Archive for the ‘TechPORTFOLIO’ Category

Innovator Insights from the #BCTech Summit

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

Lots of amazing things happen when you pack 5,000 people in a conference hall to talk about technology innovation and entrepreneurship.

This week the #BCTech Summit took over Vancouver to celebrate the province’s exploding tech sector and the timing couldn’t have been better. The Global Startup Ecosystem Report named Vancouver Canada’s leading tech startup ecosystem — surpassing Toronto and Waterloo.

Here are some of the top trends and our favourite moments from innovators we spoke to:

Advice from a 13-year-old developer:

How one of the largest mobile handset makers in the world is driving Canadian tech R&D:

BC’s opportunity to become the #cleantech capital of the world:

How blockchain is transforming banks:

But for the blockchain ecosystem to be truly disruptive, it needs more developers:

And one of the most amazing stories we heard centered around IBM Watson’s role in cancer treatment:

Explained: The Mechanics of Color for Developers

Monday, November 21st, 2016

Color is an important part of online identity and web development, as you can see from Paul Hebert Designs’ graphic, The Colors Used by the Ten Most Popular Sites.

It’s important to remember that when displayed on a monitor, color is additive. This means that mixing multiple colors together will create white, explains Sarah Drasner in A Nerd’s Guide to Color on the Web.

Two different ways of expressing additive color are:

  1. RGB (Red, Green and Blue): Mixing the three can be used to create all colors. This is expressed in hexadecimal with one byte for each color: RRGGBB. For example, the hexadecimal for techPORTFOLIO red is #FF5145.
  1. HSL (Hue, Saturation and Lightness): Hue is on a 360° scale, saturation is the strength of a color, and lightness is proximity to white.

“A color is only a color in reference to another color,” says Drasner. Yellow text is easy to see against a black background, but not against a white one.

Some tools you can use to measure visibility include Colorable and Contrast-A.

For more tips on color and how to manipulate it, check out the guide from CSS-Tricks.

How Big Companies Can Make Innovation Successful

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Every company wants innovation to be a core value, but innovation doesn’t happen on its own.

That was the key takeaway of Kirstine Stewart’s talk at MaRS Verge in Toronto today, an event that attracted 175 people from 20 different sectors.

“Success needs to be praised, but failure also needs to be supported,” said Stewart. “If people don’t believe they can stick their neck out, they won’t.”

Kirstine Stewart is the chief strategy officer of Diply, a social news and content website. Prior to joining the London, ON-based company Stewart was VP of North American partnerships at Twitter.

“Somehow, we think of innovation as being scary and that we have to disrupt everything,” said Stewart.

Stewart believes that the key to taking fear out of innovation is building an environment of trust. 

There can’t be fear of negative consequences if a project or initiative does not have a successful outcome. Failure has to be supported in order to build trust with employees.

“When I worked in the U.S. this was part of their culture I wish Canada had more of,” said Stewart.

Jon Worren, Senior Director of Entrepreneurship Programs at MaRS says culture is critical to making innovation successful.

“People often come to us because they think something’s not working in their company’s approach to innovation and it usually comes down to culture,” Worren told TechPORTFOLIO. “Many corporates recognize that startups have set the model in how to build an innovative company culture.”

What else helps make innovation possible in both startups and large enterprise?

Innovation comes from all employees — not just the IT department

“Innovation doesn’t have a look,” said Stewart. “It’s not about being Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck.”

Tech companies earn a lot of media coverage for being harbingers of innovation, but they can also struggle to scale with it.

“They’re often based on founder culture, and that doesn’t always scale” said Stewart. “Transformation from a startup to a larger company means founder culture needs to expand so everyone feels like a founder of the business.”

Companies that spread power across an employee base are more likely to be successful with innovation.

Innovation might require structural changes

While Stewart was at the CBC, reorganizing the broadcaster’s approach to digital was one of the ways innovation was supported.

The digital team had been siloed and functioned like a hub, rather than being part of everything the organization did. Stewart said the CBC had to dismantle this hub and enable a digital-first mentality across the organization and in every department.

This move fostered innovation.

“You have to empower people with responsibility,” said Stewart. “It has to be embedded into every area of the business and not classed as just an innovation project.”

Look outside, speak up, and manage up

“No matter what size company you’re at, you have to look outside yourself,” said Stewart.

In her time at CBC and Twitter Canada, Stewart learned you have to remind people — who are often talented and have been with a company for a long time — that the world is changing.

As an employee, you also have to speak up even when you think your organization won’t listen: it’s your responsibility to bring ideas forward.

To overcome organizational limitations, Stewart said you have to manage up. Put yourself in your boss’ shoes and think about what he or she has to consider, what the consequences are, and find ways to eliminate risk for them.

“Risk is a scary thing to be signed up for,” said Stewart. “Manage expectations as well as fear of others.”

Ethereum Community Splits After Security Fix

Friday, August 19th, 2016

The community behind the Ethereum blockchain – a system that depends on consensus – has split in two after action was taken to fix a theft.

In June, a hacker stole millions of dollars of value. Ethereum developers decided, through an informal vote, to take a “hard fork,” which involved resetting the Ethereum blockchain to its status immediately before the heist.

Those who disagreed with the hard fork in principle because they believe the blockchain must remain immutable have stayed with the old currency, which has been renamed Ethereum Classic (ETC). Those who took the hard fork are on Ethereum Core (ETH).

– Explained: What is the blockchain?

Some ETC proponents have written a declaration of independence based on principle, and say that the old, unchanged version can compete with the forked platform. “Only those communities that clearly define their values and stick to them, come hell or high water, will be successful,” says the lead organizer ‘Arvicco’.

On the other side, speaking for Core, supporters say that this kind of intervention to reverse hacks will probably be necessary again in the future. “Shit happens, and situations may arise where a fundamentalist attitude to hard forks is counterproductive,” says Jacob Eliosoff of Calibrated Markets LLC.

ETC is about 4,000 blocks behind ETH, and it’s not clear yet whether those in the non-interventionist camp will gain momentum or which side will ultimately become more legitimate.

This battle for the soul of Ethereum – and by extension, blockchain – goes down to the principle of whether problematic transactions like hacks can be reversed.


Banks appear to be keeping quiet about which side of this religious schism they back, but are likely grateful that this isn’t their problem yet. The financial industry, which has been experimenting with blockchain and smart contracts as a potential route to saving $20 billion a year in back-office costs, have watched proceedings with “curiosity”.

Yet while everybody argues, the original hacker has been active in laundering the value and it’s now possible they might be able to get away with at least $8.5 million worth of the cryptocurrency haul.

Without a consensus, the hacker might be the only winner.

Startup Cultures Across Canada

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Canadian tech ecosystems have gained international attention and are continuing to produce competitive tech startups. With major players like Shopify, Kik Interactive, and Hootsuite, Canadian cities have found themselves amongst the top 20 global tech ecosystems.

Geographically dispersed, and each with their own diverse histories and personalities, Canada’s tech ecosystems have developed their own unique cultures.

TechPORTFOLIO used a combination of data pull from social media conversations and search results to highlight the defining characteristics of Canada’s top 10 tech ecosystems.

Victoria | Vancouver | Edmonton | Calgary | London | Kitchener-Waterloo | Toronto | Ottawa | Montreal | Halifax

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?

Startups Must Pursue Partnerships within Finance and Work from Inside

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Fintech story gauge NO compressed
Q: Will fintech overturn financial institutions and regulations?


To stage a revolution in the banking industry, fintechs can’t go it alone.

These startups depend on existing structures and regulations to gain market access. That means fintech founders must mix their entrepreneurial drive with an ability to work within the rules. Only some are able to walk that tightrope, which often require a reliable relationship with established banks and other financial institutions to strike the right balance.

Founders starting out in fintech need to know that they’re entering an established market, and adjust their attitude, experts say.

“Fintech is really hard and the hubris I see in entrepreneurs and investors entering the space makes me worry that people have no idea what they’re getting into,” entrepreneur Savneet Singh wrote in a recent post on Medium.

Singh says fintech is hard to scale internationally and doesn’t respond to “regular” methods of growth hacking.

“It’s really hard to convince a random person to hand over their bank info, DOB [date of birth] and personal info. No matter how great the product is, that’s still a tough sell,” he says.

Banks are already leveraging their customer’s trust and data in creating new products to compete with fintechs. For instance, BMO’s SmartFolio, a digital advisor product, is fully integrated with its online banking system, an advantage that new startups can’t offer.

Even established startups are finding financial markets, and their regulations, to be challenging. Square is losing money according to its first quarterly report in March. And online processing service Dwolla was fined $100,000 for running afoul of data security regulations.

Given these issues, what does a fintech startup need to succeed?

Danish Yusuf, founder of Zensurance, a startup that offers pay-as-you-go insurance aimed at small businesses, says partnerships within existing structures is the way forward.

“Fintech is different from some other industries given the massive regulatory challenges,” says Yusuf. “Also, fintech startups love to claim that they are fighting the system and going against the existing powers. It makes for a great raison d’être.”

As a startup, find a quiet niche that doesn’t depend on existing financial infrastructure for customers, or find a way to work within the rules, not overturn them. Standing alone means you go nowhere – which is why so many startups partner with existing institutions.

See also

Will Fintech Force The Banks To Change?
Will Blockchain Revolutionize The World of Financial Contracts?

Blockchain Missing Some Pieces Before it Hits Mainstream

Monday, July 4th, 2016

Fintech story gauge MAYBE compressed

Q: Will the blockchain revolutionize the world of financial contracts?


If you’re not familiar with the blockchain, you will be soon. It has potential to fundamentally change the way transactions of value are carried out. The implications for traditional banking are enormous. The World Economic Forum forecasts that 10 per cent of global gross domestic product might be stored on the blockchain by 2027.

The blockchain differs from the traditional banking records in that all financial transaction data is contained in a distributed ledger. Here is how the chain works:

User makes a request from their device to the blockchain.

The blockchain decides in unison to grant the request.

The request is added as a fresh link in the blockchain.

All members are up-to-date and the request is on record.

Each record depends on the one before and is fixed.

The blockchain “makes it possible for the front office to interact directly with the ledger, simplifying reconciliations and the trade process more generally,” according to Accenture’s 2016 report Top 10 Challenges for Investment Banks 2016.

There are many early forays. Digital Asset Holdings is working to develop secure blockchain infrastructure for clearing funds and securities, while Nasdaq at the end of last year completed its first share trade with its own Linq ledger.

One of the most compelling use cases for blockchain is smart contracts, which are written in and enforced by code. Apple Music could be described as a smart contract. Singer-songwriter Imogen Heap has even released a single that can be purchased through the blockchain. Ether is a blockchain technology used in this way.

Non-financial use of blockchains

  • Insurance
  • Car rental
  • Voting
  • Identity documents
  • Record keeping

PwC gives a theoretical example of how smart contracts could be integrated with the blockchain: “Imagine a car insurance that is embedded in the car itself and changes the premium paid based on the driving habits of the owner… The car contract could also contact the nearest garages that have a contract with the insurance company in the event of an accident or a request for towing.”

This technology could seem superfluous as there are already existing systems in place. But as points out, smart contracts may be invaluable in places that do not have robust legal frameworks.

Of course, everything seems secure until it gets hacked. According to CoinDesk, in June 2016 $1.16 million (U.S.) of value was drained from the Ether blockchain into a new account. An unpatched security hole in a smart contract was to blame.

Several patches are being proposed, such as offering the attacker a bounty for the Ether’s return. But other fixes mess with the irrevocable nature of blockchain–the most extreme suggested is unravelling every single chain link one by one.

“While the agile approach of ‘ready, fire, aim’ generally works best with new software, it can be dangerous when $150 million gets loaded into the chamber,” explains blockchain expert David Seigel.

What impact this breach will have on the confidence around blockchain remains unclear. The response to the attack, and how to prevent one in the future, is still being analyzed. It does suggest that blockchain technology still has a few hurdles to overcome before becoming a regular and reliable piece of the financial system.

Developer Hotfix

See also

Will Fintech Force The Banks To Change?
Will Fintech Overturn Financial Institutions and Regulations?