Paul Salvini on the future of innovation and TheNEXT10

PSAL

The Accelerator Centre’s CEO reflects on what it takes to build a truly innovative business

What do a successful startup and a Hollywood blockbuster have in common? According to Accelerator Centre CEO, Dr. Paul Salvini, each one is a blend of business, technology and creativity — and the best businesses can do all three very, very well.

“Innovation happens in every part of an organization. People often don’t understand why an innovative business model can be as important as anything else. For instance, if you look at a company like Uber, there’s technology involved, but the real innovation is the customer experience.”

His philosophy of uniting varying disciplines is grounded in his own life experience. If you had asked a young Paul Salvini what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have said a photojournalist. However, as a summer student at small, local newspaper, he developed a program to help simplify the sizing process for images.

Building on his strengths in programming, he went on to earn a BMath in computer science from the University of Waterloo and MASc and PhD in engineering (computer simulation) from the University of Toronto. In order to balance his technical background with formal business knowledge, he also completed an MBA from the University of Toronto Rotman School of Business.

Whether by serendipity or intent, he managed maintain a connection to visual arts in his professional career as he guided innovation as CTO at Toronto-based Side Effects Software, makers of Academy Award-winning 3-D animation and visual effects software, and Waterloo-based Christie Digital, provider of world-leading digital projection and display technologies.

PrintAs Accelerator Centre CEO, a role he assumed in 2014, he now combines his business experience, technical background and 23 years of teaching, first at Ryerson University then the University of Toronto. He will leverage these skills as he helps further the organization’s vision to develop strong, scalable, globally competitive and potentially disruptive businesses.

“In the next 10 years, we will focus on helping to build holistic companies. The future isn’t just about interesting technologies, it’s about building strong businesses that innovate across all areas of operation from product development and market validation to growth strategy and culture creation.”

A cornerstone of this philosophy is the AC Momentum Program, targeted at early-stage companies in the process of identifying their business strategies. With the opening of the Reactor Space in August, 2015, the Accelerator Centre now has space to welcome an additional 30 companies into the program.

“There’s a rich ecosystem of entrepreneurship in the Region of Waterloo. As a whole, we need to work on enhancing this environment so that entrepreneurs can think and dream even more boldly.”

Bio

IMG_5805Family: He and his wife, Julia, have two children, Lindsay and Kai. The family pet is Penny a petite golden doodle.

Wishes he could have lunch with: Walt Disney

Best business book: Creativity Inc. by Pixar CEO, Ed Catmull

Who he admires: Anyone with a clarity of vision for what they define as success and who has worked hard to achieve it.

Three things people don’t know:

  • He’s a licensed, instrument-rated, commercial pilot with an interest in aerial photography.
  • He’s a devoted hockey dad and unofficial team photographer.
  • He also owns a Ducati

Armen Bakirtzian of Intellijoint looks back on the journey from Startup to Scale-up 

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For most people, hip replacement isn’t something that crosses your mind until later in life. But for Armen Bakirtzian and co-founders, Andre Hladio and Richard Fanson, developing a solution to help improve the outcomes of these surgeries became a launchpad for starting their company, Intellijoint Surgical Inc.

Together they presented their idea and won the pitch competition at the 2010 Ontario’s Next Top Young Entrepreneur Pitch Competition. That same year they were welcomed to the Accelerator Centre.

Looking back, Armen Bakirtzian, now CEO at Intellijoint, notes that when he and his co-founders first walked into the AC, they were all grinning ear-to-ear. After working in their basements, garages, kitchen tables or any space they could find, having an actual office gave them a tremendous boost in confidence and focus.

“It was an incredible experience. We met great people, got inducted into the ecosystem and took advantage of all the resources. To this day, we all feel that it was one of the best decisions we made.”

He added that as technical co-founders, they came into the program only having the experience of working on a school project. They hadn’t hired anyone or gone through any of the steps of establishing formalized business practices. However, they’ve come a long way since then.

On the day we spoke with Armen, Intellijoint was moving into a larger office. While staying in their current location, they were more than doubling their space. Since graduating from the AC in June, 2014 they’ve gone on to receive nearly $550,000 in FedDev investment.

Their flagship product, intellijoint HIP™, a surgical tool designed to enable orthopaedic surgeons to more effectively meet their surgical objectives and improve patient outcomes, earned them the 2015 North American Frost & Sullivan Award for Enabling Technology Leadership.

They’ve made significant inroads in the Canadian and American markets and they recently entered into a strategic partnership that will provide access to the Australian market.

With success, comes responsibility. Rising to the occasion, Intellijoint is dedicated to remaining in Waterloo Region. Armen firmly states, “Our focus to build ourselves here, to draw talent here and give back to the ecosystem — it all ties back to our time at the AC.”

THE RUNDOWN

Family: He is married to Garod Bakirtzian.

Business hero: His father.

Person he’d like to have lunch with: Carey Price

Guilty pleasure: Nutella 

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received: If you’re going to fail, fail quickly and move on to something else.

Three things most people don’t know: 

  • He’s from Quebec.
  • He has a scuba diving license.
  • He’s a godfather. (The mentoring kind, not the mafia kind.)

Waterloo firm charging ahead with electric vehicle stations

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Waterloo Region Record

WATERLOO — The Ontario government is leading the charge, so to speak, to expand facilities for electric vehicles.

By next March, a network of nearly 500 charging stations will spring up at more than 250 locations across the province — in cities, along highways and at workplaces and condo buildings.

Six of those stations will join three already in place at the Waterloo headquarters of FleetCarma, a company that produces a connected-car platform with a focus on electric vehicles.

FleetCarma’s in-car dongle — a small piece of computer hardware — gathers driving and charging data from electric vehicles, and can communicate with smart-charging stations that allow utilities to adjust the charging speed to accommodate broader demands on the power grid.

“For us, it’s really a chance to refine and showcase our smart-charging system,” said FleetCarma chief executive officer Matt Stevens.

The company has conducted demonstrations in such places as Germany, the United Kingdom and California. “It’s really nice to be able to showcase this at home,” Stevens said.

The government is footing the capital and installation costs of the $20-million charging station project — adding the six 7 kW chargers at FleetCarma’s building on Northland Road will cost just over $61,000.

“Part of this is going to be having a living lab,” Stevens said, adding his new stations could be installed by the end of the summer.

The charging stations will be available free of charge to FleetCarma employees. Currently, three of the 25 employees drive plug-in vehicles.

The public will also be able to access the stations at a cost of $1 per hour of charge. At least one station will be available at all times for the public and will deliver a full-speed charge.

Two types of stations are being installed in the provincial project — 213 will be level three or fast-charging stations that can charge many electric vehicles to about 80 per cent capacity in about half an hour, while 280 (including the ones at FleetCarma) will be level two stations that can charge most vehicles from empty in about four to six hours.

“Getting 213 fast-chargers in there dramatically changes the landscape for Ontario,” Stevens said. “This program will actually make owning a full electric possible.”

It’s estimated there are more than 18,000 electric vehicles on the road in Canada.

While plug-in hybrids have the flexibility of falling back on a gasoline engine once their batteries are depleted, all-electric owners don’t have that luxury and need to be thinking of their vehicle’s range and charging availability.

Right now, there aren’t many fast-charging stations in place in Ontario, Stevens said.

Adding charging stations at workplaces is also incredibly important in getting more electric vehicles on the road, he said. But charging vehicles can add considerable demand to a business’s power supply, and that’s where FleetCarma’s smart-charging technology comes in.

Vehicle owners can indicate when they need a charge to be completed by, and the charge can be portioned out accordingly. Moderating this electricity use can keep a business’s peak demand charge down and it can help utilities better manage demand on the grid.

“We want to make sure that electric vehicles aren’t making the grid less reliable, but actually making the grid more reliable,” Stevens said.

FleetCarma was founded in 2007 and was originally known as CrossChasm. Its connected-car technology has been sold in 23 countries and the company counts fleet operators, leasing companies, researchers and utilities among its customers.

Matt Stevens of FleetCarma talks lessons in technology and leadership

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How AC Grad FleetCarma is charging ahead with electric vehicles

It’s not easy to get in the front door at the FleetCarma, (formerly CrossChasm), offices. Seriously, the front door is really hard to find. But that’s okay, because their primary focus isn’t foot traffic anyhow. And they’re working on some big changes inside.

The Accelerator Centre Graduate, and recent recipient of $430,000 from the Sustainable Development Technology Canada’s (SDTC) SD Tech Fund™, has just made a major strategic pivot. With the electric vehicle industry at a tipping point, they have decided to focus on developing solutions targeted at overcoming the challenges of buying and operating electric vehicles, especially in fleets.

While it’s a complete change from consulting with manufacturers to design and prototype next-generation electric vehicles, they feel it’s a move in the right direction. Now that more electric vehicles are being made, people need the tools to help make the most of this technology.

In the midst of all these transitions, we caught up with CEO, Matt Stevens to discuss the AC’s 10th Anniversary and reflect on his time as one of the first 10 companies to participate in the newly created development and commercialization program.

Matt became interested in electric vehicles during his time at the University of Waterloo, where he earned a PhD in engineering. He met his co-founders in the University of Waterloo Alternative Fuels Team (UWAFT) when they participated in a smart car challenge developing a hybrid fuel cell for the Chevy Equinox. Even better, they won!

After graduation, mentor John Bell referred Matt and his colleagues to the Accelerator Centre in 2007. Upon entering the program, he recalls that he got a huge lesson in humility. “Going in, I thought that good technology was 90% of the equation. In reality, it was more like 5%.”

FleetCarmaTo demonstrate this point of the role of technology on its own, he provided this visual.

He also learned that “As the CEO, you’re not the quarterback or the coach, you’re probably the general manager. Your job is to put the right people in the right places and get out of the way.”

According to Matt, one of the most influential aspects of their time at the AC was working with the in-house mentors. They helped him and his company in the areas that needed the most attention, like sales and marketing as well as public relations.

Since graduating in 2011, they have participated in the development of many electric vehicles, including a stealth snowmobile and mining equipment. Due to the length of the development timeline, the world will continue to see vehicles they helped design well into 2020. But, with FleetCarma’s new focus on helping industries adapt their fleets, we will also see more of these vehicles in real-world applications.

THE RUNDOWN

Family: He and his wife, Amanda, have a 17-month-old daughter, Blake and will welcome a second daughter in May.

Business hero: Seth Godin

Person he’d like to have lunch with: His daughter, Blake

Guilty pleasure: Peanut M&Ms

The best piece of advice you’ve ever received: Build a not-to-do list.

Things most people don’t know:

  • He was one of three kids to help at the groundbreaking of the Canadian Tire Centre.
  • He still plays hockey.
  • As a kid he rode dirt bikes and had a special talent for landing in rivers.

AC Client Knowledgehook wins Google’s Game Changer Award at 2016 Demo Day

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Photo credit Peter Lee, Waterloo Region Record staff

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (May 4, 2016) — Canadian edtech startup Knowledgehook today received Google’s Game Changer Award at the tech giant’s annual Demo Day in Silicon Valley.

Travis Ratnam and James Francis were among the co-founders of 11 new tech companies invited to Silicon Valley to pitch today to a room full of top investors, venture capitalists and judges.

“We’re thrilled and grateful to have shared the stage with so many talented and passionate entrepreneurs,” Travis says. “The support we’ve received today will be pivotal to our mission of helping students all over the world build their math skills.”

Knowledgehook, based in Waterloo, Ont. has developed software that analyzes the academic performance of math students in real-time play to recommend to educators alternative teaching practices.

A popular exam prep tool among the 5,000 teachers in Canada and the United States who use it, Knowledgehook software unpacks students’ misunderstanding and suggests how teachers can address it.

Since September 2015, 12 Ontario school boards have been reviewing predictive insights the software generates for each student to help teachers adapt their lessons for optimal learning.

For example, early results from Knowledgehook suggest that at least 1 in 6 Ontario students in Grade 9 Applied Math are struggling to understand ratios. The finding, which echoes those of Ontario’s 2015 standardized tests, is based on analysis of more than 2,400 anonymized users between September and April 2016, accurate to within 95% confidence, and a margin of error of 2.5%.

“We’re optimistic that the accuracy and timeliness of Knowledgehook’s insights will advance school boards in their efforts to improve students’ academic performance,” Travis says.

To be selected to participate in Google’s annual Demo Day, startups must be legally incorporated and headquartered in the United States, Canada or Mexico and be actively raising a Series A round of between $1- and 4-million.

Knowledgehook was founded in 2014 by Travis Ratnam, Lambo Jayapalan, Arthur Lui and James Francis.

The team is grateful for the support of mentors from Communitech’s Rev and the Accelerator Centres’ AC JumpStartprograms, and, for recent funding delivered by Ontario Centres for Excellence (OCE).

Racing the Dream

How AC Client HH Development is making Formula 1 Racing into a data driven sport

J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote, “Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” For some this might seem like a flight of fancy. For others, like Andrew Hall, Director at HH Development, it’s a way of life.

He’s been fascinated by motorsports since he was a child. Now, through his company’s acceptance into the Accelerator Centre in September, 2015, his day job is his dream job.

HH Development currently has two business models. The first, HH Timing, provides endurance racing teams a consistent, accurate and graphical way to track metrics, like speed, fuel consumption and even the number of pit stops — details that matter when tenths of a second stand between a victory lap or going back to the drawing board.

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The second, yet to be named venture, is a two-pronged system of inventory management and performance tracking that they are currently developing for a major European tire manufacturer. Through the use of an RFID device, it can track a shipment of tires from delivery through to how each tire performed during the race.

Commenting on his Accelerator Centre experience so far, Andrew states, “It’s like I’m going to business school. But, instead of doing case studies on imaginary companies, when I graduate, I’ll have my own business.”

With a PhD in Systems Engineering from the University of Waterloo and Bachelor of Aerospace Electronics and Systems Engineering from Carleton University, Andrew is rightfully confident in his technical abilities.

However, he noted that even the process of applying to the Accelerator Centre was educational. “We literally didn’t know what we didn’t know about our business. Rightly or wrongly, we hadn’t made the time to develop a comprehensive business plan.”

During their first month in the program, the lessons that the members of HH Development learned were transformative. Andrew credits mentors Kevin Elop, Steven Fyke, Kevin Hood and Bob Rushby with helping his company evolve from operating in a young, ad hoc manner to adopting more more mature and viable processes, “We looked at our structure, our finances, our markets and basically everything.”

Recently when Kevin Hood stopped Andrew to ask why they hadn’t sat down to talk in awhile, Andrew answered, “Because I’m still addressing all of the things you opened our eyes to in our last meeting.”

Where would he like to be 10 years from now? He’d like to doing exactly what he’s doing right now, but on a larger scale, serving more clients. “We love what we do and we’ve only just gotten started.”

The Rundown

Business philosophy: There’s no substitute for the value of hard work.

Business heroes: All of the AC mentors.

Person he’d most like to have lunch with: Any of his clients or colleagues.

Things most people don’t know:

  • His attempted career as a racecar driver was woefully short-lived.
  • He’s lived in four countries (Canada, England, Austria and the United States).
  • He’s terrified of flying.
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