Tech jobs are booming in Toronto: U of T’s Innovation Policy Lab collaborates on startup report

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, changing the way we work, play and communicate.

It’s also a growing share of our economy – especially here in Toronto – where tech jobs are a hot commodity in every sector from banking to health care.

A new report published by TechTO, an organization that supports startup firms in Toronto, explores the ways to support and strengthen technology-driven jobs in the Toronto area.

The Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs collaborated with consulting firm PWC and economic data modelling firm Emsi on the report.

Google looks to Canada’s tech startup scene for help in its quest to conquer artificial intelligence

Google says machine learning is destined to become the next major disruptive technology, and it believes Canadian innovation is going to play a crucial role in making that happen. So the tech giant is participating in NextAI, a new program started by the not-for-profit group NEXT Canada designed to specifically build up Canada’s artificial intelligence ecosystem.

NextAI is the first of its kind that uses seed capital, mentorship and other sector-specific tools to help industry professionals and teams from Canadian and international universities to innovate in the AI space. Partners in the program come from academic, corporate, private and governmental backgrounds, with names including Google, Microsoft, IBM, EY, and TD Group.

“In the past we’ve had these waves of technological disruption, with the last two that were massive being social and mobile,” said Don Harrison, Google’s vice president of corporate development and head of Google for Entrepreneurs. “I genuinely believe machine learning techniques and artificial intelligence techniques that turn all of these experiences… into things that make people’s lives easier are really going to power another wave of evolution or disruption in technology.”

Machine learning has been an important piece of Google’s product strategy for several years. For example, the company’s new Pixel smartphone uses artificial intelligence to learn more about the user over time to create a personalized Google Assistant. Google Translate recently added “deep learning” for human-like accuracy in its language translation. Google Now identifies news you’re interested in, fastest ways to places you frequent or event reminders based on your inbox.

Why these AI startups joined Salesforce, Amazon, and Uber

Say you’re a giant company that’s heard about a fancy “new” technology called artificial intelligence and you’re interested in adding some cutting-edge data crunching muscle to your business.

Contrary to what the artificial intelligence-hype cycle might suggest, just adding popular buzzwords like “machine learning” to your vernacular isn’t as easy as hooking a smartphone to a laptop.

At the Machine Learning and the Market for Intelligence conference this week put on by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, several founders behind artificial intelligence startups that have been acquired by industry heavyweights like (crm, +1.30%), Uber, and Amazon (amzn, +1.55%) shared lessons they’ve learned since joining the big-time corporate world.

Richard Socher, the founder of the A.I. startup MetaMind that was swallowed by Salesforce in April, explained on a panel what he’s learned since joining the cloud software giant and becoming its chief scientist.

Tech jobs are booming in Toronto: U of T’s Innovation Policy Lab collaborates on startup report

Technology has become an integral part of our lives, changing the way we work, play and communicate.

It’s also a growing share of our economy – especially here in Toronto – where tech jobs are a hot commodity in every sector from banking to health care.

A new report published by TechTO, an organization that supports startup firms in Toronto, explores the ways to support and strengthen technology-driven jobs in the Toronto area.

The Innovation Policy Lab at the University of Toronto Munk School of Global Affairs collaborated with consulting firm PWC and economic data modelling firm Emsi on the report.

Tech all-stars invest in the next generation of startups

One sign of a healthy startup ecosystem is successful entrepreneurs reinvesting in the next generation of young businesses. As Canadian startups strike it rich, founders are using their personal windfalls to pay it forward to other entrepreneurs.

Of course these entrepreneurs-turned-investors are looking for financial returns, but mentorship and staying in the game – without having to relive the exhausting task of building a company from scratch – are also huge motivators.

We asked six Canadian entrepreneurs why they do it and why they just can’t walk away.

Artificial intelligence research and startups at U of T get boost from RBC

Canada’s largest bank is bolstering artificial intelligence and machine learning research at the University of Toronto – and startups launched by students and faculty.

A new agreement between RBC and U of T sees the global giant join forces with Rotman School of Management’s Creative Destruction Lab, one of 10 campus-led accelerators at U of T, supporting the entrepreneurial aspirations of students from idea to intellectual property.

The bank has been named a founding partner of the machine learning initiative at the lab, and its donation will support programming to help attract and develop even more startups in this booming and ever-expanding field. Already, the Creative Destruction Lab is home to 50 artificial intelligence companies.

Startup internships let students experience life as an entrepreneur


Katherine King outside the Best Institute, home of many U of T startups including Comfable and Steadiwear.

With movies like The Social Network and shows like Dragon’s Den, many may think they know what it takes to build a startup. Spoiler alert: it’s not as easy as it seems on TV.

This summer, U of T undergrads learned firsthand what it really takes to make it as an entrepreneur. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Over four months, students got hands-on experience through Internship in New Ventures (IMC390), a course that places students as interns in the university’s early-stage companies.

“Students need more than their transcript to get a job after graduation since a list of completed courses doesn’t really show potential employers what you can actually accomplish,” said Alon Eisenstein, experiential learning educator at U of T’s Impact Centre.

“The internship course gives students the opportunity to gain real-world experience while being guided through their learning both professionally and academically, and have meaningful accomplishments.”

Available for third and fourth year students during fall, winter or summer semesters, IMC390 nurtures young talent through internships and experiential learning, contributing to Canada’s Innovation Agenda.

As a new crop of students begin their internships this fall, three students who just wrapped up their summer placements shared their experiences: Katherine King, third year Nutritional Science and Pharmacology student, Juan Orteaga, third year Economics and Statistics student and Justin Areias, fourth year Public Accounting student.

What startup were you placed in and what was your role?

KK:  I was a research and development coordinator for Comfable, a scientific research and development company with the goal of creating products for people to help them interact in a healthy way with their environment. (Learn more about Comfable)

I did content marketing, knowledge translation, website copywriting, a bit of public relations, and product showcasing. Most of my work was on the product blog, explaining the science behind our product in language that people can understand regardless of their background.

JO: I was with Steadiwear, a startup that’s developing a glove that allows people with tremors to do their day to day activities without a problem by stabilizing their hands. My role at Steadiwear as business development coordinator involved partaking in due diligence, attending showcases with the CEO and I got to do a lot of networking, presenting the company to people who were interested like researchers and investors. I also launched my startup’s blog, as well as a newsletter.

JA: I was with Pueblo Science, a charitable organization that goes to developing countries and reaches out to the teachers there to spice up their science educational programs through practical means. My role was more fundraiser with accounting as a sideline, which is what I was somewhat expecting because fundraising seems to be more important in order to bring in funds for the noble cause they have.  (Learn more about Pueblo Science)

What are some lessons learned from your time in your internship?

KK: The internship has helped me realize that healthcare professions and full time research aren’t the only things you can pursue after a science degree. If students are feeling stuck as to what they want to do in their career after their degree, I’d say take advantage of internships offered by the university because they can really help give some clarity.

Working at Comfable has helped me to see how much hard work and dedication it takes to operate a business, and the amount of time and planning that it takes to bring a product to market.

JO: I learned about a lot of different resources that I didn’t know about before. For example, the Impact Centre. If I wanted to open my own business I wouldn’t have thought of going to an incubator on campus and would have just started from ground-zero with no help. But it’s a great resource especially because it brings credibility to the company and a lot of advisors and resources.

How has it prepared you for a career after graduation?

JA: It let me expand my horizons in the sense that I’m now able to know what challenges could occur in a business environment. It definitely gave me accounting experience which firms are looking for so that’s prepared me very well. Also just the overall experience of working at a startup and learning how to deal with challenges as they come up throughout the process was quite beneficial.  

KK: As an undergraduate student, getting the real world experience before you graduate is really important. Also, before my internship, I didn’t know how passionate I would be about marketing, so this has definitely helped me to learn more about myself and my interests. After my life science degree I’d like to explore my interest in marketing further.

JO: I hope to work for a couple years after graduation then get my masters, but in the end I want to be my own boss and make my own business. This was a great opportunity offered by the university that showed me just what it would take to make that happen down the road.

What advice would you give to others who are considering taking the course?

KK: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. If you’re considering the course, definitely go for it. Getting involved in a startup really opens your eyes to a different side of science.

JO:  Be careful and make sure you stay caught up with everything when you’re balancing working and studying. Also be prepared to learn to work with any kind of person and don’t be afraid to ask your bosses for help if you don’t understand a task.

JA: Don’t limit yourself to just your job description. Be prepared to overcome challenges and take in your supervisors input and follow what they say but find your own spin to it and improve it if you can. Go above and beyond.

What young innovators can learn from Elon Musk: Don Pittis

By some measures, Elon Musk has never invented anything. And yet the president of Tesla and SpaceX has inspired a young generation of business and engineering students smitten by his glamorous profile and apparent success. The question is whether students captivated by the larger-than-life entrepreneur’s projects can learn from Musk’s method of turning wild ideas into businesses, thereby helping reinvigorate the Canadian and global economies.

There is no question that the billionaire businessman is an object of fascination. University clubs and associations around the world hold him up as a model, including at Queen’s in Kingston, Ont., where Musk began his undergraduate education.

After two years enrolled in a Queen’s commerce program, Musk, a South African native whose mother’s family farmed in Saskatchewan, moved on to a U.S. university. But Queen’s has better bragging rights than M.I.T., where Musk quit after only two days to start his first serious business venture Zip2, selling his stake four years later for $22 million US.

“He’s not a perfect person, but he’s certainly inspiring,” says third year Queen’s engineering student Marnus Coetsee, whose family also hails from South Africa. “I’m not trying to be Elon Musk in any sense, but I will certainly listen to what he says to help and inspire me to achieve things I thought were never possible.”

Transforming popsicles one Happy Pop at a time

We all scream for ice cream, but why not popsicles? Leila Keshavjee wants to change your popsicle perception from a sugary artificially flavoured summer treat into a healthy year-round snack. With her company Happy Pops, a passion for customer service, new exciting flavours and a family background in the food business, she has all the right ingredients to make it a reality.

Health and nutrition have played a big role in Leila’s life. A recent graduate of the University of Toronto’s Kinesiology program, she understands the importance of staying healthy and eating right. But, as with many businesses, the idea for Happy Pops wasn’t a straight path from her education to business plan.

“There is nothing like working for yourself since whatever you put into it is what you get out. And I’ve always been a huge fan of Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank!”

Leila always knew she wanted to run her own company. Having family in the food business introduced her to the excitement, and challenges, of owning a business. It gave her insight into both the healthy and upscale food markets and an understanding of the supply chains and manufacturing requirements for food products. Although she could have stayed in the family business, she had always been drawn to health products and knew she wanted to work for herself.

Her introduction to formal business plans and the intersection with science came through the IMC200 – Innovation and Entrepreneurship course. The course teaches undergraduates the path from idea to the market and one of the course assignments is to produce a video pitch for a new product. Drawing on her interest in nutrition and the family experience in the ice cream business, Leila pitched a dairy and gluten-free ice cream.

“For me it was probably the highlight of my undergrad. I was able to get something out of the course because the professors gave me the opportunity to apply the concepts we learned, and instead of asking us to regurgitate the components of a business plan, allowed us create our own.”

The next year she decided to take the IMC390 – Internship in New Venture course working with Impact Centre Senior Fellow Charles Plant. While digging through articles on entrepreneurship and researching small business support programs, she realized that starting a company was something that she could actually do.

“That’s when I realized that there is so much support for entrepreneurs and that I wouldn’t be on my own. Knowing that was a turning point.”

But why popsicles? She tells the story that the family business once looked into purchasing a popsicle company. While learning about the deal she saw the value in their products, but also an opportunity to create something new. Smoothies and ice cream are enjoyed all year, but why not popsicles? And with confusing nutrition labels along with a boom in food allergies and sensitivities, she discovered she could make something that was simple, healthy and delicious.

“The vision of Happy Pops is to create all-natural popsicles that are made without artificial colours or flavours. There is a fine line between what tastes good and healthy, and I want to be right in the middle. If we make a strawberry banana popsicle, using the same ingredients used for smoothies, then it can be a year round treat that people can give to their families.”

After speaking with Charles about her ideas, she decided not to do a Master’s degree and applied for Techno, the Impact Centre’s summer entrepreneurship workshop. The rest, they say, is history.

Since starting the company, Happy Pops have been sold at venues across the province . She has worked with the city’s top catering companies Peter and Paul’s Event catering to customize popsicles for private events and collaborated with Daniel et Daniel for the Eaton Centre Nordstrom opening. Leila has a full-time employee helping make the popsicles, and their biggest challenge is keeping up with the orders.

On adjusting to life outside of school, she says “It’s weird. You’ve been in school since three years old and all of a sudden you are running a company.” As for other students who are thinking of starting their own business. “Take a year off and take a risk. It’s a time to learn and as long as you are developing skills you can transfer beyond the business you shouldn’t be afraid.”