“The four companies you meet today will give you a strong sense of how the province has supported Ontario startups through COVID and, equally so, how these startups are supporting Ontario in return.”
– Sherry Colbourne, President and CEO, Spark Centre
On Thursday, March 18th, Spark Centre led an Innovation Roundtable with the Honourable Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction and four Ontario-based entrepreneurs who pivoted their innovations to support pandemic efforts — GroundLevel Insights, WeTraq, Data H and Pentavere — moderated by Jeff Steiner from Angel Investors Ontario.
MPP of Whitby, Lorne Coe, was the catalyst for the event — weaving together the needs of small businesses and the successes that are happening within the region with a connection to province-wide opportunities.
“In a time of unprecedented challenges we remain laser-focused on creating new business opportunities and setting a route for recovery and success in the years to come.”, MPP Lorne Coe said in his opening remarks.
In his address to the audience, the Honourable Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, commended the game-changing investors, entrepreneurs and small business owners as the leaders in the Ontario innovation ecosystem, acknowledging them as having the pulse of the community with the initiative and agility to adapt to any challenge. He encouraged small businesses to work with the government and show them where opportunities lie for entrepreneurs. Minister Sarkaria also outlined the government’s key imitative for supporting small businesses including:
- Addressing financial concerns impacting small businesses through the Small Business Support Grant, Property Tax Relief, Energy Relief, Employer Health Tax Relief
- Creating a recovery network of forty-seven Small Business Enterprise Centres
- An investment of fifty-seven million dollars into the Digital Main Street Program to help support innovation and e-commerce
- The Ontario New Small Business Strategy with key initiatives of boosting entrepreneurship, driving technology adoption in the province and fast-tracking commercialization
- Putting forward a new Intellectual Property Action Plan to help keep more innovative tech solutions at home, grow businesses and ensure that this growth remains high while costs remain low and assist Ontario in having a competitive advantage across the globe.
President and CEO of Spark Centre, Sherry Colbourne, addressed the impact that entrepreneurs — like those presenting at the Roundtable — have on Durham Region and the province.
“In the four years since I took over the helm at Spark Centre, Durham Region has experienced transformative growth and the pandemic has only accelerated that growth. The quality and quantity of startups that we’re seeing in the Region has grown and the companies that you meet today are really indicative of the maturing of the Durham entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Asif R. Khan from Durham-based GroundLevel Insights — a proprietary artificial intelligence platform and science movement company — shared how his company tracks the physical movement of customers by aggregating anonymous, privacy-compliant data and provides the information to business owners to help them understand what’s happening around their business.
He explained how during the pandemic, GroundLevel Insights tweaked that data at a macro level to see traffic and foot traffic patterns both pre and during COVID to gage at what levels foot traffic was returning, and by what industry sectors, which could determine how to focus economic stimulus. Asif also shared news about his free, all-in-one, trilingual digital tool, CANATRACE. Released in late 2020, CANATRACE is currently used by over 4000 businesses nation-wide. It simplifies data collection and captures customer/client data required for contact tracing with a free uniquely branded QR code and customized mobile landing page to collect visitor information. CANATRACE has enabled businesses to reopen safely, minimizing touchpoints and workload for businesses and increasing accuracy and efficiency in a safe, secure manner.
Ishaan Singla from WeTraq — an Oshawa-based, Health Canada-certified tech company — shared how he has designed a remote caregiving solution that acts as private, personal location monitoring for caregivers of loved ones affected with conditions like dementia and/or seniors wishing to age in place, providing better risk-mitigation strategies and preventing patient wandering.
GuardIO – Family Care eases the anxieties of care partners by providing safety insights around mobility behaviour and helping them stay connected and in-the-know. Ishaan stressed that during the pandemic, caregivers have experienced even more stress due to social distancing measures and for many seniors over the age of sixty-five, their smartphone is the only connection to the outside world. GuardIO – Family Care has assisted this situation by way of using proprietary AI-based predictive analysis to provide users with private and secure access to the monitoring information of those assigned to their care, easing the complexity and stress of care responsibilities and reducing the need for leave-of-absences from work. Ishaan added that WeTraq is currently seeking to obtain coverage under group benefit plans providing additional benefit of GuardIO – Family Care to caregivers.
Data H is an AI and research deployment company that helps companies across the globe transform accumulated and dispersed knowledge into algorithms, generating new products, services or improving processes. During the pandemic, Founder Evandro Barros recognized that not only was there a global need for more AI solutions, but COVID-19 also greatly impacted economies and job security worldwide.
That said, Data H retooled its business model into one capable of generating more jobs worldwide for data scientists and machine learning engineers and more. Their new systems connect students and companies using challenge-based learning systems. The benefit of this is that on one hand, companies can try new approaches for prototypes faster in a more affordable way. On the other hand, students and professionals can obtain real-work experience.
In 2020, Data H’s new system trained more than three-hundred people worldwide and assisted one hundred in garnering employment. In 2021, Data H anticipates training more than five hundred students in AI and data science and to generate even more jobs, especially for those residing in places where there are limited AI and data science opportunities, allowing for remote work opportunities.
Erin Stewart from Pentavere — an Ontario-born and internationally recognized company that uses AI to transform health information into lifesaving insights — noted that one year into the pandemic there is still so much that we don’t understand about the impact that COVID-19 has on the health of Ca
nadians. Manually extracting information from thousands of documents, like medical records, to conduct this type of research is an incredibly limited, time consuming process, not to mention costly and error prone. However with Pentavere’s AI solution, health data can be efficiently extracted and curated from documents, like medical records, and be transformed into a usable format so that researchers and decision makers have the data, and tools, they need to help fight the pandemic.
“I see great value in every single one of these projects before us”– Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, Prabmeet Sarkaria
Minister Sarkaria praised these four companies, stating that they provide much benefit from an economic perspective and that startups, like these, can help Ontario be better prepared in the future.
“The way that innovators and businesses have retooled to meet the demands of this pandemic has really inspired, not only this province, but also our government, and I think, most importantly, they have been supporting our economy and communities.”
To watch the Innovation Roundtable, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcX0qiYs7fA