Excited to Partner with Bereskin & Parr for New Business and IP Initiative

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The Accelerator Centre is pleased to announce it has entered into a new partnership with Bereskin & Parr, a leading Canadian intellectual property law firm. The AC is dedicated to commercializing research and developing globally competitive businesses. The partnership aims to provide businesses with strategic intellectual property (“IP”) information and legal services required to grow their companies in Canada and abroad.

“We are very excited to be involved with the Accelerator Centre,” says Jason Hynes, partner with Bereskin & Parr. “We are looking forward to working with companies at an earlier stage and helping to develop the necessary IP foundation to assist them long-term.”

Bereskin & Parr works extensively with current Accelerator Centre Clients and Graduates. The firm plans to expand these relationships and assist clients to develop their business by providing IP education and one-on-one consultations.

“The Accelerator Centre has some of the most innovative and promising companies in the country,” says Jim Hinton, associate with Bereskin & Parr. “This new initiative allows us to be at the forefront of Waterloo’s technology scene while helping innovators strategically use their IP as they commercialize and grow.”

“We’re excited about this partnership and the opportunity it presents for our Clients,” says Paul Salvini, the Accelerator Centre’s CEO. “Helping the companies we work with to develop and protect intellectual property is a core part of our program and a critical component in their business success.”

Bereskin & Parr is proud to partner with a dedicated business resource in its ongoing mission to provide world-leading IP law services and expertise to build strong relationships with clients, firms, researchers and educators.

Kik valued at $1-billion

KIKMessaging 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-HongKong

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

00392P_accelerator_centre_018Today, 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.

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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!

Top 10 Tactics for Managing in an Empowered Environment

McBrideBy Kurtis McBride, CEO, Miovision

When I talk about our empowered culture at Miovision, people – particularly potential hires – tend to ask essentially one question: How does one “manage” in a culture in which everyone is bright, talented, and encouraged to contribute equally?

It can be a challenge, especially during times such as these; times of rapid growth and exciting innovation.  If a manager empowers a team too much, it feels like abdication. If he or she empowers a team too little, it feels like micromanagement.

We’ve developed ten tactics to help our leaders better understand their roles and find the right balance. I shared this document with the team, but it is also summarized here:

1. Define the Purpose

Your most important role as a leader in an empowered culture is to define and continually promote Purpose. Purpose can be defined for a specific project or for the company as a whole. Without Purpose, no team can be expected to execute in any way, including an empowered way. Talk it up. Talk it up, all the time.

2. Live the Values

Your second most import role as a leader in an empowered culture is to live the Values of the company at all times. At Miovision, we have two sets of Values: Core Values and Product Values. We apply these Values dogmatically; there are no exceptions when it comes to our Values, period. One of the more critical parts of a leader’s job is the interpretation and application of the Values to everyday decisions.

3. Use Emergent Planning

In an empowered company, staff stakeholder buy-in is vital. Your staff has to be on board with your goals and actions. At Miovision, we use Emergent Planning. It requires three tools that can be found in any office: sticky note pads, pens and a whiteboard. It’s a simple process:

  1. Pick a topic that you are trying to set goals for
  2. Determine the stakeholders who need to be part of setting the goal for it to succeed
  3. Have stakeholders come to a meeting with specific actions they believe are part of the goal
  4. Have everyone independently write down the specific actions – one per sticky note
  5. Take turns sticking the notes on the whiteboard, grouping them with similar sticky notes as you go
  6. Collaboratively devise common phrasing for each group of actions that stakeholders agree to.

At this end of this process, you will have developed a goal that all stakeholders are aligned with.

4. Use the 3-Decisions Rule

In a truly empowered environment, differences in opinion can lead to deadlocks. Enter the 3-Decisions Rule. As its name would suggest, this tactic allows each leader to break with Empowerment and unblock deadlocks three times a year. The 3-Decisions Rule achieves three things:

  1. It sends a message that while leaders can disempower on occasion, it is a scarce commodity that they reserve for only the most critical of situations.
  2. It creates a space in an empowered culture where teams know that if a leader uses as decision, he must have a good reason, because he just used 1/3 of his annual capacity.
  3. More often than not, it creates a culture where teams work hard to build consensus so their leaders do not have to use one of their three decisions.

5. Drop Breadcrumbs

In a fast-growth environment, a company must embrace constant change – and as we all know, companies and individuals tend to be change-resistant. In a traditional hierarchical business, a leader can “force” change into the organization. In an empowered organization, though, we must build constituencies to create change. One way for leaders to do this is to “drop breadcrumbs.

A leader seeds the benefit of the change with the stakeholders who would benefit from it and encourages the stakeholders to share the seeded idea with individuals who need to change their process or behaviour. Over a short period of time, several stakeholders will approach the individual, each with their positive perspective on the required change. This will often result in the individual coming to a conclusion that the change being advocated is not only required but also in their own and the company’s best interest.

6. Create a Vortex

Sometimes breadcrumbs take too long and a high-growth company needs to ramp up to maximum velocity. On rare occasion, a leader may need to create a “vortex.” Danger: it’s disruptive and can lead to feelings of short-term disempowerment, so should only last a week or two. An example of a vortex might be the creation of a small, focused team with an intense meeting schedule. The goal of the vortex is to create a new normal (new process, new team, new culture, new project, etc.) in a compressed timeframe.

7. Be a Woodpecker

Like the Vortex, being a woodpecker should not be overused. Being a woodpecker can be combined with other tactics or used on its own. Being a woodpecker means that at regular and deliberate intervals, perhaps every morning, you check in on the status of a project, priority or task. It’s repetitive and you can feel like you’re being annoying, but it demonstrates to everyone the importance of what you’re asking about.

8. Use Tribal Accountability

The most effective way we have found to drive accountability in an empowered organization is to use the power of “tribal accountability.” Here, a leader does not drive accountability using traditional top-down tactics. Here, we use daily stand-up meetings, open team presentations of progress, and weekly/monthly company meeting formats. These meetings create public discussion and commitments, break down silos, and distribute accountability through a team.

9. Organizational Structure = Intersection of Passion, Skill, Need, Values

Our organizational structure is optimal when each individual is working on something that he or she is passionate about and uniquely skilled at. Leaders here must be able to answer which of the five states below each of the team members is in:

  1. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is good at, that the company needs, that he is passionate about it.
  2. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is good at, that the company needs, but he is not passionate about it.
  3. Someone fits the values, is working on something he is passionate about, that he is not good at, or that the company does not need.
  4. No one is working on something that the company needs because no one is passionate about it or good at it.
  5. Someone does not fit the values.

Number 1 is the ideal state for an individual in an empowered culture. Numbers 2 and 3 should result in the leader and the individual working together to get to Number 1. Number 4 should trigger a new hire to be added to the team. Number 5 should result in coaching from the leader and/or a transition for the individual.

10. It’s Better to Multiply than Divide

The key enabler of growth for an empowered organization is the capacity of leadership to increase its own capacity. Culture is the culmination of values, purpose and the daily experiences created through the nine tactics above. The role of leaders at Miovision is not only to use the tactics, but also to teach the tactics to emerging and newly hired leaders.

And that’s the key thing: If you work for Miovision, we’ll show you how to put the “power” in “empowerment.” We are committed to it.

How to work a room at an important networking event

Clinging to the same person can cause missed opportunities.

by Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify.
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In the long list of all of the things we have to do to be successful in our careers, networking is one of those activities that can evoke feelings of reluctance, awkwardness, embarrassment and the general sentiment of “Ugh, do I really have to do this?”

Figuring out how to walk into a room full of strangers and have a meaningful, natural, productive conversation can be challenging. All too often, we shrink back to the comfort of furtively searching the room for familiar faces and gravitating to the friendlies we recognize. Before we know it, an hour or two has elapsed, and we’ve accomplished nothing more than showing up and shooting the breeze.

While I’m a people person at heart, networking will never be something I look forward to. But I also understand that it’s a necessary and important part of the job, so I developed five tips to help you make the most of every opportunity:

1. Pick your events carefully
I could easily attend an event 10 nights out of every month if I wanted to — from CEO dinners to local tech events, investor cocktail parties and monthly startup volleyball, among others. I used to attend everything I could until it dawned on me that half of the events weren’t meeting personal needs (e.g. to have fun) or furthering my business, and I was seeing many of the same people over and over again.

I’m much more discerning and strategic now about how I spend my time and who I spend it with. Consciously think about what the event is going to get you and whether or not it’s worth it for you to be there.

2. Plan ahead
Is it an event or activity geared to making connections with potential customers, investors or someone else relevant to your business? If so, do your homework first. Try to find out who’s going to be there. Reach out ahead of time and see if you can lay a soft foundation for meeting one to three new people. Making a connection in advance completely eliminates the awkwardness of starting from ground zero when you get there. I’ll bet it helps the other person, too.

3. Set a goal
Here are a few potential goals to think about achieving: Meet a minimum number of new people; practice your sales elevator pitch two times; practice an opening greeting or two to see what works; and be on the receiving end of someone else’s pitch. Figuring out even one meaningful takeaway will make your goals worth the time. Give yourself a networking challenge like talking to three people who are wearing blue at an event.

4. Show up early and look your best
It’s much easier to engage with someone new when there aren’t many people in the room. And once you’ve had one conversation, it’s easier to move onto the next. Dress for success. People like to speak to other people who look confident and put together.

5. Don’t be a cling-on
We all know the type, and we’ve all been there. After working up the courage to speak to someone who looks equally uncomfortable, it isn’t wise to cling to each other for the rest of the night. Force yourself to move on. In fact, if you start a conversation that quickly seems like it won’t prove to be of value, end it politely with, “It’s been lovely talking to you, but I don’t want to monopolize your evening.” Then catch the eye of another person. In fact, catching the eye of anyone within spitting distance gives you the immediate opening to say, “Hi, there. Have we met before?” Don’t let that opportunity slip away.

The trick to networking is doing it with purpose. Have a plan, and even if you don’t come away with a new prospective customer or investor, you hopefully would have left a lasting and positive impression that pays dividends down the road.

How Will Humans Work with Robots?

Clearpath Robotics co-founder Ryan Gariepy was recently featured on Bloomberg Business to discuss how robot makers are designing machines to interact with humans.

Miovision a Canadian tech exporting success story

“Congestion, traffic, it’s a global problem….”

Tony+Brijpaul+-+Miovision+2“…It’s not specific to North America or Europe or any particular country or city,” says Kitchener, Ont.-based Miovision Technologies Inc.’s chief operating officer Tony Brijpaul. “When we started Miovision, we always knew we would become an export-focused business.”

Founded in 2005, Miovision was conceived by Mr. Brijpaul and co-founders Kurtis McBride and Kevin Madill after Mr. McBride had spent summers as a University of Waterloo student at a job sitting on a lawn chair, holding a clipboard and counting cars.

While it was a cushy summer job, it was a crude way to gather data for smart cities of the future, says Mr. McBride: “[It’s] a manual and time-intensive process, not to mention frequently inaccurate. Cities would make road construction decisions with 30-year implications based on potentially bad data.”

A decade later, Miovision has about 600 customers in about 50 countries, with a sales satellite office in Cologne, Germany. “We’re in every continent except Antarctica,” Mr. Brijpaul says.

Read the full article in the Globe and Mail.

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