Cool Companies: Alberta’s Advanced Technologies 2013
2013 Industry Overview
Excerpt from Cool Companies: Alberta’s Advanced Technologies Industry Guide 2013
February 5, 2013 www.coolcompanies.ca
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Cool Companies is an industry guide and also an innovative business development tool. It’s designed to deliver functional insights that help entrepreneurial-minded, senior-level business leaders make quick initial business development decisions and take action. Intended for readers all over the world, it is written from this entrepreneurial perspective in a unique, concentrated, easy-to-understand, fact-loaded writing style for all backgrounds. Please feel welcome to contact the people and companies profiled in this industry guide to develop your own collaborative partnerships.
ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY IN ALBERTA
This Cool Companies industry guide is focused on companies in the province of Alberta, Canada. Alberta is a place well-known for its fresh air, the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, the wide open spaces of the prairies, the boreal forests of the north, and the haunting beauty of the badlands.
Alberta is also very fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources—oil, natural gas, coal—that have made it an energy world leader. In 2011, Alberta had the highest GDP per capita of any state or province in North America, and has been the province with the strongest economy in Canada for the past 20 years. As a result, it is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax. Very entrepreneurial, in the last decade Alberta has had the highest number of new small business starts in Canada. Albertans are also among the best educated people in North America (source: Alberta Government).
After energy and agriculture, advanced technology is the third largest industry driving Alberta’s economy. Alberta’s technologies industry is home to thousands of high tech companies and a number of these are world-class innovation leaders. Alberta’s strengths in the advanced technology industry include software, medical technology, life sciences, micro/nanotechnology, electronics, wireless, geomatics (GPS), clean technology and digital media.
FOCUS OF THIS INDUSTRY GUIDE
It is important to emphasize that the companies included in this Cool Companies guide are only a sample of advanced technology companies in Alberta; there are many more.
This Cool Companies industry guide focuses on advanced technology companies based in Alberta with a product or service that is enabled by software, hardware and/or communication technologies. This grouping is more formally called information and communications technology (ICT). It includes electronics, digital media, imaging, mobile apps, analytics, and information management. ICT is a wide scope technology that has made an impact on every industry.
While there are many innovative technologies and companies that support the oil and gas industry in Alberta, this has not been our focus for this guide. We wanted the freedom to see a new and refreshing window into the innovation and growth happening in Alberta’s advanced technology industry beyond oil and gas, and that’s exactly what this guide delivers.
WHAT IS COOL?
We will be the first to admit that “cool” is not exactly a scientific term. However, we’ve used the word to describe those special companies that are doing really amazing things and have achieved such impressive success that you can’t help but think, “Wow!… Cool.” Here is a more defining set of minimum criteria. Cool Companies:
- are innovation leaders pushing the boundaries of thinking in their space. Their products and services that are unique to the world and are of interest to Cool Companies’ readers,
- generate revenue, and are growing and/or have strong growth potential,
- are headquartered in Alberta where the company’s strategic decision making happens,
- offer significant and unique value to customers,
- are a small or medium sized company (SME). A handful of larger companies are profiled to give a sense of breadth and depth to Alberta’s advanced technologies industry.
- are global thinking and exporting outside of Canada or are export ready and will begin in 2013,
- are willing to work with us to develop and review their profile, and to help each other by getting the word out to their network that they are involved in the Cool Companies business development effort,
- and of course, are the calibre of company that make you think, “Wow….Cool.”
Let’s get to the fun part now. In this guide, we have divided the 116 profiled companies into 4 chapters: consumer electronics & apps, health technologies, enterprise solutions, and industrial applications. We now give you an overview of some of the companies grouped by their core technology or special properties.
Alberta is home to global technology companies that have become household names. One of these is Edmonton-based BioWare (p.91). BioWare has produced best-selling role playing video games that have entertained millions of fans around the world and have won multiple Game of the Year awards. Its games have included Baldur’s Gate (p.26), Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series of games. In BioWare’s role playing video games, the players assume roles of the characters in a story and play through a huge adventure where they must unravel a series of mysteries.
Alberta has a growing cluster of companies based on video game technology. In 2012, Edmonton video game company, Overhaul Games (p.26) launched a successful remake of BioWare’s legendary game Balder’s Gate (pictured above). Also from Edmonton, we have profiled video game companies Fluik Entertainment (p.25) and XGen Studios (p.27). From Calgary we have profiled Games Cafe (p.25) and Neojac Entertainment (p.26). Robot & Pencils (p.27) is a hybrid company that makes iPad/iPod video game apps for consumers as well as corporate video games.
TRAINING & eLEARNING
Alberta is also well-known for its innovative companies that use video game technology for corporate and industrial training and eLearning. For example, 3DInternet (p.65) turns 2D building blueprints into a 3D virtual world on a computer, where you can “walk around” the building’s space and better imagine what the building will feel like to work in every day. This tool also makes it easier to communicate a common vision of the building’s design among a team and to figure out what needs to be improved in the design before construction begins.
A 3D virtual computer space is also a safe place to learn how to drive a really big construction truck. Using products from 3D Interactive (3DI, Jan 2013 they changed their name to Serious Labs (p.71), you get hands-on experience in how to use the controls to drive the truck (pictured left), and it’s a safe and fun way to learn from making mistakes.
Our sample of Alberta’s eLearning companies includes companies that can develop customized eLearning solutions (p.42-44) and ones with innovative eLearning products. One of these companies with an award-winning learning tool is Pyxwise (p.23) whose software spelling app works on a reverse phonics idea where people learn how to pronounce and spell English words from hearing the sounds and then seeing the words.
Another company with an innovative learning tool is Culture Connectivity (p.42). It has pioneered video game-based tools to help people understand cultural differences that can impact work productivity and results when working with people from different cultures. Culture Connectivity helps people develop the necessary cultural attitudes and behaviours to interact and build trust with people of other cultures.
As video game technology applied to 3D visualization and eLearning is helping us understand and better interact with the real world, another relatively new technology called augmented reality is helping us do this too. The most familiar example of augmented reality is the computerized layer of digital information seen through the eyes of the robot from the future played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Terminator. When he looks at an object in the real world, he sees an additional layer of digital information about the object (pictured right) in real time. As a simple example of what augmented reality glasses could do for us, you might wear them outside and see digital information about the weather, the temperature, your location and maybe the name of the person coming down the street. While still being tested, in 2012 the founders of Google were seen wearing augmented reality glasses.
Cool Companies found four Alberta-based companies with expertise in augmented reality. Kip Fyfe and Victoria Brilz, who founded and sold the well-known Alberta-founded sports electronics global leader Dynastream Innovations (p.92), are Co-Founders behind 4iiii Innovations (p.18, pronounced “four ize”). The company’s first product is an audio-enabled heads-up display technology (pictured left) to help athletes like cyclists, runners and speed skaters keep their hands free and eyes focused ahead.
Preciseley Microtechnology (p.19) takes this idea one step further. It designs and produces a tiny mirror (pictured below) which is the key component in augmented reality glasses, as well as other devices that require an ultra fast and very accurate projection of virtual computer data. For example, embedded into a cell phone, it could project a presentation onto walls or create a virtual keyboard on a desk.
Preciseley is part of Alberta’s growing micro/nanotechnology cluster which includes world-leading researchers at the University of Alberta (p.78) and University of Calgary (p.78). Alberta is also home to Canada’s nanotechnology research flagship—the world-class $150 million NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) (p.80). The number of Alberta companies in the micro/nano community has more than tripled since 2008 when Cool Companies defined it. This guide is available for free to read on our website www.coolcompanies.ca.
Another pioneer in next generation interface technology that is changing our thinking of how we interact with computers is POSH View (p.19). POSH View is a Canadian manufacturer of interactive, multi-touch technology that can be used by multiple users at the same time and can communicate with smartphones and tablets. Since you can see computer images on glass, like a movie onto glass, you will be able to see virtual models moving in the clothes in a store window (pictured above). Like the computer interface in the movie Minority Report, POSH View is also developing an “in-the-air” touch screen computer interface to further the development of augmented reality.
Over 20 years ago, the world’s first interactive whiteboard was invented, developed and launched in Alberta in the city of Calgary (pictured left). Used in many schools and businesses around the world, SMART Technologies (p.44) has become a world famous brand as Co-Founders, David Martin and Nancy Knowlton, have grown the company into a world leader for interactive displays and collaboration. Publicly traded, SMART’s 2011 revenue was $754.8 million with 900 employees in Calgary and another 600 employees worldwide.
Another fun Alberta-developed computer interface we have profiled is the Peregrine Glove (p.23, right). Like a wearable keyboard, it enables computer commands by hand motions.
Until we did the research for this Cool Companies industry guide, we didn’t know there were so many musicians, including some very big name artists, using music technology invented in Alberta. One of these artists is Grammy Award winning Skrillex whose entire sound system, when touring, is custom designed, manufactured and installed by PK Sound (p.17, picture below).
Other examples of innovative music technology from Alberta that are used around the world are:
- Products from iConnectivity (p.17) allow musicians to develop music by wiring and controlling their music gear from an iPad interface. It gives them new options they never had before.
- A free app from budtobud (p.15) allows people to listen to music with their friends who might be anywhere in the world.
- Eleven Engineering’s (p.16) SKAA wireless audio standard for high quality speakers is like Bluetooth is to mobile devices. One of its advantages is that you can play music or movies directly from your iPod or iPad. All the data transfer is wireless.
WIRELESS, GEOMATICS & M2M
Alberta has a very strong base of companies who, like Eleven Engineering, are market leaders in wireless technology for different applications. Alberta is also very strong in the related technologies of geomatics and machine-to-machine communications (M2M). Remote sensing and GPS are examples of geomatics technology.These are very versatile technologies, and they are the base technology behind many companies in every chapter of this Cool Companies industry guide.
One of the reasons Alberta has this strength and a large group of people with world-class expertise in wireless and geomatics technology stems from its history. For decades, Calgary was home to telecommunications and geomatics (GPS) superstars Nortel, NovAtel (p.94, which are known today as NovAtel Inc. (more later on this page) and NovAtel Wireless) and CSI Wireless (which re-branded to become Hemisphere GPS p.63, late 2012 this company left Calgary).
Many former employees have also gone on to grow their own wireless companies (Novatel p.94). One of these companies is Wireless Dynamics (p.24). Most of us now have credit cards with computer chips that require a pin code password. Wireless Dynamics has already introduced the next generation of technology (pictured below). It is a case for smartphones equipped to quickly and securely allow payment transactions at a store’s point of sale using our smartphone. It is an electronic wallet that frees us from needing to carry our traditional wallets and loyalty cards, and it will track transactions so we don’t need to worry about keeping track of receipts either.
A credit card or Wireless Dynamics’ electronic wallet exchanges data with the point of sale device in a store to get approval for a purchase. This is an example of machine-to-machine (M2M) communication. Whether wired or wireless, M2M is exactly what it sounds like: two devices exchanging data without a human in the loop. Another example of M2M is a sensor such as a thermometer sending temperature data to a control system that catches it and turns it into a decision, such as turning up the heater.
Now that people in many parts of the world have cell phones, M2M is expected to be the fastest growth area in mobile. As the price of wireless service, sensors and transceivers have drop dramatically, there is an opportunity for more companies to achieve this level of connectivity and benefits. M2M is expected to be a large contributor to competitiveness and productivity growth in the industrial sector.
Alberta has many companies with innovative M2M technology, as this Cool Companies guide demonstrates. M2M has its roots in industrial applications, but is not just for this type of automation. Other examples include:
- Companies helping utilities get onto the smart grid: ASAT Solutions (p.66), dTechs (p.67), and Times Three Wireless (p.70).
- NavNet (p.22) is Canada’s leading home automation technology manufacturer for smart homes.
Transportation companies such as FLYHT Aeromechancial (p.60) use M2M to collect inflight data of aircraft that can be used to improve fuel efficiency, reduce maintenance time and repairs and cut CO2 emissions.
- OPIsystems (p.64) is using M2M with sensors for grain temperature and moisture to help farmers manage their grain storage.
ROBOTICS & UNMANNED VEHICLES
M2M technology is also used in robotics unmanned vehicles (vehicles without a human pilot, aka drones). Alberta has a number of established and emerging innovation leaders. The sector is supported by the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (p.81) based in Alberta. Companies we have profiled include:
- CDL Systems (p.59) makes the remote control software to fly drones. The Calgary-based company has 80 employees.
- With 65% to 70% of the world OEM market, NovAtel (p.94) is the world’s leading supplier of high precision GPS technologies. Boeing uses NovAtel’s GPS technology to land a full sized unmanned helicopter on a moving marine vessel. NovAtel’s technology was also instrumental in the successful execution of NASA’s Mars Rover Expedition (pictured right). Headquartered in Calgary, NovAtel has 350 employees with operations in Calgary, California and India.
- Mechatroniq (p.61) makes an intelligent ground-based robotic platform that can be used for a variety of applications. Used as a sophisticated target practice simulation for law enforcement, it can mimic human behavior by stopping when hit, and running for cover when another robot is hit (pictured below). It can also be customized for indoor use as a robotic homecare assistant (p.33).
HEALTH IMAGING TECHNOLOGY
Wireless and M2M technology is also used in healthcare.
- Vital Signals (p.34), for example, has created a system that monitors a person’s health by capturing data from interconnected wireless devices that collect data on blood pressure, physical activity, weight, blood glucose, oxygen saturation and medication adherence. This data helps the elderly and chronically ill to live healthy independent lives at home for as long as they can.
- Orpyx Medical (p.31) uses wireless technology and pressure sensors on an insole (pictured left). The data from a patient’s feet is sent to a stimulus pad worn on the lower back so that the patient essentially feels as though they are ‘walking’ on their lower back. The brain will rewire itself to accept the sensory stimulus from the lower back. Orpyx technology can also be used to prevent feet related complications from diabetes and for rehab with stroke, spinal cord, nerve or traumatic leg injuries.
- Kent Imaging (p.30) has another interesting new medical imaging technology (pictured right). Kent’s technology gives clinicians insight on the health of tissue and its ability to survive following an operation or trauma.
- Lower back pain is a common problem for millions of people and VibeDx Diagnostics (p.32, pictured right) has developed a new imaging technology that will revolutionize how back problems are assessed. Leveraging the fact that different types of back injuries have distinct movement patterns, VibeDx uses non-invasive tiny vibrations to gently move the back and uses pattern recognition analytics to determine the presence of injury and type of injury.
In addition to VibeDx, there are other Alberta companies using advanced computing to uncover business opportunities hidden in data and use it to drive the enhancements and optimization of business operations. This big data analytics technology is called machine learning.
- Granify (p.40) uses machine learning to help online stores predict when a shopper is at risk of not purchasing and how best to motivate the shopper to make a purchase.
- Alberta has a team of researchers in the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning (p.78) that is ranked one of the top 3 machine learning centres in the world.
Alberta has many fascinating companies with products focused on helping businesses work smarter to increase their productivity (p.45 to 53). These include:
- Technology from Hookflash (p.48) enables you to have an instant, free, real time, high definition voice and high definition (HD) video conversation with people in your LinkedIn network.
- Group RFx (p.48) has automated the purchasing process to significantly reduce the time and work involved for buyers and suppliers
- Using green computing, software from Userful (p.57) helps organizations around the world significantly reduce their computer hardware and computer staff.
- PureWeb (p.56) has found an easy and very fast way to transform server-based software into web, cloud and mobile based apps. Instead of taking years, PureWeb’s technology can produce these apps days without sacrificing performance, responsiveness or functionality of the original server version!
Another way to increase productivity is to use crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing harnesses the wisdom of a digital community (the crowd) to get insights that can be used for the development of a new product or service, or to improve business operations. We have profiled two of Calgary’s innovators in crowdsourcing:
- Chaordix (p.39) has become a global leader in using crowdsourcing to create market intelligence for clients such as P&G, IBM, and American Airlines.
- Mob4Hire (p.55) uses crowdsourcing to help its clients do quality assurance testing of their mobile apps and websites. Its crowd of 60,000 mobile enthusiasts is the world’s largest crowdsourced community for on-demand real world testing.
CONNECTIVITY & NETWORKS
Alberta has a number of innovation leaders that make it easier for companies to manage their computers and software. We have profiled some companies who focus on
- IT security such as Wedge Networks (p.57) for virus protection and DataGardens (p.54) for diaster recovery, and who
- Make IT easier such as Riva CRM Integration (p.56) that provides an easy way to sync email and customer relationship management (CRM) software. Mover (p.55) makes it easier to move big files to and from the cloud.
ELECTRONICS DESIGN & MANUFACTURING
This Cool Companies guide also contains a sample of 15 companies (p. 86-89) offering electronics design, engineering and contract manufacturing services. During the development of this guide, we talked to some of these companies and we discovered a few interesting things that made us decide to create a special chapter highlighting them:
- Many of them have world-class services, including expertise in wireless, micro technology (Norcada p.88, pictured right), embedded systems and next generation vehicle design (Motive Industries p.88). They have earned the long term trust of some really impressive large international clients that include NASA and Fortune 500 companies. These companies are eager to find and work with more clients around the world.
- These companies wanted North American hardware product-based companies to understand that you don’t have to go to Asia to get your product manufactured at a good price anymore. The tide has shifted and companies need to adjust their thinking. On page 87 we breakdown the details of this thinking.
- Some of the equipment manufacturers profiled use the services of the contract electronics design and manufacturing companies, but often didn’t know about all the options available in Alberta.
Another new chapter in this Cool Companies guide is a collection of 25 companies with Alberta roots that have successfully been sold for millions of dollars. These deals are called successful exits. People in North America are fascinated with exits since they generate big money when sold that makes millionaires. These companies are the type of companies that successfully attract investors and venture capital money.
To show our international readers the world-class calibre of Alberta’s software and hardware technology companies that became successful exits, we created the largest collection of exits ever assembled in one place. It profiles 25 companies, plus additional companies documented in the table on page 98-99, for a total of 43 exits.
Studying this collection of companies and their stories is fascinating! It is a powerful story of Alberta’s strong advanced technology history and a source of pride for Albertans. For up-and-coming and future entrepreneurs, it is our hope that they can use it both as a learning tool and as a tool to show potential investors when hunting for capital.
ABOUT COOL COMPANIES
ABOUT COOL COMPANIES:
- Market traction: Launched in November 2004, Cool Companies is published once a year.
- Primary audience and distribution: Entrepreneurial-minded senior-level business leaders all over the world looking for cool opportunities. Thanks to our partnership with the Government of Alberta’s International & Intergovernmental Relations team, this worldwide distribution of Cool Companies includes the Alberta Government’s events and support from more than 150 of Canada’s consulates and embassies worldwide.
- Secondary audience: People in Alberta interested in discovering some of Alberta’s innovation leaders in advanced technologies.
- Print version: Thousands of print copies are sold and distributed around the world.
- Free online version: This Cool Companies industry guide is also available in electronic format for FREE at www.coolcompanies.ca.
- Profiled for free: All companies included in this Cool Companies guide are profiled for free. They are required to work with us to develop their profile. This involves an interview with a senior representative in their company and reviewing their draft profile for accuracy.
- Community effort: We also asked each profiled company to help us, and help each other. Once the guide was launched, each company was asked to get the word out to their network that they are part of this special business development effort. They had the freedom to spread the word with whatever activities they felt comfortable. We appreciated the extra effort of profiled companies that wanted to give away copies as gifts so we made this purchase at a break-even price.
- Editorial voice: The goal of each Cool Companies profile is to sound like a regular person telling another about the concept of the company and the real pain it solves. It is very important that the reader can imagine themselves in the customers’ shoes. Since we want it to be widely read and people are not experts in every industry, we have tried to keep the technical words and marketing word salads to a minimum. Writing a few sentences in easy language for a profile is harder than it looks.
TERMINOLOGY USED IN PROFILES
- % exports is the company’s percentage of revenue from sales outside of Canada.
- Growth stage: Companies selected themselves as Pre-Revenue Startup, Early Revenue Stage, Early Growth Stage, High Growth Stage or Market Leader.
- Growth strategies: These are the business development opportunities companies want readers to contact them about.