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The difference a decade can make: DMZ turns 10

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The difference a decade can make: DMZ turns 10

 

10 years, 477 startups, 4,142 jobs created, $916.4M raised and counting…

2020 marks a huge milestone for the DMZ. It’s a big anniversary – we’ve officially been around for a decade. We’ve transformed from a small student coworking space to a world-leading incubator-accelerator, and to celebrate this birthday we’re taking a trip down memory lane to reflect on the accomplishments, challenges and victories the DMZ has seen since our inception. Most importantly, we want to highlight the people who have pivotal roles in shaping what the DMZ is today. 


We’re giving away a Nespresso machine + more to celebrate 10 years!

Check out the DMZ Instagram to participate in our trivia and giveaways over the next two weeks. Starting on Wednesday, September 16, we’ll be giving away a brand new Nespresso Vertuo Coffee & Espresso Machine, exclusive DMZ swag and a copy of the #1 Bestselling book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Since you’re already reading this blog, you’ve got a head start – you may just find some trivia questions here! Follow us now to ensure you don’t miss a post.


DMZ’s biggest milestones over the last decade

year 2010 in block letters
The DMZ is born. 

A student founder from Soapbox pitched an idea to Sheldon Levy, Toronto Metropolitan University’s then-President. The student needed support in developing an idea for a new startup company and couldn’t find the help they needed on campus. Sheldon Levy saw the potential to create an innovative space for students to work on new business ideas, and together with co-founders Valerie Fox and Dr. Hossein Rahnama, the Digital Media Zone was born! 

year 2011 in block letters
Open for business. 

Within one year of opening, the DMZ had already garnered significant interest within the entrepreneur ecosystem. In 2011, the DMZ’s first Executive Director and Co-Founder, Valerie Fox, made a decision that would transform the Digital Media Zone: opening our doors to founders outside of the Ryerson community. As the number of founders joining the DMZ grew, the physical space grew with it and expanded two extra floors to accommodate incoming companies.

DMZ Co-Founder, Dr. Hossein Rahnama was the first to commercialize his research at the DMZ and founded Flybits – a startup that went on to become one of Canada’s top AI companies.

year 2012 in block letters
Royalty arrives at the DMZ. 

It’s true! In 2012, His Royal Highness Prince Charles paid a visit to the DMZ while on a Canadian tour. The Prince made his way through the DMZ’s offices at Yonge-Dundas square and student entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to showcase their companies, drawing the royal member’s attention to the talent and innovation being incubated at the DMZ.

In 2012, Carrie-Ann Bissonnette, Manager, helped build processes and rigger that shaped the foundation of the DMZ in its early days.

year 2013 in block letters
A new investment arm & visit from Justin Trudeau. 

As early-stage DMZ startups began transforming into high-growth companies, Toronto Metropolitan University launched Ryerson Futures Inc. (RFI), a for-profit investment arm and startup accelerator that could provide companies with seed financing to help them grow to significant value. This year, we announced RFI’s rebrand to DMZ Ventures.

In 2013, the DMZ received yet another high-profile visit. This time, it was Justin Trudeau that stopped by to get a tour of the newly-expanded, five-floor DMZ incubator during his federal Liberal leader election campaign that year.

year 2014 in block letters
Launch Zone opens. 

Now known as DMZ Sandbox, the former Launch Zone opened its doors in Ryerson’s brand new Student Learning Centre as an on-campus space to help students looking to explore the world of entrepreneurship. More than six years later, DMZ Sandbox continues to help the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real businesses.

$63.1M capital raised by DMZ startups in 2014

year 2015 in block letters
New name, new leadership, new global title. 

2015 marked a turning point for the Digital Media Zone. Over five years, the technology being incubated at the DMZ shifted and the majority of startups were no longer considered to be within the digital media field. The Digital Media Zone announced an official rebrand to “DMZ”, signalling it had become sector-agnostic. 

In July 2015, the DMZ saw another big change – Abdullah Snobar took over the role of Executive Director.  From the start, Abdullah invested in rebuilding the DMZ so it offered more functional workspaces, better communal areas to host events and investor meetings, and home-like amenities to build a comfortable environment for founders spending long hours on their startups. Under Abdullah’s leadership, the DMZ began putting dedicated resources into expanding its program team. DMZ’s offerings expanded to include more hands-on coaching, vibrant community events, support with customer acquisition and giving startups better access to capital. Revamping the program structure and creating a “founders first” environment ultimately led the DMZ to earn the title of the top incubator in North America by UBI Global!

$68.2M capital raised by DMZ startups in 2015

year 2016 in block letters
The first Advisory Council. 

As the DMZ continued to evolve its growth strategy, its next big move involved launching the first Advisory Council in 2016. Formed to help build the strongest startup community in the world, the Council members would go on to promote the DMZ in the broader business community and advise the DMZ on matters such as strategic direction, international growth, fundraising, industry trends and more. To this day, our Advisory Council nurtures the DMZ’s connection with the business community.

$77.1M raised by DMZ startups in 2016

year 2017 in block letters
DMZ opens a leading growth accelerator. 

In 2017, the DMZ launched its very first accelerator cohort to help entrepreneurs innovate faster and achieve hypergrowth. Three years and 13 cohorts later, the DMZ’s most competitive program has received world recognition.

That year, DMZ also gave Canadian tech startups a new place to call home south of the border and opened a new office space in the heart of New York City’s financial district, making the DMZ the first Canadian university incubator to open an office in the U.S.

$168.6M raised by DMZ startups in 2017

year 2018 in block letters
#1 in the world. 

In 2018, UBI Global ranked The DMZ as the number one university-based incubator in the world. UBI Global is a leader in performance analysis of business incubators around the world. The Stockholm-based research organization looks at over 20 key performance indicators to determine rankings.

That’s not all for 2018! DMZ was given yet another prestigious title by Waterstone Human Capital and was named as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures, affirming the DMZ’s core values as an organization: -‘equity over everything’, ‘founders first’ and ‘be great’.

$197.7M capital raised by DMZ startups in 2018

year 2019 in block letters
Game-changing programs and work culture. 

Last year marked another year with many firsts for the DMZ. In 2019, we launched two brand new programs that both took a customized, founders-first approach. The first, DMZYYZ, launched a two-week soft-landing program that gave elite international entrepreneurs a personalized ticket into the North American market, fueling business integration with other global markets. The second being the Black Innovation Fellowship – a first-of-its-kind initiative in Canada aimed at breaking down barriers Black founders face, helping them scale their companies to the next level.

$189.1M capital raised by DMZ startups in 2019

year 2020 in block letters
10 years, 477 startups, 4,142 jobs created, $916.4M raised in total.

Between a global health crisis and economic downtown, it’s no secret the last six months of this year have brought pain, heartbreak and struggle for many in our community. The business landscape, in many ways, has completely transformed – but as a result, we’ve found some powerful silver linings.

The DMZ community thrives off of building strong in-person connections, but moving to a virtual environment has opened new opportunities for our startups and programs. We’ve been able to connect more extensively with founders, partners, and opportunities around the world. Virtual programming has allowed us to expand our offering to international companies, and we’re now serving (and accepting applications from) startups worldwide.

In the last six months alone, we: transformed our programming to run our Incubator and Accelerator virtually, helped international companies integrate into the North American market through the DMZ YYZ program, launched the #HackTheCurve challenge, hosted government calls advocating for startup COVID-19 support, had several student entrepreneurs go through our Startup Certified and Basecamp programs, provided dedicated programming for Black entrepreneurs (Black Innovation Fellowship Bootcamp) and women-led startups (Women Founders Fast Track pilot), joined industry leaders to establish the Innovation Economy Council, launched DMZ Innisfil to drive innovation in rural Ontario, introduced new international programs (shh… stay tuned!) and announced DMZ Ventures – a move that allows us to offer a full spectrum of startup support at every stage – from business ideation to investment.

That’s just a quick snapshot of what we’ve got going on – it’s been a busy year, but we won’t stop here.

DMZ’s vision is to see a world powered by ambitious entrepreneurs. In these times, we pledge to do whatever it takes to help our tech startups push past barriers to growth and transform into world-class organizations. 

Thank you to everyone who’s helped the DMZ become what it is today – the late Raymond Chang, Valerie Fox, Dr. Hossein Rahnama, Sheldon Levy, and Mohamed Lachemi, current President and Vice-Chancellor of Toronto Metropolitan University, just to name a few. An immense thank you to all of our incredible startup founders and their teams, all of our coaches, advisors, partners, and staff – cheers to the next decade of building great Canadian tech companies.

We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years hold.

 

Are you a startup founder interested in learning more about DMZ’s programs? Reach out at dmz@torontomu.ca!

 

CanHack: Why young innovators should consider a future in cybersecurity

COVID-19 and the talent shortage in cybersecurity skills

If changes in technology, growing risks of data overload, and increased usage of Cloud platforms have not already overwhelmed organizations’ IT and cybersecurity teams, they certainly will now. 

COVID-19 has forced a large portion of Canadian employers, from government departments to private sector companies, to make a sudden switch to a remote working model (and for some, a permanent switch). The transition to operating in a remote format has brought about new implications for how organizations will maintain cyber safety since employees are now working in absence of companies’ usual security measures (firewalls, safe IT systems, etc.)

Furthermore, it has highlighted the greater need for more cybersecurity skills in the workforce. Talent shortages have long existed in the cybersecurity landscape, and we can only expect these skills gaps to widen even further as the new reality of remote working sets in. 

CanHack 2019
Our solution: CanHack

At the DMZ, it’s our job to not only help startup founders accelerate their business growth but to also empower Canada’s next generation of innovators who aspire to make a real difference. We develop and execute initiatives like CanHack, our student cybersecurity competition organized in partnership with RBC, to promote cyber literacy and to also address digital skills gaps in the labour market.

DMZ is launching CanHack for a third year. Thanks to continued support from RBC, the program will continue to redefine how secondary education engages with cybersecurity skills and will introduce a brand new cohort of high school students to the challenge. As both partners leverage their strengths to break new ground together, the overarching goal will be to encourage more students to think about pursuing a future career in cybersecurity and computer science. This year, instead of the fall of 2020, the program will begin in Spring 2021 to give teachers more time to onboard their students. (continue reading for more details regarding the new 2021 program date).


How CanHack works

CanHack leverages PicoCTF technology, an online open-source computer security platform established by the Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security & Privacy Institute. This game-based learning experience creates an interactive and engaging experience where students are tasked with addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by Canadian financial institutions.

The competition and program format allow young innovators to be immersed in a fun and stimulating environment where they gain critical computer security skills, work with experts in the cyber field and compete for cash prizes. Best of all? The program is completely virtual and no prior experience in cybersecurity is required to participate. 


CanHack’s accomplishments to date

Since launching in 2018, CanHack has already:

  • Helped over 4000 high school student participants gain valuable knowledge and experience in cybersecurity
  • Worked with 91 schools in 2019, and 76 schools in 2018
  • Distributed $6500 in competition cash prizes to students and $9500 to schools to help integrate more technology into student lives

CanHack 2019 winners of cybersecurity skills competition
What’s to come? CanHack 2021

As partners, DMZ and RBC have forged a number of firsts in the Toronto tech community over the course of this relationship. CanHack 2021 will be a natural next step for this partnership in empowering a stronger, more vibrant cybersecurity landscape within Canada.

“Cybersecurity has become a major and critical element for all organizations with the acceleration of cybercrime, and the evolving threat landscape.  Expansion of digital services driven by the challenges of COVID-19 and need for the mass enablement of a secure remote workforce, cyber skills have become a key resource to nurture and invest in,” said Matthew Tim, VP Cyber Technology Office at RBC. “By partnering with DMZ and sponsoring initiatives like CanHack, RBC is investing in the future of cybersecurity by encouraging greater participation and interest from the young adults in high schools across Canada. We would like to promote greater involvement and interest in cyber as a career to narrow the skills gap.”

In an effort to increase program accessibility Canada-wide (and plan around COVID-19), we’re taking CanHack virtual this year with all workshops and sessions available online for students and teachers to engage with. In coordination with proper health and safety guidelines, we anticipate running in-person and virtual info sessions and workshops in Fall 2020. The CanHack Challenge Launch Event for PicoCTF will then take place in March 2021.

Besides offering programming to students coast to coast, CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run female-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support females in STEAM and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.


Hear from CanHack participants

A student’s perspective

“CanHack 2019 was very enjoyable for me. I got to learn more about cybersecurity and the different specializations within it, and technology in general. The competition gave me a good chance to compete with my friends and it was actually fun to play the game, see the campus of Ryerson as well as the downtown area. During the cyber expo day, I learned a lot about other people’s experiences and why each company was partnered with the event. I learned that as companies move into a more digital world, they need a good cybersecurity foundation, especially since there is more and more criminal activity around the cybersecurity field. I also listened to a 16-year-old entrepreneur and how she is using technology to change the world. Overall, CanHack was a great program to play in and I hope they can continue to do what they do in the future!”

– High school student from Middlefield Collegiate Institute

An educator’s perspective

“For the last two years, Clarkson Secondary School has taken advantage of the amazing opportunity provided by the Ryerson DMZ and RBC to learn about computer securities. This program has become a mandatory component of the computer science courses for students in grades 10 and 11. Prior to taking part in this event, students in my classes would have had very minimal exposure to cybersecurity or even a linux shell; now students get a full two weeks where they are exposed to this content. There is no way that I would have been able to create anything close to the PicoCTF competition on my own, and it is only through the partnership with the Ryerson DMZ and RBC that Clarkson Secondary School students get this experience.

CanHack allows students to develop a set of skills that goes behind technical know-how: teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills. Additionally, students have become significantly more aware of the impact that cybersecurity has on their daily lives. While the obvious benefit is to students who will study computer science and computer engineering once they leave high school, even students who will major in social sciences are now looking at laws and ethics around computer technology and cybersecurity. I want to personally thank the Ryerson DMZ, RBC, and their sponsors for allowing the students at Clarkson Secondary School to take part in this event over the last two years. Students now come into my classes asking when the competition will start every September.”

– Matthew Arduini, Curriculum Head – Mathematics, Computer Science, and Business, Clarkson Secondary School

CanHack 2019 helping youth get cybersecurity skills
With RBC’s diverse support and DMZ’s relevant programming, combined with the growing demand to bolster digital literacy in cybersecurity among Canadian youth, CanHack 2021 will be positioned to be a top challenge in Canada.

For high school educators across Canada who are interested in bringing more cybersecurity education and opportunities for students into their schools, you can learn more about the format of the program by reaching out to us at dmz@torontomu.ca.

For high school students looking to gain knowledge and experience in the areas of cybersecurity and computer science, stay tuned for more information on CanHack 2021!

Our commitment to creating an equitable future for Black founders

Last week, I released a statement voicing the DMZ’s support for the Black community and our commitment to strengthening Black entrepreneurship in the tech ecosystem.

To enact real change for an equitable future, it is our responsibility as leaders in this space to do more than just express our support. We must action it.

Here are the first steps we’re taking to uphold our promise to our action: 

  • Recruit more Black founders: We pledge to recruit 30 new Black founders by May 2021 through our Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF) Program (up from 10 BIF founders last year).
  • Expand programming and resources: Since launching the BIF program in May of 2019, we have identified opportunities for widening our programs to support aspiring Black entrepreneurs that have not yet established market traction. Yesterday, we launched a free two-week bootcamp open to pre-incubator stage Black founders around the world to get their tech-business ideas validated. Full details and the application for this bootcamp can be found at dmz.to/BIF.
  • Giving back to the community: Each year, DMZ staff are encouraged to spend up to 40 hours volunteering in the local community in lieu of regular work hours. Starting today, we are asking staff to take paid time off to volunteer with the Black community on initiatives that will drive impact on things such as racial justice, equity, supporting Black owned businesses and many more. 

A prosperous economy is one that fosters diverse perspectives and actively removes barriers for those hindered by systemic discrimination. 

Black founders, we pledge to help level the playing field and clear the pathways to your entrepreneurial success.

Abdullah Snobar
Executive Director, DMZ
CEO, DMZ Ventures

Cinchy helps healthcare and financial service industries accelerate response to COVID-19

DMZ alumnus, Cinchy, is using Data Fabric technology to help Canadian banking and healthcare sectors unlock IT efficiencies and address the immediate impacts of COVID-19

Congratulations to the company on their recent announcement of securing $10M in Series A funding to support growing demand for Data Fabric Technology!

Cinchy’s Data Fabric technology is being used to unlock efficiencies so that banks and healthcare providers can deploy real-time solutions with existing or even reduced IT budgets. How can the tech community and public sector work together to accelerate the delivery of new customer and employee solutions without compromising on data privacy? Keep reading to find out.

More applications mean more data silos

Today, there’s an app for everything – meaning there’s also a data silo for everything. Do you ever feel like your business is drowning in complexity? The proliferation of new applications poses huge problems for organizations of all kinds, across all sectors. As explained by Cinchy CEO, Dan DeMers, data integration can easily consume 50% or more of the delivery budget for new solutions. In an IT model where we are constantly doing this, data integration grows more and more complex over time, and this simply isn’t sustainable for organizations. It’s a waste of time and money.

How data should work

So, how does Cinchy’s technology solve this issue for organizations? Cinchy believes there is an inevitable future about how data should work, and it involves shifting to Data Fabric technology.

Cinchy is an enterprise-grade Data Collaboration platform that merges data management, data protection, and data governance capabilities under one umbrella. It is Data Fabric technology that delivers the data management layer, and it is used to connect data from apps, as well as new data created directly in the fabric, to form a sort of internet of data tables. One of the key benefits of this architecture is that it removes the need to make data copies (a.k.a. integrations) when launching new solutions. Instead, data is “linked”, and this process actually gets faster and more efficient as the fabric powers more solutions. Think of the Data Fabric as generating a network effect for IT delivery where more projects translate into faster and cheaper delivery, not rising costs and complexity.

Why has Data Fabric been gaining so much traction recently? The reason is that organizational leaders are being asked to deliver solutions faster than ever before without being given additional budget or headcount. Therefore, they have been searching to find technologies that increase both speed and efficiency while not putting data privacy and protection at risk. As you might guess, the list of software categories capable of delivering all of these outcomes is short; Data Fabric technology has quickly risen to the top of the list.

Connect, protect, collaborate

Society is moving to a future where data owners, whether individuals or businesses, will demand more control over how their data is used. With conventional approaches, data is effectively managed by making a lot of copies, and, once copied, full control is simply no longer possible. All this changes with Cinchy’s Data Fabric design, where data owners (whether employees, customers, or supply chain partners) are able to grant access permission to fellow fabric users to see, change, approve or delete their data. With no copies of data to chase and protect, these controls become universal in nature and can be set all the way down to a single cell of data.

For large, highly-regulated organizations, the fabric acts as the secure, real-time engine for the delivery of unlimited new solutions with embedded data protection. Again, this not only enables secure, cross-team collaborations but actually accelerates and improves the organization’s IT delivery process. That’s the way it should be.

COVID-19: making a difference across industries in the months to come

During this time, organizations need to meet the sudden demand from employees and customers for new solutions to their needs. In the new COVID-19 world, it’s important that organizations not only address these demands quickly but find ways to do so that are hyper-efficient. For Cinchy’s enterprise and public sector customers, their platform supports this incredible challenge and even provides a competitive advantage when business returns to a focus on growth.

Helping Canada’s financial sector do more with less

All areas of financial services heavily rely on data as a key asset in the delivery of their digital transformation strategies: from paperless banking and accelerated loan approvals to remote staff management and increased service personalization.

There is now more data, and more types of data, than ever – making it more difficult to manage. This is where Data Fabric technology will play a key role in helping the financial sector respond quickly to new demands from customers and employees alike. Banks will need to harness data in the most effective way possible to accelerate the delivery of new solutions for remote workers, secure office spaces, and the and fully-digitized customer experiences. Canadian banks can leverage Cinchy and reap the benefits of its Data Fabric design to achieve data centricity and accurate data extraction for successful decision-making. Data Fabric will be the answer to helping the economy bounce back.

Powering secure, real-time healthcare solutions

The ongoing healthcare crisis raises important questions about the use of personally identifying information (PII). For example, should citizen GPS and Bluetooth location data be used to help augment contact tracers in their incredibly important work to track viral transmission and reduce spread? How can the technology community and public sector work together to respond to the current situation and help society be more proactive when addressing future outbreaks?

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for public health agencies to move beyond legacy data management systems based on Data Sharing/Data Integration and explore new approaches such as Data Fabric technology that improve data protection and IT solutions delivery. These new approaches will support the rapid delivery of large scale solutions ranging from augmented contact tracing to intelligent PPE inventory management, front-line worker support, and secure vaccine research collaborations.

Click image to see expanded infographic.

Cinchy’s Healthcare Data Command Centre solution uses Data Collaboration and Data Fabric technologies to help healthcare providers leverage data from sources like legacy healthcare systems, hospital apps and databases, mobile phone apps, laboratory research, third party PPE inventory systems and more. By drawing this data into a central, secure Command Centre where owners retain full control of how their data is used, public health agencies can quickly develop the data models required to deploy the real-time solutions that are so urgently needed in order to address the crisis.

Cinchy believes that it is imperative that public and private stakeholders join forces in order to take advantage of connected Data Fabric design – a made-in-Canada innovation that can be used to help address a global problem without compromising on data privacy or data protection.

Interested in learning how your organization can benefit from Cinchy’s platform? Reach out to the Cinchy team and book a demo here.

How PocketHealth is fueling healthcare innovation, attracting investment and scaling company growth despite COVID-19

PocketHealth’s patient-centric product introduces a new way of thinking in healthcare and has been instrumental in keeping hospital departments afloat during the current COVID-19 crisis.


The company recently announced a $9.2M raise in funding – while it seems hard to believe a startup could be pursuing growth and attracting investment in this environment, PocketHealth isn’t at all surprised that demand has skyrocketed.

Healthcare institutions have traditionally been slow to embrace innovation. However, Rishi Nayyar, Co-Founder & CEO of PocketHealth, explains that many have had no choice but to adopt new technology in hopes of relieving burdens on resources.

PocketHeath has completely modernized how sensitive medical imaging is shared between hospitals, imaging clinics, doctors and patients. The platform has stopped patients from making unnecessary hospital trips and being exposed to potential risk, and given institutions more resources to deal with COVID-19 screening and other related activities.

We caught up with Rishi to pass along our congratulations on the company’s raise and to learn what’s next in store for the company given the news – which includes big plans to scale.

Check out our Q&A with Rishi below.

Tell us about how you and your brother co-founded this business together.

The idea for PocketHealth began with a simple experience that my brother, Harsh, had while he was working in the Bay Area in Silicon Valley. He was playing tennis and sprained his ankle quite badly. He was required to get an MRI and an X-ray, and when he was done with that MRI, he was handed two CD-ROMs.

The thought of receiving CDs back then, which was in the mid-2010s, was quite absurd – especially considering the work he was doing in the Valley. At that time, he was an early engineer at a startup that eventually got acquired by Google. He was working on app virtualization: streaming large quantities of data to mobile devices all around the world, gigabytes of data. Meanwhile, in healthcare, hospitals and imaging centres had these small image files being placed on a CD-ROM to give to a patient. This patient was, by definition, sick. They’d have to come to the hospital, pick up the CD-ROM and then drop it off at their doctor’s office to continue their care. Harsh thought, why is this a primary way that imaging records are released? That’s something that stuck with him. He called me and said, “Look, this is a problem and we can build the tech to solve it.”

Time passed. The startup he was working at got acquired by Google. He eventually left Google and I left my job where I was working in banking. We saw an opportunity to create a cloud platform that would completely change the healthcare industry, and that’s when we started PocketHealth.

Can you tell us more about PocketHealth’s product?

PocketHealth is a cloud platform that allows hospitals and imaging clinics to share imaging records virtually with patients, physicians, and other hospitals and clinics. From the patient’s perspective, PocketHealth allows them to access and control their medical imaging records in the palm of their hand, in full diagnostic quality, and then share it with any physician in the world – instantly.

What has PocketHealth’s journey looked like since graduating in 2018?

The DMZ helped us ensure we had the systems in place to grow responsibly. We were surrounded by companies at the same stage of growth, and we were able to learn from these companies and the mentors. When we hit hyper-growth upon graduating, we were prepared.

We grew our product scope, significantly enabling hospitals to not just share with patients, but to also receive imaging inwards. Those products made a great impact in the market. It allowed us to grow our client base significantly – to the scale we’re at today.

In the early days of this pandemic, did you have any worry that it could negatively affect your company?

No, we knew from the beginning, especially working in health care, that COVID-19 would dramatically increase demand for PocketHealth. Burning CDs was no longer an option. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need for hospitals and clinics to modernize the way they share medical imaging. There are still patients who need imaging, who need to undergo diagnosis, who need treatment, and they require a copy of their exam to further their care. However, requiring patients to come on-site to pick up a CD is just not possible anymore.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for a product like PocketHealth?

We’re having Directors of medical imaging and CEOs of hospitals calling us saying, “We needed this yesterday”. We’ve increased the number of sites deploying on our platform by over 300 percent monthly as imaging clinics and hospitals across North America grapple with this problem.

We’ve been advantaged: one, we have a product that is extremely strong in the market and is patient-centric, and two, we’re built for rapid deployment. We’ve been able to go live at a hospital in days or even hours. From an I.T. perspective, it’s unheard of – to completely switch how you perform a job function or a data-release function in such a short amount of time.

It was recently announced that PocketHealth secured $6.5 million USD ($9.2 million CAD) in funding. What does this first round of funding mean for the company?

This capital will allow us to scale our team significantly. We are hiring across all teams: customer success, sales, marketing and engineering. We’re hiring a mission-driven team to achieve our expansion goals. We want to reach out to the millions of patients that we haven’t touched yet, as well as thousands of hospitals and clinics where we aren’t deployed yet.

What does the future look like for PocketHealth? What are the company’s next milestones?

We’re trying to attract top talent in all of our roles who care about the problem that we’re trying to solve. We know that we have a platform that is unique in the market, that has this amazing ability to resonate with patients and with the providers. We’re driven to expand PocketHealth beyond the scope where it already is. We’ve been able to get this far as a mission-driven, but bootstrapped, company. We’re excited to see what the next phase brings. We think it will bring more patient centricity, more patients who are empowered and involved in their care, and hospital departments that aren’t burdened with the inefficiencies of slow and outdated imaging release systems.

We have some exciting deployments outside of our traditional geographic markets that will be announced soon. This is definitely a global issue. We know that patients’ desires to be in touch with what’s going on in their bodies are universal. It transcends geographic and political boundaries. The product and infrastructure we’ve built it on is designed to scale globally very quickly.

What advice would you have for founders who are riding out the current pandemic?

Focus on the fundamentals. If you’re around right now, there is some value to your product. In bull markets, there can be a tendency to run a lot of experiments and expand your scope beyond your typical value proposition, but I would advise you to get to the basics. Think about why people purchase your product. How does it make them feel? How does it change their lives? Double down on that. That’s where you’re going to get the highest return. Look inwardly and create a focal point for your team to work towards. That will give you the best shot of weathering this storm ahead.

If you have the skillset to help PocketHealth advance their mission, they want to hear from you! Take a look at PocketHealth’s website to learn about the benefits of working for this high-growth company and the current job openings available.

Questions? Let us know at dmz@torontomu.ca

Will Koffel Talks About How to Make Difficult Tech Decisions at Your Startup

On October 4, 2019, Will Koffel will take to the stage as keynote speaker of this month’s First Fridays, presented by Google for Startups in partnership with the DMZ.

As Google Cloud’s Head of Startup Ecosystem for the America’s, Will Koffel has been leading technology-focused startup teams for over 20 years. His keynote talk will be focused on the topic “Making Tech Decisions”. In advance of the event, we sat down with Will to ask him some questions.

DMZ: Will, can you tell us a bit about your professional background and how you became involved in the startup ecosystem?

Will Koffel: I’ve been deeply embedded in the startup ecosystem my whole career. While completing my Computer Science studies at MIT in 1998, I joined the founding engineering team at Akamai Technologies, experiencing the original dot-com boom (and bust!) from a front-row seat. I’ve been a 6-time serial CTO and startup founder since, and I’ve worked with hundreds of startups as an advisor, investor, mentor, and consultant. My most recent startup, Qwiklabs, was acquired by Google Cloud in 2016. I was then presented with the unique opportunity to work at Google and help build and support the startup ecosystem I’ve been passionate about for 20 years.

DMZ: In your leadership role at Google, what are you currently focused on achieving or advancing?

Will Koffel: We believe that Google Cloud offers the best suite of infrastructure and services for most early-stage startups. We’re focused on raising awareness of Google Cloud and its unique offerings for early-stage startups (like superior developer experience, DevOps with Kubernetes, BigQuery and other data tools, Firebase mobile, and top ML/AI solutions).

One of the key ways we do this is by partnering with accelerators and incubators like Ryerson DMZ, who refer startups directly into our program, pre-approved for up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits to start building.

We’re also committed to working with startups to remove barriers they may face by providing technical expertise, community networking events, introductions to other teams at Google, and by increasing their visibility in the ecosystem. First Fridays is a great example of this.

DMZ: What are the most important challenges and opportunities facing startups today, especially when it comes to agile product development and technology decisions?

Will Koffel: Many of the challenges that startups face haven’t changed since I was getting started in the 90s, like how to hire great talent, how to close that first critical enterprise customer deal, and how to decide where to focus limited resources in a seemingly endless backlog of feature requests. Each of those topics warrants a separate interview of its own!

When it comes to selecting technology, startups face a wide assortment of choices. They are trying to choose from among the many open-source tools, the landscape of inexpensive and polished API-first services, and from multiple great choices for fully-managed public cloud infrastructure and advanced machine learning/AI solutions.

The biggest challenge for early-stage startups is uncovering the best practices for how all these tech puzzle pieces fit together. Deciding where to adopt cutting-edge tech, and where to anchor on tried-and-true approaches has never been more difficult. The tech choices many startups make today represent a bet they’re placing on the future of their product and business agility, so getting good advice from a tech lead, their community, and their vendors is paramount.

DMZ: What can attendees expect to learn during your First Friday keynote talk, “Making Tech Decisions”?

Will Koffel: I’m so fortunate to work in ecosystems all over the world, and Toronto is one of my favourites, where we see great engineering expertise, plenty of investor attention, and emerging companies creating real value. We’ll be digging into some of my favourite themes and practical advice, including Developer happiness, offloading the undifferentiated heavy lifting, opportunity-driven development, and maintaining technical optionality for the future.

We’ll also discuss anything that attendees want to explore! There’s plenty of time for Q&A, which is always the best way to surface the shared issues that are top of mind for startup founders and tech leaders.

———


First Fridays Canada is presented by Google for Startups. Visit the website for more information and to sign up:
FirstFridaysCanada.com

About Will Koffel:

Will has been leading technology-focused startup teams for over 20 years, as a serial venture-backed CTO, founder, and application developer. In addition to his operating roles, Will has served as an advisor, consultant and mentor-in-residence for many Boston area startups. He joined Google in 2016 by way of a startup acquisition, and is honoring his startup roots by bringing the best Google Cloud solutions to great early-stage companies. Will received B.S. degrees in Computer Science and Music Composition from MIT. He lives with his family in greater Boston.

Three takeaways from our newest program, DMZYYZ

The DMZ is giving international entrepreneurs a chance to experience Toronto’s growing tech ecosystem with the launch of our newest venture, DMZYYZ.

The two-week intensive soft-landing program aims to help growth stage startups integrate within the Canadian ecosystem.

Last week, we wrapped our first cohort comprised of nine companies from seven countries. Visiting entrepreneurs flew in from Lebanon, Hungary, Chile, Jamaica, Norway, Brazil and Uruguay.

A day within the first week of DMZYYZ consists of intensive-programming, back-to-back workshops and desk time to debrief about the information you’ve consumed.

In the second week, participants get VIP access to a world-class tech conference. This cohort gained access to Collision, the largest and fastest-growing North American tech conference. Their participation resulted in locking in 20+ potential customers, hiring talent from Toronto, and pitching to global partners.

Here are the top takeaways from the startups’ time at the DMZ.

Challenge your assumptions

“A lot of my presumptions about product changed significantly after being a part of this program. Defining the right MVP is important to gain quality customer retention, and the entrepreneurs-in-residence at the DMZ helped refine that,” reflects Hussein Salman, Founder of FindANurse, a Lebanese startup aiming to change the face of caregiving within the MENA region. “As a reputable university-backed accelerator with a large community, being part of this program has given me the confidence to now build necessary relationships with potential investors.”

Make meaningful connections

The DMZ is a place that is filled with opportunity – be it from workshops to investor meetings and connections to serial entrepreneurs. “The calibre of network within the DMZ community is huge. The amount of knowledge transfer that happens within the conversations you have is close to none.” Zoltan Czikos, Co-Founder of Hungarian-based startup, Neticle says. The startup aims to boost business decisions with automated text-analysis.

Create global impact

Through worldwide perspectives during the DMZYYZ program, companies were able to learn more with a growth mindset and feel empowered. “We built something on a small island and were looking for the feedback that we got at the DMZ. The thing that stuck out to me the most is that you can make a global impact no matter where you’re from. The ability to bring a fresh perspective to highly regarded individuals within Canada, empowers me as an individual as well.” Conrad Mathison from It’s Pixel Perfect, a Jamaican based startup, aimed at helping brands stand out in the digital space through creative content.

Applications for our second cohort of DMZYYZ are now open. Apply here.

From startup founder to founder blues: The growing mental health issues in the tech sector

Almost half of Canadians -49 per cent to be exact- have experienced mental health issues at one point in their life, according to a new national survey by Sun Life Financial Canada.

From work-related stress to living with depression, mental illness has affected a whopping 63 per cent of millennials, 50 per cent of Gen Xers and 41 per cent of “late bloomers” Sun Life says in a news release.

It should come as no surprise that mental health issues affect a broad swath of society. However, the increase of mental illnesses has costed the Canadian economy more than $50 billion every year. For businesses that means a total of $6 billion in lost productivity, which works out to almost $1,500 per employee each year.

Unfortunately, one-quarter of Canadians have never discussed their mental health problems to a professional. And a new generation of startups are stepping up to solve that. These entrepreneurs see the issue as a chance to make a difference and lucrative opportunity to truly innovate an underserved (and oft forgotten) market.

Canadian startups — like Inkblot, WellCalm and Newtopia — are building new solutions that can prevent, diagnose and even treat mental health issues across Canada. Of course, working in the space is no easy feat. For a long time mental health was rarely discussed, often underfunded and a burden placed on our overstretched health system. Today’s health gamechangers are working to solve that.

Making a difference and making money

 
There’s no cut-and-dry solution to fixing the country’s mental health woes, but technology can help, explains Jeff Ruby, founder of Newtopia — a health and wellness company that raised $10 million in Series A funding to expand its health management and coaching offerings.

It can play a role in connecting people with the tools they need to take charge of their overall health, although it isn’t the ultimate solution most people want it to be, he emphasizes.

“Innovators who are hoping to play a bigger role in the space need to think about solutions pragmatically,” Ruby advises. “I think there’s an important role for technologies to play, but there’s also a caution. Technology alone is not the sole answer. It’s a combination of technology-enabled services that have a human component. Solutions (like wearable devices or apps) aren’t the answer alone.”

WellCalm founder Samira Ramzy couldn’t agree more. Since co-launching her wellness business that offers massages and mental health workshops in 2015 the company has seen a bevy of startups enter the health and wellness space all looking to hit it big.
“It’s not an easy money-making industry to get into,” she says. “We have to work twice as hard to educate consumers and help them understand that mental health support isn’t a weakness and then provide the services that they need. You can’t just start a business and then expect people to line up around the block to access it”

Of course, despite the hurdles Ramzy and other entrepreneurs like her experience, for those that make it there are several opportunities to grow . According to CB Insight [link], health and wellness tech startups saw a record number of investment in 2017.

Some of the biggest deals include a $40 million Series B investment for Quartet Health [link], one of the largest mental health tech deals since 2012 that featured heavyweights like Google Ventures , OAK HC/FT Partners, Polaris Partners, and F-Prime Capital. Not too far behind was a $37 million Series B deal with Headspace [link] and a whopping $35 million deal for Lyra Health.

The entrepreneur effect

 
72 per cent of entrepreneurs are dealing with mental health concerns, compared to a mere seven per cent of the general public, according to a study from the University of California. This has lead to the term “Founder Blues”.

Between 2011 and 2015 “Founder Blues” have led to several high-profile suicides in the startup world, including the death of Austen Heinz, a biotech entrepreneur and the founder of Cambrian Genomics; Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit; and Jody Sherman, the founder of Ecomom.

“Being an entrepreneur is an emotional enterprise. There’s a lot of unknowns… their companies become their identities,” say Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot, an online therapy platform. “Their level of anxiety when it comes to running out of money, meeting investor expectations, the reality of marketplace… they all are very difficult.”

So how would an entrepreneur know when it’s time to seek help with their mental health? Are these online mental wellness platforms the answer to the stigma found in the startup ecosystem? And how does Dr. Arash balance the stress of being an entrepreneur while helping treat mental health issues in his patients? Take a listen to Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot.

Make sure to also visit our official iTunes page.

Why e-commerce stores are going from click to brick

Warby Parker. Alibaba. Frank and Oak.

All three e-businesses are based in different countries and target very different markets yet have one big thing in common: They’re transforming the retail industry one brick-and-mortar store at a time.

For a long time e-commerce was seen as the more attractive option for businesses selling consumer goods. These internet-first companies favoured the internet because it was cheaper than physical spaces that often came with high overhead costs (think: expensive leases, paid on-site staff and more).

But, that’s all changing now. The biggest trend in the tech e-retail space is now offline stores. Big names that cut their teeth online are opening up flagship locations. What started as test pop-up shops lead to an unprecedented surge in physical stores.

For example, in 2017 womenswear e-retailer Everlane launched its first store despite for years vehemently claiming it would never open one. Meanwhile, last year bed-in-a-box startup Casper unveiled its first retail outlet with plans for more to come. More impressively last month Chinese e-giant Alibaba announced a $2.6 billion plan to open a series of brick-and-mortar stores across China.

So why are so many internet-first companies suddenly pursuing offline spaces? Easy: Experts are finding for the few that run physical stores right there’s a lot of money to be made.

The death of (offline) retail has been greatly exaggerated

 
Amazon first started the offline trend back in 2015 when it opened its first bookstore. Since then the internet juggernaut has made $1.3 billion from its in-person stores. It makes sense considering a majority of retail spending still takes place in brick-and-mortar stores.

A 2017 study by the Retail Council of Canada, Microsoft and research tool WisePlum found that shoppers prefer physical retail store experiences. Why? Offline stores offer instant gratification, the ability to compare prices and inspect products up close all at once.

These facts don’t surprise Jen Koss, co-founder of Brika — a retail store that sells artisan crafts from indie designers. The company launched its first brick-and-mortar store on Queen Street West five years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I was surprised by how a physical store can have a very deep connection with the customer,” she explains. “[My co-founder and I] have seen how customers will remember the smell of candle, how the store is organized, the people working when they walk in,” she explains about how the little things often to bigger sales and create long-term customers.

Entrepreneurs should also understand is that customer service really matters with physical stores, she says. “A lot of it comes down to investing in the best quality store staff,” the Harvard graduate explains. “It comes down to personal relationships that you create in the store. Focus on who you hire, how you train your ambassadors and how they become part of the brand.”

IRL: Location, location, location

 
Another critical point to remember is to always choose the right location. Physical spaces can easily be judged based on their surroundings and how accessible it is for customers. If you have the best products, but it’s incredibly hard for the public to get to your store you’re doing your company a disservice.

One popular way for startups to dip their toe in the real-to-touch store market is to experiment with pop-up shops. This allows companies to visit unique locations and get to know their customers before signing anything long-term. This middle-of-the-road approach can also help generate brand awareness, take entrepreneurs to where their customers often work or live and a simple way to reach a whole new demographic. For looking for on-the-ground advice Shopify has created a guide that outlines everything from location to pricing includes everything an entrepreneur needs to know.

Choose your own adventure

 
Of course, e-stores don’t always need to invest in the physical real estate to stay profitable. Companies like Etsy rely solely on partnering with existing space-focused companies like Hudson’s Bay or Macy’s for short-term leases or “stores within stores.” These special arrangements can end up lowering the financial burden for emerging entrepreneurs while providing a lot of the same retail benefits.

Another unexpected bonus of this approach is that it can easily position an e-commerce company among other quality brands. For retailers looking to emulate an offline store success they should focus on finding one location (i.e. a store) that customers can associate with their brand, but for everyone else complementary company to work with can work just as well.

Ex-500 Startups partner Elizabeth Yin on breaking into the U.S., finding investors and more

Elizabeth Yin has spent years mentoring, managing and meeting with top entrepreneurs from across the globe. Her personal rolodex includes contact details for innovators at today’s biggest companies and since graduating from Stanford University and MIT in the early 2000s she’s helped founders raise millions in venture capital.

Some of her most notable accomplishments include cofounding B2B advertising platform LaunchBit — that was later acquired for an undisclosed amount — joining Google as one of its marketing managers, overseeing 500 Startups’ accelerator program and most recently starting her own pre-seed fund called Hustle Fund.

What are some of the biggest business lessons she’s learned throughout her career? Entrepreneurs should focus on the facts during investment meetings, understand networking is crucial for success and make smart hiring decisions.

Why Canadian entrepreneurs should stay home

 
For years, Canadian entrepreneurs were told that to grow their company or find investment they had to relocate to the U.S., and in particular Silicon Valley. That’s not technically true anymore says Yin, who credits Canada’s ever-growing reputation on the global stage for the change.

“Before you’d have to trek down to Silicon Valley for one to two months to network, but now VCs are coming up here … take advantage of that to get to know them and network at events.” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

“Here’s the dirty secret about staying in Canada,” she explains. “VC schedules are really busy with back-to-back meetings in the Valley. It’s really hard to get a meeting with them there, but when they’re up here their schedule is a lot more open. They’re here to learn about the ecosystem, mingle with startups at places, like the DMZ, and open to spending more time just talking.”

And, that’s not all. The high cost of living in Silicon Valley can be a detriment to bootstrapped startups. Why? Because they’re forced to spend most of their money on day-to-day living costs. A recent report by CNBC backs up this claim. It found startups in the San Francisco area are having a hard time recruiting tech talent because of high living costs.

“The cost of living — compared to San Francisco — is better here [in Canada] … you have access to grants that U.S. citizens don’t have and because more VCs are starting to come up here there’s more potential to network without having to spend money.”

Ask employees the right questions

 
Regardless of product or company, every founder needs a team of dedicated employees. Of course, onboarding new employees can be one of the most stressful, yet rewarding responsibilities for an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, that also means hiring new employees can easily go wrong and cost entrepreneurs a lot of time and money. In an industry where startups are expected to scale as fast as possible, one bad egg can set a founder back years. For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh estimates bad hires have cost him approximately $100 million.

“Your first couple of hires solidify your company culture, which sets the tone for the rest of your company,” explains Yin in her blog. “And most entrepreneurs tend to look at candidates purely based on skill. But looking at a person based on just one axis is a huge fallacy.”

Hiring the best people means analyzing their personality. For instance, like how they’ll operate under stressful situations or go above what’s expected.

“The people with the best skills for the job can be your worst performers if the environment isn’t a good fit for them.” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

A Harvard University paper found that even highly sought after employees who engage in harmful behaviour can hurt a business’s long-term prospects. Bad hires, it states, lower productivity, negatively impact employee morale, and can cost up to $12,000 due to employee turnover.


What entrepreneurs should know to survive in tech


Passing the investor smell test

 
While at 500 Startups, Yin worked with a variety of tech startups. One thing she noticed during that time was that investors all too often would fund companies that looked great on paper or spoke a certain way. However, those characteristics didn’t necessarily correlate with success. What did matter in the end was execution. This is why at the Hustle Fund, Yin does most of her early investment conversations via email. It helps her focus on a startup’s figures, success and more.

“When I’m doing due diligence I’ll ask a lot about execution and timeline. I want to understand what the velocity of this startup is. Is there some signal these companies are doing something worthwhile and moving fast enough?” So far, Hustle Fund’s innovative process has produced interesting results. In 2017 47 per cent of its portfolio companies had at least one female founder.

She also looks at how fast a startup is scaling. “Are you doing customer development in three days, three months or three years?” Yin adds. “Every business is different. If it’s taking you longer to reach certain metrics than others in the same industry that looks bad.”

“I’ll ask questions about unit economics. Do I think, based on how you’re approaching your business, that the cost to acquire a customer is going to be less than what they’re worth in the end?” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

At the end of the day not finding investment isn’t a sign to quit. “If you read TechCrunch it looks like everyone is getting funded, but it’s just not true,” she says. “The good news for [Canadians] is it’s easier to bootstrap here because your costs are lower and you can survive longer to acquire customers and reach a profit without running out of capital.”

Interested in learning more? Check out Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Michael Gord, the founder of MLG Blockchain about how he grew his business, the power of bitcoin and how he’s changing the tech industry.

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