Universities drive startup activity in Toronto-Waterloo corridor: Silicon Valley think tank

The Toronto-Waterloo corridor ranks as one of the world’s top 20 startup ecosystems thanks in part to leading computer science and engineering research at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo, a recent Silicon Valley think tank report says.

The report, released earlier this month by Oakland, Calif.-based Startup Genome, surveys several different sectors of startup activity, from artificial intelligence to consumer electronics, and takes a “deep dive” into more than 40 startup hubs around the globe.

In the case of the Toronto-Waterloo corridor, the authors say the region “attracted international attention for its AI ecosystem” last year, noting Uber’s decision to start a Toronto research lab and the launch of the Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

The annual report, which did not rank the clusters this year, considers the corridor’s other key strengths to be health and life sciences, fintech and advanced manufacturing.

U of T Engineering opens the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

The University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering officially opened the Myhal Centre for Innovation & Entrepreneurship on Friday.

Named in honour of the Myhal family – including George Myhal and his wife Rayla, two of Engineering’s most ardent supporters – the building will allow for collaboration across disciplines, and experiential learning, leadership and entrepreneurship opportunities. It includes flexible, technology enhanced active learning spaces, fabrication facilities to support both curricular and co-curricular design projects, and dedicated space for student clubs and teams.

“The Myhal Centre is where tomorrow’s solutions, technologies and industries will be born,” said Cristina Amon, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “Its state-of-the-art facilities will spark new multidisciplinary collaborations, foster rich learning experiences and create further opportunities to enhance how we develop the next generation of global engineering leaders.”

On Friday, Michael Wilson, chancellor of the University of Toronto, and more than 200 donors, alumni and friends joined Claire Kennedy, chair of the Governing Council, President Meric Gertler and Dean Amon for the official opening event.

How machine learning can help you predict court decisions

Machine learning is now able to analyze court decisions and predict how judges may respond in certain situations, based on an analysis of existing caselaw.

Artificial intelligence technology is currently available to analyze tax and employment caselaw, but it’s easy to see how this could be relevant to the insurance space as well – particularly in the claims area. Potential uses could include analysis of decisions around tort liability, for example, or accident benefits cases.

A tax law expert recently provided an illustration of how the technology works in a webinar Wednesday. Benjamin Alarie, CEO and co-founder of Blue J Legal, uses the artificial intelligence suite to predict how the courts may decide issues about things such as tax deductions.

For example, with tax season coming to an end in Canada, some clients may be curious about whether their home office expenses are deductible for income tax purposes. Alarie posed that exact question to machine learning software called Tax Foresight; the system concluded with almost absolute confidence that in one case, the expenses were deductible.

LegalTech is building its profile in the professional community

The legal landscape is changing. The onslaught of structured and unstructured data that needs to be researched, analyzed and applied to the myriad legal processes has been ripe for innovation. With the advent of AI, machine learning and cloud-based services, among other technologies, a historically risk-averse industry is now taking notice.

Three years ago Ryerson University was the first to establish the Legal Innovation Zone as part of its ever-expanding portfolio of tech incubators. In March of this year, Evichat won the Zone’s Artificial Intelligence Legal Challenge for its development of an AI social media eDiscovery tool. This year, the award was supported by the Ministry of the Attorney General. Second place went to Diligen, an AI contract review company; followed by Splyt, an automated online tool for managing divorce.

Chris Bentley, managing director, admits that the legal profession has tended to lag other industries in terms of adopting new technologies and processes. But things are changing. “Now we are seeing significant growth in legaltech and incubators such as One Eleven and MaRS contributing to the ecosystem. The bottom line is, there is a lot more going on. As a result, firms big and small, as well as large corporate legal departments, are starting to take notice and do some innovative things. The industry is feeding off a very strong tech community.”

Creating the perfect cup of coffee U of T researchers team up with Toronto roaster to refine process

Coffee roasting is an art, but University of Toronto researchers and a Toronto coffee company want to make it a science.

U of T’s Impact Centre, an innovation hub that works with entrepreneurs and established companies, is teaming up with coffee company Cut Coffee to figure out how to manipulate the roasting process to bring out specific flavours in coffee beans.

“Rather than roasting coffee and tasting it, we’d be trying to figure out ahead of the roast that if we roast it a specific way, it would then taste a specific way,” says Lee Knuttila, head roaster at Cut Coffee.

The Impact Centre regularly partners with companies looking to conduct scientific research – taking advantage of U of T’s wealth of resources and expertise.

“The overall goal is to get science from the university out to benefit society,” says Andrew Paton, project manager, technology strategy and development at the Impact Centre.

U of T startup inks $250,000 deal with local health network

A University of Toronto startup seeking to improve communication between patients and hospitals has received $250,000 in funding from a southern Ontario local health integration network.

The Waterloo-Wellington LHIN said Friday the funding would be used by Dash MD to develop a local version of its smartphone app, which enables health-care providers to easily deliver detailed  instructions to patients.

The deal represents the startup’s first government-level partnership.

“We’re very excited to be partnering with Dash MD to bring real-time local health information to patients through a mobile app that will be free for them to use,” said Bruce Lauckner, the chief executive of the Waterloo Wellington LHIN, in a statement.

Canadian tech companies are active on social media but lack conversion rates

It seems that Canadian tech companies are putting in the effort when it comes to social media, but the returns might not be up to par.

A new report from The Impact Centre at the University of Toronto shows that Canadian tech companies are creating and posting content on social media more than several other innovation hotbeds around the world, but those posts are lacking when it comes to engagement.

The study looked at 113 random internet software businesses in five jurisdictions: Canada, California, New York, Massachusetts and the U.K, and they were rated and ranked in terms of social media efforts and results. The companies all have accumulated between $5 and $20 million in total funding and last obtained funding in 2016.

“Social media channels have become a very effective and inexpensive way for firms to connect with existing and prospective customers and are considered a must for fledgling businesses,” reads the report. “For most cloud-based software companies, social media is the primary method for lead generation, and thus the first part of the sales funnel. Success with social media then drives customer awareness, adoption, and the development and growth of revenue.”

Healthcare innovation in Canada hitting its stride

The count is now in for this year’s Health Innovation Week at MaRS Discovery District. This year’s agenda grew from 24 to 37 events, ranging from investment in AI and health summits to early stage networking opportunities and medical research. The number of attendees was also impressive, jumping from 2,000 to more than 3,500, including investors, researchers and enterprise executives.

This increase is a clear indicator that the ecosystem for healthcare innovation is gaining momentum, says Ying Tam, managing director health venture services, MaRS Discovery District. “What is coming out of R&D in areas such as stem cell regeneration, DNA and synthetic biology is continuing at incredible speed. Digital health innovation in the areas of wearables and biomedical engineering coming from the ecosystem is also driving huge momentum.”

Ideas are coming from more than just research labs, he adds. “Hackathons, innovation hubs, incubators and accelerators are popping up everywhere. The pervasiveness of technology and platforms is allowing everything to go faster.”

Canada has also become a significant talent magnet in the field over the past two years. Tam contends that the science, ideas and resources in Toronto alone are comparable to Boston and San Francisco. “The deal flows are definitely happening here,” he says.

Deep Genomics partners with U.S. startup to further develop AI platform

One of Canada’s leading genome startups is working with a notable U.S. partner to expand their knowledge in the space.

Toronto’s Deep Genomics is collaborating with Cambridge’s Wave Life Sciences to help identify therapies for the treatment of genetic neuromuscular disorders. Deep Genomics will use their industry-leading machine-learning-driven biomedical platform to help Wave deliver their therapies to patients with genetically-defined diseases.

“Wave is an industry leader in developing optimized oligonucleotides and in adopting science-based disruptive technologies,” said Brendan Frey, founder and CEO of Deep Genomics. “For this reason, Wave and Deep Genomics are a good match. Wave’s efforts complement our discovery platform, which combines automation, high volume data acquisition and genome biology in a machine learning system. By working together, we aim to extend what is currently known about splicing targets in genetic neuromuscular disorders.”

Frey has stated that Deep Genomics has spoken with some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies but chose to work with Wave due to their research-focused startup mentality.

Canada’s technology VC deals had a record-setting Q1 in 2018

Often times, people speak in hyperbole when it comes to explaining just how quickly Canada’s tech and startup scene is growing. Sure, there’s reports, studies, and even blurbs from top tech personalities featuring words like explosive and unparalleled, but these explainers pale in comparison to hard numbers.

So how about this: Canada’s 2018 Q1 saw the biggest amount of VC funding since the dot-com era. All in all, the top 10 deals secured $927 million in total, split among cleantech, fintech, SaaS companies and more. That total is up 40 per cent from the $661 million that the top 10 Q1 deals in 2017 garnered and almost double the $491 million that Q1 2016’s top 10 deals took in.

In terms of the entire scope of VC deals, early data indicates that there was $1.3 billion of VC invested in Canadian technology sectors in Q1 of this year, up from $1.1 billion in Q1 of 2017. These figures were provided by PE Hub Canada but have not yet been confirmed.

“I think the fundraising success is a testament to the quality of the Canadian startup ecosystem that, in reality, has been building for some time,” says Stuart Lombard, founder and CEO of ecobee. Ecobee raised the country’s third-largest VC round in Q1 2018. “There are a lot of exciting companies now disrupting large markets with great customer value propositions driven by new technologies and business models.”