Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 24

democampEdmonton’s 24th DemoCamp took place tonight at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus. DemoCamp is “an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics.” You can read my recap of our last DemoCamp here. There was a pretty good turnout tonight, and lots of new faces in the crowd.

We had seven demos tonight, three of which were projects created at the recent 24 hour Computer Engineering Club Hackathon. In order of appearance:

  • Gregg and Stephen showed us Industry Mailout‘s new email editor. The existing editor hasn’t really been changed since 2004, so a fresh approach was long overdue. The new editor looks very slick, and in addition to being easier to use with a live preview, it’s more advanced too. Users can easily include tweets and other elements in their templates. It also supports Liquid.
  • Ross and Andrew were up next to show us their project from the hackathon called Stall. It’s a mobile app that lets you play mini games simply by scanning a QR code that has been placed somewhere. So imagine getting into an elevator, scanning the QR code, and playing a quick game. They also implemented a high score feature, so you could try to top the leaderboard in that elevator. Cool stuff!
  • Our third demo was from Michael who showed us Renturly. It’s an app that helps to match buyers and sellers in off-market, NPN (non-performing note), and REO (real estate owned) real estate. I must admit I don’t understand the business, but I gathered that this isn’t a tool you’ll use to buy your next house. It’s for people looking to buy and sell apartment buildings, hotels, and golf courses. I’m not really sure where the name comes in or why the logo is a bird, but it sounds like Renturly already has a number of paying customers.
  • Next up was Indragie and Ali who showed us their Smartwatch Light Bulb Controller, which took first place at the hackathon. Their solution enabled a Pebble smartwatch to control the color and state of a wifi-connected lightbulb (they used LIFX). It was neat to see such a visual demo that just worked! Currently it requires a server and a phone, and it requires everything to be on the same wifi network, but in theory they could make it run from the cloud.
  • Our fifth demo was from Myst.io. Logan and his team showed off the cross-platform API using Visual Studio! Myst makes it easy for developers to add features to their games like cloud saving, multiplayer, and achievements. It sounds like their API is fairly complete, though they are still working on the deployment and management.
  • Sixth was Ranek who showed us his hackathon project called URSA. As he himself admitted, it solves a problem that students try to solve every couple of years – a better way to search and select from the University of Alberta’s course catalogue. His solution did look pretty slick, and there are lots of potential improvements he could make. Interestingly it doesn’t simply scrape data, but actually gets the bulk of it from an LDAP server the university makes available. Progress!
  • The final demo of the evening was from Kris, Damien, and their team, who showed us GameSys. They work in the online gaming (as in casino) space, and showed us some nifty tech that can help to detect fraud, collusion, and other “abhorrent” behavior in online poker. We basically saw a Virgin-branded poker game being played, followed by a peek at the admin interface they would use on the backend to detect foul play.

Here are some video highlights from the event:

All of tonight’s demos were relatively quick – I don’t think anyone used their full seven minutes actually! I am really happy to see what Industry Mailout is up to as their service is used by so many local organizations (I feel like I interact with it daily due to all the email newsletters I get). I loved seeing all of the cool projects that students were able to create in just 24 hours, it’s really impressive. Even if their solutions don’t have a commercial future, it’s great to see such creativity.

Great job to all the demoers!

Here are the upcoming events and other announcements that were highlighted at DemoCamp:

  • Startup Edmonton is hosting an open house each Friday afternoon. It’s a great opportunity to check out the space and to find out what it is like to be a member.
  • The next Go Meetup is on Monday night. There are also meetups for Ruby, Python, and many other technologies so check them out! One of the newest is an AWS Meetup, the first meeting of which will be during lunch on March 20.
  • There’s an interesting lunch event coming up next Wednesday called Lunchalytics. Taking place at Startup Edmonton, the event’s theme is Predictive Analytics in the Public Sector.
  • TEDxEdmonton is coming back this summer with the theme of “uncertainty”. They’ve recently changed the date to June 14 to watch for future details in the weeks ahead.

Keep an eye on the Startup Edmonton Meetup group for more upcoming tech events.

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 25!

DemoCamp Edmonton 24 is on Thursday!

Looking to connect with local entrepreneurs, investors, and other creative Edmontonians? Look no further than the next DemoCamp, taking place at the U of A on Thursday.

DemoCamp is an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics. For presenters, it’s a great way to get feedback on what you’re building from peers and the community, all in an informal setting. Started back in 2008, DemoCamp Edmonton has steadily grown into one of the largest in the country, with 200-300 people attending each event.

If you’ve never been to a DemoCamp, I think you’ll enjoy the format. The reason it is called DemoCamp is because you have to actually demo something!

The rules for DemoCamp are simple: 7 minutes to demo real, working products, followed by a few minutes for questions, and no slides allowed.

Following the demos, a large group usually heads to a local pub for drinks. It’s a great opportunity to ask the demoers about their stuff and to meet some new people.

BarCamp coming soon!
Photo of Edmonton’s first DemoCamp in March 2008

You don’t need to be a programmer to appreciate DemoCamp. The demos are approachable and don’t usually dwell on any technical details. There are plenty of people in the room who are not developers, so you won’t be in the minority if code scares you! Come and get inspired by what others have applied their talents to.

Here are the details for Thursday’s event:

WHEN: Thursday, February 20, 2014 at 6:45pm
WHERE: TELUS Centre 150, University of Alberta

The demos this time will include:

Here’s a teaser on CTV Edmonton!

Don’t miss it! You can RSVP on Meetup here. If you can’t make it, follow along on Twitter using the #democampyeg hashtag.

If you’d like to read about previous DemoCamps, you can see my recaps here. Here’s my recap of DemoCamp Edmonton 23, which took place in November. Thinking you might want to demo in the future? You can apply here.

See you Thursday!

Chasing the Northern Lights in Edmonton

I feel very fortunate to have grown up in Inuvik, NT where the northern lights are relatively easy to see. I remember heading to the east channel of the Mackenzie River (a short ten minute walk from where we lived) and venturing out onto the frozen ice to gaze up at the incredible dancing aurora above. Even in Yellowknife where my parents now live, you can see the northern lights relatively frequently. Here’s an incredible shot my Dad took back in September:

DSC_4892_FLR
Aurora Borealis at km 13 of the Ingraham Trail, Yellowknife, NT, by Martin Male

Take a few minutes and check out some of the other aurora he has captured. The lights just don’t look real!

Here in Edmonton the northern lights aren’t exactly uncommon, but you do need to work a little harder to see them than they do up north. Or at least I thought you did, until I discovered the AuroraWatch service a couple years ago!

Auroral forecast from AuroraWatch.ca

The award-winning AuroraWatch service was created and is operated by a team at the University of Alberta. The service monitors geomagnetic activity in the Edmonton area and can email you for free if the northern lights might be visible. At any given time, you can visit the website to see the estimated probability of witnessing the aurora borealis in the evening (their live widget is embedded to the right). There are two alert levels – yellow when the probability is above 50%, and red when the probability is above 70%.

Since it launched back in October 2007, AuroraWatch has had more than 1.2 million visitors and currently has more than 26,000 email subscribers. Since 2009, they have issued more than 175 alerts.

So how can you ensure you get a good view? Well once you’ve received your red alert, get to a better viewing location:

The best advice for viewing aurora is to look north, after dark. Just around or before midnight is an especially good time, but the northern lights can be seen in Edmonton from early evening onwards on some very active days. Inside the city, the light pollution makes dimmer auroras harder to see – so you will get a much better view if you go to a location with darker skies outside the city.

That makes sense, right? Head outside the city and you just might get an amazing photo like this one taken by local photographer Mike Isaak back in November:

Northern Lights over Elk Island
Elk Island Aurora by Mike Isaak (purchase prints here)

He posted the photo on Twitter and received more than 330 retweets and more than 280 favorites. You can see why! Mike is also a finalist in the 2014 VISTEK Emerging Photographer competition – go vote for him!

Of course, if you know when to look and how to capture it, you don’t have to go very far at all. On the same weekend in November, photographer Kevin Tuong captured this incredible shot of the northern lights over downtown:

Northern Lights over Downtown
Northern Lights over Downtown by Kevin Tuong

I didn’t think you could see them like that within the city limits, but you can! Kevin’s photo was also popular on social media, with lots of upvotes on Reddit.

The AuroraWatch site often hosts images that photographers have sent in. It sure looks like that Remembrance Day long weekend in November was a sure-thing for aurora-viewing.

AuroraWatch won the ASTech 2013 Public Awareness Award for the unique service it provides:

“We are delighted and honoured that the impact of AuroraWatch.ca in promoting space science and technology was recognized with this ASTech Award to the Aurora Watch team,” said principal researcher Ian Mann, noting that space weather can also have more damaging consequences on the satellite, GPS and power grid infrastructure we increasingly rely on in the 21st century.

According to Environment Canada, there’s an average of about 90 nights per year when the northern lights are visible in Edmonton, and the best month is probably September. The good thing about AuroraWatch is that you no longer need to guess which nights those are!

If you love gazing up at the aurora borealis as much as I do, go sign up for the AuroraWatch Alerts. You won’t be disappointed. Also check out @aurorawatch on Twitter.

Many thanks to Mike Isaak, Kevin Tuong, and Martin Male for letting me use their excellent work to help illustrate this story.

You never know where your Creative Commons-licensed photos might end up

I’ve been a Flickr member since January 2005 and I have more than 19,000 photos hosted there. Nearly all of them are Creative Commons licensed, a decision I made a long time ago. I don’t post my photos to make money, I post them to share with others. Keeping them protected doesn’t benefit anyone, but by choosing a more permissive license, others can use my photos in their own work.

If you want to give people the right to share, use, and even build upon a work you’ve created, you should consider publishing it under a Creative Commons license. CC gives you flexibility (for example, you can choose to allow only non-commercial uses) and protects the people who use your work, so they don’t have to worry about copyright infringement, as long as they abide by the conditions you have specified.

My photos are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA). That means that anyone can copy, redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon any of my photos, even for commercial purposes. All that is required is that I receive appropriate credit for the photo and that any new work that incorporates the photo is also licensed under the CC-BY-SA license.

Over the years, I have been so happy to see my photos in use by others. As you might expect, most of my photos are Edmonton-related, and they’ve appeared in annual reports for local companies, in many publications by the City of Edmonton, in local media, and even in local products and services. They’ve been used by many travel companies all over the world to help illustrate Edmonton and other places I have travelled to. It makes me feel good to see others use one of my photos to help make their thing better, whatever it is. Often people ask me for permission anyway, but they don’t need to.

In some cases though, my photos have been used in unexpected places. One such place was Gawker, which used this photo in a story titled ‘Whites Win Control of Nation’s Capital‘:

Mack at Ben's Chili Bowl

The photo was taken in May 2009 when I was on vacation in Washington, D.C. with Sharon. The photo is at Ben’s Chili Bowl, and I took the photo because that’s where newly-elected President Obama sat when he visited. You can read Sharon’s review of our experience here. Here’s the relevant section:

Near the end of our meal, a fellow patron approached our table, and pointed out to Mack that President Obama had sat in his chair not too long ago, just across from Mayor Adrian Fenty. Though we had noticed that the Seal of the President had been placed on the wall just above the chair, it hadn’t occurred to us that the reason for it was to act as a marker. Just above the seal was a blown-up photo of Obama and Fenty, as well as a smaller picture of the President posing with diner staff.

The man then asked Mack if his choice of seat thus pointed out his destiny to become the next President. Mack replied, “I can’t – I’m Canadian.”

For whatever reason, the Gawker story was circulating on Twitter in Edmonton today. No I’m not pleased that my face appears in Gawker’s race-baiting post, but whatever, the photo is free for use. I could request that they take it down I suppose, but the post was from 2011. Only in Edmonton does anyone still care!

I wasn’t going to write anything, but then I thought it would be interesting to highlight some of the other strange places my photos have been used. Enjoy!

Let’s start with another one from D.C., of Watergate. I have a few of the complex, and they have been used often to illustrate articles related to the famous scandal, like this one.

Watergate

This photo of a Petro-Canada refinery was taken back in 2008 on the east end of Edmonton. It was used in an article in The Times of Israel titled ‘Turkey busts Iranian oil smugglers‘:

Petro-Canada Refinery

While visiting San Francisco in September 2010, we of course made a stop at Trader Joe’s, where I took this photo that was used last year when they increased the price of Two Buck Chuck to $2.49:

Tow Buck Chuck

This delicious-looking grilled cheese sandwich was used in an article titled ‘“Pregnancy brain” – what did you forget?‘:

Grilled Cheese Olympics

Don’t ask me why, but in 2007 I took a picture of some clean dishes in the dishwasher. It was used by the Natural Resources Defense Council in ‘The Great Dishwasher Debate‘.

Clean Dishes

Who doesn’t love the Edmonton Corn Maze! I took this photo in September 2010. It was used a little over a year later in an article titled ‘Family lost in a corn maze calls 911‘.

Edmonton Corn Maze

This photo, taken in Seattle in 2005, actually looks a lot better in the article where it was touched up, titled ‘Inuit demands spark angler concerns over Scottish salmon stocks‘:

Salmon

While visiting Calgary in July 2010, I took this photo in the Marda Loop neighbourhood. It was later used in a satirical article titled ‘Marda Loop residents seek to ban ugly people from moving into the neighbourhood‘:

Marda Loop

Back in 2008, Doctors Without Borders had an exhibit called Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, which is where I took this photo of plumpy nut. It has been used in a number of articles about malnutrition, like this one.

plumpy nut

I took this photo of Little Caesars Hot-n-Ready pizza in 2008. It was used in this article about a 12-year-old boy who stole money, went joyriding, and ate pizza.

Hot-n-Ready from Little Caesars

This photo was used in an article about having a date at a driving range, highly appropriate as that’s when it was taken! Yes, that is Sharon.

Sharon at the driving range

Let’s finish with another popular food photo, taken in September 2010 in San Francisco. Sharon wrote about our meal at Sam Wo here. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed down in 2012 though their website was updated in July 2013 to say they are in search of a new location.

Sam Wo

There are lots of other somewhat-less-interesting examples too, with photos of technology, the Stanley Cup, Starbucks Iced Coffee, and much more being used in articles all over the world. It’s neat to see all of the places my photos have ended up!

You can check out all of my photos at Flickr.

Recap: Hacking Health in Edmonton

Last weekend was Edmonton’s first Hacking Health, a unique event that aims to enable collaboration between technology geeks and healthcare workers to solve health-focused problems. The hackathon took place at the Edmonton Clinic Health Academy at the University of Alberta from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon and attracted dozens of participants and many more observers.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Here’s what Hacking Health is all about:

Hacking Health is an experiment in collaboration. Our hypothesis is that the interface of front-line clinicians and technology experts will yield innovative approaches to some (not all) of healthcare’s most entrenched problems. By rapidly building and testing prototypes, we can identify the fraction of ideas that have the potential to scale and at the same time, allow others to take their learnings and apply them to new ideas. Our goal is to make this experimentation as low risk as possible for everyone involved – the individual participants, organizers, and supporters.

Hacking Health was founded a little over a year ago in Montreal by Jeeshan Chowdhury, Matthew Huebert, and Dominic Savoie. They found the startup scene and hackathons in particular quite intriguing, and felt that such events could have a positive impact on the world of health too.

What if they could get doctors, nurses, and other health professionals in the same room as technology experts? Could they reduce the risk of healthcare innovation by giving designers and developers exposure to the healthcare knowledge and connections they lack?

Since that first event in Montreal, more than 1000 clinicians, patients, designers, and developers have participated in subsequent events in Toronto and Vancouver. The Hacking Health team have ambitions to spread across the world, starting with Canada. For some additional background, check out this ExpressNews article.

It was only a matter of time until Hacking Health made its way to Edmonton, as this is Jeeshan’s hometown (we actually went to high school together). Our growing startup and technology scene combined with an established and widely recognized health sector make Edmonton a great fit for events like Hacking Health. I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the event, but I did attend the demo session on Sunday.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Hacking Health followed the same format as many other hackathons. Friday night is when the ideas are pitched and the teams are formed. If an idea or proposal catches your attention, you’re welcome to join the team. Once that’s done, the teams get down to work, spending all of Saturday trying to make progress on their solution or idea. Sunday is when the teams demo what they managed to accomplish over the weekend.

There were 33 projects pitched, 13 of which had teams formed around them. There was quite a bit of variation in the projects and team sizes, which made for an interesting set of demos! Each team had 2 minutes to show off their work, followed by an opportunity for the judges to ask some questions.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013

Here’s a quick overview of the 13 teams that demoed:

  • Health Facility Wayfinding: This team didn’t actually take a technology approach to their solution. Instead they proposed the use of human guides along with signage to help people navigate the hospital.
  • Education for Extracorporeal Therapies: An extracorporeal procedure is one which is performed outside the body. In this case, the team focused on the need to do something with a patient’s blood, and they devised a clamp system using Arduino. It was described as an add-on to existing products, and while I can’t personally appreciate the impact it might have, others in the room seemed excited.
  • Kala: An Emergency Room Wait Time Genie: The idea with Kala was to use machine learning to predict wait times. They demoed a dashboard that would present that intelligence, and said the biggest challenge would be getting access to data from the hospitals. AHS does share estimated wait times, of course.
  • Referral Appointment Dashboard: Called ezReferral, this team’s project would allow doctors to negotiate with one another to simplify the complicated referral process. They are apparently about 80% of the way to completion!
  • LinkRX: This project aimed to build a link between doctors and pharmacists for prescriptions. Using a QR code on a prescription, the team hoped to ensure that prescriptions could not be forged and to make it easier for pharmacists to scan on their end (no more deciphering doctor’s notes). They said pieces of the system already exist, but their project was a unified system.
  • Tracking/Improving Emotional Well Being via Smart Phone: This team built an Android app to enable emotional tracking. The vision is to combine self-reported moods (the piece they worked on over the weekend) with everything else that your smart phone knows about you.
  • StandUp!: This team said “sitting is the new smoking” and their plan to get you up and out of your seat is an app that reminds you when you’ve been sitting for too long. It would assign you an activity, like doing ten squats, that you could invite a friend to join along in. You earn points for completing each activity, and your workplace could pay for data to monitor the health of its workforce.
  • Mis TakeAway: This project envisioned a safe space for health professionals to reflect on their mistakes, a sort of post secret for the healthcare industry. The webpage featured messages in a bottle, each of which contained a confession.
  • CoughDoc: Another simple but powerful idea formed the basis of this app – allow patients to record their cough (or their child’s) using a smartphone and send it to their doctor. The doctor could then diagnose remotely and determine whether an appointment is necessary.
  • Rehabilitation with games using KINECT: Rehabilitation using Kinect is not a new idea, but this team forged ahead with a fun, Super Mario Bros-inspired game nonetheless. They focused on rehab for an elbow injury in their game called Super Reventure World.
  • What’s for lunch?: This app is a tracker for nutritional information. Again, there are dozens of these services already out there, but what made it unique was the interface – users could enter plain English and the app would parse it and convert it to the appropriate nutritional information.
  • Walk-ins Welcome: It sounds like last minute cancellations are a big problem, and that’s what this project aimed to solve. The service would connect patients with last minute appointment times, and would allow doctors to keep track of which patients were no-shows.
  • TrialConnect: The final project was focused on connecting willing participants to clinical trial research. It’s like a matchmaking service for researchers and patients.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013
The judges deliberate

In the end, CoughDoc, ezReferral, StandUp!, and Walk-ins Welcome were all recognized by the judges as well as sponsors BDC and Bird Communications. I think my favorite was StandUp!, perhaps because it seemed the most realistic and immediately impactful to me. It’s pretty amazing what each of the teams was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time!

Everyone seemed to have a great time over the weekend, and it was great to see all of the demos at the end. Congratulations to everyone that helped to make Hacking Health Edmonton happen! For more on the event, check out Tamara’s Storify.

Hacking Health Edmonton 2013
The StandUp! team

Hacking Health will be making its next stop in Calgary in February 2014, followed by events in Montreal and Hamilton before going international to New York City, Stockholm, and Strasbourg.

Here in Edmonton, stay tuned for a second Hacking Health event next fall. You can follow Hacking Health Edmonton on Twitter (they may get a meetup group going too). Check out more photos from the first event here.

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 4

Tomorrow evening is Edmonton’s fourth Launch Party, an event which “celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.” These are companies that have recently launched and which are ready to pursue the next level of growth.

Launch Party isn’t your typical networking event or trade show. It’s a party designed to celebrate and showcase the rockstar entrepreneurs in our community. Drinks, DJs, and great company all await you at Launch Party!

Launch Party is for everyone in the community – students, media, investors, entrepreneurs, designers, consumers – if you’re interested in starting, growing and supporting local startups, then Launch Party is the place to be!

There’s an impressive list of Launch Party alumni in Edmonton, including Mover, Yardstick, Poppy Barley, and Jobber. Now we get an opportunity to see another ten grow and hopefully succeed!

presenting companies

Here are the presenting companies for Launch Party 4:


AccentFree

FOUNDED: April 2013
TWO WORDS: Linguistics Training
WHAT: “People have difficulty speaking new languages because their mouths have been trained to move in a different way. AccentFree is a personal linguistics engine to help retrain how people speak. Our products level the playing field for ESL speakers, giving them equal career and social opportunities, and turn smartphones into personal linguistic tutors.”
KEY PEOPLE: Michael Brougham
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m personally unfamiliar with AccentFree, though it’s clear that founder Michael has a passion for the beauty of the human voice. ESL itself is a large industry here in Alberta, and with a large and growing influx of newcomers, there’s a lot of demand for services and solutions to support them.

Cinder

FOUNDED: May 2011
TWO WORDS: Game Platform
WHAT: “Cinder.io is an independent focused, games development platform that connects dedicated producers with passionate players. The diverse system allows audiences to enjoy products online and contribute to the evolution games through feedback, collaboration and funding. This provides the producer with a richer and more flexible environment in which to validate, fund and promote their products with the most relevant audience.”
KEY PEOPLE: Pieter Parker, Sean Kopen
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 14 (Pieter, with Bit Shift Games)
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Despite both Sony & Microsoft launching new consoles this month, the gaming industry remains in flux. We’re gaming more, but in different ways, and the likelihood that aspiring game developers can make something is ever-increasing. Cinder will be entering an already competitive market, but there’s lots of potential.

DriveWyze

FOUNDED: 2012
TWO WORDS: Weigh-Station Bypass
WHAT: “Drivewyze Inc., provider of the leading electronic weigh station bypass service, Drivewyze PreClear, enables commercial vehicle operators to maximize cost savings by reducing weigh station pull-ins and increases road safety by enabling law enforcement agencies to focus on non-compliant commercial vehicles. Drivewyze partners with industry leaders including Electronic Logging Device manufacturers, trucking associations and government stakeholders to deliver the next generation of weigh station bypass solutions.”
KEY PEOPLE: Doug Johnson, Brian Heath, Jason Ding
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: AlwaysOn Global 250 Winner
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Can we still call Drivewyze a startup? A subsidiary of Intelligent Imaging Systems, Drivewyze already has more than 230 sites and numerous partnerships. In August 2013, the company raised $7.5 million in funding from Emergence Capital Partners and iNovia Capital. The company has hit upon a cost-effective solution in a big, big market.

Dryrun

FOUNDED: January 2012
TWO WORDS: Financial Forecasts
WHAT: “Dryrun is a software as a service (SaaS) product built for small businesses to forecast their cash flow, compare their options and understand their business. Improving on the familiar spreadsheet, it’s fast, easy, clear and collaborative.”
KEY PEOPLE: Blaine Bertsch
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dryrun is gearing up to launch later this year, and already it’s a highly functional, attractive service. Blaine’s background in design has served him well in the creation of what could be a fairly boring tool. I think the key to success will be integrations, with services like FreshBooks.

Localize

FOUNDED: June 2011
TWO WORDS: Local Labels
WHAT: “Localize makes it easy for grocery stores to launch and maintain highly credible local food campaigns. Our shelf-labelling service identifies local and regional products right on the store shelf, and provides customers with an easy way to find more information about where each product has come from when they scan the QR code that is found on each label. We have launched the Localize service into over 50 grocery stores in Alberta, partnered with over 300 food producers, and have profiled over 3500 food products. We are currently growing the program into BC and Saskatchewan.”
KEY PEOPLE: Meghan Dear
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Semi-Finalist in VenturePrize, Social Enterprise World Forum
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Fresh off a $20,000 win in the Good Deals Venture Pitch Competition, Localize has some momentum at the moment. With a growing network of grocery stores and a really impressive number of producers, Localize is well-positioned to capitalize on the incredible interest in local food in Alberta and beyond.

Pinshape

TWO WORDS: 3D Printing
WHAT: “pinshape is a 3D printing community marketplace for 3D printable models. Users can explore models from the world’s leading 3D designers to learn, share, download, and order physical 3D prints through pinshape’s professional 3D print service. Designers can upload their work and share it for free or sell it for profit. With a fluid pinboard interface, life-like 3D rendering, and individually tailored content, pinshape is organizing the world’s 3D designs, and changing how we explore 3D creativity.”
KEY PEOPLE: Nick Schwinghamer
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 23, TEC Edmonton/Fundica Funding Roadshow
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m positive that one day we’ll all have 3D printers in our homes, just as inkjets are so ubiquitous today. Part community and part app store, pinshape is the kind of service that will bridge the gap between experts and designers and those of us that just want access to this amazing technology.

SAM

FOUNDED: March 2013
TWO WORDS: Asset Management
WHAT: “SAM is an online social asset management platform for news and media professionals. We’re building the most powerful search tools to empower journalists to intentionally find meaningful content from social networks and constructing an asset management platform to make it easy to work with these social assets throughout the media lifecycle (newsgathering to broadcast and publish). To put it another way, SAM is a CMS for Tweets, Instagrams, Youtube Videos and any other social content that is essential to News Coverage, Content Production and Journalism.”
KEY PEOPLE: James Neufeld
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 22, News Xchange Startup Alley
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Social media is here to stay, with tweets, photos, and other posts already integral to the news gathering and sharing process. They’re not very integrated though, and that’s the problem SAM is looking to solve. There’s a lot of interest in new approaches to media, and SAM could have an angle that not many have considered yet.

Scope Technologies

FOUNDED: November 2010
TWO WORDS: Augmented Reality
WHAT: “Scope Technologies develops user-guided Augmented Reality Solution with focus in Industrial markets including mining, oil and gas, military, aerospace, and manufacturing. Our solution is primarily developed for the purpose of training and maintenance. Essentially, our solution is an extension of any manual or document, and creates a “see-it, do-it” process. Our process involves a full understanding of the challenges of the client, whether it entails and unskilled labor force, trying to minimize mistakes in maintaining equipment, or saving time. We ensure that our solution is practical for the customer, which could significantly impact the hardware that the solution is deployed on – including tablets, glasses, or a combination.”
KEY PEOPLE: David Nedohin, Scott Montgomerie, Graham Melley, Reg Cheramy
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: DemoCamp Edmonton 21
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: There’s a ton of interest right now in wearable computing as well as augmented reality (and some predict that gadgets in the category could save companies $1 billion within 3-5 years) . Their demo back in April focused on using augmented reality for training, an already large and growing market with a lot of potential, especially here in industrial Alberta. They’ve got a talented team and an important supporter is Epson who makes the Moverio glasses they use.

SportingCharts

FOUNDED: September 2011
TWO WORDS: Sports Analytics
WHAT: “SportingCharts is enhancing the way people view and understand sports. We are dedicated to improving the analytics of sports by providing tools, resources and visuals, to better arm teams, fantasy players and bettors in their decision making and produce more informed fans.”
KEY PEOPLE: Cory Wagner, Chad Langager
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Make Something Edmonton
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: People love their sports. Chad and Cory were previously with Investopedia, so they know a thing or two about data analysis! I regularly see people linking to the charts at SportingCharts.com, which is why it’s so interesting to me – there’s a lot of people interested in the data but they don’t necessarily know what to do with it. Their new ChartBuilder tool is a look at things to come. In addition to data and analytical tools, SportingCharts has expanded into opinion articles with more than 20 contributors.

Visio Media

FOUNDED: July 2011
TWO WORDS: Elevator Advertising
WHAT: “Visio Media tenders digital elevator advertising space in commercial and residential properties by installing Android based tablets. Visio tablets are equipped with state of the art technology that provides exact impressions and accurate demographics like age, gender and duration of stare. As well as NFC (Near Field Communication) technology that allows the audience to simply tap their smartphones on the elevator tablets to engage with advertisements.”
KEY PEOPLE: Fouad El-Masri, Nicolette Leonardis, Sami Al Askari
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Alberta Venture
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: They’ve installed screens in elevators in more than a dozen locations since February, and have even provided screens to Southgate Mall and Mill Woods Town Centre. They’ve signed up dozens of advertisers, and just recently launched support for NFC to enable some interesting new scenarios. We’ve had the screens in my condo building since the summer, and I can definitely see the potential.


The event gets underway at 6:45pm at Startup Edmonton. Unfortunately the event is already sold out, but keep an eye on social media for details about all the companies!

You can see my previous Launch Party previews here: #1, #2 Recap, #3.

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 23

democampEdmonton’s 23rd DemoCamp took place last night at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus. DemoCamp is “an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics.” You can read my recap of our last DemoCamp here. Despite the cooler weather, we had a strong turnout for both the first half (demos) and second half (beer) of the event.

We had five demos. In order of appearance:

  • Shawn and Zeshan kicked things off with a demo of SelfieText. “If SnapChat and Instagram had a baby, this app would be it,” they told us. The app lets you take a photo and send it to contacts, but the unique thing is that the photo “self destructs” after 12 seconds. They’ve decided to go with the closed network approach, and though you can take a photo of anything, they found the app was popular among people taking selfies.
  • Next up was Nathan, Forrest, Ben, and Donald who showed us Project Quest, a fun project management app that they built for Rails Rumble 2013. The idea is that instead of creating and working on tickets, you instead create and complete quests. Each quest also gets added to a game map. They had different types of quests too, representing by a unicorn or a yak that needs to be shaved. It looked like a really fun project to create!
  • Our third demo came from Nick and Andre who showed us PinShape. Described as a cross between Pinterest and the App Store, PinShape is a community for 3D printing. Designers can use the site to share and even sell their 3D models, while the public can use it to download, buy, and print the objects that others have designed. It definitely seems like 3D printing will be rapidly moving from commercial/industrial applications to consumer ones soon, so the project seems well-timed.
  • Our fourth and quickest demo of the evening came from students Grant and Motiejus who showed us SilentZone. The app runs on Android phones and allows you to have your phone switch to vibrate or silent mode automatically based on your location. There are other apps that provide similar functionality, but SilentZone is focused on having a simple user interface. They have plans to add more features though the app already seems highly useful.
  • Our final demo came from Blaine who showed us DryRun. It’s a web-based tool that helps you forecast your cash flow and create different financial scenarios with a few clicks. The interface looks great and very simple-to-use. Blaine has plans to integrate it with financial services like FreshBooks, though he feels already that you can get a lot of mileage out of the app. There are tools for sharing and exporting your scenarios and projections too.

I think the crowd-pleaser was probably Project Quest, just because it was such a fun way to look at a fairly boring problem (issue/project management). Though the team had lots of ideas for new features and other things to add, there’s no word on whether they’ll pursue it further. I would say that DryRun was probably the demo that I can see being most successful. It’s polished and highly functional, and it solves a problem nicely that a lot of people have (sure you can use spreadsheets, but the possibilities with DryRun are appealing). Of course, the SilentZone guys sort of stole the show with their Q&A. It was the right mix of humor, indifference, and seriousness.

Great job to all the demoers!

Here are the upcoming events and other announcements that were highlighted at DemoCamp:

Keep an eye on the Startup Edmonton Meetup group for more upcoming tech events.

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 24!

Wireless Internet throughout Edmonton with Shaw Go WiFi

I’ve been thinking a lot about wi-fi again lately. I say again because it’s a topic I have written about on this blog for over eight years! Here’s what I wrote in September 2005:

What’s my mantra? Wireless Everywhere! I look forward to the day when wireless is like oxygen; everywhere you go, it’s there.

I was pretty dedicated to the cause. On a business trip in about 2004, my colleague and I were staying in a hotel that didn’t have Internet access in the rooms, though it did have access in the business centre. So we went to Staples, bought a wireless router, and hooked it up. We carefully hid it behind one of the enormous computer towers, and after we checked out we returned it. For the few days we were there, we had wireless Internet access! (After that trip, we started bringing a wireless router with us when traveling.)

A couple of years later, I was intrigued by a device that might alert me to the existence of wi-fi (no longer needed thanks to smartphones). In 2008 one of my first experiences with Edmonton’s NextGen was a result of their focus group on wi-fi. Also that year, the City of Edmonton launched a wi-fi pilot called Wireless Edmonton, the Edmonton Public Library launched free wi-fi, and I got involved in the Free WiFi Project.

Of course, technology has changed dramatically over the years. Mesh networking was initially pretty popular and was used in a number of cities, but you don’t hear too much about it now. Longer-range standards like WiMax never really materialized. And perhaps most importantly, nearly everyone now has a smartphone equipped with mobile data access.

Still, I find the idea of blanket wi-fi coverage intriguing. We all know how ridiculously expensive mobile data is in Canada. And wi-fi is generally faster (though LTE is quick too). I never had much hope that an ISP would make wireless access easier – what incentive did they have? I always figured that the City would have to make it happen, but the reality is we very nearly have blanket wi-fi coverage right now. And it’s because of Shaw.

Shaw Go Wifi

I know this is going to seem like a big advertisement, but I can assure you it’s not. I haven’t received anything special. I am a Shaw customer, and I pay thousands of dollars a year for TV and Internet, just like many of you. I’m a happy customer though, and I like the Go WiFi service so much I wanted to write about it.

It was in September 2011 that Shaw announced plans to build out a wi-fi network (PDF). They had been looking to enter the wireless (cell phone) industry, but decided it was too expensive and risky.

We believe that a more prudent approach for us is to provide a managed Wi-Fi network that will allow our customers to extend their Shaw services beyond the home. This will achieve our objectives without risking well over $1 billion in capital expenditures on a traditional wireless network build.

Shaw launched its first hotspots in the spring of 2012 and has been expanding the network ever since. Today there are thousands of locations throughout western Canada, especially in large urban centres. I find I’m regularly connected to ShawOpen without even realizing it! You can find a location near you here, or you can download one of the mobile apps to find nearby hotspots.

Here’s a quick video from Shaw explaining how to use the service:

Entering your username and password each time is rather annoying, but fortunately you can avoid that. Simply login to the Shaw Customer Centre, and go to the Shaw Go WiFi page. There you can enter up to ten devices (depending on your plan) that should automatically connect (by MAC address). It works perfectly!

Shaw Go Wifi

If you think the network is great now, just wait. In May 2013, City Council approved an agreement with Shaw to expand the Go WiFi service to public areas like LRT stations. They’re even going to be adding hotspots nearly 900 streetlights! The expansion is slated to take place over the next two years and will result in about 1500 new access points and coverage at all public facilities. The City estimated that expanding their own network would cost up to $15 million, so partnering with a telecom provider would be a much more cost-effective approach. The City isn’t directly investing in the project, but is contributing staff time to the tune of about $540,000.

The best part is that you don’t need to be a Shaw customer to take advantage of the new service. Anyone can get access to 500 MB of data each month after you complete a free sign-on (on a Shaw & City of Edmonton co-branded page).

It seems like I’ll finally have wireless everywhere, at least in Edmonton. Thanks Shaw!

Recap: DemoCamp Edmonton 22

Edmonton’s 22nd DemoCamp took place tonight at the Telus Centre on the University of Alberta campus. DemoCamp is “an event that brings together developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and investors to share what they’ve been working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics.” You can read my recap of our last DemoCamp here. While it was still a good turnout, the crowd did seem smaller tonight than it has recently. Maybe the frost warning scared everyone back into their homes!

We had six demos tonight. In order of appearance:

  • Our first demo came from 9-year-old Ella, the youngest person to demo here in Edmonton! She was a participant in CodeCamp over the summer that Startup Edmonton hosted with Junior Achievement. Ella learned how to create a game using Scratch, a creative learning community from MIT. Ella’s game, pacman 2, is pretty cool and not as easy as it looks! Ella said she wants to be a programmer one day, and with more time she’d add more levels to her game and would make it more challenging. Great work Ella!

DemoCamp Edmonton 22

  • The second demo was SAM, which stands for Social Asset Management. James walked us through the app’s features. SAM helps media professionals curate and manage content, which they can then use in their storytelling. So I could search for and save a bunch of tweets, then using a WordPress plugin, I could insert them into a blog post. It looks pretty feature-rich already, though SAM is still in beta.
  • Next up was Galen who showed us a couple of the digital storytelling projects he’s working on. One was an app that lets you pin stories atop a map. The other was Novorapid, an interactive short film being produced by the National Film Board. Directed by Tyler Enfield, the film “uses dynamic split screens to allow the viewer to experience the film from multiple perspectives.” It looked like a really cool approach.
  • The fourth demo was Spatialtree from Ajay and James. The basic idea is that you can create a cluster of online profiles that Spatialtree will then analyze and generate reports for. So you could see who’s getting the most interactions, or how you compare to the competition. The tool has a pretty nice interface, though I’m a little unclear on practical applications for this aside from social media marketing.
  • Grant was up next to show us a game he and his team are building called Bardbarian. The protagonist, Brad, has grown tired of life as a barbarian and uses a makeshift axe-lute to “shred lute and collect loot”. It looks pretty fun, and the development team have been blogging as they progress. Here’s some preview footage:
  • The final demo tonight was Meerkat, a social network analysis application developed at AICML. Matt showed us how the tool can be used to visualize Twitter data, and to answer questions about that data such as who is most influential but not necessarily most popular. The team behind it have something pretty powerful, and are looking for interesting use cases for it. Financial analysis sounds like it has been a successful early sector to use the tool.

It was funny that so many of the demos tonight featured Twitter, leading Cam to joke that “Twitter is a thing” and “you should buy some stock!” (Twitter recently announced it is planning an IPO.) Given that I have been known to dabble in Twitter analytics and digital storytelling, I found tonight’s lineup pretty compelling! It’s hard to top an energetic, young programmer like Ella, especially when she kicks off the show with a great demo, so I’m going to pick hers as my favorite tonight. I could certainly see myself using SAM though, so I’ll be keeping an eye on that one! Well done to all the demoers.

There were a few announcements tonight:

  • Startup Edmonton’s Preflight Pre-Accelerator Program returns in October. The deadline to apply is September 20.
  • The 4th Launch Party is slated to take place on November 21. Have something to launch? Get in touch with Startup Edmonton.
  • The Software Engineering Capstone Design program at the U of A is looking for project suggestions! Get in touch with professor Scott Dick if you have one.

Here are some of the upcoming tech events you might consider checking out:

Keep an eye on the Startup Edmonton Meetup group for more upcoming tech events.

See you at DemoCamp Edmonton 23!

Mover is making cloud storage solutions in Edmonton

moverCan you build a successful, scalable technology company in Edmonton? Local startup Mover thinks so, and yesterday they received validation of that goal in the form of $1 million in seed financing from an impressive list of American and Canadian investors.

“Absolutely” was Mover CEO Eric Warnke‘s response when I asked if he thought he could find the necessary talent and other resources to grow the company here in Edmonton. The tech landscape is a lot different today than it was five or six years ago when Eric was at Nexopia, the hot local startup at the time. “Realistically we’d have to double salaries if we relocated to the valley,” he told me. Not that Mover isn’t paying a fair wage, it’s just that the cost of living there is much higher and the competition for talent is much fiercer. “A lot of people ask us if we’re going to move, but there are good incentives to stay here.” The footer of Mover’s website carries the message “proudly made in Edmonton.”

Mover is barely a year old, but it certainly doesn’t lack history. Walk around the office on the second floor of the revitalized Mercer Warehouse building and little reminders of the past consistently pop-up. A Free Wi-Fi magnet on a metal divider, a Firenest coffee tumbler on top of the fridge, a Mesh Canada brochure hanging on one of the beautiful wooden beams. Even the Launch Party sign front-and-centre as you walk across the creaky floors offers insight into how the growing local tech scene made it possible for Mover to go from idea to reality.

Mover Office

In 2004, Eric was employee number four at Nexopia and wore a number of hats there over the years, everything from customer service to ad management. A few years later, while working full-time at the social networking site and also going to school, Eric found time to start and run an Internet café on Whyte Avenue. It was the Internet café that sparked an interest in wireless networks and led to the creation of the Free Wi-Fi Project. Through that initiative Eric met Mark Fossen, a former partner at ThinkTel Communications. The two decided to join forces and launched Mesh Canada in 2009. They sold it to a Calgary company last year.

In January 2012, Eric & Mark decided to participate in Startup Edmonton’s Startup Hackathon. They built a utility called Backup Box that helped users move files from one place to another (such as an FTP server to Dropbox), and eventually showed it off at DemoCamp in March. A few months later, they were part of GrowLab‘s spring 2012 cohort in Vancouver. Renamed as Mover, they refined the product and when they got back to Edmonton, realized they needed to grow. That’s when Ben Zittlau joined as a partner and the VP of Technology. He had previously worked on Firenest, a web-based tool for non-profits, and for a short time worked at Yardstick Software too.

In the space of a year the team has grown from four to ten. They’ve mostly hired people they know, and that was a deliberate decision. “Slowly but surely we’re putting Nexopia back together,” Eric half-joked. He stressed how important it is to hire strong people. “They had a lot of great people working at Nexopia.” Mover plans to stay in the Mercer Warehouse as long as possible, and already have their eye on some additional space on the second floor. “It’s walkable for almost everyone on the team,” Eric said. “There are great amenities here, and being downtown and close to Startup Edmonton is really great.”

Mover Office

I asked Eric to describe the culture at Mover. “Pretty awesome” was his response. The fridge is stocked with groceries in addition to beer, so that everyone on the team can have a healthy lunch at the office if they choose to (today the team had a craving for Oodle Noodle). The company is flexible on working hours and vacation, and employees get ownership options. Eric cited Box, Dropbox, and Singly as companies he admires with Jobber and Granify as local examples. “One day we’ll be the example others mention,” he added.

Mover has a strong technical team. Greg Bell, Graham Batty, and Sean Healy are all former Nexopia employees. Derek Dowling was a programmer for The Gateway. Jacob Straszynski worked at Mediashaker. Eric thinks they’ll add a few more technology folks, but where the new funding will really help Mover is with marketing and business development. Aside from Eric and Mark, there’s just marketing intern Aidan McColl at the moment.

Mover Office

Mover has quickly become a leader in the growing world of cloud storage migration and backup. With support for about a dozen popular services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive, Mover is carving out a unique middleware position for itself in a rapidly growing market. Steve Jobs famously said Dropbox was just a feature, not a product, but today the company has more than 100 million users who collectively save more than 1 billion files each and every day. And they’re just one of many options available to consumers and enterprises. Back in 2010 a series of Microsoft commercials featured the refrain “to the cloud!” Today more than ever, that’s exactly what’s happening, and Mover is hoping to play a key role in the space.

The plan was always to raise money. But like many technology startups, Mover was probably too ambitious last year in trying to build an impressive technical solution to a problem that not enough people have yet. The lesson was to focus on the areas in which they already had traction, Eric told me. “We’ve got this really interesting thing here, and we need some money to figure that out so that we can get to the next stage.” That approach, combined with a realization that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” to certain questions, led to the new investment.

Mover currently thinks about two primary categories of customers. There are individuals who are mostly self-service but have a wide range of needs. Then there’s enterprises, with lots of users and fairly well-defined problems. Both offer lots of opportunities and are expected grow significantly in the years ahead. Balancing the feature set between them is one of the challenges Mover will face. “We’ve got a fantastic backend,” Eric said, “but we need to make some improvements to the user experience.”

The team is well aware there is lots of work to be done. Every Friday afternoon they meet in the “conference room” for a retrospective led by Ben. Each person has the opportunity to share something positive from the past week as well as something that needs to be improved. The admin dashboard they’ve built is displayed on a large television and allows the team to monitor performance, identify potential bugs, and highlight areas of improvement.

Mover Office

Eric and Mark took part today and used the opportunity to talk about the new investment, thanking everyone for their hard work. “It was a team effort,” Eric said. “Each of you have played an important role in getting us to this point.” Mark added some thoughts about what the investment means for the company, and there were smiles all around. But that was the extent of the celebration. Minutes later they were back to discussing some workloads that had been flagged on the display. The message was clear: the investment helps a great deal, but it’s not the endgame. Mover has lofty goals and there’s a lot of work to be done to achieve them.