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Tech Roundup for April 2022


VC interest in Waterloo Region companies got off to a pretty darn quick start in the first quarter of 2022, despite a countrywide absence of new tech IPOs and a softening of valuations for Canadian publicly traded tech companies.

A report from briefed.in found that CDN$157.2 million was invested in Waterloo Region tech outfits across 11 deals between Jan. 1 and March 31.

The region’s Q1 results are even brighter when you consider that the report didn’t include all of the first-quarter investment in the area, such as sSentire’s US$325-million raise. That’s because briefed.in currently doesn’t track private equity, secondaries or debt, and the eSentire deal involved an existing investor selling some of its shares in the company to new investors.

Last year, tech companies in Waterloo Region attracted a record-breaking CDN$1.4 billion in investment. 

Speaking at Waterloo Region’s State of the Region event, Communitech CEO Chris Albinson said the growth of the area’s tech community is outpacing previous expectations and that Canada is the fastest-growing tech hub in the world.

"We’re really privileged to be the second largest innovation hub on the planet now," he said. "The fastest growing by four times. I think, as that gets more widely known, we’re going to attract more and more great talent. Our core focus is building the talent that we’ve got here and the amazing companies that are being built here."

April blooms  

No sooner was the Q1 report out than several new investment deals were making  news.

Waterloo-based VueReal announced a Series B raise of US$14.4 million that will help the six-year-old semiconductor-nanotech company increase its customer base in the fast-growing market for microLED displays.

Meanwhile, employee-experience company Wavy raised CDN$2.5 million in seed funding. The cash will be used to strengthen the Wavy platform, which helps employers build culture and measure staff connection through shared experiences.

A graduate of Communitech’s 2019 Fierce Founders Bootcamp, Wavy tapped into some local investors for the seed round, including Garage Capital and the Archangel Network of Funds, as well as others from along the Waterloo-Toronto corridor.

Awards season

Edtech unicorn ApplyBoard won a prestigious Governor General’s Innovator Award for its international student-recruitment platform and for the assistance it provides to students around the world who are looking to advance themselves through education.

It’s a huge recognition for Martin, Meti and Massi Basiri, three brothers who travelled to Waterloo Region from Iran to pursue their post-secondary education and went on to launch a globally successful company based on their experiences as international students.

Meanwhile, PEER Group – one of the first tech companies to locate in downtown Kitchener – also received some well-deserved recognition. Intel named the software company an “Epic Program Outstanding Supplier,” one of only six out of 9,000 suppliers globally to earn the coveted designation this year. It has been a big year for PEER Group, which celebrated its 30th anniversary making precision automation software for the semiconductor and related industries. 

Another company earning accolades was Magnet Forensics. The maker of cybersecurity investigation technology was named a “Leader” in the IDC MarketScape: Worldwide Digital Forensics in Public Safety 2022 Vendor Assessment. The IDC study evaluates digital-forensics providers in public safety based on current capabilities and long-term strategy. 

Hip, hip, hurray!

The Ontario government announced a $1-million grant to support a study at Grand River Hospital involving hip-surgery technology developed by Kitchener-based Intellijoint Surgical Inc.

It’s a step forward in the struggle homegrown tech companies face in overcoming government procurement barriers. The study will allow Grand River to test-drive Intellijoint technology, which already has Health Canada approval and is used in about 15,000 procedures internationally each year.

Communitech has been working with founders and government to improve the procurement process so that all Canadians benefit from the innovative goods and services being developed by Canadian companies like Intellijoint.

Elected officials appear to be listening. The Ontario budget tabled April 28 includes a procurement-improvement initiative. Earlier in the month, the federal budget included $30 million to help CAN Health and Communitech extend an “integrated market” procurement network among hospitals and health-care organizations.

Meanwhile, the province also announced a planning grant of $5 million to help Waterloo Region plan for hospital expansion and improved patient services.

Innovative Africa

As tech leaders the world over scramble for talent, Africa may be an overlooked source of innovation and skilled tech workers.

Africa champion Fred Swaniker made the case during a keynote address at the University of Waterloo’s annual Innovation Summit. Raised in a number of African countries, Swaniker went on to earn an MBA from Stanford University before co-founding the African Leadership Group (ALG), the African Leadership University and a one-year digital-skills training program called ALX.

He said the African continent has one of the youngest, fastest-growing populations in the world and is on track to reach 1.1 billion people by 2035. With the right skills training and the rise of remote work, Africa could provide a rich source of tech talent in the years ahead.

Poisoned resumés

Waterloo-based cybersecurity firm eSentire is warning employers about malware embedded in job resumés after a Canadian law firm and a staffing agency were among targeted companies in North America and the U.K.

Hackers are posing as job applicants and inserting the so-called “more_eggs” malware into resumés that, when downloaded, are designed to steal valuable credentials such as usernames and passwords for corporate bank accounts, email accounts and IT administrator accounts, according to an eSentire report.

Meanwhile, eSentire also announced the hiring of renowned cybersecurity researcher Joe Stewart.

Pirates and professionalism

Was Blackbeard the pirate a brand guru? Check out Tech News columnist Melanie Baker’s unique take on what we can learn about brands from the old high-seas scallywag.

In another column, Baker explores the notion of professionalism. In this brave new world of remote work and casual attire, perhaps it’s time to rethink what this loaded term means.

Meanwhile, Tech About Town columnist Alex Kinsella tells us about a new fund to help charities and not-for-profits pay for things that are sometimes excluded from government and community grants.

The Essentials Fund at the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) will disburse money to several local charities to buy essential items such as hygiene products, diapers and baby formula for clients in need.

In another column, Kinsella heralds the return of in-person spring and summer events like the Open Ears Festival of Music, the K-W Multicultural Festival and the Kitchener Blues Festival.

In other news

This edition of the Roundup compiled by Kevin Crowley.

"Communitech helps tech-driven companies start, grow and succeed. Communitech was founded in 1997 by a group of entrepreneurs committed to making Waterloo Region a global innovation leader. At the time it was crazy talk, but somehow this community managed to pull it off. Today, Communitech is a public-private innovation hub that supports a community of more than 1400 companies — from startups to scale-ups to large global players. Communitech helps tech companies start, grow and succeed in three distinct ways: - Communitech is a place – the center of gravity for entrepreneurs and innovators. A clubhouse for building cool shit and great companies. - Communitech delivers programs – helping companies at all stages with access to capital, customers and talent. We are here to help them grow and innovate. - Communitech partners in building a world-leading ecosystem – making sure we have all the ingredients (and the brand) to go from a small startup to a global giant."

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