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What was your first lemonade stand?

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What was your first lemonade stand?

Hear from DMZ founders about their early beginnings running a business, and what fuelled their thirst for entrepreneurship

All entrepreneurs can remember their very first business endeavour – typically a humble beginning that starts with passion and determination and ends with lessons learned. The venture where founders can dip their toes into the pool of possibilities of entrepreneurship and get a bittersweet taste of what could be.

Many of these beginnings can be as simple as selling cookies for school fundraisers, but just taking the first step can be the gain the fuel one needs to rev up their entrepreneurial engine. One of the most common first steps many entrepreneurs can give credit to is childhood lemonade stands.

The OG driver of entrepreneurship, lemonade stands ignite a flame for aspiring business owners and opens their eyes to the possibilities of what a career as an entrepreneur might look like.

That’s why the DMZ is giving an ode to the lemonade stand and paying tribute to the founders who dared to be bold, making the squeeze without knowing what their futures would hold.

We asked some of our founders to share what their lemonade stand was and what humble beginning triggered their thirst for entrepreneurship.

What was your lemonade stand (first entrepreneurial endeavour)?

“My first lemonade stand was an actual lemonade stand with chocolate chip cookies. I also walked dogs, pet sat, ran group garage sales to buy a go-kart and more. But, I think the most interesting entrepreneurial endeavour was spray painting street numbers on curbs. When I was about fourteen I heard about an eleven-year-old in California who was making good money painting street numbers on curbs to make it easier for friends and emergency services to find houses in the dark. I thought it was a great idea and wanted to earn some cash over the summer so I recruited 2 friends and got to work. Most days that summer we would load up my red and black childhood wagon with reflective spray paint, street number stencils, sign-up sheets and change. Then we would go door to door in every neighbourhood we could walk to or sometimes get a drive to the more affluent neighbourhoods to sell our services. To be honest, it wasn’t super successful but we made some cash and it definitely trained us to handle rejection.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I sold maple syrup to international students going back home for the winter. Previous to that, I flipped items on the Runescape Grand Exchange.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“I realized that I was an entrepreneur when I was 10 years old. My mom had cancer while I was growing up and I wanted to find a way to help her. She had taught me how to hand sew little pillows. I was so excited about this new skill that I decided to teach all the neighbourhood kids how to sew them too.⁣ A few days later I had an idea. With piles of hand-sewn pillows in hand, I instructed the other kids to stand at the side of the road with me. ⁣We sold the pillows to every car and person who passed by our street.⁣

At the end of the day, we had made the local paper and $1000 to which we proudly donated to Cancer Research. That day I realized anyone at any age in any circumstance can make an impact. Everyone has the ability to become an entrepreneur and a changemaker. Even you.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

Do you think you were born with the entrepreneurship bug? Who or what has fuelled your love for entrepreneurship?

“I like to think I was born with some sort of entrepreneurial bug. But I think three people/organizations really fueled it. Firstly, my parents. Growing up, my dad would tell me stories of running a wedding photography business or managing an apartment with my mom. And all throughout my childhood, I would help my mom and stepdad renovate the newest house they were flipping or watch as they started businesses ranging from interior design and deck building to RV rentals. Secondly and thirdly, throughout high school, I was a part of Junior Achievement and DECA. Both of these organizations have me a wealth of knowledge in business and how to work with large groups of people in a business sense.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I was born mischievous and always wanted to stand out but the entrepreneurship bug hit me on my first internship at peer-to-peer dog walking marketplace startup gofetch.ca.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“Yes, I think it has always been there for me – though I didn’t recognize it until later in life. I didn’t understand why I was always the one coming up with the big ideas and organizing others during play as a child. My first business came to me at 18. I was on my first summer home from University. I had developed a passion for fitness. After picking up some personal training clients at a local gym I knew I could do it better. So, I went for it and opened my own studio. Within a few months I had a packed studio every day with patrons double my age. I realized from that experience that anything is possible.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

Are there any lessons you learned when starting out on your entrepreneurial endeavour that have stuck with you?

“I feel like you learn new lessons every day you run a business but the main one that has stuck with me from the spray paint days is how to handle rejection. Doing door-to-door sales is gruelling so it engrained the idea that for every 100 no’s, you’ll get 1 yes. Then once you have that yes, understand what you did right so you can up your close rates.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“You’re out there to measure the results, you have no control over them. Better measurements allow for a smoother journey, not the journey you planned.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“Do something meaningful to you. You have to be able to see the bigger picture, it will be the driving force for you on the days that feel hard.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

How would you describe your journey from your first entrepreneurial venture to today?

“A rollercoaster. It’s fun and scary at the same time but if you’re lucky have some awesome people riding alongside you!” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I’ve learned that the journey is never linear. It is full of ups, downs and unknowns. I’ve learned to stay open-minded and to be willing to pivot. At the start of my journey I made most decisions on positive results but now, I make most decisions on data. I try not to become biased and to constantly challenge the results at hand. I’ve learned it’s really easy to miss things that aren’t working and data is the only factor that will give you that true result.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

“Challenging and exciting. I derive joy and satisfaction with every milestone achieved.” – Abiodun Adekunle, SleekScore Inc.

Lemonade stand blog - Cooler full of ice, fruit and lemonade

What is or will be your first lemonade stand? Dare to take the jump, and who knows what you’ll end up with, whether it be a high-growth tech platform or a Grammy award-winning album!

Ready to quench your entrepreneurial thirst? Check out the DMZ’s startup programs here.

Meet the DMZ’s Spring ‘22 startup cohort

Introducing the DMZ’s newest cohort: 11 tech startups that are disrupting the Canadian tech ecosystem 


The DMZ Incubator is a market validation and traction program that helps venture-backable pre-seed and seed-stage startups execute their go-to market strategy, acquire lighthouse customers, gain media exposure, explore global expansion, preparing for the next round of funding, and much, much more.

Out of hundreds of the high-calibre startup founders that applied from Canada and around the world, the DMZ hand-picked 11 tech companies to join a new 18-month cohort in the Incubator. 

This cohort has startups joining from Vancouver, Canada to Budapest, Hungary, across diverse industries like logistics, insurtech, fintech, proptech, and more.

Introducing our Spring ‘22 Incubator cohort:

 

AssetFlo is building the next generation of location products to help the supply chain increase visibility with a single device that works everywhere and eliminates costly infrastructure.

Baoba is creating street-smart insurances by combining location intelligence with technologies to create geo-triggered coverages. Baoba’s vision is to become the #1 global ecosystem orchestrator for on-demand insurance needs and the platform for connecting a fragmented market.

Carmodity partners with car dealerships to provide lease-financing to customers in a debt-free and interest-free model.


Cozii Technologies provides sustainable residential and commercial properties management services. Their flagship product Cozii Proptech allows residential landlords to manage their rental properties from anywhere in the world. 

Lightster is a mobile platform that enables tech startups to build instant user communities for input and co-creation, and rewards users for their time with exclusive access and cash.

Monosens helps industrial machine builders and maintenance providers predict which machines need maintenance or aftermarket services using IoT technology and AI.

Businesses, governments, and individuals share many important documents every day. myLaminin uses Blockchain to deliver security, convenience, and control to the document issuer, document holder, and third-party document verifiers.

Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies seamlessly and securely.

SizeWize offers an AI-backed fit recommendations eCommerce app that ensures online shoppers can buy the right size online, providing reduced returns, increased conversion, increased AOV, targeted marketing and optimal supply chains. 



ShiftRide is a car subscription service allowing people to subscribe to cars listed by owners and dealerships in the community. Every subscription comes with maintenance, insurance options, and flexible terms that suit any lifestyle.

VRapeutic is an Ontario-based UNICEF Innovation Fund portfolio software house specializing in developing therapeutic and rehabilitation solutions, with a focus on virtual reality (VR) for learning and developmental challenges.

 

If you are an early-stage tech founder interested in joining the DMZ Incubator, check out more about the program details and selection criteria here.

The biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year

Black founders who are killing it in the Canadian startup ecosystem


It’s no secret that wins in the startup ecosystem are tough. Whether it’s securing a grant, closing a round of funding or landing your first big sale, making it takes grit and determination. But, do you know what’s even harder? Doing it all as a Black entrepreneur. 

Black founders face systemic barriers in accessing lucrative entrepreneurship opportunities in Canada. Starting and growing a business is hard, and as a result of the added challenges and obstacles Black founders have to deal with, Canada’s startup ecosystem has a massive underrepresentation of Black-led ventures. 

In light of Black History Month, the DMZ wanted to share the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs in the last year. While the wheels of change are beginning to spin, we recognize much more still needs to be done and are committed to empowering Black founders with the coaching, mentorship and resources needed to take their business to the next level. 

So, let’s dive into some of the biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from the last year.

Tunde Omotoye won $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad, Tunde Omotoye, came in 1st place winning $20,000 at the DMZ’s inaugural Black Innovation Summit.

HumanSquad helps newcomers navigate immigration and their career paths by connecting them to licensed immigration consultants in Canada.

“Before joining the DMZ’s Black Innovation Bootcamp, we didn’t understand concepts like ‘user journey’ or ‘OKRs’. Now, we understand customer profiling and engagement, and key client-related key performance indicators to look out for that can impact our bottom line and boost our top line.” – Tunde Omotoye, CEO and Co-Founder of HumanSquad


Lola Adeyemi secured $180,000 on Dragons’ Den
Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Lola Adeyemi

AMEX Blueprint Alumni

Lola Adeyemi, Founder and CEO of It’s Souper, pitched her hearty and spicy Afro-fusion soup and sauce line on the iconic CBC show Dragons’ Den.

Recognizing the void for ready-to-eat Nigerian packaged foods, Lola was inspired to bring West African herbs and spices to the North-American market.

 

TruLocal acquired for $16.8 million


Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Marc LafleurTruLocal, a market-leading, locally sourced meat subscription service in Canada, was acquired by Canadian e-commerce Emerge Commerce for $16.8 million.

Founder and CEO Marc Lafleur introduced local farmers, producers and suppliers to the power of e-commerce, connecting them with thousands of loyal, health-conscious consumers across the country.

 

 

Tony Colley named a top social impact founder

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Tony ColleyBlack Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

The Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, Tony Colley, was recognized as one of Future of Good’s top 21 social impact founders. The list recognizes founders working on a promising solution for a more equitable, sustainable, caring post-pandemic Canada.

Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.

 

The Urban Guide secured a partnership with the City of Toronto

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

Biggest wins for Black entrepreneurs from last year: Peter OdlePeter Odle, Founder of the Urban Guide, secured a partnership with the City of Toronto, for a special city-based game called ‘ShowLoveTO Urban Game’. The game encouraged players to use their mobile devices to explore Toronto on New Year’s eve and win prizes.

The Urban Guide is a digital solution that uses self-guided city tours to reconnect people to their cities.

 

Adewunmi Akingbola awarded the Diana Award

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

The Founder of HealthDrive Nigeria, Adewunmi Akingbola, was awarded the Diana Award, which recognizes inspirational youth from around the world who have demonstrated their ability to inspire new generations to serve their communities.

HealthDrive Nigeria, an initiative in the South West of Nigeria, aims to raise awareness, test and vaccinate people against Hepatitis B.

 

 

SmartTerm expanded its services to Canada and is now serving Canadian clients 

Black Innovation Incubator Company

SmartTerm, an education management platform, officially expanded into Canada.

Their solution digitizes school processes leading to improved efficiencies for governments, school administrators, teachers and students.

 

“Being able to incorporate our business in Canada was one of our biggest achievements with the DMZ so far.” – Jayme Hoyte, Co-Founder of SmartTerm.

Reeddi selected as a finalist for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize

Black Innovation Bootcamp Alumni

Launched by Prince William and the Royal Foundation, the Earthshot Prize is the most prestigious global environment prize in history. Further, the prize aims to turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism, by highlighting the ability of human ingenuity to bring about change.

Founder of Reedi, Olugbenga Olubanjo, was a finalist for the award; his solution provides portable rechargeable battery units to consumers from a vending machine powered by solar panels.

 

Reyts,Welkom-U and Be One to Give secured their chance to pitch at the DMZ’s upcoming Black Innovation Summit

Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream Alumni

oluwatosin-tosin-ajibola-e in grey blazerAyobami Macaula and Abimbola Adegbite, Co-Founders of Reyts, Oluwatosin Ajibola, Founder of Welkom-U, and Tony Colley, Founder and CEO of Be One to Give, from the DMZ’s Black Innovation Program Social Impact Stream came out on top at their cohort’s demo day.

abimbola in maroon coatWhile all of the startups are working with a social mission and purpose, the three companies are zeroing in on different societal issues. Reyts is a marketplace that allows individuals to swap currencies in a seamless and secure way. Welkom-U focuses on improving the experience of immigrants to Canada so they can become contributing members of society faster, and Be One to Give is a food redistribution app for businesses that eliminates avoidable food waste in daily operations.

The three companies will have the chance to pitch their startup for funding at the DMZ’s annual Black Innovation Summit.

“Trying to launch a payment service with [Black] skin is almost impossible and because of the help of the DMZ we are so close to our goal after one-and-a-half years of trying, trying and trying. It’s hard to [be told] no, and it’s hard [to be told no] because of who you are. We are now 1 email away from everything we have been working towards.” – Ayobami Macaula, Co-Founder and COO of Reyts

The celebration of Black founders in the ecosystem doesn’t end here. On February 24th the DMZ will be hosting its second annual Black Innovation Summit to showcase Black innovation in Canada. Plus, we’ll be giving away $50,000 in total funding to Black-led startups at the DMZ.

 

Want to tune in to see the next generation of Black founders pitch at the DMZ’s Black Innovation Summit? Register here

Learn more about the DMZ’s Black Innovation Programs here.

Supporting moms and dads through the ups and downs of parenthood: How Alli Therapy is taking a parent-centric approach to mental health

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to putting women founders center stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we sat down with the Co-Founders of Alli Therapy, Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu, to learn more about Alli Therapy’s tailored mental health solutions for parents, and their thoughts on the massive growth in the mental health space. Plus, we had the chance to connect with one of their certified therapists, Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, to unpack some of the biggest misconceptions about parenting therapy and more.

Alli Therapy is an online emotional and mental health tool to support families through the journey of parenthood, with more than 34 million parents in North America living with mental health issues their mission is to support moms and dads through all stages of parenthood.

Sarah Rennick, Co-Founder & CEO of Alli Therapy

Before founding Alli Therapy, Sarah founded Mama Mobile, an in-home wellness service company for moms and moms-to-be. Unfortunately, as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Mama Mobile had to cease operations. Wanting to still support the community of parents Sarah had fostered, she reached out to her clientele to gain a better sense of what they felt parents alike needed help with.

“I reached out to the Mama Mobile community to gain a better understanding of what parents actually needed — to see what services or solutions would make their lives easier as they moved through parenthood, said Sarah.

This is how the idea for Alli Therapy came about. While the majority of digital mental health and therapy solutions out there provide great services that are highly needed, rarely do these solutions offer services designed specifically for parents.

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

Cherry Xu, Co-Founder & CTO of Alli

Cherry was also working in the wellness space before founding Alli Therapy, and was introduced to Sarah while she was leading Mama Mobile. Recognizing the opportunity in service marketplaces and being a mental health advocate herself, Cherry pitched herself as a Co-Founder to Sarah, and the rest was history!
Alli Therapy provides an all-in-one solution for busy parents to connect with a therapist that best suits their needs. With the use of matching technology, users are connected with therapists that are not only a great fit for the user’s stage of parenthood, but also their personality.

“We provide all of our users with a free intro session to ensure they feel comfortable with their matched therapist, ” said Sarah. “You’d be surprised at how many people abandon therapy due to a lack of fit, and making sure our users felt good about their matched therapist was really important to us.”

“20% of mothers today have postpartum depression, and 57% of parents say parenting is a top source of anxiety,” said Cherry. “A lot of parents experience mental health problems, yet we only ever highlight the rosy side of parenthood. We want to destigmatize therapy for parents, and highlight that everyone has the same doubts when it comes to parenting.”

The mental health startup landscape is beginning to see a real shift as funding has reached a record $852 million USD globally in the first quarter of 2021, nearly twice the amount raised during the same period in 2020. Cherry attributed the industry’s momentum to the rise of mental health awareness.

“We’re seeing high profile celebrities speak up about their own experiences with mental health, and while we still have a ton of work to do, the stigma is slowly beginning to lift. People like Meghan Markle, The Duchess of Sussex, and Simone Biles, the US olympic champion, are opening up about their experiences, and this sparks conversations around mental health, while also demonstrating that we all face our own challenges, and asking for help is okay.”

Sarah added that seeing TalkSpace, one of the largest providers of online and mobile therapy in the world, IPO earlier this year really solidified the need for mental health services and the opportunity for startups to innovate.

Alli Therapy prides itself on having therapists that actually speak parent. Users can find individual or couples’ support with therapists who specialize in all types of parenthood challenges.

Michelle Winterburn, MSW, RSW, Alli Therapist

Michelle Winterburn, one of Alli Therapy’s therapists, highlighted that stigma and financial restrictions are some of the biggest barriers when it comes to parents accessing mental health services.

“Many people think seeking therapy means they are a failure. Although we have come a long way in shifting the perception of mental health and wellness, the stigma persists.

Finances are always a consideration, especially with a new family. All Alli therapists are licenced and registered, making their fees reimbursable through most extended healthcare plans or as an eligible medical expense on taxes. Therapy may be more affordable than you think.”

Michelle believes Alli Therapy’s approach when it comes to helping parents is truly unique. She highlights three main pillars that differentiate their services from other mental health providers: specificity, accessibility, and affordability.

“The journey of parenthood comes with unique challenges at each milestone. Alli Therapy supports clients from pregnancy planning to empty nesters, which can be a 16-20 year journey. All of our therapists have a special interest in helping parents and have taken additional training in helping parents navigate parenthood related challenges.

It can be hard to find specialized clinics in rural areas. We make specialized therapy accessible to anyone, regardless of location. Further, getting out of the house takes a lot of logistics and planning for parents. Alli Therapy makes it easy for them to have sessions from the comfort of their own homes.

Lastly, Alli Therapy is committed to not leaving any parent behind. We don’t want anyone to not seek therapy due to budget constraints. To accommodate clients on parental leave who may not have insurance, we offer a sliding scale option to offer our services to those who cannot afford the full price.”

Michelle also stresses that seeking parenting therapy does not equate to failure. “This is a huge misconception in the space, but we are all interconnected, and sometimes we need to seek help as much as we are giving help.

As parents we are always giving. When the pandemic hit, we had to continue to give –  but without the support of others in the ways we once had. This takes a heavy toll on many of us, and having a safe space to talk about the highs and lows of parenting with a skilled, non-judgmental, therapeutic lens can make a huge difference for so many.”

 

Want to learn more about Alli Therapy’s personalized support for parents? Check out their website to learn more.

 

Alli Therapy is looking to fuel their growth to provide more parents with the services they need. Interested in teaming up with Alli to improve mental health support for parents? Reach out to Sarah Rennick and Cherry Xu!

4 Toronto startups to watch out for in 2018

Last year saw explosive growth in the Toronto startup scene. Some of the city’s most popular homegrown companies raised million-dollar investments, extended their services across the country and expanded into the U.S.

While it’s never easy to pick which startups to highlight for our must-watch list, the following truly stood out in 2017 and arevexpected to do big things in the coming year.

TopHat


TopHat is one of the few Canadian startups dominating the education technology (edtech) space. It offers college and university instructors an easy-to-use platform that combines online tests, interactive tools and digital textbooks. In fact, the company’s products have even caught the eye of high-profile schools at home and abroad (Dalhousie University, California State University and Indiana University, just to name a few).

Standout: Last year, the company won ‘Startup of the Year’ at the Canadian Startup Awards for its new learning tools and raised a whopping $30 million. Insiders expect it to do big things in 2018 after taking on international education giants, like Pearson and McGraw.

Ritual


Ritual’s app isn’t used by everyone in Toronto. However, you’d be hard-pressed to find a store in the downtown core that doesn’t feature the company’s logo.

The foodie app lets individuals pre-order food ahead of time for easy pickup and since launching has signed more than 100 businesses across the GTA. Its 2017 wins include a massive Series B round; likely a precursor to more high-profile developments in the coming months.

Standout: Aside from a never-ending list of positive press (everything from features in the Washington Street Journal and Canada’s BetaKit), it also snapped up $43.5 million. The company’s executive team also revealed its 2018 plans to expand into several U.S. major cities.

Rumie


The words ‘nonprofit’ and ‘startup’ may sound like an oxymoron, but companies like Rumie are proving it’s possible. They’re transforming the for-good sector and bent on changing the world by using new technologies.

The Toronto startup develops and delivers low-cost digital learning tools to underserved communities around the world. Its reach extends to Jordan, Turkey and Syria where it teaches refugee youth basic education. In northern Canada, the company is connecting communities that suffer from unreliable bandwidth with offline learning materials.

Standout: Any startup that wins Google’s ‘nonprofit of the year’ award is likely destined to do great things. This year, Rumie plans to expand its presence in Canada and beef up its Toronto offices to take on even more challenges.

StackAdapt


The software company, based in the city’s trendy King St. East area, is no novice in the tech field. The advertising firm counts industry leaders like Google, Banque Libano and Kodak as clients. Most recently it garnered headlines with its #HackDiversity campaign.

The initiative highlights the company’s free app, Unbiasify, which removes names and profile photos of candidates applying through online recruitment platforms.

Standout: Diversity is a well-known problem in the tech community. This startup could help make a real difference with its latest project.

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.”

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