Monday, August 28, 2017

Lacavera Elevating Canada and Canadian Technology

          By Brian Orlotti

The 1st Elevate Toronto Festival, a three day tech start-up extravaganza taking place in Toronto, ON from September 12th - 14th,  has just published its speaker list. Among these is a figure well-connected with Canada’s NewSpace industry; Anthony ‘Tony,’  Lacavera, and two up-and-coming space firms.

Tony Lacavera at the at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, ON in January 2016. As outlined in the January 18th, 2016 BetaKit post, "Tony Lacavera Commits to Series A & B Investments Following "Meaningful" Wind Exit," the Toronto based entrepreneur was on-hand to kick off 2016’s MaRS Mornings speaker series. According to Lacavera, his goal "is to keep more companies in Canada." Photo c/o BetaKit.

Lacavera, founder of Globalive Holdings (a telecom provider and investment firm) and wireless carrier Wind Mobile (now Freedom Mobile), is a former Chairman of the Board for Vancouver-based satellite imagery firm UrtheCast as well as a key investor in Toronto-based nano-satellite startup Kepler Communications.

In January 2016,  Lacavera, via Globalive, established a $100Mln CDN venture capital fund as a follow-on to a series of investments he made in various Toronto tech firms over the previous year.

The fund was intended to plug what Lacavera considered a strategic hole in the Canadian startup landscape. Canada has ample support for entrepreneurs just starting out, and once they achieve success, US venture firms or investors like Toronto-based OMERS Ventures are there to provide tens of millions of dollars.

Between those stages lay a funding gap, which Lacavera’s fund is designed to fill by providing mid-level funding rounds of between $5-25 Mln CDN.

In an January 13th, 2016 Computer Dealer News post, "Globalive CEO Tony Lacavera on how Canada can become a leader in AI," Lacavera said that he felt that Canada has the potential to become a world leader in fields such as artificial intelligence, fintech, machine-learning, autonomous vehicles, and quantum computing, though its institutions must step up their efforts to fulfill it.

He also stressed that Canada’s efforts must go beyond mere presentations and broad allocations of resources; Canada must narrow its actions and focus on areas where it can win. Towards that end, in 2017, Lacavera, now co-chair of startup-funding charity NEXT Canada, revealed a new initiative, NextAI.

NextAI, an artificial intelligence startup funding program, has received  $5.15Mln CDN in initial backing from a series of high-profile donors including the Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank and Magna International.

Lacavera has framed the new venture as the Canadian private sector’s contribution to such AI-supportive government organizations as the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), which he said had provided Canada with a “small but fleeting competitive advantage” in the field.

As quoted in the January 26th, 2017 IT World Canada post, "Tony Lacavera, RBC, Magna among backers behind new AI funding program," Lacavera said that initiatives like NextAI are needed to stop the US brain drain of Canadian tech talent:
Despite excelling on the research front, in recent years the AI brain drain has become more and more profound, as so much of our top talent leaves for Silicon Valley and beyond. 
At NextAI, our aim is to stop and reverse this brain drain and actually attract the best and the brightest from around the globe to Canada – and the only way we’re going to ensure Canada continues to make its way in artificial intelligence is if we make it the best environment possible for both creation and innovation.
Lacavera’s moves and the Elevate Toronto Festival may have come at just the right moment for Canada. As relations with the United States become increasingly acrimonious, as made evident by President Trump’s recent threats to unilaterally cancel NAFTA, Canada must strive to reduce its economic dependence on the US and finally adopt a more global mindset
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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