Next Canada readies elite students to tackle business challenges

You’re 22 again, and sitting in school. A really influential person is coming into the class today, and your teacher says, “What question would you like to ask?”

Here’s a little context. The classroom is in an old engineering building at the University of Toronto, and you’re one of Canada’s best young entrepreneurs. This is the classroom of the Next 36, a program that selects and funds 36 (or so) high-performing students every year in order to transform them into high-impact entrepreneurs, ready to think big.

Last year, the Next 36 rebranded as Next Canada, and now runs two more programs: Next Founders, for more advanced startups, and Next AI, for entrepreneurs exploring the potential of artificial intelligence. Participants in all three groups have one thing in common: they all take Next’s customized courses from May to July. I sat in on a recent class led by one of Next’s four co-founders, Reza Satchu.

AI advances to put greater value on human judgment: U of T experts

With the rise of artificial intelligence and concern about its potential impact on jobs, U of T’s Ajay AgrawalJoshua Gans and Avi Goldfarb argue that human judgment will become an increasingly valuable skill.

“In many cases, especially in the near term, humans will be required to exercise this sort of judgment,” they write in the Harvard Business Review. “They’ll specialize in weighing the costs and benefits of different decisions, and then that judgment will be combined with machine-generated predictions to make decisions.”

Agrawal is a professor of entrepreneurship at U of T’s Rotman School of Management and founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, U of T’s widely recognized seed-stage accelerator program, which has a strong AI focus. Gans is a professor of strategic management at Rotman, and Goldfarb is a professor of marketing at Rotman and chief data scientist at the Creative Destruction Lab.

The trio say it’s still too early to tell whether machine predictions will decrease or increase the overall amount of work available for humans.

Syncing light to music: U of T startup Nanoleaf hosts programming hackathon for students

Nanoleaf, the startup co-founded by University of Toronto alumni Gimmy Chu, Tom Rodinger, and Christian Yan, brought its latest lighting product, Aurora, to U of T this weekend for a hackathon.

The startup was hosting Hack the Light in collaboration with the Computer Science Student Union (CSSU) and the Department of Computer Science Innovation Lab (DCSIL), with students developing programs to sync Nanoleaf’s new Aurora bulb panels to change colours and patterns to music.

With the Aurora Rhythm, a small microphone add-on that the company has yet to bring to market, developers could create software plug-ins to make the multicolour, interlocking light panels react in different ways.

“Every time the bass hits, it will flash the panels,” said Chu, Nanoleaf co-founder and CEO. “Or you could have another one where, depending on the frequency of sound it hears, it will pop the light in a different way, so you can feel the music.”

For students, it was a chance for coding and technology skills to meet creative design and musical expression.

Creative Destruction Lab teams up with Rigetti Computing to foster quantum machine learning startup ecosystem

The Creative Destruction Lab at the Rotman School of Management is pleased to announce a partnership between its Quantum Machine Learning Program and Rigetti Computing, a full-stack quantum computing company, to support startups focused on developing quantum machine learning software.

The Program, announced earlier this year and launching this September, builds on the CDL’s track record of success in accelerating machine learning startups.

This partnership furthers the CDL’s objective of laying the foundation for high-growth software companies that leverage quantum machine learning. Quantum computing may soon provide advantages over classical computing in terms of faster optimization, efficient sampling, and reduction in computational complexity, all of which are relevant to machine learning algorithms.

The Rigetti partnership will be the CDL’s first collaboration with a general-purpose gate-based quantum computing company and will give its quantum machine learning startups access to Rigetti’s cloud-connected systems.

Singapore gains momentum in arms race for currency trading hub status

Singapore’s embrace of fintech and its growing status as a hub for the trade of Southeast Asian currencies are giving the city state an edge in the arms race to attract internet platforms for trading and wealth management, according to one industry expert.

Oanda, an online forex trading company established in Toronto, Canada in 1996, chose Singapore as its corporate headquarters in Asia in 2007. The company, which also has Asian offices in Sydney and Tokyo, offers internet trading for both institutional and retail investors, with 75,000 clients worldwide.

The firm was co-founded by Michael Stumm, who is currently a professor of computer engineering at the University of Toronto.

Asia-Pacific has emerged as the company’s fastest growth market, representing 50 per cent of its business revenue and 65 per cent of trading volume.

U of T sustainable food startup looks north through non-profit partnership

A University of Toronto startup that sells vertical hydroponic growing systems has joined forces with a Ryerson University-linked non-profit to bring down the stratospheric cost of fresh fruits and vegetables in Canada’s northernmost communities.

The unique partnership was forged at this year’s OCE innovation conference after Conner Tidd, a co-founder of U of T’s Just Vertical, ran into the founders of Ryerson’s Growing North. Tidd knew Growing North had built a geodesic greenhouse filled with hydroponic towers in Naujaat, NV.

“We said, ‘We heard you’re building a new greenhouse. We can be your go-to guys on that,’” recalls Tidd. “It sort of took off from there.”

Both Tidd and co-founder Kevin Jakiela graduated from the Master of Science in Sustainability Management degree program at U of T Mississauga. They’re drawing on their graduate-level expertise to help Growing North develop a proposal for a Nunavut high school course on sustainable food production – a bid to get locals to take ownership over the project.

Toronto among the fastest growing tech hubs in North America

Toronto leaped ahead in annual North American tech talent rankings compiled by a Los Angeles-based real-estate services firm.

Canada’s largest city jumped from 12th to sixth place in CBRE’s 2017 rankings, adding 22,500 tech jobs last year.

That’s more than those added by San Francisco and New York combined, according to CBRE.

The findings coincide with the emergence of Toronto as a key centre for artificial intelligence, or AI, research – particularly in the field of deep learning, which was pioneered by University of Toronto University Professor Emeritus Geoffrey Hinton.

U of T’s Creative Destruction Lab expands, focusing on regenerative medicine

The Creative Destruction Lab is getting into the business of healing.

Professor Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the rapidly expanding startup program affiliated with the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said Wednesday that the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) will roll out “a specialization in biomed tech with a focus on regen[erative] medicine” this fall.

“It’s going to be launched first at CDL West at UBC,” said Agrawal, referring to the lab’s first location outside Toronto, launched in 2016 in partnership with the University of British Columbia.

“Then we’ll launch a second one with the same focus at CDL Toronto the following year.”

He made the remarks at an international Business of Regenerative Medicine conference that was co-organized by the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) and hosted at Rotman.

Stem cell conference at U of T to focus on entrepreneurship

In the world of regenerative medicine, the recent US$225 million investment by drug giant Bayer and health-care investment firm Versant Ventures continues to loom large.

The seven-month old deal to create BlueRock Therapeutics, which involves key University of Toronto researchers and will focus on cardiac and Parkinson’s treatments, is viewed by many as a validation of Canada’s efforts to commercialize its leadership position in stem cell research.

It’s also expected to be a hot topic among the 150 scientists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who are expected to attend next week’s The Business of Regenerative Medicine: Leadership, Innovation & Entrepreneurship conference at U of T’s Rotman School of Management.

“This is really visible in this community and it’s playing in two absolutely huge medical spaces,” says Will Mitchell, a professor of strategic management at Rotman.

Reimagining the internet: This browser allows users to view websites in 3D

In a room at the recent Virtual and Augmented Reality Conference and Expo in Toronto, users were experiencing a web that’s no longer stuck on a screen: A specialized browser allowed them to visit a video-sharing website that turned into a gallery, with content showing as clickable displays.

The user, donning an avatar, could saunter through the gallery, selecting content to view, projected theatre-like, as the browser converted an existing site into a 3D environment.

This was at the VRTO (as the conference is commonly called) camp of JanusVR, a startup that has built a native virtual reality internet browser where “Webspaces become 3D spaces interconnected by portals”.

On the sidelines of VRTO, its cofounder Karan Singh said, “We’re essentially trying to reimagine the way we interact with the internet and with content.”