Established companies, for the most part, once looked upon start-ups with indifference, but technological advances of the last decade have even major banks looking over their shoulder, explains Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech in Waterloo, Ontario. "Now, they are asking themselves 'what does a sharing economy mean for the way we manage money? What is the potential for disruption in established industries?'" Invest in Ontario sat down with Iain Klugman to learn more about the start-ups from the Waterloo Region that have established businesses on their heels, and investors on the edge of their seats.

Multinational companies are tapping into Waterloo Region's start-up scene

"There is growing recognition among tech and non-tech companies that there are probably a few thousand people around the world trying to disrupt them. One of the trends we are seeing is a lot more large, non-tech corporations like Manulife Financial, TD and others saying: 'we really need visibility into what's happening in the start-up community because we either need to figure out how to disrupt ourselves, or we are going to get disrupted.' They want to be near start-ups and close to what is new and emerging so they can figure out what it means for them and how they can respond." This is a part of the building interest in the Waterloo Region, according to Klugman. "I can't tell you how many fortune 100 and fortune 50 companies that have come through here in the last six to 12 months asking how to engage and dock in the region because they want to get close to what's emerging."

Investments in education, research centres and people are paying off for Ontario

A confluence of technological advancements and investments in infrastructure and people promise a bright future for Ontario. "On one hand, access to major infrastructure like the cloud is tearing down barriers to building businesses. It is empowering entrepreneurs to say with confidence, 'yeah, I can take on a bank,'" states Klugman. "On the other hand, investments in educational institutions, researchers and research centres are really beginning to pay off. As a result, there is an army of entrepreneurs in Ontario that are determined to leverage every resource they can get their hands on to be successful. Our universities across Ontario have become much more open; there is a much greater willingness to let people in to use facilities, to use tools and resources; to be working on companies' ideas, not just science. What we are seeing play out is the many years of investment into our academic institutions, and in training and educating people. We are just starting to see the results of those investments."

Three leading trends in disruptive technology have deep roots in Ontario

Klugman describes three exciting trends in disruptive technology that are being led by innovative researchers and entrepreneurs in the Waterloo Region and across the province of Ontario.

Nanotechnology and advanced materials

"First, there are some really interesting companies coming out of the graduates of the nanotechnology engineering program at the University of Waterloo. We are seeing a new flavour of start-ups coming through. In the past, we had a heavy concentration of mechanical types of devices, hardware, and software. Now, we are seeing things like Suncayr, a colour-changing marker that will tell you when your sunscreen is no longer protecting you, and Neverfrost, a clear-film that, when applied to windshields, can protect the surface of the glass from frosting over. And we are not just seeing the science, but the commercialization in the form of new companies emerging."

Quantum computing

"Another interesting trend is what we are seeing in the field of quantum computing," Klugman tells us. Launched a decade ago, the University of Waterloo, Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) is quickly earning the region recognition as the world's "Quantum Valley" –the epicentre of the next information revolution.

Cross-cutting technologies

"The third trend is an intersection of several different technologies that are creating things that we had only dreamed of in the past. Combine large-scale computational math, the ability to access large data sets and sensor technologies, and you have the capability to bring to reality things like autonomous vehicles. But it's not just the big, large scale possibilities, it's also a lot of very specific, smart machine to machine (M2M) platforms that can, for example, connect every item and sensor in a restaurant to improve food safety; or advanced sensors and technologies on trains that understand not just the speed and velocity of the train, but the contents travelling within it.

"What is truly exciting is not just that these things are happening, but that these are the kinds of things that we do extraordinary well in Ontario. That is why we are so confident about the future of this province," states Klugman.

 

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