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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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Data-Centric Innovation Day panelists predict the future of DX technologies

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Intel made some big announcements at the company’s Data-Centric Innovation Day in San Francisco. Business leaders from tech and enterprise gathered to discuss how data specifically, and digital transformation technologies as a whole, are driving change throughout industries across the globe.

Data, AI and Analytics

While it may seem like data and AI are pushing enterprises to evolve at light speed already, the best is yet to come, according to Intel’s panelists at Data-Centric Innovation Day.

Madhu Matta, VP & GM of High Performance Computing and AI at Lenovo, says he believes AI is still in its infancy, and companies like Lenovo and Intel need to make AI easier for customers to harness. Dirk Basenach, Senior Vice President, SAP HANA, concurred, adding that explainable artificial intelligence will be key in the coming years, as customers are not adapting to AI because they don’t understand why it’s working.

Adding to the AI conversation,VP Product Development at IBM Data, Madhu Kochar, said that there is “no AI without IA” (information architecture) — indicating that business leaders who are paying attention to their information infrastructure are best positioned to develop value from their AI processes and tools.

Regarding data and analytics, Alex Lam, Vice President and Head of Fujitsu’s North American Strategy Office, indicated that with the volume of data being the biggest challenge for Fujitsu’s customers, the next big question is, “how do they shift gears and start looking at the relevance of data?” The ease of use when it comes to data management is not where it could be, said Lam, in order to allow enterprises and businesses to work smarter with their data on a regular basis. The heterogeneity of database systems is also a challenge for vendors, driving serious demand for data engineers.

The panelists made some predictions on where they see things headed for AI, data and analytics in five years’ time:

  • Kochar emphasized the need for developing trust in relation to AI, stating “I do think AI is going to generate a lot more jobs”, and foresses the development of devices which will help humans in every part of our lives
  • Matta said he hopes to see a move to machine-supporting-machine processes, rather than the machine-supporting-human processes which currently dominate AI practice
  • Ravi Pendekanti, SVP of Server Solutions for Dell, forecast that by 2024, 20-30 percent of the data being collected will be analyzed (as opposed to the meager two percent, according to Intel, being analyzed currently) and hopes to see the creation of prescriptive AI, touching on the cognitive side of the technology’s development
  • Lam said that as AI is incorporated more into edge computing processes, we will see more of what AI can deliver, from the home to the smart city

The changing face of networks

The promise of edge computing and the rise of 5G networks excited the panel moderated by Sandra Rivera, Intel SVP, GM, Network Platforms Group.

While Rivera asked panelists to nail down a killer use case for 5G and edge computing, the field is just too wide for the panel to have come to a conclusive answer. Quanta Cloud Technology President Mike Yang did mention early success for enterprise: Rakuten’s deployment of 5G technology has helped the company to provide better service to its large user base, boosting the company’s revenue growth. Looking ahead, Nokia’s Sandro Tavares made the case for cloud gaming, using 5G networks in order to increase the reach of the gaming industry to a whole group of people currently out of the market, with edge-based operation to create a high-latency service.

The panel also discussed the developing trend of networks administering to thing-to-thing networks, rather than person-to-person, as the IoT continues to evolve. Chris Wright VP and CTO at Red Hat emphasized how this evolution in networks will benefit remote medical care, smart city environments, and enterprises. While adopting 5G is not as appealing as some other technological projects, argued Wright, they will seriously move the masses forward when it comes to sustainable revenue models for bigger parts of the tech industry.

Life in the cloud

As the cloud panel at Data-Centric Innovation Day made apparent, we are still in the early stages of seeing exactly where cloudification is headed and what kinds of services businesses will be looking for from cloud providers.

There are many directions multi-cloud environments could go in the next few years. But in these early days of cloud adoption, said Paul Nash, Group Product Manager at Google Cloud, the focus remains on customers who are trying to make the right decisions about what kind of cloud to move to; it’s a question of determining the right workload in the right place for the right business case. Microsoft Azure’s Senior Direct Talal Alqinawi expanded on this point by indicating that providers are no longer building the cloud and then waiting for people to use it whole-cloth, but building it with customers and what they want in mind first and foremost.

Alqinawi outlined the three aspects of cloud services that people are asking for currently:

  • discovery/assessment — is the cloud the right answer for the solution?
  • help me move to the cloud
  • help keep me in the cloud

Connecting these three aspects of cloud will drive value and improve service quality as a whole, said Alqinawi.

Moderator Lisa Davis, Intel’s VP, Data Center Group, GM, Digital Transformation and Scale Solutions, asked the panelists for what they saw as the biggest challenges customers are currently facing in the multi-cloud environment:

  • Kit Colbert of VMware pointed to IT operations, as he sees people dealing with the complexity of rolling out operations across multiple locations
  • Gurmeet Goindi of Exadata at Oracle pointed to uneven, siloed data visualization being seen by data stakeholders, not meeting the requirements of that customer; Goindi said that AI and ML will help this, creating a unified access method for data
  • Alqinawi pointed out the need for consistency of products across cloud environments; while also mentioning how crucial it will be to develop seamless, secure user experiences in the cloud
  • Nash indicated that reckoning cost and financial control in terms the customer can relate to will be key; making the new, cloud-oriented resource economy more visible makes the customer feel more in control and comfortable with the cost of cloud options
  • VP and General Manager of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Krista Satterthwaite said that people are looking for a different kind of help for cloud, and the the challenge lies in managing and recruiting talent; HPE has invested in a variety of different enterprises to meet this requirement

The panel discussions during Intel’s Data-Centric Innovation Day showed that, while there’s a lot to be aware of as great changes sweep through enterprise businesses, the animated discussion from Intel’s partners showed there’s also a lot to be optimistic about.

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Intel embraces DX at Data-Centric Innovation Day

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Intel’s recent Data-Centric Innovation Day in San Francisco showed how the company is putting digital transformation at the forefront of its business strategy, to build a bridge from its former position as the big name in PC CPUs, toward a more agile future. In a competitive world of business technology startups and scaleups, Intel is putting its DX foot forward, and showing how the company’s own innovations can help its global customers to embrace the wins that comes with digital transformation.

While the event was a product launch for all intents and purposes, there was a bigger story going on at Data-Centric Innovation Day: the positioning of Intel as a data-centric enterprise and the company’s emphasis on collaboration with its customers around the world as they undertake digital transformation.

At the event’s outset, Intel CEO Robert Swan predicted that the company’s data-centric total addressable market will be 200 billion by 2022. As a continually growing number of organizations move to the cloud, and C-suites continue to look to AI and analytics to develop their competitive advantage, this kind of market growth for the IT giant seems reasonable.

At the core of Intel’s data-driven shift is the customer experience. As Swan stated at the event, Intel is looking to become ‘customer-obsessed’ through the company’s new focus on data. While the role of a processor or a new hardware product within enterprise organizations has not radically shifted — it remains just one piece within the larger technology structures powering digital transformation — Intel’s attitude around their hardware and software offerings, and how they play into the customer’s overall business technology experience, has certainly taken a big leap forward.

The 2nd-Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Processors are all about data and digital transformation.

In a press release for the event, Navin Shenoy, Intel executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group, noted that the new technology was all about putting data first:

“Today’s announcements reflect Intel’s new data-centric strategy. The portfolio of products announced today underscores our unmatched ability to move, store and process data across the most demanding workloads from the data center to the edge. Our 2nd-Generation Xeon Scalable processor with built-in AI acceleration and support for the revolutionary Intel Optane DC persistent memory will unleash the next wave of growth for our customers.”

Intel unveiled a new range of products, including the next generation of Xeon Scalable Processors. The new Xeon line was designed with DX tasks in mind, and the processors look to aid Intel clients with AI processes, cloud and edge computing and with running rapidly growing workloads. The new processors feature DL Boost, a unique inference acceleration offering designed specifically for AI-heavy processes.

Intel

Lisa Davis (left), Intel’s VP of Data Center Group and General Manager of Digital Transformation and Scale Solutions, unveils new security solutions.

The technology giant also emphasized the security enhancements of the new range. VP of Digital Transformation at Intel, Lisa Davis, announced during the event that Intel has partnered with Lockheed Martin to create hardened, full-stack security solutions for CIOs and CESOs. Processing and moving more data than ever requires ever-evolving security, and Intel made a point of emphasizing their dedicating to this element of their new product line.

DX at the heart of Intel’s announcements

For an established tech company like Intel to take on data in such a massive way should be no surprise to digital transformation diehards. But for those still hesitant to take on data management as a bigger part of their organization, Intel’s focus on moving, storing and processing every bit of client data should act as a wakeup call for those still holding out when it comes to digital transformation efforts.

The shape that Intel’s technology is taking, as innovations like DL Boost and the cloud-centric nature of the company’s new security offerings show, is all about meeting the digital transformation needs of customers around the world.

“You can’t digitally transform as an organization if you’re focused on aging IT practices,” said Intel Canada’s Phil Vokins during an interview on the day of the event. “I think the one thing we’ve seen today which we should all be excited about is the range of capabilities and performance that we’re enabling, which was unthinkable even a couple of years ago. It’s not just about the performance of the processor, but look at the memory we can have per socket now. This will really enable businesses to take advantage of the information they have.”

Collaboration with partners and clients key

This focus on a holistic approach to data is not something Intel is doing on its own. The emphasis of Intel’s Data-Centric Innovation Day was so clearly on collaboration, with many major players in the IT and enterprise world contributing to the event. During his keynote, Shenoy was vocal about Intel’s broad set of partners and customers, emphasizing branching out and building a bigger business ecosystem.

Every technology showcased during the product launch was tied back to one of Intel’s global partners: AWS, Vodafone, Twitter, Microsoft, Alibaba, and other companies were featured and promoted through Intel’s own announcements. Featuring partners like this led to some very conversational panels on the nitty gritty of DX throughout the day’s events. But this collaborative approach to the technology also highlighted another aspect of Intel’s digital transformation journey.

Vokins said that, for Intel, the process of digital transformation is also a question of interpreting what’s happening in the world of business technology and turning that information into valuable insights to improve performance.

“We’re in a very fortunate position, given our market share, that we have huge amounts of information and resources and access to leading businesses. So we need to make sure that we can disseminate, understand and rearticulate that information back.”

Vokins emphasized the need to collaborate around each digital transformation insight, “so that we can all learn from it, and learn how customers are embracing technology to rapidly improve performance.”

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Three speakers you can’t miss at Big Data Toronto 2019

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The 4th annual Big Data Toronto will bring 150 experts in front of thousands of attendees eager to navigate the world of big data. From analytics best practices to future-proofing your data strategy, the conference will unleash a wealth of data-oriented knowledge.

The conference, which takes place on June 12th and 13th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, will host experts covering topics essential to modern businesses, as well as product demos and skill-based workshops.

Make sure you follow this link to grab a free pass to the event. But once you get inside, what does Big Data Toronto 2019 have in store for you? We’ve highlighted three of the speakers that you can’t miss out on.

1) Jennifer Nguyen – Lead Data Scientist, Sun Life Financial

Insurance is an industry that’s been steeped in data for decades. Having the knowledge to track and drive insights from that data can create immense value for enterprises like Sun Life FinancialJennifer Nguyen led analytics efforts at the Globe & Mail before becoming Sun Life Financial’s Lead Data Scientist, a position in which she helps the company’s clients by building intelligent data solutions.

2) Patrick Surry – Chief Data Scientist, Hopper

Hopper is a major player in the $800 billion industry of travel bookings. The company reports over 35 million installations of its app — and smart use of data has helped the Montreal-based company make that impact. Patrick Surry is a leading practitioner of global analytics, working with Hopper to extract insights and create a wealth of value from the large volumes of travel data that the company works with on a daily basis.

3) Sina Shahandeh – VP of Data Science, Ecobee

Ecobee’s smart home devices are driving the world toward a greener future. Their data-driven solutions for customers are helping homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on energy costs. Last year, the company closed its Series C funding round to bring Ecobee’s total funding up to $200 million. Sinah Shahandeh heads Ecobee’s machine learning and AI efforts, leading the design of human-centric AI for the company’s line of products.

 

Check out the Big Data Toronto 2019 website for more details.

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