Recently several Canadian Business staffers went to the Cantech Investment Conference, an annual confab for technology firms and potential investors. It’s a chance for the tech companies to pitch their innovations in hopes of landing investment; it’s also a good chance to preview some of the most interesting technologies being developed in Canada.
Here are five of the most interesting companies we saw at the conference, working in a range of fields—from anti-counterfeiting to cancer therapy to, well, Kardiashians.
It’s an important week coming up for the Vancouver-based UrtheCast Inc. (pronounced “earth-cast”) . Today, astronauts completing a spacewalk at the International Space Station are attempting to install two cameras on the exterior of the International Space Station. If successful (the first attempt ran into problems), the cameras will provide a near-live stream of the Earth as the ISS moves around it. The applications for the live stream are numerous: UrtheCast has already suggested that education and all kinds of scientific research could be aided by its technology, and has also entered into a partnership with the U.N. to aid in disaster and humanitarian relief.
Vancouver tech firm Mobio is looking to be the next great thing in social media, only instead of focusing on connecting users with friends, it’s using its Mobio Insider service to connect fans with celebrities. Having gone live about six weeks ago, the Mobio Insider app has about 30 celebrities, (including Lil’ Wayne, Slash and Cristiano Ronaldo), using it to curate questions they receive from followers on Twitter and Facebook. The celeb can then choose to answer these questions by responding directly to the fan, at which point the fan will likely freak out on their Twitter page that Kim Kardashian just answered their query as to how she lost her baby weight (it was the Atkins diet). Having been purchased by LX Ventures, the same firm that acted as an incubator for Mobio’s development, Mobio Insider is already generating lots of attention for its Gastown-based owner. Tabloids are now routinely picking up on the answers celebs provide and spinning them into stories for their own websites. They’ve even figured out a way to monetize the service: scroll through Kim Kardashian’s Mobio page, and you’ll notice that you have to watch an ad in order to reveal some of her answers. It’s yet another way for celebrities to make money from their popularity (however dubious), and if the service gains more traction, Mobio is set to cash in as well.
Nanotech Security Corp.
While many companies look to develop technology you can see with the naked eye, Nanotech Security Corp. is more concerned with what you can do at the nanometric level (a nanometre is about half the size of a DNA helix). Nanotech works primarily in the security and anti-counterfeit industry, developing materials that use reflective surfaces and colours to provide a better way of authenticating a product. For example, Nanotech has developed a product called KolourOptik that it says is a better way of authenticating bank notes than the hologram technology we now use on our currency. While our bank notes might appear to constantly give off a rainbow-hued sheen, Nanotech has embedded colours at the nanometric level that can “turn on” and “off” when viewed from different angles. The company says its technology is impossible to replicate without expensive equipment, which makes its products superior to those already on the market, and that its products have possible applications for central banks, immigration bureaus (i.e. passports) and even the luxury goods industry.
It will take at least a couple of years for Theralase Technologies Inc.’s cancer treatment technology to become regulated (and at least a year before we know how well it works on humans), but the healthcare tech they have under development is worth talking about. The Ontario company has been working on photo-sensitive anti-cancer drugs (or “Photo Dynamic Compounds”) that, when injected at the site of a tumour, can kill cancer cells when activated by light. If approved for use, the company claims its methods would be more effective at killing cancer cells than existing drugs. Theralase has been conducting its research in Toronto at Princess Margaret Hospital, and says its current focus is on finding a better method for treating bladder cancer. Human clinical trials won’t start until at least January 2015, but the company has already attracted the interest of Big Pharma companies such as Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline. Both have already struck multi-million dollar commercialization and royalties deals with Theralase.
Richmond, B.C.’s Zecotek Photonics Inc. boasts a number of interesting technologies it currently has on the market and in development. Scintillation crystals, which are made to detect radiation, are one of the company’s specialties – for example, Zecotek crystals are currently being used in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland. While crystals might not be of much interest to the general public, Zecotek’s work in the area of screen technology might. Like a few other tech firms, the company has taken on the task of trying to find a better way to view images and movies in 3-D, without requiring the viewer to wear glasses. A couple of non-glasses 3-D screens were put on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, but as some critics pointed out, you may have to spend several minutes moving around the room to find an ideal spot to sit for the image to appear in 3-D. Zecotek, meanwhile, says its technology can be viewed by multiple people sitting at any angle, by applying a low amount of vibration to the screen. There’s no word yet on when this technology might become publicly available, but it’s an interesting development in the ongoing quest to improve the viewing experience.