Are we celebrating Canadian entrepreneurs?


Monthly Archives: October 2016

Are we celebrating Canadian entrepreneurs?

If asked to name a famous Canadian hockey player, the names Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby may come up. If asked to name a well-known Canadian entrepreneur, it may take a bit longer to think of someone. But why is that?

My next piece in the Huffington Post delves into a survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the DMZ, which found that 40 per cent of Canadians can’t name one Canadian entrepreneur. Read my take on this and more here.

Swift health care is at the heart of this Toronto company’s plans

Traditionally, doctors, nurses and health-care professionals working in wound care management have been forced to manually study and describe patients’ wounds. This process is complicated by the fact that the wound itself can change rapidly and quick response and treatment is crucial to effective healing. As such, it is difficult for patients to get the care they can both trust and understand.

Fortunately, one innovative company has found a way to simplify and improve wound care management. Founded in 2015, Swift Medical aims to bring automation and standardization to visual health-care assessments on a global basis. Their latest product, Swift Wound, allows doctors, nurses and patients to easily measure and assess chronic wounds using their smartphone.

Using a phone’s camera, users can scan a wound and the Swift Wound app will detect and capture an image of the wound as well as measure the wound and provide details on its size, dimensions and shape. With additional assessments, users can visually and numerically examine exactly how the wound is changing over time. This information can then be viewed by a single user or team of users working within a medical facility.

“People could have these wounds for years and they would never go away,” said Swift Medical’s Founder, Carlo Perez. “It’s a problem that just shouldn’t be happening, and we’re passionate about making a change.”

But just how can technology, especially from within an app, actually improve wound care management – something that, until now, has been primarily a manual process?

“Ultimately, it means better care, faster care and more connected care,” said Perez. “For the patient, the most important benefit is that the clinicians that you’re interacting with actually know if you’re healing or not. It’s really scary to think that leading up until now they didn’t know, or rather they didn’t know in such a precise fashion.”

Perez and his team come from both medical and non-medical backgrounds.

“I think where we came into the medical space, we actually came at it with engineering first and foremost,” he explained. “We have clinical members on the team and we also have team members who have deep backgrounds inside of visioning and computer vision, and what we decided to do was apply that in as many ways as we could to various different challenges.”

It started with dermatology and quickly transitioned into wound care, something they realized was a much bigger problem. In fact, Perez says that when they looked into the statistics “it was 40 per cent error from one measurement to the next on average.”

With this knowledge and unsolved challenge in front of them, Perez says, “We had the skills and background to be able to solve it, and we had a clinical team that was absolutely insanely passionate about it and had been working on this for years.” The rest was history.

Now, Swift operates within a software as a service (SaaS) model – per-bed or per-practitioner, per-day, depending on whether it is being used in an in- or outpatient setting.

Current projections have Swift being used in thousands of facilities by the end of the year. Evidently, doctors, nurses, health-care professionals and their patients have recognized the benefits of Swift.

Looking forward, Swift Medical is in talks to enter into several exciting partnerships – including a recently announced relationship with leading North American electronic health record (EHR) provider, PointClickCare, powering their Skin and Wound app – and will also be introducing new technology to the Swift platform. In other words, this is just the beginning.

“We recently did a stage demo and had 1,500 nurses standing and clapping for what they were seeing on stage,” Perez said. “I think by and large Swift’s been received incredibly well and I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that this has been hard for them to do forever and now they can do it with not a $25,000 device but the smartphone in their pocket.”

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From Europe to the DMZ: How three entrepreneurs made the most out of their summer in Toronto

In six years, the DMZ has given over 25 entrepreneurs from around the world an opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of the Toronto startup community. This past summer, three entrepreneurs from Ukraine and Poland got to join our growing roster of international fellow alums.

The two Ukrainian startups – Adtena and Navizor— were graduates from 1991, the first non-profit incubator in Ukraine. They were offered their fellowships by Marie Bountrogianni, Dean of the Chang School of Continuing Education, in partnership with the Western NIS Enterprise Fund. Tutlo, the Polish-based startup, was recommended by the Warsaw School of Economics, a renown business school that Ryerson has been building academic ties with.

Learn a bit more about our fellow startups below.

  • Adtena, an online platform for managing advertising campaigns in Wi-Fi networks, which provides precise geolocation and customer targeting.
  • Navizor is a web and mobile navigation platform that allows users to analyze road conditions and plan driving routes.
  • Tutlo offers a platform for people to become a language tutor instantly, and offers students the ability to connect with native speakers at a lower cost.

What made you decide to apply to the International Zone Fellowship Program?

Andriy: We became one of the winners of a competition at 1991, an incubator in Ukraine, which allowed us to apply for the fellowship program at the DMZ. I’m here for the first time and it’s actually a great opportunity for us to develop our startup for the North American market.

Damian: Our startup is based in Poland and one of the main challenges for many local startups  is that we concentrate on our domestic market instead of focusing on the global market. Being a part of the DMZ gives us an opportunity to look at our business from a different angle and to begin thinking about expanding into new markets. There are a lot of experts, mentors and advisors who are able to give us unique advice.

How has your DMZ experience been so far? How has being here helped or influenced your business?

Andriy: It’s great. I made new connections, new friends. I believe it’s helping us develop our business plan and make partnerships  – that’s why we’re here and I hope it will continue to be a great experience for us.

Oleksandr: It’s an amazing place. The DMZ is where you can make connections or meetings with any mentor you need and any company on the market. It’s amazing and it’s easy to reach anyone in executive positions I’ve conducted some research already and I’ve learned a lot.

Did you set foot on any tourist attractions in the city?

Andriy: Yes, I visited the Toronto Island with one of my friends from Ukraine. There’s a campsite on the island. So, we made a campfire, ate marshmallows and looked at the Toronto night sky. It was really great. I also visited Wonderland. I rode the crazy rollercoasters. It was pretty cool.

Damian: I prefer sightseeing on a bike so I rode my bike around downtown. I haven’t been to the CN tower… so I plan to go there.

Did you learn anything about Canada that you never knew before?

Andriy: I really do love the natural parts of the city, because downtown is very big, and very crowded. But when you go maybe half an hour from the city, it’s really different and there are a lot of beautiful places where you can just stay and relax. It’s a very beautiful country and I love it!

Oleksandr: It’s my first time in North America, so the first thing I learned is about the people. They’re so open to conversation anywhere, even in the street..

Damian: I really like that the people here are really positive and open-minded. I read that Toronto is a multicultural city, but I didn’t know it could be this multicultural. It’s great!

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Toronto’s startup culture- a moment of truth

As a certain type of culture has pervaded the public’s perception of the global startup community, it gives us the opportunity to see what we can improve on as we move forward not just internationally, but also on a local level.

As Federal Minister Navdeep Bains has said in the Toronto Star, we live in a “transformative period where our diverse… and welcoming society seeds innovation and entrepreneurship.” And as we continue to work towards success in the modern economy, there are several players, including government, which are critical to ensure that such cities as Toronto succeed on the world stage.

Incubators like the DMZ are a major stakeholder that have an integral part to play in the future of the startup community. As this community develops and matures, so must the incubators, accelerators and innovation hubs that help foster their growth. It’s important for the DMZ to continue to set higher standards when accepting startups because resources should be focused on those we know will create social or economic impact. And when accepting those companies, it’s important to develop programs that will not only provide hard skills needed to help them grow and scale into world-class businesses, but also those soft skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur. These skills range from engaging your audience with a compelling pitch to having the empathy to understand your customer. A lot of this has to do with being open to feedback. To rephrase what Rumsfeld once said,  entrepreneurs know what they know, they know what they don’t know, but they don’t know what they don’t know. And that’s where places like the DMZ come in.

It’s also the job of an incubator to bring out the not so glamorous parts of startup life. As the startup community grows, entrepreneurs and incubators should not only share successes, but also failed attempts. Entrepreneurs need to share more than just the cool open bar events. We need to be open about the moments where our emotions run high. We need to share some brutal truths like the fact that many startups don’t see a dollar in revenue until six months to a year into working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. This is what people need to know about the real life of an entrepreneur.

So when we speak to aspiring entrepreneurs, let’s talk about more than just “being your own boss,” because it’s important to show that “being your own boss” is a double-edged sword. When that’s understood, we can create an ecosystem that doesn’t just have a growing number of players, but grows with quality players who know that building something truly innovative takes a lot more than just an idea. Let’s make the term ‘entrepreneur’ one that people strive towards and not just a label used after trademarking a business. And once we do that, we can separate the ones who are doing this for the right reason and the one’s that are performing in “entrepreneurial theatre”.

Currently, we have different types of people with different training and different experiences starting businesses in Toronto. And that’s a great thing. It’s also a point that we kept in mind when creating the DMZ’s advisory council. But as a community, we need to select those startups whose ideas have the best chance at success and whose people realize that there is a great difference between saying you’re an entrepreneur and actually being one. And there is an even greater difference between loving what you do and being obsessed with it.