Archive for the ‘Highlighted’ Category

Recode Co-Founder Calls Out Silicon Valley Indifference to Social Issues

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Silicon Valley is making billions solving problems of convenience, such as instant food delivery, for “the 1%” while ignoring the social and economic problems of the urban ecosystem it depends on, Recode Co-Founder and Executive Editor Kara Swisher says.

Speaking on the second day of StartupFest in Montréal, Swisher called San Francisco “assisted living for millennials,” with conveniences such as instant food delivery provided through mobile apps by local startups working against a backdrop of homelessness and poverty.

She called on startups to break out of their “self-reinforcing” culture and affect the real world around them more positively.

This disconnect between Silicon Valley startups and San Francisco’s less fortunate residents gained global attention in 2014, when tech companies started providing buses to allow workers to commute to their campuses. The ease with which startup talent can commute has helped turn San Francisco into a “bedroom city.”

The social problems haven’t been completely ignored. A recent poll of San Francisco residents found that they identified homelessness as the number one social problem in the city. A startup founder who called the city’s homeless “grotesque” was excoriated for making his comments.

Swisher said she believes in the ability of startups and capitalism to solve social problems, a notion shared by fellow speaker Ari Gleisher. Gleisher, ex-of intelligence tech company Palantir, implored the audience to examine where they could do the most good in the world and aim their efforts carefully.

See all of TechPORTFOLIO’s up-to-date Startupfest coverage on social media by following us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and now on Instagram.


500 Startups’ Dave McClure Advises Founders at Startupfest

Friday, July 15th, 2016

At #Startupfest in Montreal, the founder of 500 Startups, an early investor in now publicly traded Twilio, said less than 10% of the VC firm’s investments will have a “meaningful economic return.”

The sobering words from Dave McClure, a respected voice among VCs, helped bring perspective to Startupfest attendees on the challenges facing startups aiming for Twilio-like success.

Still, McClure’s comments about Twilio, a cloud communications platform used by Uber and many other widely used apps, was one of the most popular tweets from yesterday’s sessions in Montreal. 500 Startups invested in Twilio’s series B funding, along with Bessemer Venture Partners, in 2010, according to Crunchbase.

The cloud communications platform debuted on the New York Stock exchange last month, and saw the value of its shares jump 92% above its IPO prospectus price of $15 per share.

McClure is modest about the success.

So how do you get McClure or 500 Startups’ attention? A functional product, early customer usage, and a good team, said McClure.

“Show me objective, quantifiable evidence of your product,” he told the audience.  

Twilio is the first IPO for 500 Startups. It’s also the first US venture-backed tech IPO of 2016Since its launch in 2010, 500 Startups has made 1,200 investments across 60 countries. VC investments in communications and networking companies reached $968.4 million in the year ended March 30, according to Dow Jones VentureSource data.

500 Startups has seen other exits mainly in the form of acquisitions, including:

For more insights from Startupfest, follow TechPORTFOLIO on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and now on Instagram.

Shopify Leaders Praise Canada’s Startup Environments

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Canada is the best place for a startup to knuckle down and work on a product that they believe in, Shopify’s Tobias Lütke said on the first day of Montréal’s Startupfest.

Lütke, in an discussion with Re/code’s Kara Swisher, told the audience that Canada didn’t lend itself to explosive growth, but is a good place for a startup to build a growth culture: a sentiment shared by tech industry thought leader Tim O’Reilly:

Still, a more subdued environment isn’t an excuse for complacency.

It’s critically important to “keep connecting with the front line,” an effort that Blackberry didn’t make, Lütke said, referring to the once-dominant smartphone maker based in Waterloo, Ontario. “Stay hungry,” he warned.

To achieve this, bring people on your team that think as founders and builders, not just joiners, said Shopify COO Harley Finkelstein. It’s important to keep your team focused, which is why he worked to keep Shopify’s culture open despite its rapid growth.

“We’re a company that sets our philosophy around personal growth where people are comfortable with the uncomfortable,” he said.

TechPORTFOLIO is covering Startupfest until July 15. Get more of our insights by following us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and now on Instagram.

Pokémon Go Social Media Conversation Surges

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

The size of the Twitter conversation around Niantic’s Pokémon Go reflects the real-life activity playing out in public spaces across the US, Australia, and New Zealand, where players are feverishly trying to capture squirtles and pikachus.

In the aftermath of shocking racial violence and an against-the-odds UEFA win for Portugal, Pokémon Go has pulled ahead of these topics (as of July 11), notching up over 3.5 million mentions since the game was released on July 6.

TechPortfolio_Pokemon Volume per day

The runaway success of Pokémon Go shows how effective mobile together with AR can be for brands trying to boost user engagement.

Companies of all kinds have pledged “mobile-first” strategies, but few execute them well. Nor do they often pair the strategy with a UX that makes an app “everything right now.”

But, it’s not just mobile and AR that allowed such fast popularity.

Pokémon Go also leverages a data pool collected through an earlier AR game by Niantic, a company spun off from Google’s parent Alphabet. Niantic’s Ingress “formed a beginning pool of portal locations for the game based on historical markers, as well as a data set of public artwork mined from geo-tagged photos on Google,” according to Mashable.

If developers can learn anything from Niantic’s success, it’s the value of a long-term strategy that leverages robust data to power an immersive experience.


Why Canadian Fintechs Are Falling Behind

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Fintech may be hot in Canadian investment circles, but deal-making lags that of other countries, signalling a funding gap that could weigh on the country’s global competitiveness.

Canadian fintechs ranked fifth in volume of global VC deals, capturing 24 of 860 total deals in 2015, according to Andreessen Horowitz-sponsored Pitchbook. Canada also ranks sixth in overall funding, securing $117 million (U.S.) of $12.5 billion in global investments, or just under one per cent of funding distributed worldwide.

Canada fintech

For a country whose banks and their bottom-lines are the envy of the financial world, those numbers aren’t inspiring. They’re red flags.

The number highlights a glaring issue in Canada’s fintech industry: funding disparity. The funding gap between U.S. and Canadian startups is not surprising, given the size of the U.S. market. The bigger concern is that Canada ranks 13th in average funding per VC deal globally — far behind the world’s most prominent tech ecosystems, and only just ahead of Russia.

Canada ranking ahead of another tech ecosystem titan, Israel: but this is no cause for celebration either. The so-called “smart nation” has seen an increase in number of $20-million plus fintech funding rounds this year. The trend will continue if fintech initiatives such as The Floor gain momentum.

Canada’s lacklustre performance is apparent when you look at others’ statistics: According to KPMG, the U.S. market volume for alternative finance was $113.43 per person compared with $5.82 for Canada, a 95 percent discount, according to a column in the Globe and Mail by entrepreneur Ray Sharma, managing partner of Toronto-based Extreme Ventures. He’s calling for a “much deeper relationship between banks and startups” in Canada to help address the problem.

With fintech adoption set to triple in Canada this year, and considering Canada’s big six banks reported a profit of nearly $35 billion in 2015, the Canadian market is lucrative. So where is the disconnect?

Two to Five Years Behind

Risk averse VCs, credit regulations around peer-to-peer lending, and shallow relationships between startups and incumbents are all cited as problems. Peter Misek, a partner at BDC IT Venture Fund, recently told Bloomberg that Canada is two to five years behind in fintech.

Banks are responding to the threat of fintech, cutting fees and facilitating online transactions. While Canadian consumers welcome the changes, they’re defensive tactics, not innovative, long-term strategies. The reactive stance suggests Canada’s big banks haven’t fully grasped how disruptive fintech will be to their business.

Startups aren’t the only threats either. More established tech giants such as PayPal, Amazon, and Apple are also infringing on the financial industry’s territory, adding to an already increasingly competitive landscape.

Canadian fintechs might be too focused on the banks and not paying attention their global counterparts, which puts them at risk of falling behind on the international stage.

For example, U.K.-based GoCardless raised $13 million earlier this year and is eyeing the Canadian market. Sweden’s Bambora has made a number of aggressive moves to expand into the North American market, including the acquisition of Beanstream. If regulation changes are imminent, they could open the floodgates for non-Canadian fintech startups.

Partnerships Lacking

The words “collaboration” and “partnership” are used often when discussing the future narrative of fintech in Canada, but have yet to yield meaningful results. Innovation hubs within banks are still subject to slow-moving cultures and red tape, and lack the development talent needed to keep pace. Canadian fintechs might be relying on an acquisition strategy that prevents them from become true competitors to the banks.

Neither approach is conducive to much-needed disruptive change.

Whether or not banks and fintechs can transform Canadian banking is still up for debate. One thing is clear: the Canadian fintech storyline needs to change, or the homegrown industry risks falling even further behind.

StartupFest Revs Up For 2016 in Montréal

Friday, July 8th, 2016

StartupFest, Canada’s biggest gathering of startups, VCs, angels, and accelerators is happening from 13 July to 16 July. TechPORTFOLIO will be there in Montréal, covering all the discussions that matter.

Kara Swisher, executive editor of re/code, will talk with Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke on how the company went global, with customers including the LA Lakers and partners such as Singapore’s SingTel, while remaining true to its Canadian roots. Swisher will also discuss her cameo on HBO’s Silicon Valley. Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, will talk about pseudonymity and community-building.

There will also be plenty of material for startups looking for insights on business building and funding.

Robert Simon, Senior Managing Partner at BDC IT Venture Fund, David Beyer, Investor at Amplify Partners, and Whitney Rockley, Managing Partner of McRock Capital, will be participating a VC AMA allowing audience members to pose questions and find out what they look for in early-stage businesses. Jevon MacDonald, co-founder of, will talk about lessons learned from successful entrepreneurs.

Opening the festival will be specific streams catering to scale-ups, angel investors and more.  Ben Zifkin, Founder and CEO of Hubba, and John Ruffolo of OMERS Ventures will be among those lending their expertise in special roundtable discussions. What’s more, angel investors are roaming the festival – impress them with your idea and you may be shortlisted to win $200K of funding.

Follow us on Twitter @TechPORTFOLIO and let us know if you’re attending. We’d love to chat.

Behind the Fintech Hype

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Fintech has been with us for years, starting with ATMs and then through online banking. But today’s fintech startups are doing more than ever before to reshape the financial services industry — changing the way consumers spend, save and invest through mobile and online applications.

To prevent becoming mere intermediaries in the financial services business, banks and other financial institutions are being forced to change how they interact with consumers, employees and their competition, to remain relevant in the modern day movement of money.

“We believe we are in the early innings of what will be a meaningful transformation across several elements of the financial services sector,” says Will Hutchins, director of Toronto-based capital funding solution company Espresso Capital. “We are seeing new companies emerge across Canada developing innovative solutions aimed at disrupting traditional business models and creating new ones.”

Yes, we’ve heard this before: That technology and startups will change our world. But how far with the fintech revolution take us?  To explore this, we’re delving into some common perceptions about the fintech industry — and the truths behind them.

YESIs fintech changing the way banks do business?

Banks have enormous resources, power, and customer data, but are only now marshalling their forces by creating spaces for technology to develop. We look at what how the power dynamic works.


Fintech story gauge MAYBE compressedWill blockchain revolutionize finance and contracts?

Blockchain is a secure distributed ledger that could change the way that valuable items are transferred. While the hype might be justified, it is not yet adopted and has, ironically, suffered recent hacking issues.


Fintech story gauge NO compressedWill fintech overturn financial institutions and regulations?

Even startups that have found a successful niche, or have scaled well, have to work within the regulatory environment and with existing players.


Investors still see big returns in fintech. Global investment in fintech ventures rose 75 per cent to $22.3 billion in 2015, and was up 67 per cent in the first quarter, reaching $5.3 billion.

With the right product, the right access to customers, and the right relationships with existing players, fintech has the potential to truly revolutionize the financial services sector.

If Banks Aren’t Absorbing Fintech Startup Products, They’re Investing in Them

Monday, July 4th, 2016


Q: Will fintech force the banks to change?


Be it blockchain or mobile loans, fintech innovation is happening, and the old guard needs to get on board or face falling behind. Traditional banks that embrace the technological and cultural change fintech is forcing on them are also more likely to see their business grow alongside it.

Some banks are getting the picture, learning the tools of the fintech trade by partnering with and investing in fintech startups and incubators instead of trying to build the technology starting from scratch.

Consider a recent move by CIBC to set up the “C-Suite” at MaRS in Toronto, a space physically separated from its corporate headquarters. The office has fewer regulations, giving developers breathing room to create new products for the bank, including its Apple Watch app.

Aayaz Pira, Senior Vice-President, CIBC Digital Retail & Business Banking, explains that the team focuses on client experience only. “It’s very important that we foster a test and learn environment.  While we enjoy great successes some projects never make it off that ground – and that’s OK.”

Others seek the expertise of startups through competitions such as “The Next Big Idea in Fintechby BMO and Ryerson University’s DMZ, or collaboration spaces hosted by Boston’s Workbar and Digital Credit Union, one of the largest credit unions in the U.S.

While the big banks are generally doing a good job of delivering the right product mix for the masses, “there are some areas for improvement,” says Sean Cooper, a consumer financial journalist. Cooper cites fintech firms such as online lender Grow and robo-advisor WealthSimple as having success to date in “filling the gaps” left by traditional banks.

Many banks are also choosing to invest directly in fintech players to gain market access. For example, Goldman Sachs is an investor in Boston-based Circle, an international money transfer app that converts between local currencies and Bitcoin, with a separate division in China. Other investors in Circle include Baidu and Beijing-based investment firm IDG Capital.

Forbes’ fintech expert Laura Shin says that if Circle successfully adds the renminbi as an available currency, it could tap into a potentially lucrative stream of Chinese students studying abroad.  

“We want to enable Chinese consumers to share value with anyone in the U.S., with anyone in Europe, and, through the blockchain, with anyone in the world instantly,” Circle chief executive Jeremy Allaire told Shin.

Because fintechs are still relatively new to the financial services world, especially in comparison to most financial institutions, the challenge for the banks will be partnering with and investing in startups that are expected to survive and thrive. It’s a tough call given the failure rate of startups. Of course, banks have proven to be not be too big to fail either.

See also

Will Blockchain Revolutionize The World of Financial Contracts?
Will Fintech Overturn Financial Institutions and Regulations?

Fintech a Massive Market Opportunity For Startups

Friday, July 1st, 2016

When it comes to funding startups, fintech reigns supreme.

In 2015, according to Accenture, global fintech investment reached $22.3 billion (U.S.) — up 75 per cent from $12.7 billion the year before. The rush to develop the alternative, online platforms offering financial services is moving more quickly than many other areas of tech innovation.

Banks and brokerages occupy a central position in every economy. In Europe in 2014, the total assets of the banking sector were €26.8 trillion. In the U.S. in 2015: $15.75 trillion.

Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

Tech startups have started quietly joining the financial sector with the aim of providing a new world of solutions, including payment and loan services, currency and investment platforms, and wealth management tools. These have been the domain of banks and governments for centuries.

One factor increasing pressure on financial services — and creating big opportunities for startups — is a large wealth transfer happening between the generations.

“There is a $40 trillion intergenerational wealth transfer that is in progress, from a generation that has traditionally relied on an in-person advisor relationship to a generation that expects much more of a technology-augmented experience,” top Vanare executives Richard Cancro and Alexey Sokolin said in a recent Financial Technology Partners report.

This transfer combined with the millennial generation’s expectation of a more technology-augmented experience — which traditional banking providers have been slow to provide — is creating a moneyed user base keen to embrace new approaches to banking.  

While regulations remain a hurdle, particularly in the wake of the 2008-09 global recession, fintech startups are expected to jump through every hurdle required to cater to the coveted millennial demographic, which is expected to make up two-thirds of the global workforce by 2030.

For July, we are exploring the vast market opportunity that is fintech.

Our stories will feature insights from key sector figures such as BMO InvestorLine President Julie Barker-Merz, and Adam Nanjee, head of the fintech division at MaRS.

Watch for our interviews as well as explainers and exclusive entrepreneur profiles, as we explore one of the hottest topics in tech today.

Are You a Woman Working in Tech? Take Our Survey

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

This month, TechPORTFOLIO is looking at issues around women in tech – whether the rhetoric of equality is meeting action, how far women are broaching the glass ceiling, and profiling important role models in the sector.

As part of our coverage, we’re polling women in the tech and startup industry about workplace treatment and opportunities. All your answers will be anonymous. Watch for discussion of results later this month.

On mobile? Tap here to take the survey.

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Thank you for participating! We will publish the results soon to round up our coverage.