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What’s it like being a “parentpreneur” during the pandemic?

For parent founders working full-time from home, managing a company while raising kids has been one of the more trying aspects of the pandemic.


Between handling screaming children while on conference calls at home and dealing with the stress of sending kids back to school, parents with young children haven’t had it easy this pandemic. Remote working as a result of COVID-19 has greatly affected life at home as we know it, and in some cases, has completely changed family dynamics and parenting styles.

Most entrepreneur parents, or “parentpreneurs”, have the privilege of working from home, even in the absence of a pandemic. That doesn’t mean keeping kids home for remote learning has been easy.

DMZ founders share their experiences while working from home with kids. Inevitability, there have been challenges – but parents have also seen some surprising silver linings come out of it. 

If you’re a parent in a similar situation, you might find comfort in hearing that no family has perfected life during a worldwide pandemic. Hear what these founders are saying!


The switch to distance learning and remote working

Tweepsmap’s Samir Al-Battran, Founder & CEO and Erin Heywood, Manager of Operations, are a parent duo with three school-aged children. As soon as the pandemic hit in March, Tweepsmap had already begun remote work. Samir and Erin felt prepared ahead of their school’s shutdown and, all things considered, were appreciative of their situation as parents.

“We’re lucky. Not everyone has the luxury to work from home or has a business that can continue without much disruption,” explains Erin. She adds that it helps that her children have two tech-savvy parents and enough devices in the home to make distance learning physically possible for three kids in one household.

Zeze Peters, Founder & CEO of Beam.city is also a parent of three: two school-aged children and a newborn. He claims that parenting during the pandemic has been both amazing and tricky – something that many parents can relate to: “Before COVID, my wife and I were complaining that we didn’t have enough time to spend with our kids. Mid-school year, we got our wish – but not on great terms.”

 

Balancing work and family life

Kate Mansouri, Founder & CEO of Pennygem has had her hands full in 2020. For Kate, it’s been a year of firsts – she’s growing her first startup and has become a mother for the first time. Most of the Pennygem team consists of women that have children, so as a leader, Kate has been understanding of parenting struggles during a pandemic. 

“It’s been tough for them. Sometimes parents are sitting in a meeting, their kids walk in and ask a million questions and they have to turn the camera and microphone off to attend to the kids. It can be tough to stay on track and be productive having your kid around,” Kate explains. “I, myself, have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day. My most productive times are from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m., and then in the evening when my baby goes to bed.”

For Samir and Erin, working for the same company has both its benefits and drawbacks. “The challenge is that kids are screaming while you’re trying to have a call with a customer, so it’s been different – and Erin can’t work as much as she could before because she’s taking a lot of the load from our children being at home.”

Zeze’s sentiments are similar, stating that client meetings and managing a team has been a little tricky with the kids home from school. “Sometimes they’ll come in and join my meetings, which actually doesn’t always bother me, but it does break your workflow. There’s a concept in technology called context switching: going from business work to funding work, to team management work, writing technology, to responding to emails and then, of course, dealing with kids. A context switch takes your mind from one mode to another mode. Working from home, my daily productivity went through the floor. As an early-stage startup, every hour matters, especially when I’m leading a team,” Zeze says.

Plans for this school year

In August, provincial governments and school boards across the country began announcing plans to send kids back to the physical classroom this fall for the 2020-2021 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic posed yet another dilemma for parents. While at-home work productivity would surely improve, the potential spread of the virus amongst kids is something parents have to take into consideration.

While Kate has a newborn baby and doesn’t yet have to make a decision on whether to send her child to school, she knows most of the parents on her team have found it difficult balancing family and work life, and will likely be opting to get kids back into a routine. “I think [the parents] would be taking the option of having kids go back to school. It’s been very tough on some of them. Many moms are looking for ways to take their children back to daycare or school, even if it’s part-time,” Kate explains.

Erin and Samir say they’ve made the decision to keep their three kids home for remote learning, at least for the start of the year. Erin mentions that, in continuing remote learning, there will be bumps in the road – but it won’t feel like the same emergency it was in the Spring for her three kids. “The school has a set mandated time for teacher-led learning every day. The kids will have to be in front of a computer, and some people are complaining about screen time – but frankly, this is the choice you’re making for your child if you decide to keep them home.” Erin also says that if class sizes were smaller, they would consider sending their children back to school. But with potentially 25-30 in a classroom, there won’t be much physical distancing.

Samir mentions that the decision to keep kids home will help with the consistency of their learning. “We’re thinking about sustainability. If things get bad again and schools shut down, it would be disruptive to their school year. If we get them online from the beginning, at least they will have more stability in their learning.”

Zeze and his wife have also opted to keep their two school-aged children in the virtual classroom for now. “As good as the intention is to have teachers bear the brunt of the cleanliness for large periods of the day, it’s just hard to be perfect,” Zeze explains. “There are hundreds of kids. With COVID, even though small kids may not have strong symptoms and develop issues, it may not be the same for their parents and grandparents.”

In it for the long haul? Parenting WFH tips and silver linings

As the digital workplace and classroom may very well be our reality for the next while, we asked founders if they have tips to offer other parents for improving work-life balance and family dynamics in the current environment. Parents also explain that amidst the pandemic, they have seen some benefits to keeping the family at home – and have been embracing the silver linings that have come with it.

Erin and Samir are grateful that they even have the ability to work from home and spend more time with the family. In terms of tips for keeping the family happy and productive, Erin adds: “Each case is different, every child is different. You can’t listen to what everyone is telling you. Try to come up with a solution that works for your own kids, your company and your life. It’s important to listen to your kids and what their needs are.” As an example, given the government’s social bubble restrictions, Erin and Samir have been flexible with allowing their daughter to spend more time than usual socializing with friends online. 

A practical solution for Zeze’s family was to establish a consistent daily routine in which his kids finished school work first thing in the morning. “Before they did anything else, they had to get their school work done early in the morning. By about 10:00 a.m., they would be done for the day. My wife and I could get back to being productive with our own work.”

As a founder whose team has been working in a digital format since the company’s inception, Kate doesn’t plan to bring her startup into an office setting post-pandemic – at least not full-time. Her team sees great value in Pennygem’s remote working policy. 


Kate explains that some mothers on her team have appreciated the extra bonding time at home with children. “My hope is to provide them with an opportunity to have meaningful input, but at their own convenient time. It’s working really well for us. We’re very flexible,” Kate adds. “The situation was a big eye-opener for a lot of people. We were required to work from home all of a sudden, and many of us have discovered that it’s working. It’s tough, but you learn to work around it.

Zeze adds that a silver lining to this crisis has been that his family is making special memories that they will cherish forever. “The kids have picked up arts and crafts, they paint now too. We’ve been having barbecues together, we’ve built a farm full of fruits and vegetables which the kids have helped plant and harvest. Every day when they go out to play, it’s cool to look out the window and see them playing in the backyard. It makes us feel happy.”

If you’re a parentpreneur working from home with kids, share your experiences and tips with the DMZ on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn!

Content marketing for startups: How to master your strategy

DMZ guest blog by: Rokham Fard, DMZ EiR

Content marketing: it’s something that almost every company does, but few do it exceptionally well. Regardless, it is a tool that should be a part of every startup’s arsenal.

If your startup has little budget or no online audience, mastering your content marketing via your company website’s blog is a great place to start building your brand awareness and converting your audience into customers. The great news? Your content strategy is something you can learn to master with little to no budget. And – when you do it right – years down the road you will have built promotional assets. 

This article is two-fold: it covers both the creation and promotion of your blog content. Learn how to structure your blog writing, choose an appealing topic, and repurpose your content in your email and social media marketing efforts. Best of all, along the way you’ll get simple hacks you can use to satisfy web algorithms and skyrocket your online engagement.

Your startups’ content strategy can take several attempts of trial and error – but hit that sweet spot start, and you’ll be seeing real return on your efforts. 

Choose a winning blog topic


Picking the right blog topic requires careful consideration. When doing this, you mustn’t improvise and assume the whole world cares about what
you think is top-of-mind for your customers. Selecting a subject matter should be a data-driven process – not hypothesis-driven.

Anchor your topic around a question or problem

Don’t throw all kinds of messages out there and hope one sticks. It’s not about frequency of content. It’s about doing the right one, and then spending a lot more time getting it out there. It’s crucial to vet your topic before you start writing. You need to find out what the external world is asking about the topic you want to write about.

The easiest method to gather information around the world’s questions is to Google it. You’ll want to anchor your blog around a certain phrase or question. Try it: as an example, search “coping with anxiety”. How many people are searching that in a month? In Canada? In the U.S.? If a lot of people are searching for it, you know there is market demand. Your search phrase should have between 1,000 to 10,000 monthly searches for your geographical audience (if your target audience only lives in Canada, try incorporating U.S. searches to reach that 10,000). Another great tool to vet your topic is UberSuggest.

Write the best answer on Google

Once you’ve identified the question you’re going to answer, the magic is to offer a solution to that question or problem that is subjectively better than the first ten results on Google. 

The reality is, almost no one checks the second page of Google. If you are able to be subjectively better than all those ten combined, then your answer will be considered better to the user. Algorithms on Google are fully optimized for that. If you are taking the right steps for SEO, you will eventually rank up. 

Trust is one of the most important aspects required to build a relationship with potential customers and retain existing ones. You build trust by addressing someone’s problem better than they can, then offering them a solution. 

The only way you can do that is if you are a subject matter expert who can offer insights that come from deep knowledge. Companies will oftentimes hire a content writer who is remote and cheap to employ. What happens when you hire someone who doesn’t have expertise in your subject matter? They go to Google, they search your key phrase and regurgitate the same information that the top articles on Google have already written about. Your blog writer should be a subject-matter expert. 

If you can articulate someone’s problem better than they can, that is a great start to building trust and gaining loyal followers.

Re-think the structure of blog writing


If you’d like to write something people are going to read, think of your content as a prescription. We were taught to write using a certain skeleton: the intro and hypothesis, point one, point two, point three and the conclusion. 

These days, and on the web especially, consumers typically don’t have the time to read your essay. They came to your blog to ask a question, to get an answer. 

Adopting a new style of writing by putting the carrot upfront: what will a reader get from this post? Get them on the edge of their seat; give them a promise upfront. Then, move into your solutions: one, two, three. And, at the end, there’s no conclusion per se – it’s a summary. 

The three layers of content within a blog: macro, micro, nano

Young startups often avoid spending the time to produce quality blog content and opt for short-term marketing wins, which will become more expensive in the long run. What many don’t realize is that you can invest more time and resources in creating one blog, and you’ll end up producing content that can be repurposed for various channels over an extended period of time. 

There are three layers of content produced here: the macro, the micro and the nano. Why is it important to distinguish between these three layers? Well, they each provide value to your marketing strategy in different ways. 

The macro is the entire blog post. One of the more frequently asked questions around blog post creation is the length of your posts. Try to write around 2000-2500 words per post. While that may sound like a lot, you must remember how much noise is out there to compete with. Additionally, if you were to cover a topic and only had 500 words to work with, it’s hard to give the subjectively best answer to your reader’s question. I’ll touch on why this is important, and tips for having the subjectively best answer again soon.

Furthermore, a longer blog will also reap benefits from a technical perspective: with richer, denser content, your website’s blog will appeal more to search engines’ machine learning. For example, Google’s semantic analysis is strong enough to understand your content’s focus and will do so more easily with denser content – improving your online search visibility.

Next comes the “micro” layer of content. Your blog post should yield three to five main topics or solutions (which we’ll touch on soon). Each one of those solutions can be thought of as a micro-sized piece of content. Micro content can be leveraged in for your email newsletter, for example. Build a drip campaign using this content where every email covers one of the three to five solutions outlined in your blog post. If you write one article for your blog and have, on average, four solutions in one article, that will equate to four weeks worth of drip campaigns! By the time you have 10 articles, you’ll have 40 weeks of campaigns. 

Finally, the “nano” layer of content consists of the even smaller bits buried within those solutions – they are the bite-sized, action-driven solutions that are derived from each micro. This is the content that will feed your social media. 

Let’s size it up. A macro piece equals three to five micro pieces and about eight to 12 nano pieces. All of a sudden, you have eight to 12 social posts – and for the next month, you have something new every few days for your social channels. 

That’s how you stay top of mind. Re-purpose your content strategically, and you’ll gain the mindshare of your audience.

Promote the hell out of your content


You have a piece of content… now, what do you do with it? 

The general rule of thumb is that 20 percent of your time should go towards creating your content and 80 percent towards promoting. You’ve vetted this idea for your blog and you know there’s demand – now take the time to get your content out there.

With your blog content, you can leverage both long and short term gains. The long term effect is that you’re going to start getting ranked on Google. If you have given the best answer on the internet, you’ll start ranking higher on search engines. The short term gain is that you have content that’s ready to be promoted. Remember, the micro and nano layers within your blog have helped you distinguish this content. You won’t need to think about new topics for your email newsletters, and you won’t need to hire someone to keep your social media alive. Don’t operate in silos – repurpose that content!

Cater to the social platform’s algorithm

Take a look at your LinkedIn feed. You’ll probably notice examples of these nano posts. 

How do you ensure your LinkedIn posts perform well? You have to cater to the platform’s algorithm. LinkedIn’s platform, like many other social platforms, prioritizes 1) relevant content, and 2) engagement. The more your posts play into what the algorithm likes, the more eyes you will get on your social content. If you want more engagement on your posts across social media channels like LinkedIn, here are some hacks to consider.

First, when you create your post based on your nano, never include the link back to the article if you don’t have to. It’s counterintuitive. When someone is scrolling through their LinkedIn feed, do they really want to stop and read a 2000 word article? No. Think about where your audience’s head is at. Your LinkedIn posts should act as nuggets, intriguing them to want to hear more about what you’ve got to say. Second, if you are linking your article within your LinkedIn post, you’re not catering to the platform’s algorithm. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn – each one of these platforms is biased towards keeping the user on the platform. They don’t want a user to leave the platform, they make money by keeping them around. This is another reason to avoid linking out to your website. I’ve seen up to ten times the engagement when I don’t link out to my article. 

If you feel like your post needs a call-to-action, I would suggest signing off with the same hashtag at the tail end of each social media post. This is good for brand awareness, and when someone clicks on your hashtag, they’ll see everything you’ve published. Even more important, the click from the user is a signal to the platform’s algorithm for engagement. 

Something else to consider is that algorithms also have a bias towards posts that use an image. 

Go where your audience already hangs out

If you don’t have a huge audience yet on your brand’s social channels, don’t worry. I don’t recommend trying to build a big audience right off the bat. It can be expensive and you can do it gradually. What I would recommend is for you to go to where your audience already hangs out to promote the hell out of your content. There are two great places to do this for free: Facebook and Reddit.

Facebook

There are Facebook pages on just about every topic out there. Go to Facebook’s search engine. In the search bar, search using your keyword or the topic you’ve written about. Change the filter to search Pages, and you’ll find Pages who are interested in learning about your topic at hand. Find a page that has at least a couple thousand followers. Look at their newsfeed. What type of content is being shared? Do they give love to any third-party content? If they do, you can message the admin and explain why your article would provide value to their audience. Ask them to share it – you’d be surprised how many times they’ll do it. This can drive more traffic to your own Facebook page, and hopefully, your website too.

Reddit

Reddit can be a hit or miss as behaviours can be very inconsistent with the users and admins, but it can be a highly effective way to engage your target audience. There are thousands of subreddits about every topic under the sun. You can use Google to find subreddits. Find some subreddits that are relevant, and post your article in those subreddits – but not as you are promoting it. Why is this important? The moment Reddit sniffs that you are self-promoting, they will remove you from that Subreddit. Post it as if you are an observer – as if you stumbled across this resource on the web that you thought was worth sharing. 

Take these Facebook and Reddit tactics into consideration. Try each platform at least once – find a few gems, and in a couple posts’ time, you can come back to these great audiences! A lot of these audiences might convert to subscribers – and who knows – maybe even customers of your business. 

If done correctly, Facebook and Reddit can help your content take off. 

Conclusion: practice makes perfect


Keep in mind that your blogging strategy is an ongoing cycle. Prioritize quality over quantity. There’s no need to produce a new post every week, it
will become exhausting. The more you can invest in promotion, you will end up finding the right audience.

When it comes to perfecting content writing and promotion, there’s not always a one-size-fits-all solution. It starts with getting confident about vetting the right topic for your blog post and structuring your article in a way that’s easy to consume. Once you have a quality article written, learn how to leverage the micro and nano nuggets of information that come out of each blog post. You’ll start to see success in your analytics and get into the rhythm of things.  

While there’s so much more that can be covered, the truth is that strategies are ever-changing as technology becomes smarter and consumer behaviour shifts.  

If you begin implementing the tactics outlined in this article, you’ll get comfortable working in a way that caters to your consumers’ thinking. Take that with you as the digital environment continues to evolve, and you will have greater success in adapting your content marketing to fit the needs of your business.

Basecamp 2020: Hear from the grand prize winners

It’s been yet another successful summer for aspiring student entrepreneurs in Basecamp, DMZ’s eight-week intensive student incubation program helping rising innovators create tech solutions to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. 

It’s also been a summer like never before for Basecamp. This year, due to COVID-19, DMZ transformed the program into a completely virtual format. While Basecamp programming looked a little different than in previous years, the digital structure paved the way for new partnership opportunities with international organizations, allowing the DMZ to host over 40 rising student entrepreneurs from around the globe!

Keep reading to learn more about what made this cohort special, and hear from the winners about their Basecamp experience and what the future holds for their companies.

A 2020 snapshot

Basecamp 2020 received a record-breaking number of applications from high school and university students. Following a competitive application process, 41 student applicants across 26 company teams received acceptance to the program. This year’s cohort represented both high school and university students from several countries around the world – from Canada and the U.S., to Egypt, Syria, and even Japan!

Keeping in line with today’s emerging tech trends, Basecamp companies found themselves exploring a number of diverse and non-traditional industries: medtech, edtech, fintech, cleantech, and more. Teams all shared a common goal: to develop a technology solution that would drive positive impact and address some sort of social, economic or environmental issue that our society is faced with.   

Over eight weeks, teams spent over 160 hours in workshops and with industry mentors to soak in as many new learnings as possible and turn their business idea into a viable startup company. Programming covered everything from problem validation and prototyping, go-to-market strategies, to pitching and storytelling. 

Basecamp finalists

After a jam-packed summer, teams were given the opportunity to present a company pitch to a panel of judges for the chance to take home one of three grand prizes: $5,000 in business grant money and an accounting package from Logan Katz worth up to $13,000. Six finalists were chosen based on having a driven and coachable founding team, a robust business model, a unique market solution, and an effective business presentation, among other determining factors.

The six finalists included: A Friendlier Company, Snowball, ConchShell, Madaki, Project Lightbulb and Anaxa..

Basecamp 2020 grand prize winners

Following the final pitch presentation, the top three companies were selected by a new panel of judges as the Basecamp 2020 winners: ConchShell, A Friendlier Company and Project Lightbulb. Congrats to the winners!

Hear from the winning teams about their Basecamp experience and what the future holds for their companies.

ConchShell
Founders: Jin Schofield and Sarvnaz Alemohammad

ConchShell is a real-time American Sign Language translator that helps the deaf and speech-impaired navigate life independently using a wearable bracelet. The bracelet tracks the user’s actions through sign language and voices a translation out loud for others to hear. 

“ConchShell has developed dramatically since the beginning of the DMZ Basecamp program.  We completed dozens of interviews for customer validation with ASL users, reached out to professionals in the industry, and developed software through DMZ’s various helpful workshops, as well as through connecting with the many amazing and knowledgeable people in DMZ’s Basecamp network. We learned to be bold in our decisions, develop thorough business models and pitches, and make the most of our potential!

In the next year, we intend to complete our first prototype and run, make two iterations of our pilot program, and open limited sales functionality.  We are thankful for the DMZ for all of the guidance and direction we’ve received in the last two months. We could not have done it without the DMZ!” 

– Jin and Sarvnaz, Founders, ConchShell 

A Friendlier Company
Founders: Kayli Dale and Jacqueline Hutchings

A Friendlier Company is creating a smart, centralized reuse system to eliminate single-use food packaging waste. The company gives food service providers reusable takeout containers, and once used, A Friendlier Company handles all reverse logistics, washing, and redistribution for reuse. The containers are lightweight, stackable, and are competitively priced to disposable plastic containers. This zero-waste system generates up to 60% less greenhouse gas emissions than single-use alternatives.

“We’re excited to begin pilots with our reusable takeout system in the Guelph area with prepared meal companies and local restaurants. We have been accepted into Innovation Guelph’s Seeding Our Food Future program which focuses on creating circular economies, like our reuse system. Throughout the fall we will continue expanding and piloting with various food service providers to perfect our reuse system and gain consumer feedback. We are so excited to get started and reduce single-use plastic waste!

Basecamp prepared us to confidently pursue our business full time. The program introduced us to incredible speakers that were experts in fields like marketing, prototyping, personal branding, sales, legal, financing, and pitching. Our biggest takeaway was learning how to tell our story and brand through pitching. We learned that effectively communicating our idea is just as important as the idea itself and is key to our success as a company. The community of young entrepreneurs we worked with was incredibly supportive and inspiring. Thank you DMZ Basecamp!”

– Jacqueline Hutchings and Kayli Dale, Founders, A Friendlier Company

Project Lightbulb
Founder: Colette Benko

Project Lightbulb is a virtual science education that guides students through curriculum outcomes using hands-on experiments that only require paper and materials you will find in the environment. Project Lightbulb believes every child should have access to engaging education that fosters their curiosity and problem-solving skills.

“The next steps for Project Lightbulb will be to continue building our program by developing more experiments so that we are ready to begin piloting in the late fall.

​​​I was very fortunate to meet so many like-minded youth that are working on incredible projects during my time at Basecamp. I am very inspired by my peers and I look forward to working with some in the future. Furthermore, I have learned many important skills and things to take into consideration when building a successful business. Prior to the program, I didn’t realize the importance of having a strong network. Basecamp allowed me to start building that network, learn new skills and continue to grow it as I move forward with Project Lightbulb.”

– Colette Benko, Founder, Project Lightbulb

 

Thank you!


Thank you to our 26 amazing teams who have accomplished so much over a short period of time and who made Basecamp 2020 a huge success. Congratulations on your achievements! We can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

CanHack: Why young innovators should consider a future in cybersecurity

COVID-19 and the talent shortage in cybersecurity skills

If changes in technology, growing risks of data overload, and increased usage of Cloud platforms have not already overwhelmed organizations’ IT and cybersecurity teams, they certainly will now. 

COVID-19 has forced a large portion of Canadian employers, from government departments to private sector companies, to make a sudden switch to a remote working model (and for some, a permanent switch). The transition to operating in a remote format has brought about new implications for how organizations will maintain cyber safety since employees are now working in absence of companies’ usual security measures (firewalls, safe IT systems, etc.)

Furthermore, it has highlighted the greater need for more cybersecurity skills in the workforce. Talent shortages have long existed in the cybersecurity landscape, and we can only expect these skills gaps to widen even further as the new reality of remote working sets in. 

CanHack 2019
Our solution: CanHack

At the DMZ, it’s our job to not only help startup founders accelerate their business growth but to also empower Canada’s next generation of innovators who aspire to make a real difference. We develop and execute initiatives like CanHack, our student cybersecurity competition organized in partnership with RBC, to promote cyber literacy and to also address digital skills gaps in the labour market.

DMZ is launching CanHack for a third year. Thanks to continued support from RBC, the program will continue to redefine how secondary education engages with cybersecurity skills and will introduce a brand new cohort of high school students to the challenge. As both partners leverage their strengths to break new ground together, the overarching goal will be to encourage more students to think about pursuing a future career in cybersecurity and computer science. This year, instead of the fall of 2020, the program will begin in Spring 2021 to give teachers more time to onboard their students. (continue reading for more details regarding the new 2021 program date).


How CanHack works

CanHack leverages PicoCTF technology, an online open-source computer security platform established by the Carnegie Mellon University Cylab Security & Privacy Institute. This game-based learning experience creates an interactive and engaging experience where students are tasked with addressing cybersecurity challenges faced by Canadian financial institutions.

The competition and program format allow young innovators to be immersed in a fun and stimulating environment where they gain critical computer security skills, work with experts in the cyber field and compete for cash prizes. Best of all? The program is completely virtual and no prior experience in cybersecurity is required to participate. 


CanHack’s accomplishments to date

Since launching in 2018, CanHack has already:

  • Helped over 4000 high school student participants gain valuable knowledge and experience in cybersecurity
  • Worked with 91 schools in 2019, and 76 schools in 2018
  • Distributed $6500 in competition cash prizes to students and $9500 to schools to help integrate more technology into student lives

CanHack 2019 winners of cybersecurity skills competition
What’s to come? CanHack 2021

As partners, DMZ and RBC have forged a number of firsts in the Toronto tech community over the course of this relationship. CanHack 2021 will be a natural next step for this partnership in empowering a stronger, more vibrant cybersecurity landscape within Canada.

“Cybersecurity has become a major and critical element for all organizations with the acceleration of cybercrime, and the evolving threat landscape.  Expansion of digital services driven by the challenges of COVID-19 and need for the mass enablement of a secure remote workforce, cyber skills have become a key resource to nurture and invest in,” said Matthew Tim, VP Cyber Technology Office at RBC. “By partnering with DMZ and sponsoring initiatives like CanHack, RBC is investing in the future of cybersecurity by encouraging greater participation and interest from the young adults in high schools across Canada. We would like to promote greater involvement and interest in cyber as a career to narrow the skills gap.”

In an effort to increase program accessibility Canada-wide (and plan around COVID-19), we’re taking CanHack virtual this year with all workshops and sessions available online for students and teachers to engage with. In coordination with proper health and safety guidelines, we anticipate running in-person and virtual info sessions and workshops in Fall 2020. The CanHack Challenge Launch Event for PicoCTF will then take place in March 2021.

Besides offering programming to students coast to coast, CanHack 2021 will also be special in that DMZ will run female-only workshops on a number of cybersecurity topics to support females in STEAM and work with organizations like Hackergal to inspire and recruit more female participants to the challenge.


Hear from CanHack participants

A student’s perspective

“CanHack 2019 was very enjoyable for me. I got to learn more about cybersecurity and the different specializations within it, and technology in general. The competition gave me a good chance to compete with my friends and it was actually fun to play the game, see the campus of Ryerson as well as the downtown area. During the cyber expo day, I learned a lot about other people’s experiences and why each company was partnered with the event. I learned that as companies move into a more digital world, they need a good cybersecurity foundation, especially since there is more and more criminal activity around the cybersecurity field. I also listened to a 16-year-old entrepreneur and how she is using technology to change the world. Overall, CanHack was a great program to play in and I hope they can continue to do what they do in the future!”

– High school student from Middlefield Collegiate Institute

An educator’s perspective

“For the last two years, Clarkson Secondary School has taken advantage of the amazing opportunity provided by the Ryerson DMZ and RBC to learn about computer securities. This program has become a mandatory component of the computer science courses for students in grades 10 and 11. Prior to taking part in this event, students in my classes would have had very minimal exposure to cybersecurity or even a linux shell; now students get a full two weeks where they are exposed to this content. There is no way that I would have been able to create anything close to the PicoCTF competition on my own, and it is only through the partnership with the Ryerson DMZ and RBC that Clarkson Secondary School students get this experience.

CanHack allows students to develop a set of skills that goes behind technical know-how: teamwork, collaboration and leadership skills. Additionally, students have become significantly more aware of the impact that cybersecurity has on their daily lives. While the obvious benefit is to students who will study computer science and computer engineering once they leave high school, even students who will major in social sciences are now looking at laws and ethics around computer technology and cybersecurity. I want to personally thank the Ryerson DMZ, RBC, and their sponsors for allowing the students at Clarkson Secondary School to take part in this event over the last two years. Students now come into my classes asking when the competition will start every September.”

– Matthew Arduini, Curriculum Head – Mathematics, Computer Science, and Business, Clarkson Secondary School

CanHack 2019 helping youth get cybersecurity skills
With RBC’s diverse support and DMZ’s relevant programming, combined with the growing demand to bolster digital literacy in cybersecurity among Canadian youth, CanHack 2021 will be positioned to be a top challenge in Canada.

For high school educators across Canada who are interested in bringing more cybersecurity education and opportunities for students into their schools, you can learn more about the format of the program by reaching out to us at dmz@ryerson.ca.

For high school students looking to gain knowledge and experience in the areas of cybersecurity and computer science, stay tuned for more information on CanHack 2021!

Organizations that prioritize 2SLGBTQIA+ initiatives throughout Pride Month, and beyond

It’s June – Pride Month – and although this year’s celebrations are inevitably looking a little different due to a worldwide pandemic, that doesn’t change the fact that 2SLGBTQIA+ communities around the globe are coming together virtually to celebrate the freedom they have to be themselves. Both Pride Toronto and Ryerson, among several organizations, have moved annual activities to a digital format.

At the same time, Pride this year also comes at a time where cities around the world are protesting the death of George Floyd, police brutality and systemic racism, reinforcing the connection of both movements and the importance of intersectionality. It serves as a reminder of Pride’s roots of protesting inequalities, and also as a time to acknowledge the historical roles that Black activists played in the fight for gay rights. 

DMZ pride flag

Equity over everything

At the DMZ, our number one value is equity over everything. While diversity in Canada’s tech ecosystem is improving, it has a long way to go. We reinforce our commitment to equity and inclusion by levelling the playing field for diverse founders coming into our programs. Not everyone begins at the same starting line, which is why we provide tailored support to ensure every founder who walks through our doors succeeds – regardless of their sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, gender or ability. 

“At the DMZ, our focus is on the people behind the products and helping them successfully build their business. We recognize the experiences and challenges that 2SLGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs have are unique, meaning those individuals may require different approaches or types of support” explains Vanessa Shiu, DMZ’s Manager of Administration, Diversity & Inclusion. “When we develop our programs and services, our team consistently asks the question, ‘how do we make sure we are being inclusive’ and ‘how can we break down barriers for diverse founders’. Above all, we make sure we listen to our founders’ experiences and their feedback to inform us how we can help with their unique challenges.”

From day one of our programming, we also support our startups in making diversity a priority across all areas of their own business – from recruiting talent to building product offerings. We’re proud to see the value that diversity carries amongst the startups that come through our programs.

Off2Class, a DMZ alumni startup that combines interactive ESL lesson content with the power of a student management system, is a great example:

“Diversity for us is a business imperative. We service clients in 100+ countries. If our workforce wasn’t diverse, we simply wouldn’t be able to scale to the extent we have.” Kris Jagasia, Founder of Off2Class explains. “Our team is made up of newcomers, LGBTQ+ individuals, females, Muslims, Hindus and white males! We also show our dedication to diversity and inclusion by representing diverse individuals on our blog.”

We reached out to our greater community to ask organizations about their ongoing initiatives supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community – and not just during Pride month, but also year-round.

The Fasken Pride Network

Fasken, a DMZ Professional-in-Residence (PiR) and full-service law firm with offices in Canada, the U.K., South Africa and China, is committed to diversity in the workplace year-round. Diversity is a key element in the success of the Firm, helping to foster inclusiveness and encouraging innovation. Overseeing this effort is the Firm’s Diversity Committee. In recognition of its importance, the Committee is co-chaired by the Firm Managing Partner.

The Fasken Pride Network was established to encourage internal, client, and prospective client development of 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion and community development. Fasken openly encourages Firm members, clients, friends and any interested community members to attend and participate. Every June the Firm hosts an award-winning educational and networking event to bring the community together – it’s the highlight of the month, one that everyone looks forward to.

“Diversity and inclusion are our strength, and we welcome talented professionals from all backgrounds, races, origins, beliefs, and orientations to be part of our community,” says Marc Rodrigue, Partner and member of the Pride Network.  “Though we recognize Pride especially in June, with the support of our clients and staff, we support our shared Pride all year.”

Goodmans



In 2015, DMZ PiR
Goodmans was the first major law firm in Canadian history to enter a float in Toronto’s annual Pride Parade, an event witnessed by millions across the country and around the world. As a firm, they’ve never looked back.

Goodmans is committed to showing their True Colours, always.

“Whether it’s showing sector leadership as a founding member of the Law Firm Diversity and Inclusion Network (LFDIN), to upping the ante with the firm’s annual Pride celebrations, throughout the year, Goodmans collective love and support for the LGBTQIA+ community and culture of inclusivity is at the core of everything they do.” – Goodmans

While 2020 plans have now evolved to a virtual experience, Goodmans will be celebrating throughout June with special Pride events that can be accessed by all members of their community, including their families. These Pride events include children’s activities; a Drag Queen story-time and a Pride related science lesson, themed virtual cooking master classes, meet-ups framed within a virtual day in the life of Pride, and unique video initiatives. 

Venture Out

DMZ has partnered with Venture Out (VO) on events and initiatives to celebrate Pride and bring awareness to the tech startup ecosystem. VO is Canada’s largest tech non-profit organization connecting members of the LGBTQ+ community with the expanding technology sector, including entrepreneurs, start-ups, role models, career opportunities, and professionals. 

“VO’s commitment to the LBGTQ+ community means presenting content beyond the sanitized Diversity & Inclusion narrative that often permeates these spaces and exploring more impactful, unignorable topics, such as the intersection of race and class, climate change and surveillance capitalism.” 

The organization’s annual tech conference, which has been a success over the last three years and has grown to attract over 650+ attendees, 45+ sponsors and 10+ community partners, was postponed due to COVID-19. 

VO is participating in several Pride month activities, including:

  • June 22: TechProud – Small Business & Digital Skills Week in collaboration with Google, LinkedIn, and Microsoft | Register here
  • June 26: Pride 2020 – Designing for all: Why Accessibility Matters in collaboration with General Assembly 
  • TBD:  Senior LGBTQ+ Leadership in collaboration with Venture Out’s parent organization, StartProud, and RBC 

Learn more and find out how you can participate here.

Earlier this year, VO also hosted “Let’s Talk Employee Resource Groups” and an LGBTQ+ Career Fest for students and professionals.

Through the eyes of an entrepreneur

Andrew Wells is the CEO of Pinch Financial, a DMZ alumni, tech founder and member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community – he explains he’s been fortunate to have felt supported by employees, investors and commercial partners throughout his entrepreneurial journey. “There is a strong kinship amongst LGBTQ founders in Toronto as we appreciate the privileges we have are the result of the hard work that was put in by those that came before us. There’s a sense of shared responsibility that comes with this and we do what we can to support one another as a result.” Andrew explains. 

Andrew also explained initiatives that have truly made a positive impact in the community. “When I worked at RBC, we had an incredibly impactful LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG). In addition to creating a sense of community and togetherness, the ERG was also responsible for creating awareness throughout the organization of matters that were important to our community.  What made the ERG efficacious was its access to senior leadership. Change within any organization requires top-down leadership, so having the ear of RBC’s c-suites made all the difference.”

Can the DMZ help amplify the diversity and inclusion work your organization is doing? If you’re a partner or DMZ alumni, reach out to us at dmz@ryerson.ca.

Cinchy helps healthcare and financial service industries accelerate response to COVID-19

DMZ alumnus, Cinchy, is using Data Fabric technology to help Canadian banking and healthcare sectors unlock IT efficiencies and address the immediate impacts of COVID-19

Congratulations to the company on their recent announcement of securing $10M in Series A funding to support growing demand for Data Fabric Technology!

Cinchy’s Data Fabric technology is being used to unlock efficiencies so that banks and healthcare providers can deploy real-time solutions with existing or even reduced IT budgets. How can the tech community and public sector work together to accelerate the delivery of new customer and employee solutions without compromising on data privacy? Keep reading to find out.

More applications mean more data silos

Today, there’s an app for everything – meaning there’s also a data silo for everything. Do you ever feel like your business is drowning in complexity? The proliferation of new applications poses huge problems for organizations of all kinds, across all sectors. As explained by Cinchy CEO, Dan DeMers, data integration can easily consume 50% or more of the delivery budget for new solutions. In an IT model where we are constantly doing this, data integration grows more and more complex over time, and this simply isn’t sustainable for organizations. It’s a waste of time and money.

How data should work

So, how does Cinchy’s technology solve this issue for organizations? Cinchy believes there is an inevitable future about how data should work, and it involves shifting to Data Fabric technology.

Cinchy is an enterprise-grade Data Collaboration platform that merges data management, data protection, and data governance capabilities under one umbrella. It is Data Fabric technology that delivers the data management layer, and it is used to connect data from apps, as well as new data created directly in the fabric, to form a sort of internet of data tables. One of the key benefits of this architecture is that it removes the need to make data copies (a.k.a. integrations) when launching new solutions. Instead, data is “linked”, and this process actually gets faster and more efficient as the fabric powers more solutions. Think of the Data Fabric as generating a network effect for IT delivery where more projects translate into faster and cheaper delivery, not rising costs and complexity.

Why has Data Fabric been gaining so much traction recently? The reason is that organizational leaders are being asked to deliver solutions faster than ever before without being given additional budget or headcount. Therefore, they have been searching to find technologies that increase both speed and efficiency while not putting data privacy and protection at risk. As you might guess, the list of software categories capable of delivering all of these outcomes is short; Data Fabric technology has quickly risen to the top of the list.

Connect, protect, collaborate

Society is moving to a future where data owners, whether individuals or businesses, will demand more control over how their data is used. With conventional approaches, data is effectively managed by making a lot of copies, and, once copied, full control is simply no longer possible. All this changes with Cinchy’s Data Fabric design, where data owners (whether employees, customers, or supply chain partners) are able to grant access permission to fellow fabric users to see, change, approve or delete their data. With no copies of data to chase and protect, these controls become universal in nature and can be set all the way down to a single cell of data.

For large, highly-regulated organizations, the fabric acts as the secure, real-time engine for the delivery of unlimited new solutions with embedded data protection. Again, this not only enables secure, cross-team collaborations but actually accelerates and improves the organization’s IT delivery process. That’s the way it should be.

COVID-19: making a difference across industries in the months to come

During this time, organizations need to meet the sudden demand from employees and customers for new solutions to their needs. In the new COVID-19 world, it’s important that organizations not only address these demands quickly but find ways to do so that are hyper-efficient. For Cinchy’s enterprise and public sector customers, their platform supports this incredible challenge and even provides a competitive advantage when business returns to a focus on growth.

Helping Canada’s financial sector do more with less

All areas of financial services heavily rely on data as a key asset in the delivery of their digital transformation strategies: from paperless banking and accelerated loan approvals to remote staff management and increased service personalization.

There is now more data, and more types of data, than ever – making it more difficult to manage. This is where Data Fabric technology will play a key role in helping the financial sector respond quickly to new demands from customers and employees alike. Banks will need to harness data in the most effective way possible to accelerate the delivery of new solutions for remote workers, secure office spaces, and the and fully-digitized customer experiences. Canadian banks can leverage Cinchy and reap the benefits of its Data Fabric design to achieve data centricity and accurate data extraction for successful decision-making. Data Fabric will be the answer to helping the economy bounce back.

Powering secure, real-time healthcare solutions

The ongoing healthcare crisis raises important questions about the use of personally identifying information (PII). For example, should citizen GPS and Bluetooth location data be used to help augment contact tracers in their incredibly important work to track viral transmission and reduce spread? How can the technology community and public sector work together to respond to the current situation and help society be more proactive when addressing future outbreaks?

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for public health agencies to move beyond legacy data management systems based on Data Sharing/Data Integration and explore new approaches such as Data Fabric technology that improve data protection and IT solutions delivery. These new approaches will support the rapid delivery of large scale solutions ranging from augmented contact tracing to intelligent PPE inventory management, front-line worker support, and secure vaccine research collaborations.

Click image to see expanded infographic.

Cinchy’s Healthcare Data Command Centre solution uses Data Collaboration and Data Fabric technologies to help healthcare providers leverage data from sources like legacy healthcare systems, hospital apps and databases, mobile phone apps, laboratory research, third party PPE inventory systems and more. By drawing this data into a central, secure Command Centre where owners retain full control of how their data is used, public health agencies can quickly develop the data models required to deploy the real-time solutions that are so urgently needed in order to address the crisis.

Cinchy believes that it is imperative that public and private stakeholders join forces in order to take advantage of connected Data Fabric design – a made-in-Canada innovation that can be used to help address a global problem without compromising on data privacy or data protection.

Interested in learning how your organization can benefit from Cinchy’s platform? Reach out to the Cinchy team and book a demo here.

DMZ extending a hand to OneEleven based businesses  

Like you, we were saddened to hear yesterday’s news regarding OneEleven’s closure. 

OneEleven has always been a close partner of the DMZ. As an organization, OneEleven helped pave the way for many great startups in this country, and their closure represents a significant loss to Canada’s tech ecosystem.

The DMZ’s priority is to support made in Canada startups. Although this is a challenging time for incubator and accelerator programs, we want to reaffirm to our community that the DMZ is here to stay.

We understand this is a pivotal time for many startups and we’re committed to providing founders from OneEleven with uninterrupted support. So, here’s what we’re doing starting today:

  • Without any need to apply, founders can receive three complimentary mentorship sessions covering any area of business needed from our esteemed entrepreneurs-in-residence and DMZ staff 
  • Should you decide to apply to the DMZ, your application will be expedited
  • If accepted, we will waive fees for the next two months and provide access to all DMZ services. This includes coaching, capital, customers, community and of course, space once offices open back up

Learn more about our program from our founders here. And to learn more about what this could mean for your business, please reach out to Rob from our team. 

We thank OneEleven for all they have done to champion Toronto’s startup community. We hope the team at OneEleven looks back at the great impact they have made in bringing our city’s talent to the global stage.

Sincerely,

Abdullah

DMZWiT: Balance for Better

Today we celebrate women – their strengths, their achievements, their voices.

Women are changing every industry, every political stage and are continuously fighting to create a more gender-balanced world. That said, we make it our everyday mission to champion inclusion, equity and equality. We want to challenge current problematic business norms and help improve the issues women continue to face when it comes to funding, equal pay and professional development.

Our signature Women in Tech speaker series provides a platform for meaningful conversations about what our female entrepreneurs face in their day to day and the necessary steps we need to take as a collective.

Our most recent panel, in partnership with PayPal Canada, featured Althea Wishloff, a Venture Analyst at Panache Ventures, Jamie Rosenblatt, Principal of Golden Ventures, Snita Balsara, Investment Manager at MaRS Discovery District and Investment Manager at StandUP Ventures and moderated by Nancy Sahota, Head of Consumer Segment at PayPal Canada. The discussion was centred around how women can navigate and secure equal funding, how to truly manage work-life balance and how the tech ecosystem can improve their problem with gender parity.

Supporting women is built into our culture, and we’re proud to provide a space for all of our entrepreneurs to connect and support one another. We’re dedicated to delivering on our values – equity over everything and founders first – and look forward to continuing the conversation around equality in business and entrepreneurship.

Happy International Women’s Day to you, your mother’s, sisters, caretakers, colleagues, mentors and every woman who gives you unconditional support!

 

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