Intelligence

Seven innovative Canadian startups you don’t know about, but should

Illustration by Mikie Jae
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There’s a tendency to think that Canada’s startups are insulated in the tech corridors of Toronto, Waterloo, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver. But there’s lots of innovation happening beyond those established hubs. An analysis of Crunchbase data shows that $5.1 billion was raised by companies headquartered outside of those cities—58 per cent of the total raised within Canada in the past five years.

The Logic reached out to economic development agencies across the 13 provinces and territories and asked them to highlight new startups taking off in their region.

We chose seven innovative companies you likely don’t know about—but should. Presenting The Logic’s 2018 list of Canada’s most unique startups.

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Aurum Skincare

  • Pitch: Soothing relief for sensitive skin from the forests of northern Canada
  • Location: Dawson City, Yukon
  • Founded: 2016
  • Number of employees: 2
  • Funding round: Self-funded with government grants and prize money

Friends Joanne Sherrard and Elise McCormick created Aurum Skincare in 2016 because of their shared frustration over their skin. Already both genetically prone to sensitivity, they found their skin condition had worsened up north, where, in the winter, average daytime temperatures hover around -13 C.  

Aurum Skincare contains birch water, a natural resource Sherrard said is abundant and underused in northern Canada, from the Alaska birch. She said they were inspired by the long-standing traditions in the region that support its health benefits.

Sherrard and McCormick collaborated with Dr. Peter Sutton, a pharmaceutical biochemist, to develop a bio-fermentation process that would improve the topical benefits of the birch water obtained from trees exposed to extreme climate. Their work won Sherrard and McCormick the $60,000 Yukon Innovation Prize in 2017. In early November, they soft launched their e-commerce website—McCormick said they had sold several thousand dollars’ worth of product within the first two weeks.

Currently, McCormick said they are working with funding from the National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program, coordinating third-party clinical studies to test the efficacy of birch water in their skincare products.

“There is so much natural beauty in the Yukon,” said Sherrard. “As it turns out, inspiration was literally outside our doorstep.”

Next milestone: Using funding from the National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program, the company is coordinating third-party clinical studies to test the efficacy of birch water in their skincare products. The team is also working on creating topical formulations for other birch-derived actives, including betulinic and azelaic acid.

Camola Sustainable Foods

  • Pitch: Artisan baked goods and foods made with cricket flour
  • Location: Edmonton, Alberta
  • Founded: 2017
  • Number of employees: 2
  • Funding round: Self-funded

Camola’s product line includes barbecue-flavoured Crick Chips, chocolate- or orange-flavoured BugScotti and the sold-out Bug Bites, chunks of energy bars made with dates and seeds. And, bugs: everything is made from cricket flour. Launched about a year ago, Claudio La Rocca and Silvia Ronzani built the business around the idea of making edible insects a “culinary experience for everyone to enjoy.”

Talking Point

There’s no shortage of innovative startups being created outside of the tech hubs in major cities. Most of the companies featured are self-funded, leveraging local government grants and winning competitions to finance themselves. From agriculture to skincare, these companies are changing existing industries, integrating technological innovations into their products to do so.

“Part of our company vision is to make edible insects ‘normal,’ something that people will be able to enjoy on a daily basis without perceiving them as ‘gross,’” said La Rocca. They came from backgrounds in environmental sciences and entomology; learning about the growing edible-insect movement was by chance.

Before launching their business, La Rocca and Ronzani noticed that edible bugs were touted for their high-protein content, but not much else. The pair saw an opportunity to market edible insects as an artisanal experience as well as a nutritional one—that’s in part why they still make their products in small batches.

Raising capital is Camola’s next goal. “Our concept is relatively new even by edible insects industry standard,” said La Rocca.

Part of their growth plan involves creating their own cricket farm meant to also help educate consumers on the environmental benefits of consuming insects. “The idea of trying edible insects sounds weird and scary to some people, but if they will try [it] once they will understand that there is nothing to be afraid or disgusted [by],” said La Rocca. Looking into the movement, he said, will help people understand that “even a small change in their diets, like introducing edible insects, can have a positive impact on the environment.”

Next milestone: Creating a solid base and proof-of-concept to approach investors with.

Mysa

  • Pitch: Take full control of your baseboard or fan-forced heaters
  • Location: St. John’s, Newfoundland
  • Founded: 2016
  • Number of employees: 28
  • Funding round: Seed

Mysa creates smart thermometers for electric heaters. In 2014, Josh Green, now founder and CEO, was doing energy audits for homeowners and was recommending they purchase smart thermometers to save money. He soon realized many of the houses in Newfoundland use electric baseboard heaters, which are not compatible with popular options like Nest or Ecobee.

Green asked his brother, Zach, for help with building a high-voltage smart thermostat. The two took the idea to Zach’s entrepreneurship class to attract interest from investors and incubators, like Newfoundland’s Genesis Centre. By 2016, they had formed a team, built and launched their product.

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Mysa accepted pre-orders from December 2016 to February 2018, during which period two local VC firms invested. Most recently, the company raised $2 million in a second round of funding. Though it can’t yet disclose sales or revenue information, Mysa is now at “[steady-state] production,” according to Daan Goossens, head of growth.

“By the end of 2018, Mysa will be installed in thousands of homes across North America.”

Next milestone: Launching a new high-voltage heating thermostat in 2019, though they can’t disclose details yet.

Proskida

  • Pitch: Building the next generation of performance training devices for nordic skiers
  • Location: Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Founded: 2014
  • Number of employees: 4
  • Funding round: Seed

Whitehorse-based Proskida provides cross-country skiers with an all-in performance measuring system. Using a “smart” ski pole grip, a mobile app and a cloud-based analysis service, Proskida collects data on performance metrics such as a skier’s force and efficiency when pushing off their skis and pole, which they can view after a training session.

Co-founder Alastair Smith said the team came up with the idea in 2015 after realizing that, at the time, cross-country skiing was the only endurance sport with no way of measuring performance. “The method for training and how a lot of people interact with the sport has changed significantly based on the tools that are available,” said Smith, “and cross-country skiing was left behind.”

Proskida’s equipment is currently being used by four national ski teams, including Norway and Switzerland. The startup plans to launch at the consumer level this winter, with pre-sale starting in January or February.

Smith credits much of his company’s success to the “supportive early-stage funding” available in the Yukon, especially non-diluted funding from government. Smith said Proskida has raised about $750,000 total, and currently have over $100,000 in revenue. “I don’t think, in all honesty, we’d be able to have this thing off the ground in another jurisdiction,” he said. For Smith, the challenge now is finding a larger market as Proskida starts to expand.

Next milestone: Launching at the consumer level in 2019, ahead of training season in May.

SomaDetect

  • Pitch: Measures every critical indicator of dairy quality from every cow at every milking
  • Location: Fredericton, New Brunswick
  • Founded: 2016
  • Number of employees: 25
  • Funding round: Seed

Bethany Deshpande created SomaDetect in 2016, two years after her father, Satish, accidentally discovered the technology behind the device. SomaDetect combines a sensor technology with deep-learning algorithm-based software to analyze the quality of milk. “My dad discovered, largely by accident, that he could detect somatic cells in raw milk, and had secured a patent in that space,” said Deshpande. “We ended up applying deep-learning principles and everything expanded from there, realizing that we were able to measure lots of other things in addition to somatic cell counts.”

SomaDetect can currently measure qualities like the fat-to-protein ratio, progesterone levels and antibiotic count in raw milk. Using a database of thousands of milk samples, SomaDetect’s algorithms can predict the presence of concentrations of these compounds in milk. Not only can the tech be used to ensure milk quality, but it can also diagnose major dairy diseases, which can carry devastating costs for farmers. Deshpande said the tool could save farmers $500 per cow every year.

Deshpande said her company has raised almost $4.5 million through a combination of competitions, government grants and loans, angel investment and other larger investments. Her team has sold almost 500 sensors, which are being installed in 30 farms across Ontario, Atlantic Canada and the state of New York.

“It’s a unique position that we get to be in, of bringing artificial intelligence and deep learning to milk quality testing and dairy farm management,” said Deshpande. “That has been a really incredible thing to see take shape and come to light.”

Next milestone: Working with early-adopter farms to develop the product and get to a fully commercial space.

Ukkö Robotics

  • Pitch: Bringing innovation and efficiency to the chicken farm
  • Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Founded: 2016
  • Number of employees: 6
  • Funding round: Self-funded

Daniel Badiou, CEO and co-founder of Ukkö Robotics, said growing up on a dairy farm in southern Manitoba made him realize automation was the only way a farmer could get away for a few days without worrying about their livestock. Badiou built the first chicken-farm prototype that would later spin into Ukkö Robotics, which he co-founded with Katrina Jean-Laflamme in September 2016.

Through Ukkö, they’ve developed the Rova, an automated and scalable chicken farm. The Rova comes in various model sizes that can raise from 12 to 200 chickens. The chicken coop combines artificial intelligence with a smartphone app and it moves autonomously using solar power. Farmers can fill its storage with up to seven days’ worth of feed and water, and check on their chickens through the onsite camera.

Now a team of six, Ukkö Robotics will be launching its smallest farm, for up to 12 chickens, in January at the AgDays trade show in Brandon, Man. Badiou says it’s meant for small families who want home-grown eggs and meat. “If a lot more people can raise their own food easily,” he said, “we will be able to get more local products easier and possibly at a lower cost.”

Next milestone: Launching its smallest farm for up to 12 chickens at the AgDays trade show in 2019.

Viking Innovations

  • Pitch: The smart fire-prevention system that goes beyond the smoke detector
  • Location: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Founded: 2013
  • Number of employees: 2
  • Funding round: Self-funded

The Dalmatian works in tandem with a home’s smoke detector to prevent fires. When the smoke detector is activated, the smart device disconnects power to a home’s kitchen range and counter plugs. “With no electricity or heat, kitchen fires are far less likely to start or spread,” said Jackie Martin, vice-president of Viking Innovations Ltd., “potentially saving thousands of dollars while protecting the residents and the building.”

Martin and her co-founder, Mike Ransom, created the company in 2013. Ransom had a close call with a fire in his kitchen at home after leaving his stove unattended. Martin, a developer and builder, and Ransom, an electrician and inventor, developed the product in March 2014. They started by manufacturing their units out of Saskatoon—Martin said doing the process themselves allowed them to monitor the product’s quality and costs, as well as fine-tuning the assembly process. Since then, they’ve raised $92,500 in funding.

So far, the two have obtained patent-pending status for their technology, launched an e-commerce website and manufactured 500 units—placed in homes in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Nunavut.

“Fire-fighting capabilities can be limited in remote locations,” said Martin. “This is particularly important in rural locations, remote northern locations and on many First Nation Reserves. Our system is the perfect solution and is always working in the background to prevent a fire from even starting.”

Next milestone: Launching the second-generation Dalmatian, a plug-in unit with its own smartphone app.