CIX 2015: Data, Machine Learning and More Data!

Last week we celebrated the Top 20 hottest startups in Canada at the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) conference. It was a packed event with entrepreneurs, investors and industry leaders, all with one thing in common: a relentless passion to support local innovation.

It was no surprise that Shopify was named CIX Innovator of the Year, an award given to a Canadian company that disrupts and transforms an industry in profound ways.

The Top 20 represented a wide mix of industries, including everything from marketing, manufacturing, open data, location analytics, recruitment, robotics, financial services and customer service…to name a few! The full list of the impressive Top 20 can viewed here.

If you missed the event, here were some key takeaways:

  • Challenging traditional management practices: Leerom Segal, CEO and Co-founder of Klick Health, made a decision in his organization to ban email for internal communication. Sounds easy enough, but could you do it? They implemented a ticketing system instead and encouraged leaders to learn from data, and let technology be the coach. As another example, a video game company, Valve, decided to remove all titles and assign projects based on contribution. The result? The increased autonomy and accountability led to empowered employees making better decisions.
  • Moving from startup to serious- the Series B: Why is the Series B round more difficult than Seed Funding or a Series A? There needs to be a huge jump in progress, functionality and the ability for investors to participate in the upside. Companies raise a Series B to be a market leader, and they need to prove that they don’t need the cash in the short term- it’s for building long term relationships.
  • Canada vs. US, is there still an investment gap?: The experts say it seems to be lessening. The top tier US investors can still provide startups with a depth of network and knowledge that is hard to find elsewhere. However, a lot of the barriers have been removed (ie. startups do not have to move Canadian operations down to Silicon Valley anymore to get US funding) and Canadian funding is much more readily available.
  • FinTech is bringing sexy back: We saw the FinTech emergence last year with WealthSimple, a CIX Top 20 in 2014, with their low-cost wealth management platform. This year it was Plooto and Control in the payment processing space and Q4 Web Systems providing detailed analytics on the capital markets. What are the key drivers for the growth in FinTech? The panel spoke about three main factors: 1) There’s a higher level of trust needed for transactions, and consumers are okay with that (think Uber and Airbnb); 2) Tech is more accessible than ever before…everything is in the cloud and mobile making it easier to collect data and develop sophisticated algorithms; and 3) The financial sector has the largest profit pools of any industry, yet they are the slowest to innovate. There is a lot of disruption that could happen- but few are actually doing it.
  • Machine Learning is going to change the world: You can’t learn machine learning from a textbook, it’s a craft and way of thinking. There are more opportunities in machine learning and data science than there are people to fill them (we can attest to this!). Companies like Deep Genomics are solving problems about human disease that humans cannot solve. DWave Systems is mimicking human intelligence in machines….the future has arrived!

It was an impressive turnout and showcase of Canadian innovation, and we’re looking forward to seeing these businesses continue to grow!

If you’re interested in hearing podcasts with entrepreneurs from the 2015 Top 20 and previous recipients, check out Small Rooms.