PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONS BY MONICA GUAN
We’re entering 2023 with a long list of problems: a shaky global economy, health systems still under stress from COVID, the rising cost of living and wild weather from climate change. But across Canada, entrepreneurs are at work on technologies that will help tackle these challenges. From robots that build houses to chemists devising new ways to grow crops and software engineers finding new ways to keep people safe online, there are countless innovations in the works that will make a real impact.
Here are a few of the entrepreneurs who will be making headlines in 2023.
Karen Cross is an accomplished plastic surgeon and scientist who is changing the way skin injuries are diagnosed. She is CEO and co-founder of MIMOSA Diagnostics, which makes a handheld device that uses infrared light to see below the surface of the skin to detect injuries like wounds or bed sores before they’re visible. Crucially, MIMOSA’s algorithms have been designed to account for people of all skin colours. “Skin injuries are difficult to detect in all patients,” says Cross, “but especially so in those with darker skin tones.”
The backstory: Cross was motivated to find a better way to diagnose wounds after her grandfather died following a skin injury that escalated dramatically. The wound required his leg to be amputated and, ultimately, resulted in his death. “There I was at the pinnacle of my career and could do absolutely nothing for him,” says Cross. Harnessing expertise in optical imaging and wound healing, Cross developed the MIMOSA device.
What’s next: MIMOSA has been cleared by the U.S. FDA and is taking off south of the border, where it is in use with several hospital systems, long-term care facilities and wound care centres. Cross expects it will be available in Canada by the end of the year.
Peyvand Melati is a serial entrepreneur who has launched several clean technology companies. Melati arrived in Canada 20 years ago from Iran. “The first business I ever started was at the age of 19, making computers for universities back home,” he says. “Immigrating to Canada, it gives you a different perspective. You work harder when you’re coming from another country because you have to prove yourself among your peers.” Melati’s latest venture, QEA Tech, focuses on energy loss in buildings. As much as 51 per cent of heating and air conditioning escapes through poorly sealed or insulated areas on a building’s exterior. At night, when the sun isn’t beating down, QEA Tech flies drones outfitted with high-definition visual and thermal cameras to spot these points. Those images are then uploaded to software that uses artificial intelligence to pinpoint faults such as cracks or moisture penetration and quantify the energy loss. This enables building managers to make data-driven decisions on fixes.
Business is taking off: In 2022, QEA Tech’s drones scanned Vancouver International Airport, an entire city block in Ottawa, and 42 libraries in Brooklyn, N.Y.
What’s next: QEA Tech is taking its drones beyond North America, securing contracts in Italy, the Czech Republic and Australia.
Canada is already the world’s ninth largest producer of wind energy and its output is growing rapidly. But there’s a catch. Wind turbines don’t do so well in cold weather — and Canada’s winters are, well… you know. Mechanical engineer Daniela Roeper has hit on a solution: an internal heating device that can be retrofitted into blades to remove ice buildup. She founded Borealis Wind to develop the technology shortly after graduating from the University of British Columbia in 2016 and it is now in use on several wind farms in Ontario and Quebec.
Key stat: Roeper says her technology can help wind farms increase production by up to 11 percent and cut ice-related losses by 70 percent.
What’s next: A eurotrip. Europe is the world’s largest cold-climate wind energy market and Borealis is planning to enter it later this year.
Stephane Germain is a former aerospace executive who now keeps an eye on greenhouse gas emissions from space at GHGSat. His company can monitor greenhouse gases in high-resolution using sensor units, each about the size of a case of beer, fitted on satellites and aircraft. The company claims its technology is 100 times more sensitive than other monitoring satellites.
Claim to fame: In September 2022, GHGSat was the first company to get high-resolution imagery of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline leak, which at the time was spewing 79,000 kilograms of methane per hour.
What’s next: GHGSat has six satellites in orbit, each named after a staff member’s child. It has big plans to increase its orbital family to 10 by the end of the year.
The former head of software giant Autodesk’s Canadian technology centre, Ramtin Attar has turned his attention to housing. He has co-founded Promise Robotics, which aims to make homes more affordable and sustainable by making greater use of automation in construction. The company is using AI and robotics to carry out tasks such as gathering, sizing, cutting and assembling materials to create prefabricated building components. Attar says the company’s technology is designed to be scalable, from low-volume output using one or two robots in a warehouse to mass production in a large factory.
The buzz: Canadian Innovation Exchange named Promise Robotics one of Canada’s top 20 early startups of 2022.
What’s next: Promise is partnering with several building companies and says it aims to open its first robotic micro-factory somewhere in the Golden Horseshoe by next year.
As food prices soar, Darren Anderson is helping farmers grow more with fewer inputs. Anderson is the CEO and co-founder of Vive Crop Protection, which he founded with five colleagues from the University of Toronto’s department of chemistry. Vive uses precision chemistry to target pesticides and fertilizers more effectively, enabling farmers to increase crop yields and reduce the amount of additives they put on their fields. Last summer, Vive secured $34 million in funding, and it was recently named one of the 500 fastest-growing companies in North America by Deloitte.
Side hustle: Anderson is also the co-founder of Elect STEM, a non-profit organization that encourages scientific experts to engage in politics and help all levels of government make informed, evidence-based decisions.
What’s next: Vive’s products are available in the U.S., and it plans to start selling in Canada this year, pending regulatory approval. To support Canadian sales, Vive plans to build a microbiology facility at its site in Mississauga.
Between inflation, interest rates and talk of recession, finances will be top-of-mind for everyone this year. That means Andrew Graham and Eva Wong will be busy. They’re co-founders of Borrowell, a financial services platform that helps people understand their money. Borrowell offers its two million users free credit monitoring, credit scores, credit coaching and access to personalized product recommendations — which could help people deal with the financial squeeze.
Awards collection: Borrowell has received numerous accolades, including LinkedIn Top Startups, Best Workplaces in Canada and Best Workplaces for Women. In addition, it was included by Kitchener innovation hub Communitech in its Team True North list of fastest-growing Canadian tech companies.
What’s next: Borrowell recently launched a service that allows tenants to build their credit every time they pay their rent. Over time, this can help those with lower credit scores qualify for competitive credit card and mortgage rates.
An MIT and Princeton grad, Rob Alexander is a seasoned entrepreneur who has grown half-a-dozen innovative tech companies. His latest venture, AlumaPower, transforms recycled aluminum into batteries that are a source of zero-emissions energy. “Aluminum has been an energy source the world has known about since the ’70s, but there were some really big technical issues that needed to be solved,” says Alexander. Those issues included problems shutting down the batteries and uneven wear on the aluminium anodes.
The breakthrough: AlumaPower gets around both issues by using spinning aluminum discs inside a specialized engine that produces four times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. This approach also enables it to use scrap aluminum rather than the highly pure metal needed for other batteries. Alexander says the technology could be used to power mobile charging stations, as backup systems for residential homes, and as a way to increase the range of electric vehicles.
What’s next: AlumaPower will have prototypes ready for test customers by the end of the year.
If you’re among the millions of people who reuse passwords, don’t use two-factor authentication or have public social media accounts, Claudette McGowan would like a word with you. The former head of cybersecurity at TD Bank has launched a new venture called Protexxa and is on a mission to make online security personal. The company has developed an AI-based cyber protection and training platform that assesses your cybersecurity habits, identifies issues and helps put them right. Having raised $4 million in seed funding, Protexxa is initially targeting business clients with the aim of making its services available to their employees. The worker gets a cyber health check while the company receives aggregate data about its vulnerabilities and progress towards addressing them.
Why now: Working from home has complicated life for corporate cybersecurity teams. McGowan says there is now a direct connection from a worker’s personal cyber hygiene and home set up to their employer’s cybersecurity. “You get medical benefits, you get dental benefits, but we’re spending all of our time online. There’s a value proposition for employers to add this as an offering for their employees.”
What’s next: Protexxa has partnered with the Canadian Cybersecurity Network to raise cybersecurity awareness and engage youth, people from rural and underrepresented communities, and people considering a career-pivot to help fill Canada’s roughly 25,000 vacant cybersecurity job positions.
Serial entrepreneurs Peter Carrescia and Kirk Simpson are building a new business that will help individuals secure their data and protect their privacy. Qui is developing tools based on decentralized identity technologies that will allow users to manage data about themselves and share it with companies when required to access products and services.
Hype factor: Carrescia and Simpson were key players at Wave Financial, which was bought by H&R Block for $537 million in one of the largest-ever tech acquisitions in Canada. Investors are betting they will have similar success at Qui, and the company has quickly raised U.S.$6.5 million in funding.
What’s next: After moving into the recently-opened Waterfront Innovation Centre, Qui is developing its technology and expecting to launch its first products in spring.
Nobody likes thinking about death, which is probably why 57 percent of Ontarians aged over 35 don’t have a will. But Erin Bury and Kevin Oulds are trying to change that. They have created Willful, an online platform that lets users create a will and power of attorney documents in 20 minutes using legal templates developed by lawyers in each province and which can be updated at any time. In 2021, they were featured on CBC’s Dragons’ Den and came away with a deal from Michele Romanow. They have since helped tens of thousands of Canadians create a will.
The backstory: Bury and Oulds, who are married, saw the need for Willful after Oulds’ uncle passed away in 2015. Bury says it was difficult to track down important documents like life insurance paperwork and there were many unanswered questions about his final wishes because he had never discussed them.
What’s next: They’ve been called to the bar — kind of. The Law Society of Ontario recently approved Willful as the first participant of its Access to Innovation (A2I) project, which aims to improve access to judicial and legal services through innovative tech. As a result, Willful will operate with this program for the next two years.
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