Author Archive

Ongoing Startup Survey Shows Strength of Ontario Universities

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

In the startup world, connections matter. And in Ontario, one key connection for entrepreneurs is university.

Early results from an ongoing survey by MaRS Discovery District and Endeavor Insight show that educational institutions are the strongest connecting hubs in Ontario’s entrepreneurial networks.

The survey is still live and taking responses, however, it’s clear that “many entrepreneurs appear to have attended multiple universities, likely one for their undergraduate degree and others for postgraduate studies,” says the MaRS Blog.

This is a map of the connections between entrepreneurs and universities:

University Networks

The ongoing survey is part of a project managed by the Global Entrepreneur Research Network that aims to map startup ecosystem connections in 100 cities in the next 5 years.

While previous surveys have focused only on cities, such as NYC and Cairo, this is the first to plot connections over a wide area, like Ontario.

MaRS is using this relationship data to inform best practices in startup mentoring, and will try to replicate the most important and valuable connections for its startups.

The research team says “in the current data, only 0.1% of the connections that could exist in the ecosystem actually exist.” To make sure they have the full picture, they have extended the deadline to complete the survey to the end of December.

Full results, including an interactive map covering the whole of Ontario, will be released by March 2017.

Click here to take the survey and add to the network. When results come out, you will be able to zoom in to see your own place in the ecosystem.

Developers’ Job Guide: Smart Contracts and Blockchain

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Blockchain and smart contracts are expected to drive the revolution in financial services.

The numbers suggest that’s happening. According to CoinDesk, $1.1bn was invested in blockchain and Bitcoin in the first quarter of 2016.

With this in mind, software developers looking for a new direction might want to take their skills to the blockchain.

Go forth and multiply

The core code for Bitcoin, the first application of the blockchain, is in C++. But that was 2009, and in 2016, you need to go with Go.

“I’ve heard it described as ‘what the developers of C would come up with after using Python for a decade on Google-scale infrastructure,” Ethan Buchan, CTO of blockchain app development firm Tendermint – which codes in Go – said in an interview. “I think that’s pretty much what happened.”

Go is an open-source language created by Google engineers to build servers. It’s designed to be lightweight, has good concurrency support, and supports quick deployment. This makes it particularly effective for decentralized tech like the blockchain.

Code choice is strategically important for startups. The primary codebase of Ethereum, which pioneered smart contracts, is written in Go. Distributed tools such as IPFS and Consul use Go too. Development is geared toward user needs: The most recent release, 1.7, was cut in size to accommodate Raspberry Pi owners.

Go Documentation

Beginners’ luck

Beginners have an advantage when it comes to the implementation of blockchain-driven financial services.

“While the techies are working on big themes like scalability, to no avail so far, beginners should fill the gap of blockchain’s too-steep learning curve by working on making it more user-friendly to the mass,” Davide De Rosa, author of the popular blockchain tutorial Basic Blockchain Programming, said in an interview.

Meltem Demirors, Director of Digital Currency Group, writes on Medium that there are “tremendous opportunities” for women in blockchain technology, and that the industry should look outside of finance and technology to develop: “I’ve seen some of the best ideas come from diverse teams of people who have various backgrounds.”

What is the blockchain?
PWC: Blockchain infographics
The idea of smart contracts
Basic Blockchain Programming
Women in blockchain tech

Experiment and learn

With developers in short supply, attitude, background knowledge, and demonstrated experimentation on the blockchain is more important than actual paid experience.

Tendermint’s Buchan says he looks for candidates “well versed in distributed computing, cryptography, and consensus science, though in general we are open to strong programmers with an aptitude for self-directed learning.”

Marc Warne, founder of London-based Bitcoin transfer site Bittylicious, says that candidates should experiment. “I’d just see what they’ve built on top of the blockchain, even just minor projects they might just be tinkering with, or fancy contracts.”

For your blockchain and smart contract developments, you should research current issues – such as the Ethereum hard fork – and be able to defend a position. “For a really entry level job, I might want to chat with them about ideas and ideologies,” says Warne.

Quora: Best open source blockchain projects to contribute to
Wikipedia: Distributed computing projects


Follow on Twitter
Laura Shin (presenter of Unchained blockchain podcast)
Meltem Demirors

Many cities have blockchain and Bitcoin meetups on the site, according to De Rosa.

Visa Testing Blockchain for International Payments

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Blockchain technology may make credit card payments cheaper and safer.

That’s the aim of a pilot program Visa Europe is launching with BTL Group, an effort billed as “a first-of-its-kind blockchain-based settlement system.”

Visa Europe announced its search for banking partners to participate in a “proof of concept” for international transactions using BTL’s interbit distributed-ledger technology.

Hendrik Kleinsmiede, Co-Founder and Innovation Partner, at Visa Europe Collab, wants to test international payments over blockchain technology between a hand-picked series of banks across different countries, to see if credit risk and transfer time can be reduced without compromising security.

“For me the opportunity is a fascinating and potentially very beneficial one,” writes Kleinsmiede. “Through the use of smart contracts and blockchains I believe we can create a fast, compliant and low-cost interbank payment and settlement service, with embedded regional compliance.”

Blockchain is a distributed ledger that keeps copies of every transaction made. One advantage is security – each transaction depends on the previous one. Amending previous entries requires the consent of all participants.

According to the Financial Times, if the project succeeds, it could present a threat to Swift, a 43-year-old interbank messaging system that handles 30 million requests a day.

Moving money cross-border can take at least three working days with Swift, and the system has been subject to its own security problems: earlier this year, malware was used to seal $81 million from the Bangladesh Bank through Swift – the hackers were only prevented from stealing more when a spelling mistake in a request prompted Deutsche Bank to investigate.


There’s a $30 Billion Opportunity in Indian Healthcare Tech

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

Global management consultancy KPMG has identified a multi-billion dollar need for healthcare in India, which will be filled by tech firms.

Startups will be key to providing healthcare to underserved rural Indians, but there are significant funding barriers to overcome from perceived low returns and lack of glamour, according to a recently published KPMG report.

India only spends 4.7 percent of its GDP on healthcare, and 70 percent of India’s population – some 892 million people – live in rural areas with no or limited access to hospitals or clinicians.

In the next five years, India requires up to 700,000 beds to meet its growing healthcare needs: an investment opportunity of $25 billion to $30 billion.

Startups will be the main driver of increasing health access by reducing or eliminating travel times to receive care. However, “even though multiple advantages are provided by healthcare startups, they have not yet received a steady stream of funding to support their venture.”

Health tech startups tend to be service-based platforms – and these tend not to be unicorns. Other barriers that funders face include low returns and long lead times to get those returns.

The solution, the paper says, is two-pronged. Local and national governments should encourage funding by setting up startup hubs and a healthcare innovation fund. Meanwhile, the private sector has a “dual responsibility of a guide and investor for the development of healthcare startups in India.”

As well as offering funding, “it is essential that the major hospital chains, pharmaceutical companies, and diagnostic labs take charge as mentors to the healthcare startups.”

In 2015, private equity firms channeled $16.8 billion to India’s startup system. Some $1.6 billion of that was in the healthcare system. A total 300 Indian healthcare startups were created in 2015.

While the paper declined to specifically mention startups by name, KPMG said the most highly funded startups were in areas including online prescription ordering, home health care, and doctor referrals.

Vishal Bali, co-founder and chairman of Medwell Ventures, told the Economic Times: “Startups are already disrupting the way healthcare is delivered in India.

According to the NASSCOM Startup Ecosystem Report 2015, India serves as the fastest growing startup base worldwide and 6-8 percent of the recent B2C startups in India have been in the health-tech sector.”

India’s top health tech startup areas, by 2015 funding

  1. Appointment booking: $790 million
  2. Mobile health apps: $750 million
  3. Telemedicine: $439 million
  4. Wellness: $386 million
  5. Data analytics: $294 million

(all figures in US$)

Quantum Startups Aim to Future-Proof Corporate Security

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

Existing cybersecurity measures deployed by banks and companies don’t stand a chance against quantum computers, speakers at Toronto’s Venture North conference warned.

“Bank encryption will be rendered completely vulnerable when hackers get quantum computing,” ISARA Corporation VP Paul Lucier said, adding that the technology will likely become widely available within the next nine years.

The threat posed by quantum computers to cybersecurity is down to the speed at which encryption can be brute forced. A 10-letter password that contains punctuation and at least one number and capital letter would take roughly four weeks to crack, according to Dashlane.

If we take Google’s claims of the speed of the D-Wave processor at face value, with a quantum computer this time would be reduced to 0.02 seconds.

ISARA works with organizations to future-proof them against forthcoming technology with “quantum resistant” security. They have released a toolkit aimed at developers in the security space, which consists of drop-in algorithm replacements for current technology.

Christian Weedbrook of CipherQ, another startup focused on corporate security, said e-mail hacks such as the one sustained by Ashley Madison were like “a mosquito bite to the nuclear bomb of quantum that is coming in a few year’s time.”

E-mail hacks have lost the corporate world some $2.3 billion in since January 2015. As well as malware, an increasingly common vector has been social engineering: legitimate-seeming e-mails posing as requests for high-value bank transfers are often targeted at CEOs or finance officers.

Weedbrook added that cash scams are not the only issue. Hackers may use compromised systems to steal confidential information and offer it to a competitor.

ISARA is based out of Kitchener-Waterloo, a region that produced BlackBerry and is becoming a North American center for quantum technology research. CipherQ is based in Toronto.

“Canada is a remarkable country to be doing quantum technology,” said Weedbrook.

And if you’re missing an explanation of quantum computing, look no further than Canada’s PM:


Tsinghua Beats MIT, Harvard in Startup Ecosystem Funding

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Beijing’s Tsinghua University came out ahead of Harvard, MIT and UCLA among the world’s top schools in a measure of surrounding tech ecosystem investment.

The proximity of a few big tech players, including former Uber competitor Didi Chuxing, gives Tsinghua its edge.

In a comparison between the top 50 rated schools in the world for ICT, and investment attracted by startups, the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and New York University had the most investment locally. In an IBM Watson Analytics data visualization, the century-old Beijing university placed next.

The Californian schools were first and second in the list. The companies closest to them have $48.3 billion and $25.9 billion of aggregate investment, respectively, due to the overwhelming number of startups in their neighborhoods (San Francisco, and Silicon Valley).

Tsinghua, sometimes called “China’s MIT”, is closer to Beijing’s startups than its companion school, Peking University. Tsinghua is local to only three companies in our test, but together those three companies have booked $13.1 billion of investment.

The largest of these is Didi Chuxing, a mobile transportation platform that recently took over Uber’s operations in China. Didi Chuxing’s total funding is $7.3 billion, of which $4.5 billion came from Apple private equity in June 2016.

Xiaomi, with $2.45 billion in angel funding, develops smart devices and software. Meituan Dianping is a new merger of two popular group-buying communities. In January 2016 it attracted $3.3 billion in investment.

Schools with tech ecosystem funding

According to James Giancotti of Oddup, Beijing is an emerging startup powerhouse because of its large domestic market, government support, and talent pool from schools such as Tsinghua and neighbouring Peking. “There is no question that Beijing is following in the footsteps of Silicon Valley,” he writes.

China’s tech ecosystem hasn’t suffered for its relative isolation. Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, for example, developed WeChat, a messaging app that handles a wider scope of functions than most U.S. tech giants, including Facebook and Google.

And Tech in Asia reports that in the first six months of 2016, investors put a record $37.2 billion USD into China’s young tech firms.

Top 10 universities for local* startup funding, by amount

  1. University of California, Berkeley – $48.3 billion
  2. Stanford University – $25.9 billion
  3. New York University – $14.7 billion
  4. Tsinghua University – $13.1 billion
  5. University of California, Los Angeles – $6.32 billion
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $4.56 billion
  7. Harvard University – $3.24 billion
  8. University of Washington – $2.67 billion
  9. University of Chicago – $2.63 billion
  10. University College London – $1.84 billion

* local = within a 50-mile radius.

Peking University, the other Beijing-based university on the top 50 school list, arguably has a claim to joint fourth place status. It wasn’t counted as the closest school because it’s geographically further from the areas where technology companies gather.

Compare this to MIT and Harvard, which are within a mile of each other and are both surrounded by startups. They each appear in the top 10 list, but combined they would only edge out University of California, Los Angeles.

Startup funding data was taken from Pitchbook’s public database in August 2016. Top school rankings are from the QS World University Rankings 2015. The data was geocoded with ArcGIS, and then collated by the IBM Watson Analytics data exploration tool.

Globally, there was $33 billion of funding attached to startups not within 50 miles of a top-50 school for ICT.

Mega Hackathon Hack the North is Underway

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Baristas, therapy dogs, and 2:00 am workshops about CockroachDB. 

Welcome to Hack the North, the student hackathon that offers users the chance to develop with VR and wearable technology and has produced at least one commercially viable startup.

It’s happening this weekend at the University of Waterloo Engineering School, and developers from across Canada and the world are attending:

Hack the North claims to be Canada’s premier hackathon with over 1,000 participants. It runs continuously for 36 hours from Friday evening to Sunday morning. Industry leaders from 500px and Y Combinator will be on hand.

For tired coders up all night, there are many opportunities for screen breaks: Morning yoga on Saturday, and a chance to cuddle with therapy dogs.

The sleep-deprived can also attend talks on topics such as Node.js and Cockroach DB, as well as soft skills such as team formation and ideation.

One of the 2014 winners of Hack the North was Eric Dolan, founder of Neutun Labs — a startup that develops seizure-tracking technology.

Dolan’s winning 2014 project, Pebilepsy, was based off data tracking and wearable devices, as it allowed users’ Pebble smartwatches to track their epilepsy symptoms. Neutun Labs is derived from this technology, and has since been accepted into 500 Startups.

“We’ve made continuous efforts to bring opportunities to students they wouldn’t have elsewhere,” said Ashna Mankotia, Co-Marketing Director at Hack the North. “For example, bringing ‘Y Combinator Office Hours’ to Hack the North in 2015 and again this year.

“Hackers have the rare opportunity to have one-on-one meetings with some of the most connected people in the industry.”

Check back later for more details about the winners.

VC Funding Doesn’t Reflect Talent in Toronto and KW: Minister

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Silicon Valley startups are eagerly snapping up engineering talent from the University of Toronto and University of Waterloo. But investors from California are not, in turn, boarding planes to Toronto with money in tow.

We should be beating VC investors off with a stick in Ontario,” Brad Duguid, the Ontario Minister of Economic Development, told the Venture North conference.

Duguid said Californian VCs who value Ontario tech grads should come to the Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo “supercorridor” and “kick the tires.”

Engineering talent in southern Ontario is highly sought after in the Valley. “How do we get folks in the Valley to get out from behind their desks and come up here?” he said. “As soon as they discover this ecosystem, they’re going to want a presence here.”

Venture North, held at the MaRS Discovery District, aims to entice VCs outside of Ontario to fund local AI, fintech, retail and SaaS startups.

Some Silicon Valley investors, such as 8VC, have described Toronto and KW as having a density of “technical talent” and are making the area a priority. Companies across Canada raised $734 million USD ($881 million CAD) in Q1 2016, but this is dwarfed by the $3.04 billion USD raised by Silicon Valley alone in the same period.

“Too cold” and “too far” are initial resistances from foreign investors that Duguid hears. But more publicity is needed too — and that’s partially down to startups themselves.

Razor Suleman, CEO of Next 36 and founder of SF-based Achievers, said that natural Canadian humility was a major barrier to publicizing the work being done by startups in southern Ontario.

Suleman started the Spotlight Awards after returning from California to help people get over their reticence to boast: “Six months in Silicon Valley will beat that out of you.”


COBOL, Lisp and Logo Get New Life Among Coders

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Old programming languages are getting a new lease on life through modern interpreters, thanks to developers with time to spare.

Here are three languages, up to 50 years old, that you can play with today because of creative interpretations. Current usage rankings are from the TIOBE Programming Community index for September 2016.

Language: COBOL
Designed: 1959
Current popularity: 24th
Implemented in: Node.js

Developer Bizău Ionică has made it easy to run COBOL in a Node.js web application. Once an interpreter is installed server-side, COBOL can be executed within Javascript.

An interpretation on a quickly scaleable platform is a big deal for clunky COBOL, which is famously verbose. The language was designed to be human-readable in business systems and some legacy code is still in use today.

Language: Lisp
Designed: 1958
Current usage: 28th
Implemented in: Python

The powerful list processing language, Lisp, had its heyday in the 1970s with early artificial intelligence research. Hy (Github link) allows you to code in Lisp and gives access to the Python Abstract Syntax Tree. Like COBOL in Node.js, Hy also lets developers embed directly into Python programs by importing the module.

Lisp is still in use today through its modern dialect, Clojure, which is used by companies including Netflix.  If you want to play with Lisp through Hy, cathode-ray-tube screen and all, you can experiment here.

Language: Logo
Designed: 1967
Current usage: 36th
Implemented in: HTML5

Ex-schoolchildren of a certain age will remember building programs to direct an electronic turtle to draw ferns and flowers – lucky users might even have been able to program a “real life” turtle, a kind of proto-Roomba.

While Logo has few practical industry uses, the language has been introducing children to programming concepts such as flow control and recursion for decades, although other languages such as Scratch are more popular now.

As the basic version of the language results in visual output, it makes sense that people have created HTML5/CSS3 interpretations. One of the most faithful and child-friendly, which includes animation, is this from Logo Interpreter.

See also

Investors Weigh in on Programming Language Choice

Bluemix Case Study: Kiwi – A Motion Sensor for Developers

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

As hackathons proliferate, the value of winning one declines.

That is, unless you turn your winning hack into a startup that attracts $2.5 million in seed funding, as Kiwi Wearable Technologies co-founder and CTO John David Chibuk did. The first iteration of Kiwi’s technology, a heart rate sensor app, was the result of a victory at AngelHack Toronto 2013.

Kiwi produces intelligent motion capture technology that analyses speed, direction, angle, and torque. The company is targeting developers looking for an easier way to integrate these functions into a variety of products.

“We found there were a variety of different products on the market that all offered a form of step counting, or different types of motion classification,” Chibuk says. “However, the software was not available for other developers or people who actually wanted to make a product.”


The device accepts development on several platforms. SDKs are available for iOS and Android, as well as for open-source electronics platform Arduino and JavaScript.

Kiwi aims to form partnerships, completing pilots for consumer and industry applications with potential use cases in sports, healthcare, and in the industrial internet of things. Pilot projects so far include integration of sensors on forklifts at a car parts distribution center.

“The aim for this pilot was to determine down time optimization – when there is a piece of equipment not being utilized, and to improve the floor workers’ schedule,” Chibuk said.

To test in the sporting arena, Toronto-based Kiwi picked lacrosse, the national summer sport of Canada, and worked with Silicon Valley-based sports wearable technology startup Snypr to capture movement of lacrosse throws and see how players’ forms developed and improved over time.

“The purpose is player performance enhancement, to see the nuances in their movement,” says Chibuk. “They can undergo different training schedules and see when they’re performing best, or when they need to alter their routines to perform better.”

Kiwi Wearables was also part of the Cannes Lions Innovation Festival 2016. Soccer players wore wristbands that recorded each kick and touch of the ball. The data was processed by Watson, and donations to charity were made for each movement.

And Kiwi has strong support in other respects. FounderFuel is Kiwi’s main seed investor, and the company counts GoInstant’s Jevon MacDonald as an advisor. MacDonald gained prominence in Canada for selling Golnstant to Salesforce in 2012 for a reported $70 million.

IBM Bluemix is an integral connector in Kiwi’s technology. The cloud platform “allows for a lot of variety of APIs to be integrated quickly together,” Chibuk explains. “There’s a good methodology for distribution and hosting applications.” The device sends the recognition events to Bluemix, storing them and interfacing with an online presentation layer for clients.

One key aspect of Kiwi is the importance of accurate motion data at source. The more that data is converted and its format is changed, the more the quality degrades, particularly if the data is being captured in real time. Everything is classified on the device.

Developing for industry and the consumer market means different emphases. For the former, accuracy and high performance; the latter, keeping the cost of the parts down. “It’s the same mathematics, it’s just what’s computationally available in each of the use cases,” says Chibuk.

Kiwi aims to launch its first developer-focused product by the end of this month.

Click here for a free IBM Bluemix trial.

To apply to the IBM Global Entrepreneur program, click here.