All aboard the magic school bus.
Nima Yasrebi, a recent U of T grad, welcomed a dozen people onto a bus Friday to give them a tour of the university’s downtown Toronto campus unlike any other.
With their smartphones pointed at the windows, the passengers were able to use an app developed by Yasrebi, who has a master’s in electrical and computer engineering, to see images and infographics overlaying Innis College, Convocation Hall and other campus landmarks.
Yasrebi’s startup ARnocular – which was supported by U of T’s Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL) and the science-oriented business incubator The Impact Centre – is in talks to design versions of the app for an international tour bus company in Berlin and other European cities, he said.
Artificial intelligence and deep learning will dramatically change our lives – and Canadian companies need to lead the charge to stay at the forefront of the technology’s commercial and economic success.
The University of Toronto, the Ontario and federal governments and some of Canada’s biggest companies are hoping the newly created Vector Institute will help Toronto and Canada solidify their claim as a global leader in artificial intelligence.
It’s all about bridging the gap between research and commercialization.
“The innovation and technological revolution sweeping the world is not just an opportunity, it is an absolute necessity for growth and collective prosperity,” said Vector Institute chairman and ex-TD CEO Ed Clark.
They pitched, they networked, and they demoed – fledgling student entrepreneurs worked the room at the Startup Showcase, the final event in the first-ever Entrepreneurship@UofT Week.
“I haven’t had time to move!” said a grinning Morvarid Sadinejad, a hardware engineering intern with Kepler Communications, who had been manning her booth for seven hours to showcase the company’s nano satellites.
“One of the coolest things is that people seem to be genuinely excited about what we’re doing,” added Kepler systems engineer Michael Jonas.
“We had one guy come by like three or four times . . . He said ‘I just keep coming back because what you guys are doing is just so cool,’” Jonas said. “That was a sentiment shared among a lot of people. It was a fun event for us . . .There’s a lot of talent here and a lot of interesting companies.”
Only half of new Canadian companies survive past five years, and only a tiny percentage become global success stories. Tiff Macklem, the dean of U of T’s Rotman School of Management, has been thinking and writing a lot about how to improve these odds. He doesn’t believe Canadians are lacking in education or innovative ideas. But he does think we have a problem converting ideas into products and services that people – lots of people – want. Where is Canada’s answer to Spotify (first heard in Sweden) or Skype (founded in Estonia)?
“The crux of our problem is commercialization and scale,” Macklem says.
In his view, what Canadian startups are missing is great business judgment, which, as he points out, is not easy to acquire: “A new venture cannot simply go downtown and purchase a unit of business judgment,” he says.
To address this, the U of T Entrepreneurship network of incubators, accelerators and programs, including at Rotman, are connecting fledgling companies with expert mentors to provide the kind of hands-on advice they’ll need to get through those perilous first few years – and, with any luck, eventually compete on a global scale.
During a recent visit to the University of Toronto, the founders of ROSS Intelligence, who landed on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 List, reminisced about the course work that laid the foundation for their company.
“The story of ROSS began in these hallways,” says alumnus Jimoh Ovbiagele. “U of T is also where deep learning had its breakthroughs. There’s a magic going on here.”
The San Francisco-based startup will continue to be a part of that magic. Today, the company announced the opening of ROSS North – their research and development headquarters in Toronto – scheduled for later this spring.
“We want to work with the best and the brightest,” says Ovbiagele, the company’s chief technology officer. “Canada – and Toronto – is the best place to do that. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with U of T.”
What does it take for aspiring new companies to create impact and maintain staying power?
In an effort to boost the odds of other’s success, ten of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs recently provided tips to business students at the University of Toronto.
Tiff Macklem, the dean of U of T’s Rotman School of Management, said although Canadians have innovative ideas, what Canadian startup companies are lacking is great business judgement, adding it’s not easily attainable.
“A new venture cannot simply go downtown and purchase a unit of business judgment,” said Macklem.
That’s why the U of T Entrepreneurship network of incubators, accelerators and programs, including at Rotman, are linking beginner companies with successful mentors to gain in-depth knowledge on tried and tested methods to get their business on its feet and gain momentum.
It’s Entrepreneurship@UofT Week – your chance to meet innovators from Canada’s leading startups and get tips on everything from making connections to perfecting your elevator pitch.
#EntWeekUofT is the hashtag to follow as the University of Toronto hosts a wide range of events from March 27 to 31.
The week features more than a dozen events hosted by incubator and accelerator programs and other partners, from a webinar with Entrepreneurship Librarian Carey Toane to a session on social entrepreneurship with The Agency.
“Research that feeds innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization is thriving at U of T, ” said Professor Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation. “In all sectors and across all of our campuses, our faculty and students are turning ideas into products, services, jobs, and companies that are contributing to the Canadian economy and improving lives around the world.”
An award-winning team of alumni from U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering is building satellites so small they could fit in your gym bag. Their startup, Kepler Communications, plans to place 140 of these low-cost “cubesats” into space over the next five years. The first one will blast into orbit this November.
Kepler’s orbiting system will make air travel safer, let us instantly detect leaks in remote oil pipelines, help improve crop yields and monitor the heart rates of far-flung emergency
Working with U of T’s innovation incubators, Kepler secured more than US $5 million in funding to develop its technology and bring its first cubesats to market. But their five-year strategy is just the beginning. As Kepler co-founder and CEO Mina Mitry says, “Our vision is to provide ubiquitous connectivity to gather the world’s information.”
Kang Lee has invented an astonishing new technology. By analyzing video of a person’s face, his artificial intelligence-based system detects blood flow in facial tissue and uses it to measure vital signs and emotions.
A U of T professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Lee co-founded NuraLogix to commercialize his research breakthrough. Their first product will allow doctors to use regular webcams to monitor the heart rate, blood pressure, stress and pain of their patients remotely, helping to reduce costly and unnecessary visits to the emergency room. We will soon be able to measure our loved ones’ vital signs with just a video app, whether they are in the room or on the other side of the world.
Lee also envisions his technology as “an emotion engine,” empowering smartphones, cars, laptops and even social robots to help calm people in stressful situations and to better attune machines to our needs.
Hidden clues in the way you speak can indicate health problems long before an official diagnosis is made. These include how fast you talk, how long you pause, which words you choose – even tiny wobbles in the vibration of your voice, too subtle for the human ear.
Faculty of Arts & Science PhD student Katie Fraser discovered hundreds of speech and language markers for neurological health. Now, she’s a partner in WinterLight Labs – a new business venture with her colleagues at the department of computer science, Liam Kaufman, Maria Yancheva and Assistant Professor Frank Rudzicz, who is also a rehabilitation scientist at the University Health Network. With combined expertise in linguistics and machine learning, their team has built a tool that pinpoints early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia with very high precision.
Coming to market soon, the tool will help clinicians track patients’ health objectively and start therapy promptly. Eventually, WinterLight plans to extend the technology to tests for depression and anxiety.
“Speech and language are among the most accurate lenses into somebody’s state of mind,” says Rudzicz.