Innovation Inside: Dematic


How Dematic is investing in R&D to solve complex problems

Imagine you work in a warehouse and have to package up a pallet with various products to be shipped to a grocery store – items like pop, chips, pasta, canned goods, etc. It’s pretty simple, right? You put the chips on top of the pop because if you did it the other way, the chips would get crushed. You put the heavier boxes at the bottom to create stability so the whole thing doesn’t fall over.

Simple. Except it isn’t. In reality your brain is just really, really good a quickly identifying an objects physical properties – weight, shape, stability – and solves what is, in fact, a rather complex mathematical problem without you even being consciously aware of it. But if you’re not really aware you’re doing it, how would you teach a computer to do it? There are so many variables you can’t possibly program them all; you need to create software that can think intuitively, extrapolate, and learn from each experience.

It’s an immensely complex problem, and one that Dematic is hoping to solve through research. Dematic is a global player in the supply management and warehouse automation field, with roots that can be traced back to 1819 and the founding of German crane manufacturer Demag.

Their Software Development team in Waterloo is considerably newer – an arm of the company that landed here in 2013 thanks largely to the company’s commitment to researching problems and finding creative solutions.

A few years ago, Dematic started to invest in new product development, with a specific focus on software to help companies optimize their supply chains. The company sought out a top tier executive who could lead a new software R&D team and quickly found on Pete Devenyi, former SVP of Enterprise Software from BlackBerry. Interested in learning more about Waterloo Region, Dematic researched the community and found a university globally-renowned for research and innovation, a top ranked talent pool, and one of the most robust tech communities anywhere in the world.

They made a decision: why bring Devenyi to Michigan when the talent, resources and research capabilities to build the cutting edge software they needed were here. And so Dematic’s Waterloo office was born.

Devenyi subsequently hired Scott Wahl, a former BlackBerry colleague as software director to run the Waterloo office. They have now grown the Waterloo branch of Dematic to 30 people, including co-op students and recent graduates from University of Waterloo, and there is no signs of stopping. The team works closely with the rest of the global software organization, with teams in US, Germany, and Australia, to accelerate software innovation and product delivery. While the team is part of a $2B global organization, they have enough autonomy to run like startup. This allows them to remain nimble and flexible, but still have the resources and confidence of a large organization to back them up.

Innovative ideas aren’t exactly new to Dematic – in 1908 the company (then Demag) built the world’s largest floating crane, which was used to construct the famed White Star steam ships RMS Titanic and RMS Olympic.

But, what sets Dematic apart today is a focus on using research to stay ahead of the curve. Through a partnership with the University of Waterloo’s Department of Management Sciences in the Faculty of Engineering, and leveraging grants from both Collaborative Research & Development (CRD) and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), Dematic has been researching and developing advanced mathematical models and machine learning algorithms to solve complex automation problems.

One of the focus areas for the Waterloo team is to develop advanced analytics capabilities. The end goal: give customers the insights they need to manage their operations efficiently and turn managers into researchers within their own warehouses; constantly analysing, improving, and iterating on design and process, rather than simply repeating– leave that for the robots!

Dematic is also investing in the future of innovative supply chain management through the  Dematic Scholarship for Excellence in Supply Chain Optimization with the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Engineering. The scholarship is awarded to one male and one female second year engineering student at the University, selected based on academic standing and an essay submission.

In an age where consumer expectations, not organizational capabilities, determine who succeeds, Dematic’s seems poised to change the way we experience receiving… well, just about everything.

The Accelerator Centre Announces Third AC JumpStart Cohort

26 Companies receive funding and mentorship to grow their businesses

The Accelerator Centre is pleased to announce the third cohort of the AC JumpStart program. 26 companies were selected to participate in the program, which provides funding and mentorship aimed at growing their business and accelerating their sales.

CoinValue — coin valuation software and hardware developer

Digital Governance Group —real-time political engagement software platform

Dimples — customized 3D printed jewellery

Eleven-X — cellular IoT hardware and software

English Never Stops — cloud-based peer-to-peer language acquisition platform

FishBuoy — Software offering real-time water and environmental conditions to anglers

Fidget Toys — developers of a multifunctional stress-relief toy

Find BoB — online marketplace easing the transfer of financial business ownership

HealthIM — standardizing hospital admission processes for persons with mental illness

HH Development — data management solution for professional motorsports

Horizon Solutions — helping building owners improve energy efficiency

InkSmith – Manufacturing filament (ink) for 3D printing using bioplastics and 100% recycled materials

iSports Development — software platform connecting professional and amateur athletes

Kineris — wearable devices that speed recovery from joint injury or surgery

Local Line — connecting local food suppliers to customers

Massuni — allows users to easily design customized furniture that meets their exact needs

ONEIRIC — sports tech manufacturer

Palette — platform of physical input devices for improving creative workflow

Pressa — developing a water bottle allowing users to naturally flavour water

Streetcast — mobile platform that allows organizations to communicate with local residents and visitors

TaaCam — virtual reality (VR) and higher dimensional (3D/4D) digital image or video solution

Thalo — revolutionizing the way information is displayed on portable devices

UCIC — enables users to see any place in the world in real-time by connecting people.

Vidhub — platform for profs, students and researchers to have discussions in a sandboxed environment.

VIV Life Group — helps people discover meaningful experiences that are curated just for them

zpharm — medical tech company focused on smoking cessation

Through the AC JumpStart program, each company will receive $30,000 in seed funding, $10,000 worth of mentorship from the AC’s team of industry experts, as well as access to market research, investor connections, and the AC’s network of Clients and Graduates.

About AC JumpStart

Funded through an $8 million commitment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the AC JumpStart program is delivered in partnership with Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

The AC JumpStart program began in January 2015, with three cohorts of companies participating in the program in 2015, and two cohorts annually in subsequent years. Each cohort receives funding and mentorship over a 12-month period. Over the next four years (2015-2018) the program will support 180 companies.

Founder of SSIMWAVE Recognized with Engineering Emmy® Award

Studies Estimate Three-Quarters of Consumer Internet Traffic will be Video by 2017

Zhou Wang, co-founder of AC Client SSIMWave Inc., and Professor at the University of Waterloo, was presented with an Engineering Emmy by the Los Angeles-based Television Academy on October 28, 2015, at the 67th Engineering Emmy Awards for his contribution to the development of the Structural SIMilarity (SSIM) Index for video quality measurement. Only a handful of Canadian (individuals or companies) have received this prestigious award.

The SSIM index family of algorithms, invented by Dr. Wang, are now the most widely used method for measuring video quality used throughout the media, telecommunications and entertainment industries.  Recent studies estimate by 2017 over three-quarters of consumer internet traffic will be video. Video is the future of content marketing – quality, speed and flexibility is crucial.

“Structural Similarity (SSIM) is an algorithm for estimating the perceived quality of an image or video. Its computational simplicity and ability to accurately predict human assessment of visual quality has made it a standard tool in broadcast and post-production houses throughout the television industry. SSIM uses powerful neuroscience-based models of the human visual system to achieve breakthrough quality prediction performance. Unlike previous complex error models that required special hardware, it can be easily applied in real time on common processor software. SSIM is now a widely-used perceptual video quality measure, used to test and refine video quality throughout the global cable and satellite TV industry, and directly affects the viewing experiences of tens of millions of viewers daily.” — Television Academy

On being selected for this award, Dr. Wang commented: “I’m extremely happy to receive the Emmy from the Television Academy. It was a lot of fun when we did the SSIM work more than 10 years ago, and it was also very exciting seeing it being recognized and used by more and more people in academia and industry over the years.”

Over the past decade following the development of SSIM, Dr. Wang, Dr. Abdul Rehman, Co-Founder, President & CEO of SSIMWave, and Dr. Kai Zeng have made many breakthroughs and improvements to SSIM in terms of accuracy, speed, applicability and flexibility. “SSIM is just a starting point and we do not stop there. We have been making continuous effort to deliver more useful tools for automatic assessment of video quality and to help improve the visual quality-of-experience of everyone” said Dr. Wang.

In 2013, Drs. Wang, Rehman and Zeng co-founded SSIMWave, Inc., in Waterloo, ON, a spin-off company from the University of Waterloo Commercialization Office (WatCo) with the assistance of their business adviser Mrs. Ling Loerchner.

The SSIMWave team developed SSIMplus, a new set of algorithms enabling the team to develop new software solutions which are revolutionizing both the broadcasting of video (TV and internet), improving end-user visual experience, optimizing bitrate, and enhancing video streaming quality-of-experience. Video is the new document, and SSIMWave’s products for video quality of experience measurement and optimization offer crucial solutions in this rapidly expanding and competitive environment.

SSIMWave’s SQM hopes to be the Gold Standard Video Quality of Experience Monitoring Solution for file based internet video, and their SQM Live for live video – both revolutionize today’s approach to video content processing and delivery for the optimal visual quality of experience for end-users. Their optimization software includes SSIMWave’s Perceptual Bandwidth Optimizer and Smart Video Streaming for video delivery.

Magnet Forensics Announces Strategic Partnership with U.S. Intelligence Community’s Strategic Investor


Co-development of digital forensic tools will support law enforcement and national security agencies’ recovery and analysis of digital evidence

AC graduate Magnet Forensics, a global leader in the development of digital forensics software, today announced that it has secured a strategic partnership agreement with, and investment from, In-Q-Tel, Inc. (IQT). IQT is the investment organization that identifies innovative technologies to support the mission of the U.S. Intelligence Community.

“We are driven by our mission to support law enforcement and public safety organizations by providing them the tools they need to uncover the truth,” said Magnet Forensics Founder and CTO, Jad Saliba. “Our strategic partnership with IQT and, in turn, the U.S. Intelligence Community will help us better understand the evolving nature of crime and the digital evidence associated with it so we can continue to innovate and provide the tools required by law enforcement and the national security community.”

Magnet Forensics’ flagship product, Internet Evidence Finder™ (IEF), recovers unstructured data such as social media, chat, and email from computers, smartphones, and tablets, and structures it for analysis and collaboration. IEF has become an indispensable tool for forensic professionals as they investigate cases related to cybercrime, terrorism, child exploitation, and insider threats. It is currently used by 2,700 public safety organizations in 92 countries.

“IEF allows agencies to combat the rise in cyber and traditional crimes that are enabled by new technologies by streamlining investigator workflow, reducing case backlogs and getting to the facts quickly to determine what happened,” said Adam Belsher, CEO of Magnet Forensics.

“Magnet Forensics has shown itself to be an innovator in the development of tools to support recovery of critical digital evidence,” said Simon Davidson, Partner at IQT. “We are proud to partner with Magnet Forensics to expand the capabilities of its existing products for use by IQT partners, and create new tools that help keep communities safe.”

Axonify Wins Gold Award from Brandon Hall

AC Graduate wins coveted award for Best Advance in Unique Learning Technology.

The Brandon Hall Group Excellence Awards Program is one of the most prestigious awards programs in the industry. Axonify’s win was announced on December 3, 2015. The winners are listed on the Brandon Hall website.

“Brandon Hall is incredibly well-established as a market influencer and we’re thrilled to be recognized by their esteemed experts for our innovative technology that pushes beyond the boundaries of traditional eLearning offerings,” said Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify. “Axonify has always been about integrating proven learning techniques into our technology that help employees build knowledge and apply it on the job. Our unique and complete approach gives employees the knowledge they need to perform better at work, so organizations can solve real business challenges, like poor customer service or safety issues, that can cost them millions of dollars.”

Axonify recently announced the launch of its full-scale Employee Knowledge Platform. The platform now offers everything an organization needs to ensure employees have the knowledge they require, assess if employees are applying what they’ve learned on the job, and measure the bottom-line impact.

“Our award winners are the most visionary and innovative developers of HCM technology solutions that move organizations forward in serving employees, customers and investors,” said Brandon Hall Group Chief Operating Officer Rachel Cooke, who runs the awards program. “I think everyone can learn from the achievements of our award recipients.”

“These award-winning solutions were closely evaluated by our judges for not only their innovation, but the real results they brought to the organizations,” Brandon Hall Group Chief Executive Office Mike Cooke said. “That is what makes our technology awards program special – connecting creativity and innovation to direct business results.”

A panel of veteran, independent senior industry experts, and Brandon Hall Group senior analysts and executives evaluated the entries based upon the following criteria:

  • Product: What was the product’s breakthrough innovation?
  • Unique differentiators: What makes the product unique and how does it differ from any competing products?
  • Value proposition: What problem does the product solve and/or what need does this product address?
  • Measurable results: What are the benefits customers can expect to experience as a result of using this product?


AC Grad Sober Steering aims to ‘sniff’ out drunk driving

This article originally appeared in the Globe & Mail

David Friend – Canadian Press

homepage-hero-bgInside a few Canadian school buses a new sensor technology is helping keep drunk drivers off the roads.

It’s part of a test project underway at Sober Steering, a Waterloo, Ont.-based startup that aspires to make the breathalyzer obsolete with a different way to monitor blood-alcohol levels that’s both faster and cheaper.

Sober Steering uses touch-based biosensor technology to monitor the person behind the wheel, essentially sniffing alcohol through their skin.

Before they start the engine, the driver must place their palm on a sensor built into the steering wheel to activate the vehicle’s ignition.

When they’re on the road, Sober Steering requires the driver to “check in” with the system to ensure they haven’t sneaked a few sips. If the driver consumed alcohol it would only take the sensor five minutes to detect the ethanol off the palm of their skin.

If it does, the system alerts a home base, which can be police or a transit system’s headquarters.

Catherine Carroll, Sober Steering’s chief operating officer, believes the technology could reshape how we monitor drinking and driving. Plans are to gradually roll out Sober Steering in various fleet vehicles, like construction machinery and coach buses.

But before that happens, the school bus industry is helping launch the concept, partly because the entire industry is a lightning rod for attention when drivers are caught intoxicated.

“Almost every week you have a public arrest of a school bus driver somewhere in North America that’s been drinking and driving with kids in the back,” Carroll said.

“Now that’s a public arrest — that doesn’t include kids calling their parents and saying the bus driver is drunk and then the (bus) company coming and handling it, or the company handling it first thing in the morning,” the next day, she added.

Sober Steering is marketing its sensors as a way to stop those problems before the engine starts. Three school bus companies in the Waterloo area are already backing the system in a pilot project.

“It’s a springboard into other vehicles, but also there’s something inherently emotional about a big yellow school bus,” Carroll said.

“It’s filled with children and that’s our most precious cargo.”

Sober Steering began with Dennis Bellehumeur, a man from Windsor, Ont., who came up with the concept.

Around that time, Carroll, who grew up in Florida, was working as a New York investment banker, but she had a change of heart during the economic crisis and changed careers to focus on financial advice to tech startups.

That’s when she crossed paths with Bellehumeur, who was looking to turn his idea into a business. The two worked together until Bellehumeur eventually left the company. He has since died.

Carroll oversaw turning the idea into an actual device with the help of her physicist father.

“Certain sensors were being used in the military where they would put chemical sniffers on the tip of a weapon, (it) would go to a specific location … and sniff the air to detect chemical weapons,” Carroll said.

“It was a matter of how we designed one for commercial use at a sensitivity level that would be required for the human body.”

In 2009, with the help of provincial funding, Sober Steering brought on researchers from the University of Waterloo to help develop the sensors.

However, there are a few setbacks in the current model. For example, hand sanitizers can lead the sensors to inaccurately detect an intoxicated driver within roughly a minute of application, Carroll said.

It’s also not yet ready for consumer vehicles where the driver could get a passenger to easily apply their hand to pass the sobriety test.

Those kinks are being worked out, Carroll said.

Once that happens, she hopes to bring Sober Steering into the mainstream for convicted drunk drivers who require a monitoring device such as an ignition interlock but want to remain discreet.

“It’s really hard to park in the employee parking lot because people see you using it,” she said.

“We wanted something that was very low profile, so that even the people in your car wouldn’t know about it unless you were drunk.”

Bringing those plans to market could take years of working through both technological adjustments and finding partners in the auto industry, but Carroll is hopeful that once the technology catches on, it will gain momentum.

“We’ve got gradual steps to take,” she said.

Creating Meaningful Core Values That Drive Success


47942710_illustrationThis post originally appeared on Jackie Lauer’s LinkedIn page

Most leaders see the benefits of having formal corporate values. With the right investment of time and energy, corporate values lead to greater engagement, improved performance and overall success. When they’re not done properly, you end up with hollow statements that no one takes seriously.

Meaningful core values are part of a company’s DNA. They articulate what an organization stands for, highlighting the expected behavioural norms and skills. They form the core of its culture.

Your company’s core values influence the employees you hire and how your company spends its time and money. When tough decisions are needed, it’s your values that drive them.

Core values: more than “the CEO said so”

Too many times, a company’s values are determined by direction from above. “The CEO says this is what we stand for. Send it out to employees and put it up on the wall.”

Taking that approach can cause more damage than not having any values statements at all. First and foremost your leaders must be committed to upholding your values no matter what.

Being committed may seem like a no brainer, but when a situation comes up that calls for a difficult decision, it can be tempting to forget the values. If one of your values is respect in the workplace and you have a key, brilliant executive who is a well-known tyrant, are you willing to confront the issue and invite them to leave if they refuse to change? If your values include quality in your products, can you turn down a client if they ask you to cut corners for the sake of speed?

Nothing will kill your efforts faster than leaders who do not lead by example. Your values will be rendered meaningless, which creates cynicism, destroys employee engagement and reduces productivity. Bottom line: it’s bad for business.

I am blessed to be a mentor at the Accelerator Centre in Kitchener Waterloo. I am often asked by our start up clients if identifying their core values, or even their culture, matters at such an early stage. The answer I always give is a resounding YES! The reality is that the core values already exist within the founding partners but they are just not conscious of it. Somewhere in their decision to become a company and to partner with each other they were honoring some values that were very important to them. My job as their mentor and facilitator is to help them to consciously articulate their mission, their vision and their core values. Those core values are what they use to hire those first critical employees in their startup and those same values, much like big business, are used to drive behaviours, decisions, and ultimately performance.

Tips for working on your own values

Developing your corporate values takes time. The process should never be rushed. Leave room for reflection to make sure you can actually live with them.

  1. Pull together members of your organization. Include your leadership and also involve a broad representation of your employees and members of your customer groups and partners.
  2. Share stories to uncover what’s actually important to your company. Ask questions like why did you want to join the company? Why do you continue to work here? Why do you buy from us? Ask for tangible examples of a recent awesome moment or important decision that demonstrates what’s important to the company. Remember, values guide our behaviour and our decision-making.
  3. As you go through the stories use a facilitator to listen for action verbs and capture the value statements.
  4. Once all the values have been captured, identify the common ones and look for those that overlap with similar or same meanings. Get your list down to four or five key values to live by.
  5. Now it’s time to ensure these really are your core values. Look at important decisions that were made in the past month or quarter. Identify where those values were not really honoured. On the other hand, what values were honoured when those decisions were made? Meticulously review every part of your operations to understand if there is any place in your organization where you cannot honour your values.
  6. Now that you have your list of four or five core values, ensure your team can describe them in detail. Values must be seen as fundamental, enduring, and actionable. If they are too vague, no one will know how to follow them. The best test is to figure out how to explain them to a new employee, with concrete examples so they know what your values look like in action.

Living those values in the day to day

It will take time and effort to weave your values into everything you do, from your hiring methods to customer service. They will impact performance management, how you reward employees and dismissals. Your values will be at the heart of what you promise customers and how you react to complaints. You’ll witness a definite connection between your internal culture and the brand you present to the world.

When a company is operating according to its values, it’s like a well-oiled machine. There’s a surge of energy. It’ll be reflected in your employees, they’ll feel connected and proud of their work. Productivity can improve dramatically as teams and departments are aligned to the right priorities that support common goals. Conflicts are quickly mitigated and even prevented.

You’ll stand out against organizations that make empty promises. Your customers will see it too, making it easy to feel good about choosing you.

Jackie Lauer
 is a Corporate Culture Guru and founder of Heart of Culture, a passionate leadership coach and often invited keynote speaker. She is also the Accelerator Centre’s Leadership and Culture mentor. Known for her no BS approach and sense of humour she’s here to help you transform your company’s culture into a thriving workplace.