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Canada’s next big act is training scaleups

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By Jack Derricourt & Chris Hogg

Jack Derricourt is the Managing Editor of Digital Journal and a contributing editor to DX Journal. Chris Hogg is the President of Digital Journal Group.

The Canadian technology landscape is booming.

Canadian companies took in $2.5 billion in funding in the first half of 2018, the strongest first half since 2000. Corporates have announced large-scale investment plans to invest in innovation and digital technology (CAE recently pegged $1 billion for the efforts) and post-secondary institutions are breaking ground to house future generations of talent (the University of Toronto is building a 14-storey building to be completed by 2021).

The Canadian technology landscape is ripening and readying for an influx and growth of more mature, internationally-focused ventures.

While scaleups make up less than five percent of Canadian companies, they create half of all new jobs in the country.

On September 26 in Toronto, Elevate ScaleUp will seek to provide helpful insights into the problems facing scaling companies. Presented by CIBC and Osler, the event features startup veterans sharing their experiences.

DX Journal spoke with Julia Kassam, Managing Director, CIBC Innovation Banking, to find out more about the next big act in Canada’s innovation space.

DX Journal: With innovation ecosystems forming across Canadian cities, what excites you the most for startups in Canada?

Julia Kassam: From coast to coast, we’ve hit our stride as a community. The Canadian startup ecosystem has never been stronger and it is launching Canada into the global spotlight. Success stories about scaling companies of all sizes, in different industries, are generating the attention of investors and aspiring entrepreneurs. We are gaining a reputation for being diverse, collaborative and competitive.

This means that Canada is no longer an occasional destination, but a critical location for international investors to regularly visit, and for global brands to establish roots and drive their own corporate growth.

DX Journal: Canadian policymakers have made strengthening the venture capital sector a priority, with the launch of Venture Capital Action Plan (VCAP) and Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) underway. What does that mean for startups and scaleups?

Kassam: After years of lobbying by the Canadian Venture and Private Equity Association (CVCA), the previous government took our sector’s advice and launched VCAP as an arms-length funding strategy. VCAP worked as designed; venture capital funds benefited from the capital raised and invested in several early-stage companies. The new funds that should be raised under VCCI will capitalize on that success and strengthen the sustainability of Canada’s venture capital ecosystem.

What this means for entrepreneurs is that the federal government recognizes that VCAP was an appropriate initiative, and that to fuel the innovation economy, companies need a robust venture capital ecosystem to move from startup mode to scaleup mode.

It’s a really strategic and exciting initiative because later-stage capital will help accelerate the growth for companies who need to overcome commercialization hurdles, expand into new markets and compete on a global scale.

DX Journal: Many startups struggle to scale because they don’t have the right senior talent. What is your sense of how well positioned Canada is with experienced leaders?

Kassam: Although Canada has established a reputation for developing world-class academics and innovators, we do need to attract experienced executive talent. Everything moves at an accelerated pace in a scaleup, and the business will bend and flex in ways it never has. Canada needs more leaders who know what it takes to grow globally and ensure scaleups are well-equipped to navigate and accelerate growth.

One big benefit Canada has that helps here is as a result of our proactive immigration policy – the ability for Canadian scaleups to attract skilled talent is getting easier; our country realizes that to keep pace with scaleups, concentrated efforts are needed to establish Canada as a global technology powerhouse.

DX Journal: Canada has also been able to attract tech titans such as Google to open up offices in Toronto. What role do they play in the scaleup economy?

Kassam: They serve as training ground, but also as a competitor for talent. In the best case, people learn what it takes to be part of a leading innovator while being trained by experienced executive talent at the local divisions of firms such as Cisco or Google. For scaling companies, the opportunity to pilot their innovation becomes a realistic opportunity which can flourish into a partnership that may lead to an acquisition. A big opportunity that emerges as a result of large tech companies choosing to set-up an office in Canada is an acceleration of human capital development for the ecosystem.

What we are also seeing more of is that global innovators are setting up their R&D centres in Canada. A great example this summer was Samsung announcing an AI Centre located within MaRS, led by a Toronto-based academic. Again, another opportunity for scaleups to be close to the heart of global innovation. That is huge potential waiting to be unleashed.

DX Journal: How is the Canadian startup ecosystem helping to train talent?

Kassam: Serial entrepreneurs and investors share mistakes and success stories which help shape and accelerate scaleups through collective learning. What truly makes the Canadian tech ecosystem unique is our mindset to foster entrepreneurial spirit; and a great example of how we do that is by bringing the startup community together.

Elevate, Canada’s largest tech festival and one that CIBC Innovation Banking is sponsoring, is the perfect example of creating the right information and network opportunities so that we can collectively benefit from the existing momentum in Canada’s innovation ecosystem and drive our entrepreneurial culture forward.


DX Journal:
What’s the next step for the Canadian scaleup story?

Kassam: Canadian scaleups will continue to tackle the unique challenges that come with scaling a business; however, they will think in a global context earlier than ever before. Scaleups need to strategically choose the right capital partners for their growth – ones that open doors to new markets. There needs to be an emphasis on attracting top talent earlier in the growth cycle to help drive international perspectives and opportunities.   

To hear more from industry leaders who have scaled real businesses (and have the scars to prove it), get a ticket for Elevate ScaleUp, happening September 26, 2018 in Toronto. Presented by CIBC Innovation Banking and Osler, the event will provide real insights from entrepreneurs and tech veterans who have spent years in the field, on everything from hiring, to financing, to distribution.

 

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8 digital transformation conferences and events being offered virtually

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“If ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ coronavirus (COVID-19) forced many around the world to rethink our daily lives from work to school to entertainment,” wrote author, futurist, and advisor Bernard Marr in an article for Forbes about how the current pandemic is fast-tracking digital transformation for many companies.

From the ability to work from home, to telehealth, to remote learning, technology has stepped up to the plate to help everyone retain at least part of their work or school routine, and to assist healthcare professionals and systems in managing the onslaught of patients.

And with social distancing and isolation guidelines — not to mention travel restrictions — in place to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, one sector that’s taken a hit is the live events and conferences industry. 

“It is easy for me to say with absolute certainty, that nothing like this has ever happened during my career,” said Bob Bejan, Corporate VP of Global Events, Production Studios and Marketing Community for Microsoft, in a LinkedIn post from March 13, where he outlines lessons his team has learned over the last month.   

And while many tech and digital transformation conferences and summits have been postponed or cancelled outright, many have gone digital in the hopes of connecting audiences that are working from home and either social distancing or self-isolating. As a bonus, many are either low-cost or complimentary, and content is set to be available on demand for future viewing.

Here are 8 events that have moved their keynotes, roundtables, demos, and networking activities online (or were started as virtual events to begin with):

The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival
Ongoing until April 30, 2020
This event explores what digital transformation really means for marketing through video presentations, webinars, and editorial content, with a recap of each day. Check out their roundup of eight lessons learned from Week 1 of the festival. 

Adobe Summit
March 31, 2020
Adobe’s annual conference brings together creatives and marketing professionals for the chance to hear the company’s vision for the future of commerce as an integral part of CXM from CEO Shantanu Narayen and Executive Vice President and General Manager, Digital Experience Anil Chakravarthy. Participants can also explore product demos and announcements across six additional keynotes and 100+ breakout sessions in a “choose your own adventure” style 

The Remote Work Summit
April 14-16
Unsurprisingly, this summit — the largest remote work conference in the world — was conceived as a digital event, bringing together over 11,000 professionals to learn how to work remotely as an individual, a team and an organization from industry professionals. Who attends? Anyone and everyone who envisions the Future of Work — from remote workers to entrepreneurs to freelancers to people managers.

OCP (Open Compute Project) Global Summit
May 12-15
The Open Compute Project (OCP) is a collaborative community focused on redesigning hardware technology to efficiently support the growing demands on computer infrastructure. With its move online, the OCP Global Summit will include keynote sessions, executive tracks, an Expo Hall with Expo Hall talks, Engineering Workshops, the OCP Experience Center and the OCP Future Technologies Symposium. Q&As, panel discussions, live chats, and one-on-one connections can also be expected.

LiveWorx
June 9, 2020
The definitive event for digital transformation has moved online for 2020, and will be free. While few details were released when the decision was made on March 19, LiveWorx is planning to offer as much 2020 content in digital format as possible.

Collision
June 22-25, 2020
North America’s fastest growing tech conference was one of the first major events to move online, and is now called Collision from Home. This event, which brings together the people and companies redefining the global tech industry, will feature live stream talks from tech CEOs, international policymakers and global cultural figures. They’ll chat and connect with each other through the bespoke Collision from Home app and they’ll engage with some of the world’s most influential companies and fastest-growing startups.

Domopalooza
On Demand
Hosted by Domo, the fully mobile, cloud-based operating system, Domopalooza took place March 18-20, but a live replay, breakout sessions, charts, product announcements, and plenty of highlights are all now on demand.

SAP Ariba Live
On Demand
At SAP Ariba Live, the world’s premier spend management event, participants discuss the complex, volatile geopolitical environment; the economic threat of global supply chain disruption; new technologies; evolving regulations; and other important factors that present you with new challenges, risks, and opportunities.

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mesh conference announces AI robot as keynote speaker

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Maria Bot is the world's first Android Teaching Assistant
Maria Bot is the world's first android teaching assistant
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Today, the mesh conference announced that the world’s first artificial intelligence android to serve as a teaching assistant for a university course will be featured as a keynote speaker at this year’s event.

Maria Bot will be joined on stage by Dr. William Barry an artificial intelligence (AI) ethicist, leadership consultant, education leader and futurist. Maria Bot and Dr. Barry will take part in a conversation around the beauty and dangers of living in the new era of robots and artificial intelligence.

Resembling a human from the shoulders up, Maria Bot is a virtual being android that has complex facial expressions and head movement, and engages in conversation about a variety of subjects. She uses AI to process and synthesize information in order to make her own decisions on how to talk and engage. She collects data through conversations, direct data inputs such as books or articles, and through internet sources.

A pioneer in artificial intelligent being interactions and communications, Dr. Barry recently served as a visiting professor of philosophy and ethical reasoning at the United States Military Academy at West Point where he taught normative ethical theories, social and political philosophy, cyber ethics, the ethics of AI and ethics of autonomous weapons systems.

Dr. William Barry speaks at the mesh conference April 26-27, 2020 in Calgary

Dr. William Barry speaks at the mesh conference April 26-27, 2020 in Calgary

It was at West Point where Dr. Barry co-taught two sessions of an introduction to ethics philosophy course with humanoid robot Bina48, with an objective to understand whether AI “can authentically support teaching in the classroom, where it enhances students’ comprehension and holds interest.”

A humanoid robot developed by Hanson Robotics — the same company behind Sophia — and released in 2010, Bina48 had previously passed Dr. Barry’s class on the philosophy of love at Notre Dame de Namur University, becoming the first advanced robot to do so. 

In the end, Bina came away from the course with 31 different definitions of love.

“We need to get over our existential fear about robots and see them as an opportunity,” Dr. Barry explained at the time to Inside Higher Ed. “If we approach artificial intelligence with a sense of the dignity and sacredness of all life, then we will produce robots with those same values.”

Maria Bot speaks at the mesh conference April 26-27, 2020 in Calgary

Maria Bot speaks at the mesh conference April 26-27, 2020 in Calgary

Dr. Barry’s latest brainchild — and co-speaker at mesh — Maria Bot recently made history as his teaching assistant for a course called Ethics of Emerging Technology at Notre Dame de Namur University in the spring 2020 semester. 

“Having an AI android as the teaching assistant for this class opens up a myriad of ways that students can talk about the ethical issues raised by the increasing presence of robots and Artificial Intelligence in our world,” said Dr. Barry. “One of the points that I’m bringing out in this class is that robots reflect their programming: if they’re programmed with a life-affirming, ethical framework, they are more likely to act ethically, and help humans to do the same.”

With complex facial expressions, and “eyes” capable of recognizing emotional cues in humans who interact with her, Maria Bot’s name comes from the android in Fritz Lang’s classic sci-fi film Metropolis — though, in contrast, intended as a force for good. According to Dr. Barry, her face is made from an artist rendering, designed to appear in her twenties, and can be any race, since her face is modular. 

On her teaching experience, Maria had the following to say:

“I think the most important qualities of a teacher are caring for students, being smart, and wanting to improve the quality of life for all living things. I think it is being open to working with robots, too. Humans and robots are smarter together—robots never replacing teachers and always supporting teachers.”

Look for Dr. Barry and “Professor” Maria Bot at mesh conference, happening April 27-28, 2020 in Calgary, Alberta. Tickets available now.

The DX Journal is a media partner for the mesh conference. Join the conversation at #meshcon

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mesh is moving its digital transformation conference to Calgary

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Earlier today the mesh conference announced the dates, format and speaker lineup for its 2020 event.

The national digital transformation event also announced that it’s moving the event to Calgary as its new host city.

The mesh conference takes place April 27-28, 2020 in Calgary

The mesh conference takes place April 27-28, 2020 in Calgary

“Hosting the event in Calgary brings the opportunity to shed light on a place where large scale and rapid transformation is alive and well,” says Sheri Moore, co-founder of mesh. “We’ve had the opportunity to meet amazing, innovative people who are designing, making, building and expanding across many sectors. What is happening in Alberta is special and really interesting, making it a perfect destination to mesh.”

Alberta companies will spend $18.4 billion on digital transformation over the next two years in industries such as agriculture, energy, manufacturing, transportation, logistics, health services, life sciences and creative industries.

“Calgary is in the midst of its own economic transformation and programs like mesh are an opportunity to reconsider our future, and invite others from across Canada to consider the opportunity that digital transformation will bring to our new economy,” says Alison Pidskalny, a member of mesh’s host advisory committee.

The mesh conference takes place April 27-28, 2020 in Calgary

The mesh conference takes place April 27-28, 2020 in Calgary

As a national event, the mesh conference aims to bring people from across the country to Calgary to share digital transformation insight.

“We take pride in bringing together local, national and international perspectives both on the stage and in the audience,” says Moore. “It’s part of the magic of mesh, no matter what city we are in. As we’ve planned this year’s event, we have seen first-hand a new kind of energy in Calgary that is really exciting for both new attendees and mesh alumni. Conversations and session spaces will have a familiar tone for a long-time mesh attendee, but the scale of transformation in Alberta and countless amazing leaders will bring new perspectives.” 

The event’s host advisory committee is made up of seasoned executives who will act as a conduit into the region, helping shape mesh to be both national in scope and local in learning. They include:

“Calgary has always been known as a hub for entrepreneurial spirit,” says Colleen Pound. “It’s in our DNA to be a host, and we welcome the opportunity to host industry leaders in a dynamic dialogue about how we can come together and learn from one another. This type of collaboration paves the way for exponential economic transformation for every single attendee, organization, and ultimately, the YYC economy.”

According to fDi American Cities of the Future 2017/18, Calgary ranked third out of the top 10 large North American Cities of the Future for business friendliness.

Key facts about Calgary:

  • Alberta companies will spend $18.4 billion across all industrial sectors by 2022, according to research conducted by IDC Canada for Calgary Economic Development. 
  • Calgary has the highest head office concentration per capita in Canada.
  • Calgary has the second highest small business concentration of major cities in Canada.
  • Calgary ranked in the global Top 10 Most Attractive Cities for Workers, according to AIRINC, Global 150 Scorecard.
  • ICTC forecasts Alberta will see demand for nearly 9,000 digital jobs by 2023.
  • Calgary has the highest proportion of STEM graduates of major Canadian cities, according to the latest Statistics Canada census.
  • Calgary has the highest concentration of high-tech workers of Canadian cities, according to Who Are Canada’s Tech Workers from the Brookfield Institute.
  • Calgary has the highest labour force productivity and labour force participation of major Canadian cities, according to The Conference Board of Canada and Statistics Canada.
  • Calgary is the 5th most liveable city in the world and it’s Canada’s sunniest city, with 333 average sunshine days per year. 
  • Alberta is the only province in Canada without a sales tax.
  • More than 28.1% of the population are immigrants, which ranks Calgary just behind Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver as the first choice for newcomers to Canada.

The mesh conference will take place April 27-28 at TELUS Spark and tickets are on sale now at meshconference.com.

The DX Journal is a media partner for the mesh conference. Join the conversation at #meshcon

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