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Tag: Tech Business

Songistry – using artificial intelligence to rock the music industry

“We’re solving some incredible problems within the global music industry,” says Curtis Serna, CEO of Songistry, “and we’re thrilled to be doing it right here in the Edmonton region.”

Songistry is using the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to unlock value across the entertainment industry. It’s run by the innovative minds of CEO Curtis Serna, two-time nominee for Entrepreneur of the Year in Canada and Justin Gray, Founder and Chief Creative Officer. Justin is a Canadian born producer and songwriter who has worked with top tier artists, Avril Lavigne, Mariah Carey, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, and international artists including J-Pop Super Stars Superjunior, Chinese Mega Star Chris Lee and most recently enjoyed twelve, #1 hits in China including a hit with TF Boys’ Roy Wang. Justin brings a combination of music credibility and a personal understanding of the challenges faced by artists and the entertainment industry related to digital copyright, publishing, and royalties.

In 2019, approximately 46 million music creators and corporations lost out on the opportunity to collect royalties due to a lack of copyright information (often referred to as “metadata”), resulting in a 2.5-billion-dollar loss (USD). Songistry’s premier product, MDIIO (Music Data Intelligence In/Out), solves this problem and more. MDIIO is a music asset/copyright management tool and marketplace that leverages the latest developments in AI to protect the work of music creatives worldwide. By using copyright and other metadata details, MDIIO helps artists and music corporations protect their hard work, assets, and livelihoods. MDIIO is driven to provide Canadian artists a scientific, competitive advantage in getting their music discovered and licensed in TV/ film and advertising.

Justin was first inspired to create the platform when he realized how vulnerable songwriters were to being taken advantage of.

“A system that hasn’t traditionally supported songwriters is ripe for disruption,” said Justin. “Having worked in music for 20 plus years, I was really saddened to see songwriters and creators getting the short end of the stick. Especially with the onset of digital music streaming. Songwriters were the slowest to adapt and therefore the most vulnerable. I wanted to make sure that songwriters were provided a platform that not only fostered their creativity and organized their assets, but also democratized monetization of their hard work.”

Justin Gray, Founder and Chief Creative Officer

When Justin was introduced to Curtis, who initially came on as an investor it quickly became evident that Curtis had the commercialization expertise that Songistry needed to help bring MDIIO to life and to help protect the interest of songwriters.

Curtis Serna, CEO

MDIIO is now being featured in Global Affairs Canada’s Spring 2020 Software and Technologies Dealbook. The Dealbook is “a tool formulated to increase exposure to some of Canada’s most promising technology companies,” says Chief Trade Commissioner of Canada, Aillish Campbell. MDIIO fits the bill and their placement in the Dealbook has helped Songistry increase its profile to international audiences. In the first day the Dealbook was launched, Songistry was approached by two venture capital groups from Silicon Valley, that are interested in leading the investment into the Edmonton-based company.

The MDIIO platform allows creatives, from songwriters to artists, to musicians, bands, DJ’s and composers, to upload their music, apply metadata to their copyright, and then register the song with SOCAN, Canada’s performance rights organization that collects royalties for members. SOCAN is comprised of 170,000 members, 86% of which are unaffiliated independent artists and songwriters. MDIIO represents and helps protect these artists and their copyrights, while getting their work in front of companies such as Netflix, Hallmark, and Sony to name just a few studio networks. MDIIO works as a marketplace where these companies can come to license music for various projects – allowing more artists to monetize their work and gain exposure by leveraging science as their competitive advantage.

 

MDIIO has multiple features specifically designed to help spotlight the work of indie creators while simultaneously helping music supervisors find new music for their tv/ film or advertising projects. These licensors that use MDIIO have access to features such as mood track analysis, and dynamic emotional analysis (visualizing the emotion of the song on a second by second basis), as well as several additional A.I. features in development – all designed to allow licensors to find that perfect song that evokes the right emotions and story alignment without the complexity and the higher price points often associated with more well-known songs. For example, a mainstream Bruno Mars song can be licensed on average for $500,000. MDIIO’s recommendation/ search engine can identify songs that sound similar to Bruno Mars for a fraction of the cost, making the value proposition very attractive to licensors and network studios.

Creators who use MDIIO don’t have to compromise between gaining exposure and a paycheck. MDIIO receives a 20% commission on licensing transactions facilitated through the MDIIO platform, which is far less than agents who charge 50 to 75% in commission.

With so many innovative features and incentives, it is no surprise that there are more than 3,600+ creators from 19 different countries using MDIIO, representing 15,000 songs being hosted on the platform today. Not all users are indie creators; in fact, some of these users include high profile songwriters that have collaborated with the world’s biggest artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Shawn Mendes, and Madonna (to name a few).

As MDIIO continues to grow on the home stage, Songistry is simultaneously striving to expand the platform farther into Asia, where Justin Gray continues to leverage his extensive success and relationships. Songistry has already begun preliminary conversations with labels, publishers, and management companies in Greater China and Asia.

“China is an important emerging market for us,” says Justin. “As copyright protection becomes more critical and major players such as Tencent and Youkou move into royalty-based payment systems, the necessity to track all of the pertinent and important data associated with copyright is more important than ever. Over the next 5 years, royalties and copyrights via China alone will amount to billions and billions of dollars. Someone needs to help provide the infrastructure and ability to shepherd these revenues and create new business models. Songistry/MDIIO is technologically prepared to do exactly that.”

“Despite the impacts of COVID, we continue to grow,” says Curtis, “but no amount of success will ever change the fact that we are an Alberta corporation with access to tremendous support and resources. Edmonton provides us the competitive advantage we would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.”

You can read more about what the Songistry team is up to here.

Granify – Powering the world’s biggest brands

Jeff Lawrence, CEO, Granify

Edmonton region e-commerce giant uses big data to predict the future

More than 3 billion shopper sessions and $10 billion in sales were optimized by the Granify platform in the last year alone. The numbers are staggering and Jeff Lawrence, founder and CEO of Granify, has proven the value that data and behavioural science can bring to e-commerce. 

Granify is an e-commerce optimization platform based in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region that uses data science to predict consumer behaviour and increase purchases. Their software looks at over 500 data points every second, compares that to the behavior of billions of shoppers and translates that data into information that can predict the future. 

“All shoppers visiting an e-commerce website have an agenda,” says Jeff. “Whether it’s to make a purchase or to explore options, everyone comes with a desired outcome. Granify uses digital clues such as scroll speed, products and images viewed, mouse movements and even hesitations to anticipate consumer behaviour and respond accordingly. The amount of information — and the value we derive for our clients from that information —  is incredible.”

The Granify technology, or what Jeff refers to as the “Granify Brain”, can predict a customer’s likeliness to buy, give insight into the reasons for their hesitation and can then address these concerns and help move the customer along the journey to making a final purchase decision.

Granify’s origin story

A self-proclaimed “data geek”, Jeff came up with the vision behind Granify in 2006.

“I’ve been fascinated by data for at least 20 years”, says Jeff. “Early on, I saw the potential for using massive amounts of data to predict and even influence behaviours in consumers. Nobody was really using the vast amount of data that was being collected. I believed that there was a way to use that data to personalize the customer experience.”

At that time the technology did not yet exist to support his vision but in 2011, while Jeff was studying at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, he saw what other organizations were starting to do with big data innovations and knew the time had come to explore his vision. Others told him that what he was envisioning couldn’t be done but Jeff refused to believe them and continued to move forward.

In 2012, Jeff returned to Edmonton to build his team and the first version of Granify was released on the Shopify platform. 

“Originally, I thought about founding this company in Silicon Valley,” says Jeff. “It made a lot of sense. Certainly, no region comes close to matching the amount of technical talent that exists there. But as I spoke to other tech entrepreneurs who were working in that region, I saw a lot of challenges too. There was frustration surrounding the ability to retain talent. There was a high degree of turnover in a lot of those organizations.”

Going where the talent is and building something new

Talent is the lifeblood of any organization and the ability to both attract and retain talent can make the difference in any company’s long-term success. Jeff knew that the University of Alberta had one of the best data science programs in North America, so he decided to go where the talent was.

“I also saw the opportunity to help build something new in the Edmonton region”, says Jeff. “At that time, the tech industry was just starting to emerge, and rather than pile on to what was already happening in Silicon Valley, I was attracted to the idea of being part of building something from the ground up. As a father of two young children, I also saw the benefits of raising a family in the Edmonton region and helping to create a lasting impact in this industry which could continue to yield benefits for the next generation.”

Jeff has seen the region’s attractiveness translate into employee retention in real life.

“We’ve recruited talent from as far as India and South Africa and since relocating, these team members have fallen in love with the Edmonton region,” says Jeff. “The welcoming nature of our region, along with the safety and prosperity that exists here, make it a very attractive place to live.” 

Some members of the Granify team

Jeff’s decision to bet on the Edmonton region for Granify’s success has certainly paid off. Granify has been named one of Alberta’s 25 most innovative companies, Top Digital Startup and Best E-Commerce Solution. They’ve been featured in Inc magazine, VentureBeat, TechCrunch, Cool Companies, Reuters, and many other publications. 

Jeff has a lot to brag about when it comes to Granify – they provide hundreds of millions of dollars in incremental sales to their clients – but Jeff talks about more intangible things when discussing Granify’s success. 

“It all comes down to the people.” says Jeff. “And the Edmonton region has some of the best people. They truly are our competitive advantage. Everyone on our team is intelligent, hardworking, they care about the work they are doing, and they collaborate and work together to build something truly amazing. And above all that, they’re genuinely awesome humans. 

In the last 5 years or so, I’ve seen a real purposeful push in the region, to build community within the tech sector. I have a good network of support from other tech leaders working in this region. Sometimes we’re competing for talent, but at the end of the day, if I’m struggling with something, I can reach out to this network, I can meet another CEO for coffee, and we can support each other.”

RJ Maclean – Disrupting the status quo to bring innovation to the energy industry

Kiely Maclean, President and CEO of RJ Maclean.

RJ Maclean is working to modernize the energy industry, using innovative technology to do some of its dirtiest – and most dangerous – work.

Storage tank cleaning is an essential process in the oil sector and is required to be performed in any facility where oil is stored. Traditionally, this process involves removing as much of the product or sludge within the tank as possible, then people climb into the tanks to finish the job by hand. Despite rigorous safety precautions, this is some of the most dangerous work being done in the industry.

After completing her degree, Kiely chose to take a job working at the field level for a tank cleaning company. Working on the front lines of these projects, Kiely was able to see first-hand an opportunity for technological and environmental innovation. Both Kiely and her father, Greg Maclean, a long advocate for innovation in energy, were convinced that these archaic cleaning methods could be modernized. The father-daughter team initiated a consultation company called Maclean Tank Services, a global consulting company that taught people in the industry how to use robotics for tank cleaning.

Challenging the status quo

In 2015, Kiely and Greg then partnered with RJ Enterprises, headed up by Jack Seguin, another award-winning innovator in the energy sector.

One of the biggest challenges RJ Maclean faced early on was the high degree of difficulty in gaining entry in this sector. The energy industry is generally well established, meaning it can be difficult to change the status quo. However, RJ Maclean had an innovative way of scaling these barriers.

“When we walked through the technology with potential clients, we would start by cleaning a tank using the traditional methods, to prove that we were familiar with the process and the standards,” says Kiely Maclean, CEO and Co-Founder of RJ Maclean. “From there, we could introduce one robot at a time to demonstrate how the process worked and the opportunities for efficiency.”

RJ Maclean went through this process with several Canadian clients. Eventually word of RJ Maclean’s unique methods and technology spread throughout the industry, challenging competition to also star to adopt automation. Soon, a leading international energy corporation recognized the value in the innovation and bought into it wholeheartedly. “We’ve been given the opportunity to work for them across North America. It shows what we have been able to accomplish as a relatively new company in the last five years.”

RJ Maclean has been able to cultivate a team of young professionals who are engaged in a modern approach to establish the foundation of their business. “Competition doesn’t scare me,” says Kiely. “It’s the people on our team that give us an edge, they are the ones driving the innovation. Ultimately, its the method our team uses to execute the work that makes it hard for our competitors to keep up.”

The Edmonton metro region advantage

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region is one of the largest energy manufacturing hubs in North America. The region’s manufacturing capabilities and access to global markets make it the perfect place for RJ Maclean to be based.

“The Edmonton region is very focused on research and development,” says Kiely. “It’s very innovative here. There are not a lot of communities that are as focused on putting their heads down and challenging the status quo the way Edmonton is doing. There’s a collective willingness for innovation that translates into a global scale.”

Covid-19 sparks growth for Edmonton education tech firm

More than 3 million teachers in 136 countries are finding the Showbie products invaluable in their shift to online learning 

In 2012 Edmontonian Colin Bramm was working on providing pragmatic solutions to problems that existed around implementing technology in the classroom when he appeared on the radar of an Apple executive.  

At that time, schools were just starting to introduce the use of iPads into their classrooms and Colin saw some of the unique opportunities and challenges that existed around these new technologies. 

Allan Gauld was an account executive with Apple at the time and was actively promoting Apple products to schools in Alberta. 

“One of the goals that I had in respect to my role with Apple, was to bring a global perspective to the Alberta education system to drive interst and adoption for new Apple products in the region,” says Allan. “As we became more deeply engaged with the Alberta education system, we learned about the incredibly innovative things they were already doing. There was a real sense of forward-thinking, centred around the idea of, ‘What does an educated Albertan look like in 2030?’ It was inspiring. And I kept hearing from thought leaders about this group who were working out of the Alberta Research Park in Edmonton. I wanted to understand what they were doing.”

That group was Colin and his team, who were developing an app called Showbie.  

The introduction of iPads into the classroom meant that students were able to produce all sorts of creative materials but there was no integrated process for sharing that content with their teachers at that time. Colin and his team developed an education workflow app that allowed students to share their materials and allowed educators the ability to provide rich feedback on that work.

“People forget what those first generation iPads were like,” says Allan. “The technology has come such a long way. In those early days, some people had a hard time understanding where the iPad would fit and were even unsure if the product would be successful. The ability of Colin to be forward thinking enough to recognize the potential that these technologies had for learners, to see where the gaps existed, and to create solutions to address these gaps really demonstrates how the Showbie team has always been forward-thinking.”

Bringing a made-in-Alberta vision to the world

Allan was impressed with the work that Colin and his team were doing and recognized a shared vision with what Apple was working towards when it came to integrating technology into the classroom. 

“He [Allan] told me that this was an app that all educators introducing the use of iPads into their classroom would need,” explains Colin. “He invited me to visit Apple headquarters in Cupertino.” 

This was instrumental in expanding Colin’s network and it didn’t take long until Showbie was selected to participate in Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley start-up accelerator focused on education technology. 

Colin spent the better part of a year in California working with the accelerator and credits this program with helping to build their initial success.

Once Colin was back in the Edmonton region, he received support from members of the A100, which helped Showbie acquire seed funding and move forward with product development and sales.

Since then, the organization has grown organically across the world as teachers adopted the app’s free version leading to school administrations eventually purchasing licenses so that their staff would be able to access the enhanced features. 

In July 2018, the company acquired Socrative, an app that allows teachers to deploy real-time quizzes. Together, Showbie and Socrative create a complementary set of assessment and feedback tools for educators and that have been proven to be critical as classrooms all over the world have shifted to an online format due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Screenshot of feedback capabilities of Showbie app

Why the Edmonton Metropolitan Region?

When asked why he chose to return to the Edmonton region to continue to grow his business, Colin credits the supportive community and quality of life that exists here. 

“It’s a region where you have everything that larger communities like Toronto or Vancouver have, but the cost of living makes it so attractive. This is extremely helpful in attracting and retaining talent,” says Colin. “And from a business cost perspective, it’s more affordable. Especially when we compare ourselves to the US where health insurance costs for businesses are so high.”

How the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated growth

“There are not a lot of businesses right now that would say that the pandemic helped to shift the market in their favour,” says Colin. ”But that is exactly what has happened for Showbie. Since the global shift to online classrooms, we’ve seen tremendous engagement from our teachers. This situation has allowed us to build an even more concrete presence internationally. We’ve been able to harness local talent and a network of big thinkers globally to act as our customer support network”.

This week, Showbie is launching video chat function to its enhanced features. 

Screenshot of Showbie video chat function

“We are always looking for ways to improve the tools that educators can use in the classroom,” says Colin. “Unlike applications like Microsoft Teams or the Google suite of applications, which were developed for a more corporate audience, our products have always been built with the school classroom in mind. We really consider the relationships that develop between a teacher and their students which can be undermined on an online platform. Our product allows teachers to give rich feedback to their students and this leads to better engagement and communication.”

As for Allan, he’s continued to keep an eye on what Colin and his team are doing as they’ve scaled their business and expanded their network to include a global community in the education space. 

“They’ve come a long way from where they started in 2012,” says Allan. “But I firmly believe that for Colin, the best is yet to come. He has the ability to build meaningful connections with people who share his vision and he’s successfully leveraged those relationships to build advocates for his product all over the globe.”

Edmonton-developed Job Site Insights bridges construction and technology

PCL’s Mark Bryant, Canadian CIO of the Year.

PCL Construction is preparing to take its cutting-edge platform to the next level 

Picture this: it’s two o’clock in the morning, a sprinkler head breaks and water begins to pour down 30 floors of a building that’s under construction. The ensuing damage would cause expensive repairs and lengthy delays. 
“The biggest challenge in construction and finished construction is water leaks,” says Mark Bryant, chief information officer for the Edmonton metro region’s PCL Construction

Bryant and his team had that in mind when building Job Sight Insights™ (JSI™), a new cloud-based smart construction platform designed to monitor environmental conditions on construction projects. 

The technology consolidates the data from IoT sensors under a PCL-developed platform which allows the company to ingest, consume, and analyze the information in real time. 

In the case of a water leak, JSI™ can detect the problem, and with a recently added new technology, automatically shut the water off, reducing the potential for rework, warranty claims, and driving down insurance premiums.  

Award winning technology

The idea for JSI™ was born out of the questions many customers were asking about smart building technology. As Bryant explains, he wanted to first understand how technology could be used in the work phase of construction. 

“The architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry historically has not been a large investor in technology — pretty resistant to change, pretty frugal,” Bryant says. “We see the value of investing in technology for PCL, our workers, the environment, and especially for our client’s bottom line.”

PCL’s leadership in tech innovation is being recognized across Canada even beyond the construction sector. In November 2019, Bryant was recognized by the Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) as the Canadian CIO of the Year. PCL was also recognized with an Ingenious Award in the Large Private Sector category for JSI™.

A second technology developed by PCL finished as a runner up to JSI™. Hazard Inspection App blends machine learning and artificial intelligence with safety standards to produce a new and lean way of conducting inspections in the field. 

Bryant says employees at PCL were integral in providing the expertise to figure out which aspects of construction were the most important to monitor. 

PCL, which is headquartered in Edmonton with operations across Canada, the United States, Caribbean and Australia, started off using the technology while building the Stantec Tower – a 66-storey, 1.2 million square foot tower in Edmonton’s Ice District. Over 500 sensors were put in to monitor temperature, humidity and barometric pressure in the building. 

Edmonton’s Stantec Tower, the tallest building in Canada, west of Toronto (centre right).

“On a project like the Stantec Tower where you have a three to four year build, you’ve got 70 degree temperature swings over four seasons. Things like drywall or millwork can have issues that require rework so we monitor the temperature and humidity and keep that constant through heaters and smart provisioning,” Bryant says. 

Animation of the full Ice District buildout including Stantec Tower and Rogers Place – both built by PCL Construction.

Another application used at Stantec and part of JSI™ are concrete sensors, which help PCL measure strength and humidity, as well as determine the length of time it takes for concrete to cure. “We can determine maybe it’s 24 hours, instead of 30, which then allows us to advance the schedule and improve time to market for clients,” he explains. 

Commercialization

JSI™ hasn’t just been used for construction projects — it’s also been installed inside a pasta manufacturing facility north of Toronto, Ont. to measure temperature and humidity in refrigeration units. 

The facility is required to measure the levels three times a day, and report the findings to an inspector on a monthly basis. They were also experiencing freezers breaking down on a monthly basis, resulting in thousands of dollars of food being thrown away. 

JSI™ has taken away the manual labor of the historical reporting, and alerts four different people in the case of a freezer breakdown so someone can get to the facility to move the product to another unit, says Bryant. 

Since its launch in March 2018, PCL has expanded JSI™ to over 70 projects, and is ramping up to take it even further. The 114-year-old company completes around 700-800 projects a year, with a total construction value of around $9 billion annually, so there is huge potential for JSI™ to be used in everything from sports stadiums and commercial towers to retail plazas. 

Next, PCL plans to commercialize the award-winning platform for the benefit of the entire construction industry. 

“We have signed up a top 50 ranked Engineering News-Record company to use Job Site Insights. That’s pretty big news that another construction company is licensing our technology,” Bryant says. 

“I think it has the ability to revolutionize the construction market.”

Flourishing software app Jobber blazing the trail for Alberta tech startups

Jobber’s Forrest Zeisler and Sam Pillar. Photo credit, Globe and Mail

It’s been eight years since University of Alberta graduates Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler started technology startup Jobber after meeting in an Edmonton coffee shop.

As a freelance software developer, Pillar had worked with a number of not-for-profit organizations and small businesses.

Seeing some of the challenges they were experiencing running their organizations inspired him to develop a software application to help small businesses and home services cut paperwork and simplify their daily operations. 

“This was ancient history in technology time … 2008, ’09, ’10, and so the solutions that were available at the time were pretty archaic, if not nonexistent,” Pillar, Jobber’s co-founder and CEO, told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Monday (audio of CBC interview).

“So I felt there were lots of opportunities for me to help these kinds of businesses and organizations do a better job.”

This month, the Edmonton software company was recognized by Canadian Business magazine as the second-fastest growing software company in Canada.

Back in 2010, Pillar and Zeisler — also a freelance software developer — kept running into each other at the coffee shop, so Pillar told him his idea.

“He said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,'” Pillar recalled. Zeisler had just been talking to a friend of his who worked at a painting company, asking about whether he knew of any software to help a business that’s disorganized.  

That painting company became Jobber’s first customer.

Since then, Jobber has blazed the trail for other tech startups in Edmonton. 

Business growth

Today, Jobber has customers in 42 countries, and has identified some five million businesses in North America alone that could be using its software. 

The company employs a total of 185 employees in Edmonton and Toronto, including 145 at its Edmonton headquarters.

This summer, Jobber announced it’s moving out of its 12,000-square-foot Jasper Avenue headquarters into a larger space to accommodate the growth of its workforce. 

The firm is now renovating its new 30,000-square-foot space on three floors of the 103 Street Centre building in downtown Edmonton. The updated headquarters will include a 3,000-square-foot patio, which will make it one of the largest private outdoor workspaces in Edmonton.

Could ‘breed more success’

Jobber is clearing a path for other technology success stories in the region, said Darrell Petras, executive vice-president of business development at business accelerator TEC Edmonton.

“It’s a good example of the potential to start a tech-based company in the Edmonton region and to see it flourish, not just locally, not just provincially, but on a global scale,” Petras said. “I think it’s certainly an inspiration to all other tech companies in the region.”

Tech companies in the Edmonton region face challenges such as finding the right mentors, the right team and the investment dollars, Petras said.

“Now if we have successes like Jobber, that is going to attract the highly qualified people to the region, it’s going to attract investment dollars, so it will essentially breed more success.”

The biggest advantage of being a tech company in Edmonton competing with companies in large tech hubs such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and even Toronto is cost, Pillar said. The San Fransciso Bay area “is an incredibly expensive place to build a company,” he said. 

Jobber will move into its new Edmonton headquarters in early 2020.

Edmonton can become ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub’: Downtown biz report

Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O’Donnell.
Photo Credit: CODIE MCLACHLAN / POSTMEDIA

A report released Wednesday, detailing the state of Edmonton’s tech industry, says the city has the ability to become a ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub.’

The Downtown Business Association argues for increased tech-oriented buildings, a downtown accelerator, talent retention, collaboration between organizations and enhancing urban infrastructure in the downtown core in its new report, “Accelerating Tech in Downtown Edmonton: Impacts and Opportunities.”

“There’s a lot of hidden gems of tech companies in the downtown, that people might not have even heard of, that are global and that are doing amazing things with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue,” said Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, from TEC Edmonton on Wednesday. “We wanted to … really talk about, ‘How can we expand that and how can we accelerate that?’”

Edmonton is home to 394 tech companies — a majority of them in the downtown core — and supporting and attracting them will take a major shift in mindset, said the report. Of these, 44 per cent are considered start-ups and could grow into major companies with the right resources, O’Donnell said.

“We have a lot of amazing companies downtown in Edmonton,” said Karolina Korzeniewski, an MBA consultant on the project. “We are quietly working away, solving the world’s problems, at the forefront of the AI race, very humbly doing our work, and not really telling everybody about the wonderful things we’re doing.”

The report highlights a number of tech companies Edmontonians may not know are operating right here in the city, like Run With It Synthetics, which is working on Silicon Valley’s earthquake mitigation strategy.

Implementing the report’s recommendations would take a significant investment from all levels of government, as well as from businesses themselves, but O’Donnell said the point is that the foundation is already here in Edmonton.

“We all want the same thing,” said Korzeniewski. “So it’s a matter of channeling all of that positive energy in the right direction.”

O’Donnell noted the strong tech-oriented post-secondary programs in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson’s idea for an innovation corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta and strong transit infrastructure in downtown as key building blocks for a thriving tech sector.

Ultimately, O’Donnell and Korzeniewski hope the report can serve as a catalyst for a change they see as urgent and necessary.

“We have everything ready to go, but we have got to go now,” said O’Donnell. “If we don’t move today in a very collaborative and thoughtful way, we will be left behind.”

Eco-entrepreneurs are engineering a future in space

Student space team spawns commercial satellite company

UAlberta engineers are driven to achieve the impossible. Mechanical engineering graduates Chris Robson and Kurtis Broda are part of a team that has launched a private space company.

A group of current and former students have launched a space company dedicated to observing the Earth in new ways. These students were driven to take the risk, to innovate, and to find radical solutions to modern problems.

Chris Robson and Kurtis Broda both hold master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Alberta and are the founding partners of Wyvern, along with astrophysics graduate Kristen Cote and mechanical engineering undergrad Callie Lissinna. 

Robson was struck by the mysteries of the cosmos early in his engineering career, while working at an oil and gas company during an engineering co-op job placement.

“I was watching the space shuttle launch on one of my breaks. It was the first time I had ever watched a rocket launch and it just struck me,” he said. “It lit something inside of me. My soul was on fire.”

His innate desire to explore the unknown and his experience designing cubes satellites with the AlbertaSat team would perfectly match the research, specialities, and environmental-mindedness of his friend, Broda. 

Broda, driven by his passion for the environment, had developed expertise in creating instruments to measure the effects of climate change.

“During my master’s I became really passionate about scientific instrumentation and trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, so when Chris said, ‘Hey, do you want to start a space company where we could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make the world a better place?’ I said, ‘Let’s do this.’ I was really struck by that opportunity.”

Teaming up and forming Wyvern, Broda and Robson are designing a cube satellite which, carrying new technology, will allow them to observe the Earth in ways never before visualized by humankind. 

By equipping a satellite with a hyperspectral camera, Robson, Broda, Cote and Lissina aim to make it possible for humanity to watch the Earth breathe. 

Hyperspectral imaging is the process by which spectral (light) information can be gathered for each and every pixel within an image. The information can then be analyzed to determine the material, density, and chemical composition of anything in the camera’s view. 

Robson says the colour resolution of the camera Wyvern is designing is so high that distinguishing one species of tree from another from their space-based platform will be possible. 

The applications are wide-ranging. Farmers could use the technology to monitor crops. The imaging capabilities would allow them to understand nutrient levels in soil and detect invasive weeds or the presence of pests. 

Heavy industries like mining could monitor their impact on the environment.

“There are applications in agriculture in order to optimize crop growth, and also in industries like mining, we will be able to monitor the processes to try to make them more efficient, and ultimately more green,” Broda said. 

Wyvern’s development of the proprietary technology necessary to provide daily measurements of the Earth’s atmospheric content makes them an ideal recipient of the Government of Alberta’s GreenSTEM initiative by providing funding and support to clean-technology company creation. With the financial support of GreenSTEM, will help build the future of the province.

Broda says the GreenSTEM funding will be used for research and development of Wyvern’s satellite, and to help the company get to the next level by acquiring investor funding.

At Wyvern, Broda, Robson, Lissinna and Cote are doing more than pushing the boundaries of technology, they are breaking them. 

Twitter provides valuable insight for disaster response, study says

New research tests algorithm for understanding what happened and where during Hurricane Irma.

A resident of southern Florida uses their phone in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Location-based social networks like Twitter can provide valuable insight for disaster response, according to a new study by UAlberta scientists. Photo credit: Getty Images

Location-based social networks, such as Twitter, can provide critical insight and information for disaster response, according to new research by University of Alberta scientists.

The study examined tweets sent in Florida in 2017 during Hurricane Irma, when more than 6 million people were evacuated. The researchers used a machine learning algorithm to classify tweets by content, region, and sentiment.

“Our research shows that it was possible to know not just what was happening during Hurricane Irma, but where it was happening,” said Darcy Reynard, PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and lead author on the study.

“We demonstrated that location information embedded in tweets can be useful to gain further insights about policy-relevant content. This information can be used to develop policy both during and after disasters. The process has the likelihood of increasing response accuracy and aiding efficient resource allocation decisions during and after a disaster.”

Twitter provides real-time data about the experiences of those directly affected by a disaster. The study found that longer tweets were more likely to include useful sentiment-based, or emotional, content. More popular tweets were less likely to include useful information about the disaster, and negative sentiments were expressed more often in areas with young families.

“Research using location-based social networks, like Twitter, has an extra advantage compared to other social media platforms since tweets can include a geospatial component,” said Reynard. “This allows us to identify a user’s location at the time the tweet was created so that researchers can analyze not only what topics are being discussed but also where they are being discussed.”

The paper, “Harnessing the power of machine learning: Can Twitter data be useful in guiding resource allocation decisions during a natural disaster?” was published in Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment(doi: 10.1016/j.trd.2019.03.002).

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