

Last week we looked at John Tory’s approach to these issues. This week: Olivia Chow.
  • On the vexed subject of youth unemployment (which is at roughly 20 per cent) and in keeping with her overall positioning as someone who wants to maintain government's role in decision-making, Chow wants to leverage the City's power as a major purchaser of goods and services by requiring "that companies with big city contracts hire and train young people," and also hiring youth for municipal after-school recreation and tree-planting programs. Her platform estimates that these initiatives will create "5,000 new apprenticeships and jobs for young people over four years."
  • When it comes to small business, Chow wants to extend small business tax cuts that are currently slated to expire in 2015, and extend them to 2020. She also pointed out, at a Board of Trade speech earlier this year, that many small businesses are run by immigrants. Taking cues from Vancouver, she wants to implement a "program that matches existing businesses with immigrant entrepreneurs. The new business gets help setting up and getting going. The existing business gets help and knowledge to help them export." Like Tory, Chow also plans to put many business licensing services online, to improve efficiency.
  • Also in keeping with her progressive focus on services, Chow wants the municipal government to increase its funding to the arts sector, from $22.50 per capita to $25 per capita. She also wants to use $500,000 a year out of the money generated by Toronto's tax on billboards to create a music office, similar to the recently created film office. Though her platform does not specific what the economic spin-off effects would be, a City-commissioned report issued in 2011 estimated that for each dollar spent on the arts "cultural organizations were able to leverage a total of $17.75" in funding from other sources and earned revenue.
  • Finally, when it comes to branding Toronto as a home for business, Chow, like Tory, wants to raise the city's profile by a new central organization—Global Toronto—to replace Invest Toronto, and integrate related services provided by other departments in the city. As its name suggests, the program would have an international focus and "will operate in global business languages including Chinese, French, Portuguese and Urdu with an outreach strategy to compete with cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles London and Sydney."
Toronto's election will be held on October 27, 2014.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Olivia Chow's election platformspeech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade (April 29, 2014)

Ontario spending $6.8m on campus-based accelerator programs

The provincial government continues to unroll elements of its youth jobs strategy. The latest announcement came recently from Reza Moridi, minister of research and innovation. The program is called Campus-Linked Accelerators (CLAs), and the goal is to help student entrepreneurs "harness their ideas, their vision and their enthusiasm and turn them into jobs for today and for tomorrow," he said in a statement outlining the initiative.

CLAs will provide funding to select post-secondary institutions across Ontario t"o create, improve and sustain a culture of entrepreneurship among students and youth in their regions, and to integrate these entrepreneurial activities with investors, industry, and other stakeholders in their region. The Toronto-area institutions to receive funding under the program:
  • The University of Toronto, which will receive just over $3 million in funding over two years. That money will be distributed across the university's existing accelerator programs: the Creative Destruction Lab (Rotman School of Management); the Hatchery (at the faculty of applied science and engineering); the Impact Centre (based in the faculty of arts and science); and UTEST (the university's Innovation and Partnerships Office). U of T’s Banting and Best Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship will also be involved, coordinating efforts at the three different campuses.
  • Centennial College, which is partnering with ventureLAB (a non-profit regional innovation centre). Their goal is to help support the creation of 60 businesses in the coming two years, and they will be focusing their work on several priority neighbourhoods within Toronto, to try to reach youth who might not have ready access to accelerator opportunities otherwise.
  • Ryerson University is receiving $2 million from the CLA program, and will use the money to support existing entrepreneurial programs, as well as to create "new learning zones includ[ing] the Design and Fabrication Zone, focusing on early stage design and technology; a zone in the new Student Learning Centre; and the Biomedical Zone, to be formed in partnership with St. Michael’s Hospital."
  • OCAD University, which is getting nearly $1 million to support its entrepreneurship and commercialization hub, called the Imagination Catalyst. (As we reported this spring, the Imagination Catalyst also includes a specific stream for social enterprise.)

Across the province the government is planning to put a total of $20 million into CLA programs over the next two years.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Ministry of Research and Innovation, University of Toronto, Centennial College, Ryerson University, OCAD University

Municipal Election 2014: John Tory's economic development platform

As Toronto's municipal election enters its final weeks, we're looking at each of the major mayoral candidates, and, specifically, at their economic development and job-creation platforms. First up: John Tory.

Tory's platform in general focuses on streamlining services to businesses, and improving Toronto's branding and status internationally.

"Can you imagine how much better off we would be if we could trade in even a small fraction of the recent attention we received on the world stage, trade that for a few articles touting Toronto as a great place do business," he said at a recent speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade.

He promises to act as an ambassador for the city, which he believes is key in building confidence among potential investors.

A few items in particular that he hopes to focus on if elected:
  • Develop a new business hub in Toronto, modeled on London's Canary Wharf. It would be located in the East Don Lands, and require "a reorientation of the Gardiner’s eastern section and new transit connections in this area." The proposal calls for 15 million square feet of development (a mix of commercial and residential), and Tory believes it could lead to the creation of 70,000 jobs if populated at full capacity.
  • Focusing on the development of Scarborough, and specifically of opportunities along the planned Scarborough subway route, "by temporarily lowering property taxes for 10 years in order to encourage businesses to locate along the transit corridor." Though details are scant, he calls this an "innovation hub" and promises to work with City staff to streamline zoning and application requests along that corridor.
  • Streamlining business services in general. "As your mayor, I will create a single touchpoint for business permit applications and other business services sought by those seeking to invest in our city," Tory told the Board of Trade. "We want to find a way to say yes to people who want to invest in Toronto."
  • Tory also wants to "clean up the jumble of organizations trying to attract business to Toronto. Invest Toronto, the City economic development department, and the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance...are all trying to do the same thing, but a little bit differently. But they have a common objective: bringing jobs to Toronto... I will unify and streamline the way these three organizations and others work, and this will mean a better outcome on jobs and lower costs."
  • Helping combat youth unemployment (which currently stands at 20 per cent) by doubling the number of companies in the Partnership to Advance Youth Employment, by expanding that program to small- and medium-sized businesses.
Toronto's election will be held on October 27, 2014.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: John Tory election platform speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade (September 18, 2014)

Escalating our approach to youth unemployment

It’s a vicious cycle familiar to many young people trying to enter the workforce: you can’t get experience without a job, and you can’t get a job without experience. Hoping to help Toronto’s youth—who face about 20 per cent unemployment rates—is a suite of new projects being launched by CivicAction, in conjunction with several private sector partners. Together, the initiative is called Escalator.

The first element of Escalator, explains CivicAction’s CEO Sevaun Palvetzian, is a mentoring piece. Of the 83,000 young people in the GTA who don’t have jobs, many struggle with a lack of networks and role models that can help open that vital door to a first shot at employment. Escalator will aim to provide a centralized, organized way to access mentoring opportunities in the region, while also recruiting employers who can serve as mentors and linking community agencies with mentors more effectively.

The second pice is a collaboration with LinkedIn. “For many years the way people found jobs was by knocking on doors and walking into stores, “ Palvetzian points out. But now, “there's a new 21st century way of finding work.”

CivicAction is the recipient of a $10,000 grant from LinkedIn, and will also have access to some staff resources. The goal of this part of the project is to enable small- and medium-sized businesses post entry level jobs, as well as internship and apprenticeship opportunities, on the job platform for free, while simultaneously training youth in how to use that platform.

The third element of Escalator is another partnership, with technology services company NPower. “One third of the tech jobs in North America are in this region,” Palvetzian says, but often companies can’t find the trained, skilled workers that they need to keep growing. This part of the initiative will take youth from at-risk neighbourhoods and bring them to employer-led, employer-driven training. Ryerson is donating space to facilitate the project, which will include 15 weeks training by employers, followed by seven-week long internships. (Among the private sector partners that have signed on to participate are Cisco, TD Bank, and RBC.)

Palvetzian frames Escalator as a way of trying to fill in gaps in our current system. “A lot of current programs currently exist to help young people to do things like build resumes,” she points out—how to proceed once they’ve done that is often less clear.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction

Good as New, Good for Business

Pop-up shops are often associated with higher-end retail: up-and-coming designers stocking small spaces with collections that get snapped up quickly. Recently, Goodwill and Newcomer Women's Services Toronto (NEW) launched a pop-up shop with a very different vibe: their inventory consists of one-of-a-kind products, created by participants in NEW's green entrepreneurship program, out of materials provided by Goodwill.

The women who created the recycled and repurposed products—marketed under a line dubbed Good as New—were participating in one of NEW's self-employment training programs.

The idea arose when some of the participants expressed a particular interest in sewing, says the program's faciliator, Deepa Premnath, and the products include clothing, jewelry, and other accessories. The program's goal is to help give participants the skills ito start home-based businesses; the pop-up shop's goal, meanwhile, is to spread the word about that program, and also to give the designers a trial run—a chance to market test their products and see how they sell.

"Our goal in general is to connect people to resources around the idea of self-employment," says Premnath. She freely admits, "it is not a panacea for all employment ills, but one possibility" in a volatile employment market, and one that can be particularly accessible for newcomers, who often face disproportionate challenges entering the workforce.

You can find the Good as New pop-up shop at the Goodwill Islington South Community Store (871 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke).

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Deepa Premnath, Program Facilitator, Green Entrepreneurship Program, Newcomer Women's Services Toronto
Photo: Courtesy of Goodwill

Celestica opens microelectronics lab

Imagine you’re a company that’s involved in making products that require high-tech components—or that you have an idea for such a product, and would like to build a prototype. As technology continues to improve, especially in the realm of miniaturization, keeping pace by purchasing your own manufacturing equipment can be prohibitive—inefficient for larger companies, and impossible for smaller ones and startups.

Enter Celestica, a technology firm that manufacturers components for other tech-reliant companies, such as IBM, for instance. Last month, they opened a microelectronics lab at their Toronto headquarters to help with precisely these manufacturing challenges.

Clients who sign up to partner with Celestica—which will include both small- and medium-sized businesses, as well as startups and original equipment manufacturers—will gain the benefits of a 1,100 square foot lab in which elements like temperature and airborne particles are controlled in order to enable the manufacturing processes involved in miniaturization.

“There are very few place in Canada where companies can go to access this type of technology,” a spokesperson for Celestica told us, and the goal is to enable those companies to commercialize their products more effectively. It will especially help, the spokesperson went on, those who need to do “low-volume, high-reliability manufacturing”—which can range from companies testing out new products, to niche markets (like the aerospace industry) where there just isn’t a need for a large number of items to be produced.

The lab can facilitate the manufacture of fully-designed products, as well as offer engineering expertise to help with design for products that don’t have all their specs nailed down yet. Among the industries that most rely on the optics and photonics technology available at the lab are aerospace, renewable energy, and health care.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Celestica

Ryerson launches partnership with London tech accelerator

Recently Ryerson University announced that its Digital Media Zone (DMZ) had signed a "friendship agreement" with one of Europe's largest technology accelerators, Level39. Based in London, England's Canary Wharf, Level39 has a particular focus on the financial, retail, and future cities sectors. The agreement will allow members of each institution access the other's facilities, spaces, and networks.

Ryerson has been in talks with Level39 for "five or six months," says Hossein Rahnama, director of research and innovation for the DMZ, "and it was a natural decision to form a partnership with them." Level39 has been around for two years now, says Rahnama by way of introduction, and is owned by the Canary Wharf Group. They "are hoping to transform part of the city into a global technology hub," he goes on. "Our goal is to enhance our collaboration with the UK, enhance mobility."

London has done a "great job" in developing the sectors in question, and the partnership is key for expanding the opportunities the DMZ can offer its members. It's one of several partnerships Ryerson hopes to develop in Europe over the coming years.

"International expansion has been part of our agenda since the beginning," Rahnama says—crucial for helping DMZ members find new opportunities for growth by giving them access to new markets, as well as exposure to best practices.

"A lot of our startups in Toronto are looking at addressing the financial vertical," Rahnama explains, so this allows Ryerson to offer that community to allow for scaling in Europe, without a lot of startup costs.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Hossein Rahnama, director of research and innovation, Ryerson University DMZ

Artscape launches pilot programs for creative industry entrepreneurs

We're used to thinking of Artscape as a (re)maker of spaces: from the Wychwood Barns to Gibraltar Point, they take old sites in Toronto and help shape them to suit new uses.

Now Artscape is taking a more active role in programming some of those spaces, launching a series of pilot programs to help creative entrepreneurs tackle the business aspects of their ventures. The Creative Business Design Workshop, Creative Entrepreneurship Program, and Business Skills for Growth Workshop Series are part of the ramp-up to the opening of Launchpad, a full-fledged centre slated to open in 2017.

Launchpad has been in the works for five years, says Pru Robey, Artscape's Creative Placemaking Lab Director. It will be a new creative and cultural entrepreneurship centre, one that gives "skills, tools, and resources" to creative workers, to help them start and sustain effective businesses.

It's needed, she says, because underlying all of the banner headlines about Toronto's vaunted arts scene, "are some real challenges that are faced by people in the creative sector." Stats about growth and employment "are actually made up of independent, solo traders working part-time, and working in other sectors to support their creative work, and people who are earning very little on average."  This means, Robey argues, that there is a great deal of unrealized economic potential: earnings for workers in the cultural sector are below average compared to those in other sectors with comparable education levels.

This is often compounded, she says, by a lack of early-stage support. "Graduating students suddenly lose access to a whole network of support"—basics such as space, equipment, resources, and mentorship—and aren't taught the specific, practical skills of how to build an effective freelance career or business.

Toronto already has a number of entrepreneur-support programs, incubators, and other similar support systems. Why the need to start a new one for the creative sector in particular?

"Our research shows, and our experience tells us," says Robey, "that oftentimes creatives have lots of passion [for their work] but they don't really want to talk about growing a business, so the traditional kinds of entrepreneurship support aren't necessarily appealing."

The pilot programs will be unveiled throughout this summer and fall. When Launchpad opens in 2017, says Robey, it will "combine a learning environment with a creative environment" and include a "range of highly specified and equipped production studios." The goal is to provide both creative and business support for everything from sound production to photography to fashion and jewelry to industrial design.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Pru Robey, Creative Placemaking Lab Director, Artsca

Helping musicians find their soulmates

Between Craigslist and the variety of social networks now available, you might think that finding a new bandmate might be as easy as posting an ad or a status update. Many musicians, however, find it isn't so easy.

This is what led Shaan Singha and Troy Fullerton to co-found DownToJam, a start-up social network created specifically for musicians.

The idea came up during a casual conversation: Fullerton was helping Singha move a motorcycle and was complaining about his trouble finding someone to jam with. Singha asked, "Isn't there anything like [a dating website] where you can see someone's profile, what they're doing?"

It turned out that there wasn't, and so the two decided to create one. It was, says Singha, "born out of desperation, trying to find compatible friends to play with."

Their goal is to help people build actual friendships over music, and to have the range of people participating be as diverse as possible. Fullerton is an experienced musician and Singha is a beginner: they hope to be able to match people at all parts of the spectrum of expertise.

The site is still technically in beta, with an official launch coming later this summer. So far Texas and Toronto are the two biggest user groups; DownToJam has a total of about 3,000 members so far.

"Services for our members free," Singha says—something they are committed to maintaining. The business plan includes beginning with ad revenue, and then moving on to including a classified-style section of enhanced profiles.

DownToJam also includes a third co-owner, Neil McWilliam—their developer—and they plan on hiring in coming months for a forthcoming blogging division.

Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Shaan Singha, co-founder, DownToJam
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