Pervasive Dynamics Aims to Improve Stroke Rehabilitation

AC Client partners with UW Research to create wearable technology to aid stroke recovery

Pervasive Dynamics - Press Release ShotThe University of Waterloo and Pervasive Dynamics will develop and test wearable health technologies that can improve stroke rehabilitation as part of a new partnership aimed at transforming the health of older adults.

The joint research initiative, the first partnership between Waterloo and the Canadian developer of medical devices, will be part of the new Advanced Aging ResearCH Centre (ARCH) at Waterloo.

“Advanced wearable sensors are the next generation of personalized health care,” said Professor Bill McIlroy, of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo and head of ARCH. “They enable us to gain insights that are just not available through off-the-shelf products.”

The new devices will allow researchers to extract sophisticated data related to a stroke victim’s cardiovascular and nervous systems, balance and gait, and generate tailored diagnostic reports to improve physical and mental rehabilitation.

The new partnership will also explore the development of other wearable health technologies for older adults.

“From the management of chronic disease, to fall prevention and mobility strategies, health wearables have the potential to make a huge difference for the elderly,” said Muhammad Khan, founder and CEO of Pervasive Dynamics, and an alumnus of the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology program at Waterloo. “If we can get technologies like these in the hands of the public and practitioners we can significantly reduce the impact and burden of an aging population on the Canadian health-care system by providing clinicians with more data on which to base health-care decisions.”

By 2030, one-quarter of the Canadian population — close to 8 million people — will be over the age of 65. Stroke is the third major cause of death in Canada, with approximately 50,000 Canadians suffering a stroke each year. More than 20 per cent of older adults will take serious falls, costing the health-care system $2 billion in related costs annually.

“ARCH is focused on facilitating advances in therapies to slow down the trajectory of aging and reduce the risk of age-related injury and disease,” said McIlroy. “If we hope to reduce the impact of an aging population, we need to start now.”

In May, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research awarded ARCH $1.3 million for a variety of diagnostic and measurement tools. The first of its kind in Canada, the facility will house the most comprehensive collection of equipment focused on aging in the country.

Kik valued at $1-billion

Messaging app gets $50M investment from China’s Tencent

Canada has another unicorn – a startup valued by private investors at $1-billion. Waterloo, Ont.-based chat app Kik joins the rarefied ranks of Shopify and others to become one of the few Canadian companies to garner the label following a $50-million (U.S.) investment from Chinese Internet giantTencent. The company said the investment brings its total valuation to $1-billion (Canadian).

Kik’s messaging app is immensely popular with 13- to 24-year-olds in North America and has 240 million registered users. Tencent is the $200-billion Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. arch-rival and owner of WeChat, a Chinese social messaging platform that Kik has aspirations to become. It’s a strategic partnership to help the startup win mobile messenger supremacy, and perhaps put Waterloo, home of BlackBerry Ltd., back on the map.

Mobile chat apps are central to today’s smartphone-governed lives and increasingly offer more than just chat functionality. Many Asian messenger apps have already evolved, such as Kakao (South Korea), Line (Japan) and WeChat (China). Recognized as the most sophisticated in this space, WeChat allows users to do things such as browse e-commerce stores, read the news, pay bills and order taxis or takeout, all alongside the app’s core messenger and social-media functionalities. In a nutshell, it’s the all-encompassing app, the platform within a smartphone.

And Kik is set on becoming something just like it for North American users. Last November, Kik founder Ted Livingston published a piece on the Medium website titled The Race to Become the WeChat of the West. It’s a race the company is intent on winning, which is why in April the company hired well-known Silicon Valley investment bank Qatalyst Partners to help it find the right partner – Tencent was a natural choice.

“What they are doing in China is what we want to do in the West, and they said they could help us do that,” Mr. Livingston said. “It was really a mutual coming together.”

Although the company is not yet profitable, its collects revenue from brands that sign up for accounts on the app, Mr. Livingston said. The high valuation is not rare for companies in the mobile space, where much of the value is tied up in the so-called network effect – the idea that by building a massive number of users first, revenue will follow.

The funding will be used primarily to grow the Kik team and to expand offerings on the app, and is not a precursor to a sale. “This is just a straight financial investment,” Mr. Livingston insisted. “There’s no strings attached; it’s an investment as a venture capitalist would make, but we will benefit from the informal advisory and sounding board Tencent will be for us.”

The money and advice will certainly be much needed in this so-called race, which, while still early, has already whittled out other contenders.

“It’s about building a chat ecosystem, with all these services from food to shopping to games … that live and exist and grow on top of the core chat,” Mr. Livingston said. “And I would say the only two companies that get this in the West are us and Facebook.”

Boris Wertz, founder of Version One Ventures and a long-time watcher of the chat-app space, believes Kik did well by knowing early on that it would be a platform, although even with the lead “it’s difficult to out-Facebook Facebook,” he added. “[Facebook has] so much scale and funding and on top of that is running a very aggressive product with Messenger. Kik needs to find a large enough niche to build its platform around.”

So far, Kik’s niche has skewed young (the company claims about 40 per cent of U.S. teens use the app), which is a benefit in terms of capturing the future market, as well as helping shape user preferences and habits early on. “It’s with youth that we see the opportunity to build an ecosystem; we are not trying to get them to switch services, but to adopt services.”

Nevertheless, whether North American users will embrace this next-generation chat app still remains to be seen. “Sure, people look at WeChat and think, ‘How cool that you can get all these products and services,’ but it might well be because there was no bigger social network that took off in China,” Mr. Wertz noted. “Can it work as well where you have very strong social networks already in place?”

Streetcast a Huge Hit at Elora Riverfest

Locally developed mobile app to bridge gap between consumers and merchants

marraStreetcast is a mobile application designed to connect users with interesting things happening nearby. This weekend’s Riverfest music festival in Elora will be the launching ground for the new tool.

The app allows merchants to quickly create an advertisement or message and distribute it broadly to anyone with the app. Mobile users will be able to see any messages broadcast, or “Streetcast”, within a radius of seven kilometres, and the ads will let the user know how far they are away from the shop or event.

Ramsey Marra, co-founder and CEO of the app, said Streetcast is different than Twitter, Facebook or other social media platforms because it allows merchants to reach out to new audiences, not just those who already subscribe to their feed.

“Consumers might know what’s around them in terms of physical locations, but they actually don’t know what’s happening inside those businesses at that moment,” Marra said.

Businesses also suffer from a similar problem. The No. 1 challenge for small businesses is new customer acquisition, he said. “How do you get those people on the street to walk into your business with the intent to make a purchase?”

The Streetcast app will allow anyone in the area to see what merchants want customers to know, whether it’s a half-price sale on coffee for the next two hours, or a flash sale at a local business. It’s like a hyper-local social network.

The new app is available now on Apple and Android devices, but will be officially launched at Riverfest this weekend. Users will be able to see ads from festival vendors, or hear about upcoming performances.

Marra, 34, has been living in Elora for the past five years. He said he was happy to launch the app in his hometown. Festivalgoers will be able to see messages from vendors at the event, but also from local businesses outside the gates of Riverfest.

Working with his co-founder, Harry Major, a former software executive at RIM, Marra said the idea for this app came about 2.5 years ago. After the launch at Riverfest, he said he has plans to expand to the Hells Kitchen area in New York City and then in Santa Monica, Calif.

The app is intended to be used in cities, he said, but he’s happy to have it tested out at Riverfest. Streetcast is a sponsor of the festival and QR codes will be printed on festival bracelets, bringing users a direct link to the app.

Jon Ralston, director of the festival, anticipates the app will be well used by vendors and festival organizers alike.

“We’re using it as a way to let the people at the festival know what’s going on, surprise things, whether a food vendor has a specific deal on something. All those things can be updated in live-time, so everybody can be checking that,” he said.

Sometimes at music festivals, the unexpected happens. Ralston said the app will be used to announce those unscheduled moments to anyone listening in.

“We’ve got Tim Kingsbury from Arcade Fire playing,” he said. “If, for example, other members of Arcade Fire showed up and did a small thing, we could post that.”

Riverfest won’t be handing out paper schedules of when bands are set to perform. Instead, the festival has made a PDF schedule available online and will be using Streetcast to announce upcoming artists.

Marra said he’s already partnered with the Downtown Guelph Business Association to distribute this app to local businesses in the city. The official launch in Guelph won’t be until the students return. Marra is currently in talks with the University of Guelph student association. He said the app could help students connect with what’s going on in the downtown.

The app is free to users who are just looking to browse what’s going on around them. Merchants looking to advertise will pay a monthly fee of $12.95, unless they’re connected with the downtown business association. Membership with the business association will get vendors a discount. For them, using the app will cost $9.95 per month.

APrivacy to open regional office in Hong Kong


APrivacy, formerly I Think Security, has announced plans to expand operations to Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong was a natural choice for us,” said Dr. Cedric Jeannot, APrivacy’s founder and CEO, who travelled to the Asian financial capital to take part in the FinTech Innovation Lab in 2014.

Jeannot has made several trips between Waterloo Region and Hong Kong, with help from the Canadian Digital Media Network’s Soft Landing program, and those visits led to the decision to establish a permanent presence.

“We were exposed to potential clients and came to understand the need for security and compliance in this region,” said Jeannot. “We recognized that setting up an office in Asia would allow us to tap into a large new market.”

APrivacy, which specializes in encryption and tracking technology for financial institutions, will continue to be a Canadian company headquartered in Waterloo Region, where its core research and development operations are located.

“The support of the Canadian Government, and the Accelerator Centre and Communitech incubators in Waterloo, has been vital to our success, and we want to retain a key presence here,” Jeannot said.

Since June, the company has changed names and more than doubled its size, a trend it expects to continue over the coming months.

Its new Hong Kong office will focus on client relations.

Photo: Hong Kong Gets Ready to Party! by Steve Webel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The AC Announces Major Expansion

Reactor provides space for 30+ early-stage tech companies

Today, we are excited to formally announce a major expansion of our facilities and services to better serve early stage companies and entrepreneurs within Waterloo Region.

Reactor, our new 8,000 square foot facility located in the Innotech Building in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park, represents a significant expansion in both space and capacity for us. Dedicated to early-stage clients in the AC Momentum program, Reactor nearly doubles the number of companies that the AC will house, allowing us to help even more technology businesses.

“AC Momentum was launched in the fall of 2014 to address the growing number of early-stage companies that were coming to us, but weren’t ready to enter our flagship Accelerator Program,” explains CEO Paul Salvini. “We could see the tremendous potential of these companies and, rather than turn them away, we created AC Momentum and developed a one-year curriculum that is tailored to the needs of early-stage companies; validating their idea and preparing them to enter the Accelerator Program and start scaling their business.”

“There are limited resources for an early-stage company and as an entrepreneur, it can be challenging to play every role, from product development to marketing, by yourselves,” says Peter Whitby, CEO of O2 Canada. “But through AC Momentum we have a place to develop our technology and access to expertise in those key areas that allow us to make the best decisions as we build our business from the ground up.”

Leveraging research from the University of Waterloo’s Air Pollution Research and Innovation Lab, Whitby and his Co-founders, Brandon Leonard and Rich Szasz, are working in Reactor to develop the world’s first connected respirator, with a replaceable smart filter and accompanying application for monitoring and tracking.

AC Momentum was initially housed in a 1700 sq. foot space within our existing building. However, that space filled quickly and demand continued to rise. Working in partnership with Cora Developments, we were able to carve out a new home for the program – one that is more than four times larger than the original space, offering start-ups an open concept space built around the theme of creative interaction. In total, Reactor will house approximately 30 companies.

“The Reactor expansion would not have been possible without the support of Cora Developments, the City of Waterloo, the Canada Accelerator Incubator Program, the Campus-Linked Accelerator Program, and The Cowan Foundation, whose generous contributions have allowed the AC to expand support for early-stage innovation,” notes Salvini.

AC Grad Clearpath Robotics expands into Silicon Valley

The Kitchener, Ont.-based company says it plans to open a product design facility in the San Francisco Bay Area before the end of the year.

It would be Clearpath’s first office outside the Kitchener-Waterloo community where the startup launched about six years ago.

Clearpath makes driverless vehicles for mining companies, the agriculture industry and the military.

The company was started by four University of Waterloo students who decided to build a robot in their downtime after, they say, they became bored with their internships.

Read the full press release here.

Congratulations Clearpath Robotics!