Canadian tech innovation is often associated with BlackBerry — at least back in the company’s heyday. But there are a number of under-the-radar Canadian companies that are developing innovative products and services.
And there are lessons to be learned from their application of technology — ones that could perhaps inspire your own innovations.
While Silicon Valley is known for incubating tech companies, Canada’s tech corridor — stretching from Waterloo to Toronto — is producing start-up success. Indeed, Canada offers high-tech clusters across the country with federal and provincial funding for R&D, incubator resources and collaborations with academic institutions.
Here are four up-and-comers worth noting:
MaRS Discovery Centre, which provides venture services and funding to entrepreneurs, points their radar to Smarter Alloys — a company developed at the University of Waterloo’s Velocity Foundry. A company to watch, Smarter Alloys is an innovator in shape memory materials. Simply put, these are materials that can return from a deformed shape back into their original state. Deformities originally might have been as the result of a trigger, such as a temperature change.
The company’s Multiple Memory Material has applications ranging from wearable technology to medical devices and is being introduced to the automotive, aerospace, electronics and consumer goods markets.
In a listing of Canada’s top 15 innovative companies for 2015, Canadian Business says Kitchener-based D2L stands out for its innovations in education. What makes D2L’s Brightspace platform different from all the others out there is its use of data and analytics.
Rather than doing what other platforms do (quizzes and grades), it predicts grades based on performance, and even uses algorithms through its LeaP adaptive learning module to build students’ class assignments according to their performance.
Founder John Baker told Canadian Business that he believes big data will help personalize teaching so students can learn in the way that’s best for them.
You may be surprised to learn that Canada is making great strides in robotics. And one company, Clearpath Robotics, is being noticed for its rugged all-terrain mobile robots. The company’s tagline says it best: boldly go where no robot has gone before.
This Kitchener-based company has developed autopilot software and self-driving industrial robots that can move product around on factory floors or for more specific applications such as gathering data in a tailings pond. Clearpath prides itself on its “cool” factor and looking at the robots below you'll probably agree that these products look pretty awesome.
An innovative Canadian start-up, Vanhawks, is taking bicycle design to a whole new level. The company says its mission is to make connected bikes for the urban commuter “to encourage bike rides for greener and less congested cities with the best experience possible.”
The Vanhawks Valour is a Bluetooth-connected bike with performance tracking, security sensors and interactive feedback, such as blind spot detection. The long-term plan includes partnering with other bike manufacturers to integrate the software into their models. “We are building a platform, not just one bike,” co-founder and CEO Sohaib Zahid told Profitguide.com.
These companies are thinking outside the box: Shape memory materials are already being used in medicine and dentistry, so why not the emerging market of smart apparel? Bike design has remained largely static for decades, so why not use sensors and connected technologies to create a safer urban commute?
What sets innovators apart from the pack is the ability to take existing technology (such as robotics or smart materials) and elevate them to the next level. These companies are providing new value or adding new functionality that their competitors aren’t.
Whether you’re developing cutting-edge new products or using technology to make your company more innovative, there are plenty of under-the-radar Canadian tech superstars that can provide a roadmap — and inspiration — for your own success.
What Canadian companies have inspired you this year? Tell us in the comments below.