SoapBox cofounder on his mission to reinvent the workplace

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SoapBox cofounder on his mission to reinvent the workplace


In the TV show The Office a film crew records the fictional lives of employees working in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

While it mostly lampooned the hilarious circumstances the TV characters found themselves in, it also unintentionally highlighted just how inefficient traditional workplaces are.

Thankfully as technology improves the hijinks found in The Office will soon become a thing of the past.

The workplace of the future

 
Brennan McEachran, co-founder of employee engagement platform Soapbox, is one of today’s  new-age entrepreneurs working to transform the Canadian workplace. The company’s online application lets employees easily communicate and pitch ideas to management and their peers anytime, anywhere. Executives can then track how ideas progress and provide better feedback all with the touch of a button. The app breaks down barriers and boosts engagement with workers at all levels of a company.

“Engagement and work are not different. Create processes and habits within organization where collisions happen between people,” @i_am_brennan of @SoapBoxHQ

Companies that learn how to interact with their workers — especially millennials who have now surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation in the workforce — end up boosting their company’s bottom line, he explains.

Gallup researchers also agree. A report from the award-winning marketing company found engaged employees “nearly doubled their odds of success” and that companies with “engaged workforces have higher earnings per share, and recovered from the recession at a faster rate.”

In today’s fast-paced economy companies face competition from not only homegrown businesses, but from entrepreneurs around the globe. An engaged workforce can be the secret weapon that can make all the difference.

To hear how McEachran keeps his staff engaged and to find out what the workplace of the future will look like listen to the podcast. To hear more episodes from BusinessCast, hosted by Robert Gold, make sure to visit our official iTunes page.

The best coworking spaces around the world

The number of coworking spaces around the world is on the rise. In 2017 approximately 1.2 million people worked out of shared spaces; and that number is expected to only grow in the coming year, according to the Global Work Survey.

It’s not hard to see why these types of new-age offices have spiked in popularity. As the economy shifts, more adults are taking on freelance work or launching their own startups. For those who don’t require the kind of mentorship that an accelerator provides, these are a great alternative. Not to mention, many now offer extravagant features — everything from in-house masseuses, to on-tap prosecco and 20-ft swinning pools.

If you’re a digital nomad looking for a cool office while travelling the globe, or an entrepreneur just in need of workspace, there are a ton of places to choose from. Here’s are list of the top offices around the world. 

Parisoma, Silicon Valley

parisoma
Parisoma is an outlier in Silicon Valley, because it successfully blurs the line between an accelerator 
and coworking space. Members get more than just a place to work; they get access to business classes related to marketing, web development, freelancing and more. Entrepreneurs can network with the 200-plus other entrepreneurs working out of its space or its extended network at any time. Prices range from $325 per month for its “open spaces” with no assigned desks to $7,000 for closed offices.

Standout features: Free community space, in-house admin support, free wifi, access to technical workshops and classes.

Primary, New York Cityprimary


If you’re a Canadian entrepreneur heading to the Big Apple save money (and alleviate any stress) by working out of 
Primary.

The co-working space is located in the heart of the city’s financial district. Tech entrepreneurs can apply to join for free through the DMZ at any time throughout the year. If accepted, startups get unfettered 24/7 access to its suite of offices, as well as snacks, complimentary yoga and other wellness classes. Bonus: Entrepreneurs can also take advantage of the office’s exclusive workshops and learning events.

Standout features: Free for select Canadian entrepreneurs, 24/7 access, located in the heart of financial district, lockers and hot desks.

WeWork, London
wework

WeWork — a tech company that operates shared coworking spaces across the globe — has a whopping 24 offices spread out across London and the greater area. Each one has its own design, but carries the same perks found at each of its international locations. Namely, that means big open spaces, private rooms for meetings and dependable wifi.

Prices vary by location, but range from £400 ($677 CAD) per month to £34 ($57) for an ‘on-demand’ day pass. Of course, working out of any office in England’s biggest city doesn’t come cheap. Thankfully membership comes with a few unique perks: The company’s free app lets users do everything from book conference rooms to network with its other creators across the globe. Users also have the opportunity to work out of the company’s other WeWork spaces located in 67 international cities.

Standout features: Pet-friendly, located in the core of London, 24/7 access, meditation rooms, bookable offices, high-speed internet.

Naked Hub, Beijing

Naked Hub
Beijing’s fast-paced tech scene is growing by leaps and bounds. This year the metropolis (along with Shanghai) made its debut on 
Startup Genome’s top startup cities and companies are taking notice. 

Naked Group may not well known within Asia, but the company’s winning business model in Asia is attracting entrepreneurs (and media attention) from across the country. The luxury resort company opened its first Beijing office, located in a refurbished factory, this spring.  Entrepreneurs who join can connect with other startups working out of its other Chinese offices through its exclusive network and get access to onsite services, like on-demand admin help and wellness services. Digital membership — access to the company’s online community — costs approximately¥300 ($57 CAD). Meanwhile, desk space ranges from ¥1800 ($346) to¥3000 ($577 CAD).

Standout features: On-site dedicated admin staff a.k.a ‘Naked Angels’, hot desks, shared community space and wellness rooms

East Room & Spaces, Toronto

eastroom
If you’re looking for something a little closer to home, then, you’re in luck. Toronto already has a variety of co-working spaces open in the city more planned for 2018. One of those places is Amsterdam-born Spaces, located at 180 John St., Toronto.

Another go-to office is the city’s East Room. Club members get access to its boardrooms, reception services, wifi and more for $500 per month. The highest level, premium membership, starts at $3,300 per month for enclosed offices.

Standout features: Access to its onsite programs, which includes community events with industry insiders.  

 

The future is female: How women are redefining A.I.

There’s no shortage of new stories about artificial intelligence (also known as A.I.) these days. The cutting-edge technology is driving billion-dollar investments, turning founders into millionaires overnight and increasing competition amongst the biggest businesses around the world.  

As the industry matures, A.I. will revolutionize how humans interact with the world. Interestingly, some of today’s new breakthroughs are fueled by women. It’s hopefully a telling sign of what’s to come when women are making important moves behind the scenes.  

The drivers of change

 
Despite significant gains made in the last decades, women still remain underrepresented in STEM, and the A.I. field is no different. Given the preponderance of men working in the industry, the achievements made by just a few women end up making their success all that more impressive.

“AI is a technology that gets so close to everything we care about. It’s going to carry the values that matter to our lives, be it the ethics, the bias, the justice, or the access…” @drfeifei

Megan Anderson, business development director at Integrate.ai, is one of a growing number of female leaders working in the industry. Her role, which focuses on driving and implementing new growth opportunities, has helped grow the company (more than $9 million raised in 2017 so far). That accomplishment, including being named to the Top 25 Women of Influence, has put her in the spotlight. It’s also highlighted the impact women like Anderson are having in A.I.

“I would love for more women to make the leap into careers in tech, even if they don’t have STEM backgrounds,” she says. My background is in management consulting, but I am an analytical person with intense curiosity so I took the leap into tech.”

While more women are needed, Anderson points to industry leaders —  like McGill University professor Joelle Pineau and Fast Forward Labs CEO Hilary Mason — who are showing a new path forward.

“AI companies need lots of skills and talents in addition to engineering, like sales, customer success, operations, etc. As long as you learn quickly, stay curious and leverage skills that you have built in other sectors, it is never too late to jump into tech.”

Education is key

 
Dr. Inmar Givoni, Autonomy Engineering Manager at Uber ATG (the company’s self-driving division), is also blazing a new trail. Her company is on the frontline of driverless car technology. Last year, the company famously launched a fleet of self-driving cars in San Francisco.

These days the technologist is used to being the only woman in the room. While she’s not surprised that women are now being recognized, more needs to be done. The key, she says, is to focus on introducing tech to the next generation as soon as possible.

“There’s no point in trying to get more women into A.I. specifically. I think the effort should be towards getting women into STEM,” she explains. “From my perspective, it basically starts as soon as the baby’s born. When a girl is given a shirt that reads ‘I’m a princess’ and the boy gets one that reads ‘I’m a hero’ it already sets a mindset of expectations for [the child] from society.”

Other leaders in the industry agree. Stanford professor and A.I. researcher Fei-Fei Li’s organization, AI4All, is partnering with universities to inject much-needed diversity into the field. “We need to get them young,” she shared with Wired magazine earlier this year.

Making a difference

 
Even though men right now outnumber women, there is hope at the end of the tunnel.

Influencers and stakeholders are now making a dedicated effort to improve those numbers. The Women in Machine Learning Conference, launched in 2006, is doing its part. Through it, entrepreneurs can network, find connections to mentors and learn more about the field.

A little closer to home, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is helping in as well. The organization, probably best known these days for its role leading the $125 million Pan-Canadian A.I. strategy, is championing women at all levels.

Dr. Alan Bernstein, president and CEO of CIFAR, is keen to see change since diversity is crucial for innovation.

“Diversity is our strength. At CIFAR, we’ve known that since we started. We have a strong view that for the advancement of knowledge you need diversity,” Dr. Alan Bernstein, president of @CIFAR_News

As part of their efforts to increase opportunities for women, CIFAR is putting in place ways to increase diversity. “You don’t make as much progress having 10 of the same person in the same room. When you have people with different perspectives sitting around the table, you end up with different questions being asked, and better results.” While change takes time, Bernstein is optimistic. “We’re going to see a big difference in the coming future,” he explains.

 

Is artificial intelligence dangerous?

Elon Musk. Stephen Hawking. Bill Gates.

Some of the richest (and best known) names in science and technology are worried about the future survival of mankind. These innovators are sounding the alarm, not about North Korea, nuclear war or even global warming, but something much more sinister: artificial intelligence.

Hollywood has spent decades showcasing how dangerous artificially intelligent computers (think: Terminator, Ex Machina and more) can be. However some experts believe the bigger (and arguably more immediate) threat A.I. poses isn’t from killer robots, but something far less sexy: computer-generated bias. When computers make decisions based on data skewed by humans it can topple economies and disrupt communities.

Helpful or harmful?

 
One of the most pivotal moments in A.I. history took place in 1996 when IBM’s supercomputer, Deep Blue, beat chess champion, Garry Kasparov. For some, it signalled how far technology had come and how powerful the technology could soon become.

Since then, newspapers have produced countless stories about what an artificially intelligent future could look like. However, the reality is that A.I.is already here. In fact, machines lurk behind the millions of decisions that impact our every move, like what stories pop up in online newsfeeds and how much money banks lend its customers.

In a way, this makes the A.I. infinitely more dangerous. These algorithms shape public perception in ways that were once considered unimaginable.

“The idea of robots becoming smarter than humans and us losing our place in the totem pole is misplaced,” @HumeKathryn.

What people should worry about instead is how machines are making big decisions based on little information. “What I found the greatest hurdle has to do with machine learning systems. They make inferences based on data that carries with it traces of bias in society. The algorithms are picking up on that bias and perpetuating it,” explained Kathryn Hume, vice president of product and strategy for integrate.ai.

What comes next?

 

In theory, machines should offer up bias-free and objective decisions, but that’s often not the case. Computers learn by reviewing examples fed to it and then use that information as a basis for future decisions. In layman terms, it means if you train a computer using biased information, it will end up replicating it.

dmzthereview-ai

One doesn’t have to look too far to find examples of this phenomenon. In 2016, Pro Publica found learning software COMPAS was more likely to rate black convicts higher for future recidivism than their white counterparts. Last year Google’s algorithm was likelier to show high-paying jobs to men than women, and online searches for CEOs regularly showed more white men than another other race or gender.

Breaking down bias in A.I.

 
Breaking down bias is possible. However, it takes work and a lot of it. Relying on more inclusive data can go a long way to fixing the problem.

“It’s important that we be transparent about the training data that we are using, and are looking for hidden biases in it, otherwise we are building biased systems,” said John Giannandrea, Google’s chief A.I. expert, earlier this year.

Education is also a crucial part of the equation. Organizations like the Algorithmic Justice League are helping on that front. Among many things, they’re educating the public about A.I. limitations and working to improve algorithmic bias.

“We in the data community need to get better at educating the public,” adds Hume. “The superficial level sounds really scary and they will stymie the use of it. The tech community can help people who aren’t technical community know what the stuff is and feel empowered to use it.”

Meet the future Einsteins: The kids taking over A.I.

It’s Saturday morning and Toronto-born Tommy Moffat is hunched over his computer. The award-winning programmer is fixated on getting the algorithm behind his A.I.-fuelled robot up and running.

Despite an impressive Rolodex that includes contact details for influencers at some of today’s hottest tech companies, Moffat isn’t an entrepreneur at some high-flying startup or engineer at a high-profile tech company. In fact, he’s just a teenager living in Burlington, Ontario. Although, you would be hardpressed to believe it by just looking at his resume.

At 16 years old, he’s accomplished what it takes some professionals a lifetime to achieve. Earlier this month he spoke at the 2017 Toronto Machine Learning conference, alongside industry heavyweights, like Ozge Yeloglu, chief data scientist at Microsoft Canada, and Google Brain’s Aidan Gomez.

He also recently placed in the top one percent for his age group at an international conference and is slated to join a new startup, called Gradient Ascent, where he’ll be the youngest member of staff.

But all that doesn’t really matter to him. “What I really want to do is change the world,” he says. His motivation isn’t fame or fortune but altruism, he confesses. “I want to use what I’ve learned to help other people. Using augmented reality and computer vision could help a lot of people with disabilities in the real world.”

Teen prodigies making a difference using A.I.

Artificial intelligence has transformed how people around the world access data. It’s  created a new way for everyday engineers to change lives by helping machines do what humans can’t: analyze data at lightning-fast speeds.

While it might be easy to view Moffat as an outlier, he’s quick to point out that he’s not. Other Generation Z-ers — those born mid-to-late nineties — feel the same way he does. “You can see the difference you can make in the world with [artificial intelligence]. It’s not only me.”

Moffat’s right. He’s not the only teenager focused on making the world a better place.

Meet Generation Z


Kavya Kopparapu, also 16, has created an application that A.I. app that can cheaply and quickly diagnose diabetic retinopathy. The eye disease, associated with diabetes, and can lead to blindness if not treated early.

“One of the most important applications of artificial intelligence is in medicine, in saving lives,” she explains in a recent TED Talk. “I envision … a future where a diagnosis is available to anyone, regardless of where they live, money or even electricity. I envision a future where we can save lives”.

Meanwhile, Canadian prodigy Tanmay Bakshi, 13, is working with IBM on a project designed to help a quadriplegic woman walk again. “We’re trying to give her artificial communication ability … through the power of artificial intelligence and systems like IBM Watson that allow you to essentially implement artificial intelligence.”

While he’s somewhat of a celebrity in the tech world — his YouTube channel has more than 20,000 subscribers  — he remains humble. “[I’m interested] in generally sharing my knowledge about these sorts of technologies with the rest of the community and of course through things like open-source technology and so much more.”

The kids are alright



Vik Pant isn’t surprised by today’s tech-leaning youth. Especially teens choosing to specialize in A.I.; a burgeoning new area in tech that’s expected to grow in the future.

“A.I. is the future. It’s not a trend. It’s on the ramp up, not down,” @vikpant, who works for Oracle’s competitive intelligence team. “Youth see that and want to harness that potential.”

The only challenge he can see is a discrepancy between those, like Moffat, who posses new-age tech skills and those that don’t. Primarily, youth from lower-income brackets who might have access to tools they require.

“Definitely in terms of artificial intelligence it’s a discipline and domain that doesn’t discriminate, he explains. “It’s socioeconomic factors that constrain or allow youth to be more involved. I’m encouraged, though. I’ve noticed that many private sector and corporations are helping underprivileged helping youth.”

Moffat agrees. Thankfully, the learning opportunities that exist today have grown beyond what was available as little as 10 years ago. Now people, at any age, can start learning online. It’s this type of thinking that drives Moffat’s to one day become an industry expert in A.I.

“Before I broke out of my old way of thinking, I never thought about becoming an ‘expert’ in anything. It takes years to go through school to get a degree. With the help of modern education programs like The Knowledge Society, it’s possible to go way deeper into a topic at a significantly earlier age than ever before.”

3 must reads about tech’s gender discrimination problem

In recent weeks dozens of women have shared their stories about the abuse they encountered while working in Hollywood. Many of these victims — actresses, producers, and editors — disclosed how disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein exploited women for decades.

Since then the scandal has launched a national discussion about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. For those working in tech, the issue is nothing new. The industry’s problems are well documented.

Of course, harassment in tech — like in other spaces — is complex and daunting, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t solvable. Here are three must-read articles on the subject by those in the industry and what can be done to change things for the better.

Cultivate stories, create a paper trail

 
After Weinstein’s harassment became public other women around the world began speaking up about their own encounters with the film executive. The moment served as an important reminder about how powerful it can be for victims to speak out in large numbers.

“When one woman breaks the silence, others are empowered to tell their stories,” @SoniaoSsorio, president of @NOW_NYC.

When it comes to tech, a groundbreaking exposé by about investors accused of harassing women had a similar effect. It led to more stories (notably, one by the NYT) on the subject and more women publicly coming forward.

Later as a result industry heavyweights, like 500 startups founder Dave McClure and Lowercase Capital’s Chris Sacca, apologized and resigned from their positions. The Informant’s report (and the others that followed it) showcased what can happen when abusers are held responsible. More importantly, it put a brave face on a pervasive issue that transcends companies and cities.

Ensure accountability is the norm

 
Holding offenders accountable is important. However, creating a space where individuals aren’t given the freedom to abuse people is even more crucial.

Popular podcast Too Embarrassed to Ask tackled this issue in its summer episode. Paradigm CEO Joelle Emerson and Evertoon CEO Niniane Wang discussed how stakeholders create safe work environments by encouraging diverse voices at all levels.

“It’s not about those individual harassers, it’s about creating a culture where there’s accountability for that type of thing. When a culture is created by any homogeneous group, there’s going to be less,” @joelle_emerson of @prdgm.

She’s not wrong. A 2017 study from Pew Research found that while women viewed gender discrimination as a  problem, men were less likely to agree. If the industry is to create sustainable change it will need input from all individuals, not just those at the top.

Concentrate on finding supporters

 
In 2015, Ellen Pao sued her employer, venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, for gender discrimination. The trial grabbed headlines and pushed the industry’s bro culture into the spotlight.

In an interview with Time magazine she described what women dealing with harassment in the workplace can do. When encountering sexism or racism sometimes leaving is the best thing an individual can do for their career, she advised. Look for allies that will support you and your career goals.

“Get out. These are people who are just not going to accept you. You’re not going to get promoted. You don’t have to prove yourself because there’s no way to do that. If you don’t have other opportunities, try to find someone else to work with within the company.”

The ability to quit and start a new job is a financial risk, not every person can take. If it’s not possible to leave, here are organizational allies that can help you in working towards better goals. Some of these organizations include Project Include, Code 2040, Paradigm and Ally Skills Workshop.

The Fintech revolution: How startups are changing the world of finance


A new generation of financial technology startups are changing the world of finance in ways that were once considered unimaginable. They’re making it easier for businesses to manage their investments using artificial intelligence, transfer funds across borders in less time and help clients raise funds using robo-advisors.

Follow the money

It’s not hard to see why financial technology startups are growing in popularity. This year, they’ve managed to raise $8 billion globally, close 469 deals and push six startups into “unicorn” status.

#Fintech startups won’t put banks out of business anytime soon, but they’re growing in influence.

In years past, most financial institutions focused on partnering with emerging startups in order to better leverage their expertise. Although, all that that may soon change.

As the industry continues to innovate, traditional firms are concentrating less on strategic partners and more on outright acquisitions. This allows them to better integrate new technology into their workforce. It also prevents competing companies from benefiting from that same technology.

The revolution behind the scenes

More institutions are seeing how beneficial acquiring startup technology can be for the bottom line.

A 2016 report by IDC and SAP found a quarter of global banks were interested in buying a fintech company. By 2017, Pricewaterhouse discovered that a whopping 50 per cent of surveyed companies planned on purchasing a startup.

Some of the more notable acquisitions made just this year include JP Morgan’s purchase of online payment service WePay for around $220 million and Moneyfarm’s purchase of online advice service Ernest for an undisclosed amount.

So, what’s driving this change? Money, of course.

The same report found that acquisitions increase adoption rates and make it easier to integrate necessary technology. “By adopting one of the many solutions brought by innovators, Financial Institutions can gain incremental returns and find a way to expand new products and services and reach new customers.”

To hear more from BusinessCast, hosted by Robert Gold, make sure to visit our official iTunes page.

CBC Dragon Michele Romanow, Upside’s Jennifer Couldrey on bouncing back

Life as an entrepreneur is tough. Constant bootstrapping, non-stop criticism and never-ending capital raising can be overwhelming.

For those that make it — the Bezos, Musks and Zuckerbergs of the world — fame and fortune await. For those that don’t, failure can be a financially (and emotionally) crippling nightmare.

That puts a lot of pressure on founders to always be selling, dealing and, more importantly, winning. But sometimes failing can teach an entrepreneur their most useful lessons. In a world where more than half of all startups shut down knowing how to bounce back has quickly become a badge of honour instead of embarrassment.

If you’re going through a hard time or just not sure if you’ll make it through 2018 here’s some advice from the pros about how to beat back the bad times.

The f-word

Michele Romanow knows better than most the demands founders face. The e-commerce entrepreneur has launched four successful companies before the age of 30. She also regularly wheels and deals investment money as an investor on CBC’s hit show, Dragon’s Den.

When things go south it’s easy to turn negative, but surrounding yourself with entrepreneurs who see the bigger picture and can offer up advice is crucial to long-term success. Invest in people and resources that can help you deal with the inevitable ups and downs ahead of time. “It’s important to have great co-founders and surround yourself with other entrepreneurs who have been successful,” she explains.

“I think when you have people who have done that it makes it so much easier to remind you that ‘oh, there was this time that didn’t go right, but it got better. You always have to be swinging for the fence.”

Keeping your ego in check is also important. Most stories about high-flying entrepreneurs that go from rags to riches gloss over the dark times. Understanding that success doesn’t happen overnight will light a fire under your belt. “You go to 100 meetings and you get three term sheets. That means you’re gonna hear 97 nos and every time you hear a no you have to keep going.”

The art of bouncing back

Jennifer Couldrey works with startups every day.

As the executive director of the Upside Foundation — an organization that inspires high growth companies to give back by donating equity to charity — she gets a first-hand look at some of Canada’s best up-and-coming startups. Sometimes they succeed and end up giving back, but other times they fail.

When it comes to failure she believes investing in personal relationships can act as a great way for entrepreneurs to take their business to new heights. While putting in hard work is important, personal connections can help a business get back on track when it loses its way.

She knows first-hand how real-world connections can help an initiative succeed. A social media campaign she created for “Giving Tuesday” in the organization’s early years failed to take off because few people knew how to engage with the foundation.

“It absolutely did not work the way I wanted it to, but what it taught me is that you can’t depend on the internet to make things happen,” she says. “Especially in the early days, everything is about relationships. It’s about having those connections. Most people who contributed to the campaign did so because I asked them to,” she explains.

Finding people who can help

Couldrey’s experiences are a good lesson for entrepreneurs who can’t seem to find traction for their company’s products or service. “You can move online, use social media and automate things once you have a core set of established relationships, and then use tools like Twitter to maintain and enhance relationships. Until you have those initial in-person relationships you can’t think people are going rally behind you.”

Meanwhile, personal relationships also help ward of self-doubt. In a world where mental health is rarely discussed one-on-one relationships help entrepreneurs ensure that professional failures don’t encroach on their personal life. An entrepreneur’s self-worth should not be dictated by their company’s failings.

“A lot of people wrap up their identity in the success off their business. You have to delineate so that if your company fails you don’t feel like a failure as a person. You have other areas of your life where you feel valuable, like in your personal relationships, so you can keep going when things go wrong.”

How veterans are changing the startup landscape

Approximately 66,100 Canadian Armed Forces members and 21,700 part-time reservists are currently serving, according to a 2015 National Post article. Meanwhile, annually about 5,000 men and women retire or are “released” by the federal government.

This means every year a large number of military veterans who haven’t reached mandatory retirement age must find new careers in the private sector. It’s a difficult transition that can leave many unsure about how to compete for jobs in a tight economy that favours seasonal and part-time workers.

For veterans who entered the military without a college or university degree this transition can be even more challenging. On top of that, the skills honed and perfected in the field aren’t always compatible with private sector jobs.

However, it’s the unique traits veterans possess in spades — their natural leadership skills and ability to adapt — that make them natural entrepreneurs. Time spent working in stressful conditions and an innate ability to problem solve with colleagues are what can make or break an early-stage company and serve them well in the startup community.

Transitions are never easy

 
Kathleen Kilgour, the program manager for Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur (POE), understands all too well the difficulties veterans face when leaving the military. That’s why she and her small team provide hands-on entrepreneurial training to veterans across the country.

“When veterans have strict discipline it gives them the desire to achieve any goal”

As one of the few groups in Canada that cater to ex-military entrepreneurs, she gets to see how important entrepreneurship can be for returning military members. It can be a lifeline she explains for individuals who have little support. Her team has taught dozens of veterans basic skills like startup accounting and finance basics.

“The goal is to help those in the military transition. When they leave the average age generally is 41. There’s a big opportunity for them to have a new second career and [we] help them do that.”

The veteran entrepreneur

 
One of the POE’s recent graduates is twentysomething Taylor McCubbin. The infantry sergeant spent the last 11 years working for the military. He currently serves as a firearms instructor in Trenton, Ontario, but will soon launch his own business, Chimera Firearms Training.

The company will open mid-December. It offers — among many other things — virtual shooting ranges to the public — the first of its kind in Toronto. His foray into entrepreneurship is recent, but the idea of being his own boss was never really foreign, he explains. He always wanted to launch a business but didn’t know how to. POE gave him the skills he, and probably many other veterans need, to turn an idea into a reality.

Looking to the future

 
“There’s definitely more particular technical knowledge that I had no experience with before POE. Like, for example, marketing, accounting or just developing a coherent business plan and projections,” McCubbin explains. “Those are things that I didn’t know how to do. When veterans are taught those skills, they have what they need to change the world. ”

Veterans are often overlooked but would make the best entrepreneurs, he says. They’re an untapped resource and already predisposed to thrive in a demanding environment.

“The number one thing is that the military teaches you a lot of discipline. That discipline is not a restraint, but a freedom. The more discipline you have in yourself the more you’re free to take on other opportunities, because you can manage your time efficiently,” he says. “When veterans have strict discipline it gives them the desire to achieve any goal they set their mind to [so they can] succeed or fail spectacularly and then learn from it.”

Canada’s tech entrepreneurs cashing in on cannabis

Alex Blumenstein, 28, never thought he’d one day end up working in the marijuana business. In his previous job, the entrepreneur worked as a consultant dealing with corporate clients like airline companies and land developers. It was a world he was familiar with and a job he was successful at.

“I was good at it, but it was very unrewarding work. Even when you did win [for your client] it was only incremental gains,” he explains.

But, all that changed in 2017.

Earlier this year he launched a new business inspired by consulting work he did for a local marijuana company. While there are ample opportunities for big firms, support for small-scale entrepreneurs was non-existent, he found. So, he decided to take a chance and build something that did.

Now the twentysomething is the co-founder of Leaf Forward the first cannabis business accelerator in Canada. It helps founders turn their their weed-related ideas into reality.

.@ONgov and Canada are preparing to legalize cannabis by summer 2018.

Since launching in January, Leaf Forward has mentored a handful of startups. It’s also hosted meetups with some of the industry’s’ biggest players and partnered with leading cannabis organizations across the province.

“There’s a lot of opportunities for startups in the marijuana industry outside of just cultivation. Currently the industry is driven by licensed producers [government sanctioned weed cultivators] but it’s the technology, ancillaries and value-added products that will drive real rewards,” he says.

The rise of the weedpreneur

 
Entrepreneurs aren’t waiting around to find new ways to invest in what is expected to be one of North America’s fastest-growing industries. Many are already cashing in right now.

Big deals south of the border include Casa Verde Capital (known for its partnership with Snoop Dog). Since launching it’s raised a whopping $10 million. High-profile investments include tracking platform Leaflink and point-of-sale company Greenbits. Another well-known Silicon Valley VC firm called Benchmark recently invested $8.1 million in Hound Labs. A startup that produces breathalyzers that trace THC (the component that produces a euphoric high) in users.

Legal cannabis sales in Canada are expected to grow to $22.6 billion by 2021 and surpass medical use. cc @BDSAnalytics

Meanwhile, in Canada, we’re starting to finally see that same momentum. Earlier this week, Constellation brands (the maker of Corona beer and other alcoholic drinks) purchased a 10 per cent stake in weed company Canopy Growth for $245 million. In the last year alone investors have dumped approximately $700 million into Canadian cannabis companies, according to wealth management firm Canacoord Genuity.

Homegrown talent

 
One of Canada’s most recognizable homegrown success stories is Ample Organics. The Toronto-based startup produces seed-to-sale software that manages plant cultivation, shipping, and purchases. Like most of today’s weedprepreneurs, the company’s founder,  John Prentice, earned his tech stripes outside of the weed business.

As Canada’s novice marijuana industry matures new opportunities will be born out of tech innovation created by forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Enter: Prentice who launched a successful business based on this ingenious thinking.

“The cannabis industry will be gigantic… because of the strict regulations and the unique ways in which the cannabis industry operates, adaptation and modification need to happen. When that’s impossible, new products need to be created,” he says. “It’s a brave new world out there, and we’re all looking for innovative technologies to help maximize the opportunity.”

The future of Canadian ‘cannabiz’

 
For techpreneurs looking to enter the space, the potential rewards are big. Everything from plant growing systems to weed patches and marijuana-infused edibles will require technical expertise.

Jordan Rodness, the marketing manager for Emblem, sees a new world open up for tech startups interested in creating ancillary products that help businesses like his. In fact, his company already works with a local tech startup called Strainprint that helps users track intake. The licensed producer cultivates marijuana out of its 24,000 square feet facility in Paris, Ontario.

“As a company, we’re very much trying to get ahead of the trends. We’re looking for anybody who’s an innovator and has a really great idea that they want to bring to the market or that’s going to be really useful in the industry.”

Michael Garbuz agrees. The lawyer — who works at CannaRoyalty in a corporate strategy role and mentors early-stage companies through Leaf Forward  — understands how competitive the industry is.

He sees innovation and technology playing an important role in the developing cannabis industry. Especially, since Canada’s product market is less developed than the U.S, which saw a handful of states legalize cannabis in some form as early as 1996. At home technology will be key to the country’s growing cannabis industry and maintaining its edge in the international market.

“A lot of individuals nowadays are working on really advanced technologies to improve and optimize the formulation and delivery of cannabis. We are seeing new technologies that control how quickly you feel the effects, the consistency of effects, and the entire consumer experience. Tech innovation and ongoing R&D are ingredients that the industry needs to continue to mature and grow.”

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