SPARK – AC JumpStart Showcase

SPARK brings startups who have received the AC JumpStart grant come together with industry and community members to showcase their work and celebrate the strength of the ecosystem.

The Accelerator Centre Will Welcome Minister Bardish Chagger to the AC to Celebrate Local Startups and Announce Cohort 7 of the AC JumpStart Program

Media Release

November 7, 2017

To Celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Accelerator Centre will welcome the Honourable Bardish Chagger, Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Minister of Small Business and Tourism and Member of Parliament for Waterloo, for our annual AC JumpStart signature event, SPARK, on November 14, 2017.

AC JumpStart is an innovative seed funding and mentorship program, funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), aimed at helping technology startups establish and grow their business in southern Ontario. The annual SPARK event highlights some of the brightest entrepreneurial prospects in the Waterloo Region and gives the community early access to these up-and-coming startups.

Companies who have received the AC JumpStart grant within the last year will present their technology in a fair style showcase and will compete for “investment dollars” from the audience. The three startups with the most “investment” will get three minutes to present their startup to the audience. The top startup will take home a cash prize provided by our AC JumpStart sponsor, Gowling WLG.

“We are excited to showcase some of Waterloo’s top up and coming technology companies. Through our partnership with FedDev Ontario, we are helping accelerate businesses through providing essential early stage financing, in addition to the Accelerator Centre’s renowned mentoring program. As a result, Waterloo startups are building better products faster, getting sales traction, and developing a solid foundation to aid them through growth to scale because of this program.” – Clinton Ball, Director of Client Program and Initiatives

SPARK is open to the public and members of the community and local media are welcome.

Please visit our website for more detail or to register to attend.

For more information contact:

Tabatha Laverty
Community Manager
tlaverty@acceleratorcentre.com

 

Bridesmade: Empowering Women with a New Approach to the Bridesmaid Dress

Mallory Mckewen, like many young women, started noticing a big frustration when it came to wedding seasons and being a bridesmaid: dresses.

It is the pinnacle of the wedding, the aesthetic of the bride, groom and their respective wedding parties. However, when it comes to bridesmaid dresses, the challenge is the hassle of inevitable alterations and costs, not to mention the fact that oftentimes the dress is only worn once! Having that same (or similar) dress fit each bridesmaid properly so everyone feels and looks good is important, but it becomes a costly and tumultuous adventure for everyone involved.  Having gone through this frustration herself and with friends expressing the same thoughts, Mallory knew there had to be a way to make this easier and more cost-effective for women everywhere.

That is when the company, BridesMade was created.

A New Approach to Bridesmaid Dresses

Mallory wanted to create a business that gives women the option to rent-a-dress, rather than buy the dress out-right. The biggest issue, especially for twenty-something women who are often involved in several weddings a year, is the cost. A dress typically costs $300- $400 dollars and more after alterations. On top of that, the dress is realistically only worn that one time. Mallory was determined to make the lives of twenty-something women easier and to fulfill her promise to customers, to keep the costs low.

But with all the different sizes and alterations required to make a dress fit just right… it still ended up being quite costly, and with the rental option, it meant future alterations once again. She knew there had to be another way. After a ton of research, tests, trial and error, and feedback, the company decided to make a pivot in the business model to offer a better solution to bridesmaids.

A New Approach: The Affordable and Adjustable Dress

This business model pivot meant taking a new, innovative approach to the current pricey bridesmaid industry. Mallory decided the only way to create a rentable, reusable and cost effective dress for bridesmaids, would mean creating an original line of adjustable dresses.

This change for the business was an uneasy but necessary one to make as Mallory recalls, “I was nervous, being that I don’t have a background in fashion – but from a finance and numbers perspective, I knew this was the answer to solve the current frustrations, so we decided to go all in with both feet.” That change lead to a system and a product line that not only works and helps customers from a cost standpoint, but delights bridal parties in how stress free and easy it is.

The company uses software which records all dress orders, measurements, colours, styles, costs, etc. They in turn use data to show women what dress styles and colours are recommended based on their sizes and requests. Once all the data is collected from the bridesmaids, the product is sent to production and delivered with ample time before the big day. Mallory explains the choice they give their clients,

“We give women the choice to rent or buy the dresses too. It is easy to rent and reuse, because the dresses are adjustable, keeping costs low for everyone involved. Some women opt to buy because with an adjustable dress, it can be used again and again for multiple occasions. Either way, we are happy because we created a system and product that helps women and makes their lives and those special occasions easier to plan for. Without that dress-stress, it leaves more space to genuinely enjoy their time and celebrate the occasion. That makes what we do worth it!”

When making that business model pivot, Mallory had to establish relationships with factories and manufacturers who could construct and make these dresses. During that time, she also brought on a partner to help scale the business, COO, Kaleah Baker of Calgary. A year ago, they had more demand than they could supply and knew that with the new idea for adjustable dresses, they were on to something big, but needed support. That is where the AC Jumpstart program came into the picture.

AC Jumpstart = Game Changer

Mallory recalls how BridesMade joined the program at the most optimal time. With the capital they were able to establish key manufacturer relationships, to create their first line of dresses, which allowed them to backfill orders, work more weddings and test out the product with ideal clients.

“The mentorship was so helpful. When we started this business, we never imagined that we would end up creating lines of dresses. To set up those types of key relationships with fashion experts, manufacturers and production companies who could make the dresses adjustable in the ways our data said was required, was something we learned how to do with the help of valuable mentorship. Before Jumpstart we had officially worked with one wedding party. Over the course of the last summer, we have now successfully serviced 50-60 weddings with 100% satisfaction in our customer feedback. It’s only up from here.”

Both capital and the invaluable mentorship empowered BridesMade to make the key partnerships to create the product and deliver exactly what their clients were asking for.

What is Next for BridesMade?

Moving forward, BridesMade is planning for the launch of a new collection of dresses this December.

Thus far, BridesMade has been working weddings primarily in Southern Ontario. In 2018, BridesMade is expanding to provide dresses to weddings all across Canada. They are continuing to build out their software, new dress lines and scaling up their capacity to service weddings across Canada and beyond. Mallory and her Co-Founder are overjoyed at the journey they have had thus far and are excited to move forward and continue on with the upwards momentum and growth.

LIIV Builds a Privacy Oriented Social Network for Men in Developing and Socially Conservative Countries

Technology allows us to connect with other people at the touch of a button, all over the world. There are mobile apps today that allow us to easily connect with others, whether we want to strike up conversation, create meaningful friendship or meet a potential love interest. It has become so normative, that we may not even stop to consider that it isn’t as easy as “swiping right” in other parts of the world or more socially conservative communities. Furthermore, the fact that almost 80% of the world’s population still live in developing countries, drove the two founders to help effect change. Kirk and Chad, with cultural roots in Canada and the Caribbean respectfully, understand the challenges that individuals face in developing or more socially conservative countries, especially for those in the LGBTQA+ community.

Inspired by the limitations individuals face due to lack of control and privacy while trying to connect with others online, they decided to create a privacy oriented social network for men that gives users more control of the online chat and dating experience. The app was named LIIV in the hope that users worldwide would be inspired to live on their own terms. For many people, particularly gay men, in these developing or conservative countries being public about one’s sexuality may result in ostracization or even physical harm. LIIV provides a safer, more privacy oriented platform that allows users to express themselves and socialize with greater peace of mind.

What makes LIIV different

Many mainstream apps simply allow users to connect with each other without much focus on privacy and user control. Furthermore, they allow for integration with publicly shared information like Facebook, Instagram, or even the ability to share screenshot captures or messages from a chat conversation. LIIV’s unique suite of safety and privacy features include screenshot blocking, location faking, disappearing messages, unsend messages, app cloaking and more. Privacy is of the utmost importance and the founders Kirk and Chad have gone through great lengths to ensure that users feel comfortable and in control when using the app.

More than just an app for social good, the founders have identified proven monetization strategies for their business, already in use in the industry at large. These include premium subscriptions, advertising, e-commerce, licensing of key features to noncompeting firms via API packages, as well as the white labeling of the app for different use cases / industries that experience similar privacy and security concerns (law and medicine among them).

Building of the App

Kirk and Chad knew that they wanted to build the app in Canada for a few reasons. They wanted to become a part of the tech ecosystem in Kitchener-Waterloo, wanted to leverage the resources, talent and community here and they wanted to build the best app possible with developers of various cultural backgrounds and perspectives. Recently, and with the assistance of the Accelerator Centre, Kirk received permanent residence through the Canadian Government’s Startup Visa Program, so the team could continue to grow in Canada. They mostly bootstrapped the building of the app, and were able to secure funding with the AC Jumpstart program and hire local developers to help them build a secure, private and intuitive app experience for their users.

How AC Jumpstart Helped

LIIV went from conception to a developed app within the span of 10 months. Chad remarks, “AC Jumpstart allowed us the funds to secure talent and resources to build our app and quickly. We worked very hard with our team to make this happen and now we are proud to see LIIV in the app store, with users from areas such as: the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia and Canada. The vast majority of our users thus far have downloaded the app organically and we are receiving positive feedback. We are excited and motivated to take that feedback and continue development of an app that is truly helping the LGBTQA+ community.”

 

The LIIV team is very passionate about their cause to create technology that allows men to connect with other men safely and securely, regardless of beliefs, geographic location, values, community, etc. “No one should ever feel shamed or sheltered from making meaningful connection with others- we want to enable and empower men in developing and socially conservative areas”.

LIIV has also teamed up with a local Non-Profit called, Rainbow Railroad to giveback and collaborate on this project. The goal is to spread awareness, increase visibility and use the tech platform for good, and the Rainbow Railroad partnership has given mutual, invaluable collaboration in that respect. LIIV hopes to connect with other non-profits and passionate communities as they grow to spread the word and giveback.

“AC Jumpstart truly gave us the ability to build the interface of the app with which our users connect on. Looking at development, design and operating costs to build a robust app with the security/ privacy functionalities required, makes it a lengthy engagement without proper resources, team members and skill sets to build it. AC Jumpstart expedited everything with both monetary value, valuable networks of developers/coders for hire, the mentors who helped us and much more. We now have a team of four, our app is in the app store, we are getting great reviews and feedback and new users everyday.”

What is Next?

The LIIV team is now looking to secure seed funding to continue working with Canadian talent to develop new features, to build the highly sought after IOS version of the app and to expand their presence into Central, South and East Asia for interested users. Meanwhile they are appreciative of the progress made so far, they understand that the journey has only just begun, and are buoyed by the opportunity to positively impact the lives of tens of millions of men worldwide.

AC JumpStart is made possible by and investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with Conestoga College, Laurier, and the University of Waterloo.

Penta Medical Changes the Healthcare Game with Wearable Technology, Helios

Alexa Roeper is the driving force behind an innovative medical science product called Penta Medical. She has a background in biomedical science, is an avid horseback rider, and an athlete. It was a personal injury after horseback riding that inspired her to look into alternative healing methods, which ultimately led to the creation of her company.

Alexa experienced an injury years ago that was predicted to take her months to recover. Being an active and motivated (or self proclaimed, impatient) athlete ready to jump back in, she began thinking of all the other people that must experience this frustration with limited options available to expedite the healing process. That is when Alexa began exploring ideas to help not only herself heal faster, but others as well. The result was a serious fascination with the science of infrared therapies and how to innovate and build on that existing service to offer a more convenient, fast and mobile way to help those with muscular and or skeletal injuries heal faster.

 

 

Wearable Medical Technology! How Does It Work?

As a business owner, athlete and young professional, Alexa understands how busy life can be, to the point where it can interfere with getting proper healthcare, especially after experiencing sport related injuries. Many athletes, both amateur and professional, can experience lingering effects from previous injuries, so Penta developed a wearable product called Helios.

Helios delivers infrared therapy, a widely adopted method used at physiotherapy clinics, to the areas of injury or pain. The current prototype, operates much like an adjustable armband, that can be worn directly on the injured area, which then helps accelerate patients’ recovery. Helios is a way to effortlessly treat injuries and pain management from the comfort of your home (or anywhere you find yourself in a day). It is light, mobile and therefore patients can go about their day, and while doing so, “speed healing”, on their terms and within their schedule. Alexa shares, “Our goal with this technology is to make healthcare easily accessible and mobile, like many of our lives in this digital, fast paced world.”

How Did They Do It?

Alexa and co-founder Daniel Choi have been working hard and over the last year have accomplished a great deal. Penta, which got it’s start in the Velocity Science Program has also been a part of the Fierce Founders program, has pitched and secured 250K in investments, and is a part of the Accelerator Centre’s AC Jumpstart program.

Penta’s AC Jumpstart Experience

We asked Alexa what she and her team got out of the AC Jumpstart experience and this is what she had to share,

“AC Jumpstart has been instrumental in our company’s growth. Through funding and resources we were able to build the prototype of our wearable tech, Helios with a digital app which allows for health and injury-healing tracking. I love the transparency with which the AC communicates with each of their AC Jumpstart clients. We are all a big family and know exactly what to expect of the experience.

Additionally, the mentorship has been so helpful. Each mentor truly cares about you and your company’s growth. I love how each of them have gone above and beyond to help us on our journey. We were able to secure funding, set up speaking engagements and get some valuable press including a story in the Globe and Mail, all thanks to their help and guidance. I love this program, can’t say enough about that, haha!”

Penta is currently teaming up with various sports teams and a couple clinics in the Kitchener-Waterloo region to test out the new wearable product/app Helios, track the progress and experiences multiple patients have with various injuries to continue improving and building wearable products that help to heal those on the go!

Penta’s mission is to change the future of healthcare, one wearable at a time!

AC JumpStart is made possible by and investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) and is delivered in partnership with Conestoga College, Laurier, and the University of Waterloo.

A Startup’s Journey: One-on-One with Ruth Casselman from Alert Labs

As you come up the stairs of 44 Gaukel Street to the Accelerator Centre’s Advanced Manufacturing and Hardware Innovation Lab and head down the main hall to the back of the building, you’ll find the office of Alert Labs. Now utilizing two suites for office space and another room for testing, they are one of the fastest growing companies in the Accelerator Program and are on track to becoming one of the next big tech companies in the Waterloo Region.

The Product

Alert Labs builds cellular based sensors that help protect homeowners and businesses from water damage by sending them alerts about leaks, floods, and abnormal water use. They also track use by the minute to help customers conserve water and save money. Their Flowie water sensor straps on to existing water meters and analyzes water use, highlights costs and compares consumption versus averages. It also sends alerts via email, text or an app about running left running, temperature, humidity and power outages. Their Floodie companion sensor can installed anywhere in a home where water could cause damage. It sends instant flood alerts when it comes in to contact with water.

They are selling their devices to a variety of different groups, including homeowners, landlords, property managers, restoration companies, insurance companies and municipalities. Alert Labs has partnered with the City of Guelph to offer residents an instant rebate on a Flowie water sensor kit, as part of the city’s water efficiency strategy. They recently announced that Intact Ventures, a division of Intact Financial Corporation, is a strategic investor in the company.

 

How they got started

In early 2015, founders Ruth Casselman, George, Tsintzouras, and Kevin Wright found themselves ready to begin their own venture. “The timing just came along…it was the right time for us to go out on our own,” Ruth recalls. The trio came to the table with more than 30 years of experience working in high technology. Ruth had just recently left BlackBerry, and Kevin and George had come from Christie Digital.

They considered a number of ideas, but they kept coming back to home utilities monitoring. All three founders are property managers and water usage was something that they all struggled with. On one occasion, a renter called George while he was travelling in China to tell him that a leak had turned into a full-blown flood. They looked for tools they could use to try and prevent this but what was available was complicated to install and was simply too expensive to warrant doing at their properties. That’s when they decided to create their own solution and Alert Labs was born.

Once they decided it was time to move out of their home office, they found the Accelerator Program. For Alert Labs, there were a number of reasons to join the program, but at the core of their decision was the mentorship. “We are very lucky to live in a community where there’s a lot of support for [starting a tech company],” Ruth says.

“Access to experienced business professionals who could guide us and advise us can take weeks and weeks out of a process.”

In additional to the mentorship and resources available through the Accelerator Program, Alert Labs also received the AC JumpStart grant that provided them with $30,000 in seed capital and an additional $10,000 in mentorship. “The $30,000 we received felt like all the money in the world… it allowed us to do what we needed to do.”

Alert Labs began working out of the ACs Reactor facility, but it quickly became clear that there were challenges with building their hardware company in the space. “The Reactor space is a very lovely finished office space with carpets and desks that they don’t like burn holes in from soldering irons… the AC folks realized that maybe that space wasn’t ideal for us or for hardware companies.” As the plans for Alert Labs’ devices started becoming real physical products, they needed a space where they would be able to do the “messy” work required.

This situation was confirmation for the Accelerator Centre there was a need for a space and specialized resources for hardware and IoT companies. Working in partnership with the City of Kitchener and ArtsBuild Ontario, the AC opened the Advanced Manufacturing and Hardware Innovation Lab with Alert Labs at its first tenant.

“The space at Gaukel was absolutely what we needed. We love being in downtown Kitchener, there is a great tech vibe down here. Specifically, this space has the mix between Arts and Tech, which is something that when you’re really immersed in the technology world, you sometimes forget that there’s other folks with different focuses and having that mix right here in our building is a very vibrant and motivating environment.”

The Future

Now, after more than a year of working out of the space, Alert Labs has hit some major milestones. They have grown to a team of 18 with plans to grow to 25 before the end of the year. They have brought two products to market with more coming in the next six months. “We try to recognize all of the milestones, even if they’re small because as a startup, a lot of things are very hard. The first time we sent out a large shipment as a team, that was a big deal and we had champagne that day.”

Alert Labs launched its first devices in February and now has Flowie and Floodie sensors deployed across Canada and the US and they are on track to become one of the AC’s grads and will join the likes of Miovision, Ecopia, KiK, and Clearpath Robotics on the Grad wall at ACHQ.

“When we started as a tiny little company of three people two and a half years ago, we looked at that wall in the Accelerator Centre and we looked at all the logos up there and thought ‘someday we could be on that wall’ and it really seemed like an imaginary thing. Having the recognition by an organization like the Accelerator Centre that’s saying you’ve done a good job is like the gold star.”

For more information on Alert Labs, check out their website at alertlabs.com or message them at hello@alertlabs.com. If you’re interested in learning more about the Accelerator Centre’s Advanced Manufacturing and Hardware Innovation Lab or want information on the joining AC contact info@acceleratorcentre.com

Media Release: The Accelerator Centre Announces Cohort 6 of their AC JumpStart Program

June 15, 2017

Waterloo Ontario – The Accelerator Centre is pleased to announce Cohort 6 of the AC JumpStart program. The program provides each recipient $30,000 in seed funding and $10,000 of mentorship.

56 Studios

Brothers DePaul

Eagle Vision Systems Inc.

EMAGIN Clean Technologies Inc.

Finservices Inc

Healthy Pets

Jobbee Technologies Corp

Load Army

NanoCnet

Oko Social

Quali Robotics

RascalTech

Serenity Bioworks Inc.

Site Safety Solutions Inc. REBAR Safety

Teal Software

The Hockey Pro

Traffic Is Currency

Vena Medical

Visa Run Inc. (Trade Name: Sherpa)

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About AC JumpStart

AC JumpStart is funded by FedDev Ontario and 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 four year term, the program will support 180 companies. 

About the Accelerator Centre

Our world-renowned, four phase accelerator program was developed based on our proven methods and best practices from accelerators and incubators around the world. The program, combined with our proven mentorship model, gives you the resources and guidance you need to grow all areas of your business, get your product to market faster, increase sales, and scale.

For more information visit www.acceleratorcentre.com. 

About FedDev Ontario

FedDev Ontario delivers programs and services to help create, retain and grow businesses, cultivate partnerships and build strong communities. The Agency’s programming is designed to support a strong southern Ontario economy and position the region to compete globally.

For more information visit www.FedDevOntario.gc.ca.

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For more information contact:
Tabatha Laverty
Community Manager
tlaverty@acceleratorcentre.com

Emmetros Launches MemorySparx One – Their First in a Suite of Products for People Who Live with Dementia

For Mary Pat Hinton, helping people who live with dementia and their care-partners have a better quality of life is personal.

Seeing her grandmother, Jean, suffer with Alzheimer’s disease in the 80’s, a time it was not well understood and there were few resources available for patients, made a lasting impact and inspired her to change the way those with dementia cope with their conditions.

As a result of her experience, Mary Pat started Emmetros – a company dedicated to creating solutions that help dementia sufferers to live independently and with dignity.

In 2016, Mary Pat joined the AC’s Accelerator Program to help guide her business to success. “Before I joined the AC, I did a lot of research into incubators and the resources available to entrepreneurs like me,” Mary-Pat explains. “I came to the AC because of their focus on long-term success and their stellar mentorship team.”

When she started Emmetros, she knew she wanted to create something bigger than a single app to support people living with dementia, and the mentors at the AC helped her build out her business in a way that will see the company develop a full suite of solutions that will work together to create an all-in-one digital solution – not only for those living with the disease, but for their families and care communities as well.

“The mentors at the AC are like an extension of my team. They are always there for me.” she explains. “They are incredibly experienced, can shift focus easily, and can go as deep into my business as I need them to. No moment spent with them is a wasted one,” she adds.

Last week, Emmetros launched MemorySparx™ One. The first application in the planned suite of solutions to support those with dementia and their families.

MemorySparx One is a digital memory aid that helps individuals living with dementia organize and recall important information like personal photos, health information, and more.

Traditionally, those living with dementia (or their families) were instructed to create paper booklets to help them organize and keep track of important information. “One of the major challenges with paper-based memory aids is keeping them up to date, while making sure that they remain easy to use and meet the changing needs of a person who is experiencing declining cognitive abilities,” Mary Pat explains.  MemorySparx One leverages decades of research on the value of those paper-based memory aids and combines it more than a thousand hours Mary Pat and her team have spent partnering with and getting to know people who live with dementia, their families, and academic researchers to create a mobile digital solution that provides these people with a way to communicate with confidence and greater independence, wherever and whenever they need to.

MemorySparx One allows users to:

  • Add and update content using intuitive templates designed with the unique needs of people with dementia in mind
  • Store personal details, captioned photos, audio recordings, and personal health information in one easy-to-access tool
  • Access information that’s important whenever and wherever it’s needed – at a doctor’s office, a social engagement, or a professional event
  • Keep track of personal health history, medications, and changes to mood or behavior so you can speak for yourself at appointments with care professionals

Emmetros’ next focus is on developing their complementary suite of products and on continuing to build out their incredible team and work culture. ‘We are fortunate to have a team of very talented and experienced people. Every one of them is incredibly passionate about our vision,” Mary Pat explains proudly. “When I started this, I never expected that people would be asking me how they could join our team, but they are and that’s pretty amazing. Every single day I wake up grateful.  There’s nothing better than that.”

MemorySparx One is available for iPad and is on the iTunes store now. For more information, visit memorysparx.com.

Media Contact:

Tabatha Laverty
Community Manager
tlaverty@acceleratorcentre.com

Flying High: University of Waterloo drone startup Pegasus Aeronautics takes off with the help of AC JumpStart Funding

With applications in law enforcement, agriculture, retail, military and other sectors, the global commercial drone market is booming, with an estimated CAGR of 16.9% through to >$1.2B US by 2022.

For industrial applications, drones — flying unmanned robots — offer a significantly more affordable, nimble and safer alternative over traditional aircraft or helicopters. However there is one significant drawback. Drones, which are typically powered by lithium batteries, are limited in their flight time and range. With the added weight of sensors and cameras, the average industrial drone can only achieve about 15 minutes of fly time, including take off and landing.

This time constraint has proved to be a huge inhibitor for growth, explains Matthew McRoberts, CEO of Pegasus Aeronautics. “If you are doing a land survey or inspection of a wind turbine, the fact drones today have very limited air time really limits their usability.”

McRoberts and co-founders Joe Kinsella and John Biskey met in residence while studying engineering at University of Waterloo. Over the four years, the three collaborated on various school projects, and in fourth year, McRoberts and Kinsella teamed up for their final engineering capstone. The challenge they sought to tackle: a new solution to extend the range of drones.

“We always knew we wanted to do something that was drone related.  Drone range limitation is a well understood challenge within the industrial sector and one of the largest problems facing industrial drone manufacturers, so it was a logical choice,” explains Matt McRoberts.

Many other companies have sought to solve the problem in the past, but most solutions have focused around the battery itself, says McRoberts. “They’ve tried tweaking the battery. Automatic battery swapping. Recharging stations. Even solar power. But they basically are stepping around the primary source of the problem – the battery.”

McRoberts, Kinsella (Biskey joined the team after the initial capstone) decided to chart a different course with their engineering, setting out to create gas/electric (hybrid) powertrain alternative to the battery.

“We felt that a gas/electric hybrid system was the only and best way to solve the problem. But no one had done it before. First, it is very difficult to make gas engines run in the first place. And on top of that, we had to design power electronics that would be lightweight enough they can fit on something that can fly.”

Proving through the capstone that it was possible to create the envisioned powertrain, the team was encouraged by its faculty advisor to found a company to commercialize the technology and Pegasus Aeronautics was born.

Pegasus Product Shot
FedDev Ontario JumpStart funding, secured through the Accelerator Centre, provided the young company with a critical injection of capital to move forward. “AC JumpStart funding and mentorship was a real tipping point for our business,” says Matt McRoberts. “We were facing two paths post graduation. Leave our technology on the table, or pursue it as a business. AC JumpStart allowed us to take our project and turn it into a real commercial opportunity.”

Access to Accelerator Centre’s team of mentors, provided as part of the JumpStart funding program also provided to be instrumental to the founders. “The mentorship we received totally changed the way we thought about how we would structure business. The mentors — Kevin Hood (sales mentor) in particular urged us to do primary research to really understand our industry, our competitors. It gave us a huge edge on the competition. First, we learned that a universal powertrain would have widest appeal and allow us to partner with all industrial drone manufacturers. Second, we learned that ease of use was critical – researchers in the field are not engine experts. I can’t overstate the contribution Kevin made to our business.”

The team at Pegasus Aero are now readying to bring their final product to market. Over the next few months, they will be doing some field beta testing to collect final feedback, and have customers lined up anxious to get their hands on the company’s unique hybrid powertrain.

“Just to get the job done, field teams using drones today are lugging hundreds of pounds of batteries into the field and are spending $14,000 a year or more per platform in battery costs,” says McRoberts. “Our solution is so easy to use, a field worker can pull the drone out of the back, siphon gas from the truck and be up in the air for 8 times as long. Fortunately for us, marketing around those kinds of advantages is pretty much a no brainer. We help industrial drone manufacturers overcome a really big barrier. So when we explain what we do to folks in the industry, the response is “how soon can get our hands on it?”

How a new wave of startups are bringing law enforcement into the digital age

new-connected-world-law-enforcement-by-yarek-waszul

At home and abroad, Canadian companies like HealthIM are using new technologies to help police forces solve cold cases and deal with 21st century threats

When Alexandra Brown set out to create a tool that would show people what they might look like when they get older, she never expected to receive a call from the police.

She wasn’t in any sort of trouble—rather, the police wanted to learn more about her software.

How 5G mobile data will enable the next generation of VR, autonomous cars and more
Unlike novelty smartphone apps that use simple algorithms to morph users’ features into different shapes and permutations, Brown’s AprilAge relies on a database housing thousands of scanned images of real faces to predict future appearances based on age, gender, ethnicity and lifestyle.

For law enforcement officials, it has proven to be a helpful tool in the search for suspects and missing persons involved in cold cases.

“You need the image to be realistic and believable,” Brown says. AprilAge assures police officers the image they’re looking at is “a statistically significant result.”

Founded in 2010, the Toronto-based company’s first customer in blue was the forensic services branch of the South Australia Police. These days, Brown primarily targets health and wellness providers, who use the software to show patients the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, but she continues to sign up police forces in the United States, Poland, Ecuador and Turkey.

AprilAge is just one example of law enforcement agencies’ newfound appetite for technology and innovation, observers say. While the industry is known for its stodginess and traditionalism, a growing number of police forces are discovering that startups can help make their lives easier.

“Where there is a problem with paperwork or something like that, it can really make a lot of sense for a private firm to step in and provide assistance,” says Christopher Parsons, managing director of the Telecom Transparency Project at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab.

Several opportunity-driven Canadian startups—including HealthIM and Labforge, both based in Kitchener, Ont.—are rising to the challenge.

HealthIM, started in 2014 by University of Waterloo students Daniel MacKenzie and Daniel Pearson Hirdes, makes software that improves how police respond to situations involving mentally unstable individuals.

Police don’t currently have any tools for dealing with such circumstances, MacKenzie says. Officers typically apprehend people they suspect might need help and then take those individuals to a hospital for assessment. The process can take hours and involve a lot of paperwork, only to result in the individuals’ eventual release. This happens about 60% of the time, he adds.

HealthIM’s tool is installed directly in police car computers. Officers fill out a patient profile and send it to a hospital. Medical staff can then prepare an assessment and provide police with a preliminary report before they arrive at the hospital.

The system provides benefits to police, medical staff and detained individuals.

“If you’re not stuck under police guard in a hospital for hours, that just helps make everyone’s life better,” MacKenzie says.

HealthIM won $25,000 in funding last fall from the University of Waterloo’s Velocity accelerator hub and a further $60,000 from the school’s AC JumpStart program earlier this year. Unlike AprilAge, the company is specifically targeting police departments and has signed up two so far in Ontario, in Brantford and London.

MacKenzie credits HealthIM adviser Ron Hoffman, a former mental health training co-ordinator for the Ontario Police College, with landing the deals. Once he gathered everyone at the table, the company found police to be eager customers.

“They are more progressive than I thought in terms of innovation and tech,” MacKenzie says. “They’re always looking for solutions to make their lives easier.”

Apply for AC JumpStart Funding at acjumpstart.com

Labforge, founded in 2014, has also brought in advisers with law enforcement and security backgrounds to open doors. Clint Robinson, former head of government relations with BlackBerry, is helping the company showcase its technology with police and military forces.

Labforge is working on systems that incorporate drones, wearable sensors and smart cameras to give security forces “situational awareness” or a better idea of what’s happening around their personnel in the field.

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Currently, when police officers enter a building, they often don’t know what they’re getting into. A system that identifies and differentiates friendly individuals from unfriendly ones can potentially save lives.

“[When you enter a building,] you don’t know where the good guys are or where the bad guys are. Technically, the whole place is a hostile environment,” says co-founder Yassir Rizwan. “If you can put trackers on your guys, then the story changes.”

Labforge’s smart cameras can also identify details officers might otherwise miss. They can, for example, spot licence plates of stolen cars or missing children via image recognition. The company is currently talking to several law enforcement agencies about potential trials, Rizwan says.

Despite the opportunities, security-oriented startups face a number of challenges. Chief among them are privacy concerns and the public’s ill ease with law enforcement using advanced technology to gather data on their whereabouts. Startups dealing in the space would do well to be as open about their technologies as possible, says Citizen Lab’s Parsons.

Often, it’s enforcement agencies and not the companies themselves that are engendering public distrust. Police may be enthusiastic about adopting new technology, but they’re usually not as forthcoming in disclosing how it’s being used, he adds.

It’s incumbent on the firms, then, to push their customers toward improved transparency as well.

“They’re trying to sell into an aspect of government that is very, very secretive, which isn’t very helpful for the public’s trust in law and order,” Parsons says. “That can boomerang back on companies.”

If both businesses and law enforcement give prompt, upfront disclosure of what technology is being used and in what manner, it will make it easier for startups to do business and help ease people’s concerns, says Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer with the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa.

“You do need to deal with the friction upfront, kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid,” Israel says.

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