Monday, March 26, 2018

Forging Hi-Tech Links With Potential New Friends

          By Brian Orlotti

On March 24th, the second annual China (Shenzhen) Innovation & Entrepreneurship International Competition, Toronto Division (aka Sci Innovation Competition), was held at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, ON.

A quiet weekend with a few close friends. As outlined in the March 24th, 2017 University of Toronto (UofT) Department of Materials Science & Engineering (MSE) post, "International innovation competition comes to Toronto," VIPs participating in the 2017 edition of the Sci Innovation Competition included (from left to right) UofT MSE professor Hani Naguib; deputy Toronto mayor & city councilor Denzil Minnan-Wong; Canada Confederation of Shenzhen Associations chairperson Jenny Qi; Federal minister of innovation, science and economic development (ISED) Navdeep Bains; Chinese Deputy Consul General Xu Wei; and Federal MPs Raj Grewal and Geng Tan. As outlined in the March 23rd, 2018 Electronics Products and Technology post, "Canada’s 20 top new innovators face off," 2018 judges included "a diverse group of business leaders, scientists, academics, and renowned experts in technology and innovation." The list also included more than a few money people such as  Don Wright, the president of the Winnington Capital Group and the director of MaRS Innovation Inc. and Yuri Navarro, the CEO and executive director at the National Angel Capital Organization (NACO). Navarro is also the chief of staff for the Ontario minister of economic development and trade. Photo c/o Hao Shi/ UofT.

Twenty groups of Canadian innovators highlighted Toronto’s vibrant tech startup ecosystem and helped to forge stronger business links with China. Given our current "America First" internationally focused "art of the deal" environment, it always pays to cultivate options.

Begun by the Municipality of Shenzhen, China (a global tech hub), the Sci Innovation Competition is sponsored globally by local governments in Toronto, Silicon Valley, Sydney, Tokyo, Boston, Tel Aviv, London, Stockholm and Berlin.

At the 2018 Toronto competition, the Canadian finalists, winnowed from a field of 208 participants, will pitch their ideas to a panel of twenty-seven judges comprised of business leaders, scientists, academics and renowned experts.

First, second, and third place prizes will be awarded from a venture capital pool of RMB ¥20.9Bln ($4Bln CDN) setup by thirty-four institutions to finance the winning teams. Of the twenty finalists, ten skilled Canadian winners will then head to Shenzhen to take part in the finals in April 2018.

The competition features projects from five industries; IT, biotechnology and life sciences, electronic science and technology, advanced manufacturing and materials and energy and offers prizes totaling RMB ¥10.91Mln ($2.09Mln CDN).

Canadian finalists included:
  • ForceFilm - A Toronto startup that has developed an addon for surgical robots which gives them a sense of touch. ForceFilm’s technology would enable greater surgical precision, reducing risks. ForceFilm is currently seeking approval for its technology from Health Canada.
  • Sapling Robotics Beach Cleaning Rover - A group of engineers from the University of Toronto and the University of Buffalo developing an autonomous, zero-emission, electric beach-cleaning robot. The rover uses self-driving technology and machine vision to operate unsupervised alongside beachgoers at any time, day or night. Sapling’s goal is to replace the diesel vehicles currently used in beach cleaning, eliminating their harmful carbon emissions, loud noises and terrible smells. The team is currently developing a prototype and seeking a partner (i.e. a hotel or local municipality) for a pilot program over the summer. 
  • Qsun Sun Safety Solution - This team has created an AI-powered wearable and companion app that provides a solution to sun-caused skin damage. The device monitors ultraviolet rays, analyzing a user’s exposure to sun in real-time, notifying them when on the verge of a sunburn. The device uses an algorithm that combines the user’s current sun exposure with their skin type, environmental situation and sun safety habits. The device also provides users with tailored recommendations to manage vitamin D levels based on their sun exposure and diet. After a recent sucessful crowdfunding effort on Kickstarter, the team plans to launch a second-generation device this summer.
  • GoFind AI - A California-based startup developing artificial intelligence for shopping. GoFind AI is an instant fashion discovery app that lets people upload images or screenshots to find out where to buy the products they are looking for. The search engine is driven by a learning-trained machine that recognizes textures, colours and shapes and gives users access to 100 million products from more than 1,000 online shops. Along with locating the exact product, the app also brings up similar items at varying price points. The team is working on expanding the search engine to include furniture, houses and cars.
The Sci Innovation Competition provides a welcome new source of capital for fostering innovative Canadian tech startups as well as strengthening Canada’s ties with China.

In the face of a possible US/China trade war and increasing trade threats and extortion from the Trump Administration, Canada must forge stronger ties with new allies if it is to survive and thrive in the coming years.
Brian Orlotti.

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

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