Backbone200 | The best of everything in Canadian tech

Backbone 200 - The best of everything in Canadian tech

By Lawrence Cummer, Ian Harvey, Trevor Marshall and Peter Wolchak
February 25, 2013

Welcome to the Backbone200. Months of work and innumerable interviews by a team of writers have resulted in this, your comprehensive guide to the best the Canadian tech and business worlds offer. The Backbone200 consists of organizations, people, events and products that stand out, that contribute to our competitiveness and economic strengths, and—as in the case of our world-leading game developers—our ability to have fun and make money.

So, if your company requires legal advice, needs to invest in cloud technology or make connections through an industry association, this guide is for you. If you want to brag about Canada’s accomplishments and need some talking points, this guide is for you. And if you’d rather kick back and read a management book or watch a movie that makes you feel better about your boss, this guide is also for you.

Note that the items on these lists are not necessarily the largest, richest or speediest. Some may be, but most are included because they’re unique, progressive or innovative. For example, to select our three best events we didn’t look at square footage or attendee numbers, but instead highlighted events that reached beyond typical trade-show parameters.

Canada has a lot to offer, and you’ll see that breadth and depth of talent in the following pages.

Best 11 
Government funds

Andrew Maxwell, Chief Innovation Officer at the Canadian Innovation Centre and a professor of innovation at both the University of Waterloo and Temple University in Philadelphia, said Canada has many strong programs.

“The biggest issue is they are not integrated,” he said. “You can get start-up funding but there’s no tie-in to the next-level program. What’s successful for one program is not a prerequisite for the next. And secondly, in some programs there’s no market validity required.” 

  1. SR&ED: the Scientific Research and Experimental Development program boosts research and development through $3.6 billion in tax credits annually. 
  2. IRAP: the Industrial Research Assistance Program has 210 agents and $197.5 million on hand, and a new mandate and aggressive “can-do” attitude. 
  3. CICP: the Canadian Innovation Commercialization Program helps companies bridge the pre-commercialization gap for their innovative goods and services with grants of less than $500,000, from a $40-million budget. 
  4. Tax credit for Pre-competitive Research in Private Partnership: a Quebec program that creates consortia to carry out joint pre-competitive research. 
  5. Business Assistance-Immigrant Investor Program: another Quebec program, this one for business start-up, growth, modernization or production improvement, certification and technological or design innovation up to $250,000, or 15 per cent of project cost. 
  6. BDC Venture Capital: has a total fund of about $400 million for venture capital investment and has set aside $100 million for the IT sector. 
  7. Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency: one of a group of Federal Economic Development Agencies designed to drive innovation and production in the region. 
  8. FedDev Ontario: one of a group of Federal Economic Development Agencies that promote innovation and production in Ontario. 
  9. FedNor: a Federal Economic Development Agency that works on innovation and production in northern Ontario. 
  10. Western Economic Diversification: another Federal Economic Development Agency, this one concentrating on western Canada. 
  11. The Tri-Council: composed of Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, it funds research at Canadian universities in collaboration with industry.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Government Funding Services in Canada

Best 5

Jeff Nugent, CEO of Contingent Workforce Solutions, which supports service companies that hire high-skill white collar contractors, said the battle for skilled, experienced workers in IT is heating up and pushing salaries. 
  1. Security expert, $100,000 to $300,000: Cyber-security is big business for both the private and public sector. 
  2. ERP developer, $100,000 to $300,000: “A good SAP consultant will make $150 to $200 an hour and work consistently. It is hot, hot, hot.” 
  3. Mainframe programmer/manager, $100,000-plus: “Mainframes have not gone away, especially at large enterprises with legacy systems, and the people currently running them are retiring.” 
  4. Mobile developer, entry $60,000; experienced $100,000: “They’re coming out of the University of Waterloo with guaranteed jobs. Mobile is all about the user experience.” 
  5. Project manager/business management, entry level $60,000; after five years up to $150,000: “It’s a hot skill: you can’t outsource these jobs because you need face time.”

Best 5
Job titles

New job titles point to new issues that companies need to address. We asked Jack Nodel, managing partner at Ares Staffing, a Toronto company that helps businesses recruit technology professionals, for five noteworthy job titles: 

  1. Chief brand manager: this person protects and promotes a company’s brand to the wider world and throughout the organization. 
  2. Digital product manager: product managers have been around forever, but this person is responsible for virtual products delivered electronically. 
  3. Manager of traffic generation: have a knack for interpreting Google Analytics? Know how to pick terms that will score well in searches and determine the best sites for banner ads? Companies need you. 
  4. Scrum master: software development processes have changed. This new role manages teams of agile programmers to accelerate apps development. 
  5. Social media strategist: employees used to be forbidden from accessing social media on company time. Today, this person helps companies use Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools, and even turn them into revenue generating opportunities.

Best 6
VC ventures

Venture capital investment slowed to a crawl in Q3 2012 after a promising start, reports the Canadian Venture Capital Association in collaboration with Thomson Reuters: down six per cent over 2011 by Q3, after what seemed a promising start to the year. Still there were some blockbusters: 

  1. Kitchener-based Desire2Learn scored $80 million from New Enterprise Associates and OMERS Ventures. 
  2. Thrasos Innovation of Quebec landed US$35 million. 
  3. Vision Critical Communications of B.C. received $20 million from OMERS Ventures. 
  4. B.C.’s HootSuite managed $20 million, also from OMERS Ventures. 
  5. Enviro-Viridis Development Corporation of Quebec got $12.5 million from Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. 
  6. Hopper of Quebec scooped $12 million from OMERS Ventures and other VC funds.

Best 10
Fastest Growing Companies

For 15 years, Deloitte’s Fast 50 has tracked the tech companies that are outperforming. It’s a snapshot of who will be the next big thing, and a way to track mature enterprises such as Research In Motion, which, in 2011, climbed to 16th spot from 29th, racking up 555 per cent growth. Not bad for a company many have declared on life support. In 2011 (the most recent numbers available), growth slowed overall and a shortage of investment capital held back new and existing start-ups from gaining traction. But that did not stop some from posting impressive growth numbers. 

  1. Avigilon: Vancouver, 29,917% growth 
  2. EcoSynthetix: Burlington, Ont., 25,327% growth 
  3. Real Matters: Markham, Ont., 8,961% growth 
  4. VIZIYA: Hamilton, Ont., 3,816% growth 
  5. NexJ Systems: Toronto, Ont., 3,153% growth 
  6. Accedian Networks: Saint-Laurent, Que., 2,743% growth 
  7. Dominion Voting Systems: Toronto, 2,430% growth 
  8. Acquisio: Brossard: Que., 1,996% growth 
  9. Clevest Solutions: Richmond, B.C., 1,674% growth 
  10. BIOX: Oakville, Ont., 1,601% growth

Best 6
Cloud services

Cloud services, in particular Software as a Service, are on the rise in Canada. According to Nigel Wallis, research director for IDC Canada’s application services sector, roughly 60 per cent of medium and large Canadian enterprises are using some kind of cloud solution in their organization, a number he expects to climb to between 70 and 75 per cent by the end of this year.

“The total spend on cloud solutions [this year] will hit somewhere around $1 billion just in Canada,” he said. “From an IT point of view, cloud services are also transformative, forcing the major tech titans to change their strategies and go-to-market plans.” He added that “in the cloud, nobody knows you’re Canadian.”

Smart companies in this space include: 

  1. Radian6: the Fredericton, N.B., company was scooped up by SalesForce. 
  2. Rypple/Work.com: Toronto-based Rypple was also acquired by SalesForce. 
  3. FreshBooks: brings small business accounting to the cloud and iPads. 
  4. HootSuite: a leader in cloud-based social analytics. 
  5. Financial analytics company EidoSearch and
  6. secure file-transfer start-up TitanFile landed in first and second place in the 2011 Backbone Innovation Campaign.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Cloud Services

Best 10
IPOs and M&As

You can summarize the 2012 Canadian tech IPO scene in a single word, according to Chris Dulny, a partner at PwC Toronto, and technology practice national leader and colleague Craig Hanna, PWC vice-president, corporate finance. That word is “DOA.”

“In 2011 there was all kinds of activity—NexJ, Ecosynthetic, etc.—but this year there has been just one,” Dulny said. The real action in tech exits has been in M&As, Hanna said. “We racked 26 exits this last year and 25 were M&As. And we think that will be the continuing story in 2013.” 

  1. Eloqua, a marketing automation software company, launched its IPO on the NASDAQ last July, raising more than US$92 million. 
  2. CGI Group, a global IT and business process provider, paid $2.8 billion for European firm Logica last May. 
  3. U.S. semiconductor company Semtech acquired Ontario chipmaker Gennum for roughly $500 million last January. 
  4. Q9 Networks was purchased by a consortium led by BCE and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan in a $1.1-billion deal for one of Canada’s biggest data centre services. 
  5. Vector Capital acquired 20-20 Technologies for $77 million last July. Laval, Que.-based 20-20 sells computer-aided design, business and manufacturing software. 
  6. In a cloud play, Salesforce bought Halifax-based GoInstant for $70 million last summer. Its software allows companies “to engage and interact with consumers in real time.” 
  7. Constellation Software bought Germany’s Albat+Wirsam Software for €18 million ($23.4 million) in one of 11 acquisitions last year. 
  8. Google acquired BufferBox, a Waterloo, Ont., start-up that offers a self-serve kiosk-style drop box for students that allows for 24/7 secure pick-up and drop-off of parcels, for $17 million in November 
  9. Flush with a $20-million cash injection last spring from OMERS Ventures, Vancouver social media software maker HootSuite acquired competitor Seesmic
  10. Wave Accounting also put the $12 million in Series B funding received last spring in play last August when it bought Montreal-based stock researcher Vuru.

Best 5
Undervalued stocks

James Telfser, an associate portfolio manager at Caldwell Investments in Toronto, follows large technology companies and points to the following stocks. 

  1. CGI: “They just acquired Logica, which gives them access to Europe and will account for 57 per cent of revenues going forward.” 
  2. RIM: The stock has been devalued but they have good revenues and a strong subscriber base. When BlackBerry 10 launches it could be a game changer. 
  3. OpenText: “A tech consultancy growing by acquisition with a new CEO and new plans for organic growth.” 
  4. Constellation Software: Not a stock Telfser covers but one growing rapidly through acquisition. Its stock price has ranged between $68.55 and $124.75 and it pays a $1 dividend per share quarterly, giving a 3.36 per cent yield. 
  5. NexJ Systems: Not a stock Telfser covers. Cloud-based software provider to financial services, insurance and health-care industries had disappointing results recently and the stock has slid from its 52-week high of $9.20. Some feel it’s poised for recovery

Best 5
Emerging technologies

Canada remains a “vibrant and strong” player in the communication tech space, said Lawrence Surtees, vice-president and principal analyst in communications at IDC Canada. He pointed to the importance of communications R&D conducted by Canadian companies past and present like Nortel, Mitel, Newbridge and Research in Motion, but added the important technology developments today “go beyond any one company.” 

  1. Ciena (Ottawa lab): Ciena acquired Nortel’s optical and carrier Ethernet assets in 2010 and is continuing its R&D into optical networking. 
  2. Communications Research Centre: specializes in terrestrial wireless, satellite, fibre optics and broadcasting. 
  3. Research in Motion: still a massive source of Canadian R&D and expertise. 
  4. Taqua (Toronto lab): research into the exciting field of femtocells, low-powered cellular bay-stations for homes and businesses. 
  5. University of Waterloo: A Canadian “jewel” in solving the problem of increased need for optical performance, next-generation IP addressing problems and wireless spectrum.

Best 10
Digital media and gaming

According to Kevin Tuer, managing director of the Canadian Digital Media Network, Canada is trending well in the digital media industry—ranking third largest in the world—but we don’t do enough boasting. As well, Canada has been a powerhouse of game development companies. In 2011, the Canadian video game industry saw $1.7 billion in activity, according to the Entertainment Software Association of Canada—thanks to blockbuster titles like EA Sports’ FIFA Soccer and Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed. Big and small, groundbreaking and blockbuster making, Canada hosts a broad mix of talent in the digital media space. 

  1. A Thinking Ape: Vancouver-based mobile social app developer. 
  2. BroadbandTV: the fourth largest entertainment network on Google. 
  3. Klick: creates customized digital media strategies. 
  4. Stingray Digital: content provider and broadcaster focused on delivering high-quality music content. 
  5. ToonBox Entertainment: Toronto-based 3-D digital animators. 
  6. BioWare: developer of multi-platform games including Baldur’s Gate, Mass Effect and Dragon Age. 
  7. EA Canada: multi-platform game developer with titles including The Sims, Crysis and Madden NFL. 
  8. Ubisoft: publisher of games Assassin’s Creed, Just Dance and Ghost Recon. 
  9. Digital Extremes: a development studio with titles including Duke3D, Doom, Wolfenstein 3D and Unreal. 
  10. THQ Canada/Relic Entertainment: specializes in 3-D real-time strategy games including Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War and Company of Heroes.

Best 2
Biggest flameouts

We all remember the home runs. Who remembers the flameouts? But perhaps Canadians should take a page from our U.S. cousins and celebrate failures as breeding grounds for success. 

  1. Poynt: A GPS-driven mobile search and advertising company launched in June 2008 that went into receivership last fall. It raised $1.1 million in its first year alone. Verdict: Good platform but couldn’t monetize it fast enough and fell out with partner Intertainment Media over terms of loan extension. 
  2. Enablence Technology: Once a publicly traded company with a $300-million market cap, today it’s on life support and selling off assets. It was a leading supplier of fibre-to-home hardware seeking to cash in on the convergence of voice, video and data over super-high-speed Internet.

Best 6
Data management

Big Data (BD) has become a hot industry buzzword, and for good reason. Organizations are inundated with unparalleled amounts of information—often unstructured data like video—and making sense of it is a challenge.

Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting, believes 2013 might be the year Canada takes its place in the Big Data world. The big players in the space tend to be major global services companies and consultancies like Deloitte and PwC. “While not strictly the IT innovators, these large services firms are responsive and certainly leading the way.” 

  1. Deloitte: 90 per cent of the Fortune 500 are exploring BD, according to Deloitte, but most of these are still pilot projects. 
  2. HP Enterprise Services: HP promises to help companies “execute real-time analytics, drive valuable insights, engage customers...and quickly respond to market opportunities.” 
  3. IBM Global Services: IBM sees big BD growth opportunities, with only 43 per cent of organizations examining social media to understand consumer preferences. 
  4. PwC: as data growth accelerates, companies are not doing a good job of managing that data, PwC warns. 
  5. SAP: building on its history of data warehousing and analytical technologies, SAP promises to help customers use data to drive competitive strategies. 
  6. SAS Institute: “It’s a good time to be in analytics. There are huge amounts of data coming in and using analytics is a sure way of increasing customer happiness,” said CEO Jim Goodnight.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Data Management Services

Best 8
Clean tech

Deloitte’s Canadian Technology Green 15 is an annual who’s who of successful Canadian clean-tech innovators, and recently clusters of innovation have formed around solving two important problems: clean municipal and industrial water and smart energy-grid management. “Canada has a great history of good software development and good communications technology and that expertise is being applied to [clean-tech areas],” said Paul Leroux, national clean-tech leader at Deloitte. 

  1. Bionest Technologies: onsite wastewater treatment systems. 
  2. H2O Innovations: custom-designed water treatment systems. 
  3. HG Environnement: water technologies sector of industrial and commercial plumbing company HG Spec. 
  4. Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies: nutrient management that recovers phosphorus and nitrogen from used water streams. 
  5. Premier Tech Aqua: onsite and decentralized wastewater treatment. 
  6. Pulse Energy: works to improve operational efficiency in the world’s commercial and institutional buildings. 
  7. Real Tech: UV photometric and spectroscopic analytical instrumentation for the water and wastewater industry. 
  8. Tantalus Systems: smart grid communications solutions for advanced metering, demand response and distribution automation.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Green Tech

Best 3
Consulting firms

Once your business grows beyond a handful of employees and a few laptops, it becomes abundantly clear: you can’t run your own business and be your own Chief Information Officer.
So, who are you going to call? If you’re big enterprise you call the big guns: Accenture, PwC, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG or their peers. But if you’re a little guy?

We asked Jim Love, owner of his own small consulting firm, Chelsea Group, for his picks. 
  1. Allan Wilson and Associates: technology company management consultant. “Allan really does well with companies with $5 million to $25 million revenues.” 
  2. Dimension Data: an IT solution provider based in South Africa: “A really intriguing company.” 
  3. Softchoice: consultant and provider of IT for business. “One of the companies serving the middle of the market very well.”
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Consultants

Best 4
Web developers

Web presence is about much more than just having a site; successful developers need to know about B2B and B2C requirements, said Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting.

“There’s interesting Web design work being done with video, and a ton of interesting things being done around social media,” she said. “A successful Web developer needs to have a deep understanding of not just how a site looks but every aspect of how it will be used.” 

  1. 9th Sphere: an award winning Web design and Internet marketing company in Toronto. 
  2. Grafika Designs: has garnered an impressive range of clients and successes. 
  3. MotionsMedia: developed a complete client management tool for impressive integration and analytics. 
  4. Uberflip: converts documents and published material into highly interactive content and integrated HTML5 pages for mobile devices.

Best 5
HR Firms

Canada is a hotbed of HR technology companies and has great strength in the market, said Jeff Nugent, founder and managing director of Contingent Workforce Solutions. The list below showcases Canadian innovators in HR who have embraced the power of cloud, social networking and gamification. 

  1. Achievers: social employee recognition software. 
  2. Careerify: finalist in Backbone’s Innovation Campaign; it taps into social networks for social recruitment and candidate identification. 
  3. ClearFit: hiring tool to find employees who fit. 
  4. Contingent Workforce Solutions: contract workforce management services. 
  5. Cream.hr: Web-based psychometric pre-employment assessment tool.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Human Resources Companies

Best 8

It’s little surprise that a country as spread out as Canada is big in e-learning. “Canada was a significant user of traditional distance learning because of that,” said Don McIntosh, president of consultancy Trimeritus eLearning Solutions in Burnaby, B.C. “And in many ways it has been a pioneer in e-learning.”
He said WebCT, developed by Murray Goldberg at the University of B.C., became part of Washington D.C.-based Blackboard, the largest vendor of education sector e-learning software. Still, there are dozens of Canadian companies with significant market share and leading-edge products. 

  1. Axonify: uses short bursts of gamified learning to engage employees. 
  2. Blatant Media: author of the Learning Management System used by clients like Adobe, Rolls Royce, Oakley and New York University. 
  3. Bluedrop: became a powerhouse in workplace e-learning following its merger with Serebra in 2011. 
  4. Desire2Learn: the second-largest Learning Management System (LMS) in the world, it recently announced the latest version of its Learning Suite. 
  5. dominKnow: makes CLARO, a platform for authoring, managing and delivering learning. 
  6. Geometrix: a suite of tools that include a Learning Management System, a Performance Management System and an offline content player. 
  7. Serebra: a big player in client/server, Unix and Internet skills, now merged with Bluedrop. 
  8. Udutu: allows content and course management through Facebook.
Also see: 
Backbone's Tech Resources | Online Business and Tech Courses

Best 5
Open data initiatives

Canada is a bit late to the open-data arena, which is better established in the U.K. and Australia, said technology business lawyer and author Lou Milrad. Still, initiatives in Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver and Edmonton to collaborate on open-data standards and licensing have gotten the ball rolling, and today there are at least 32 municipalities with open-data initiatives underway through Web portals and citizen “hackathons.”

“Municipalities, like the City of Toronto, have become very much committed to the transparency open data brings, by finding innovative ways to identify the value of that data and make it available in a comprehensive way.” 

  1. British Columbia (DataBC): the government offers data to help citizens “conduct their own research, analyze statistics, develop apps or to simply satisfy their curiosity.” 
  2. City of Edmonton Open Data Catalogue: one element, the Citizen Dashboard, is an online tool that shows performance results for city services, starting with the Transportation Master Plan. 
  3. Open Data Ottawa: “...a small group of citizens who thought it would be neat to throw parties where everyone walks away having made something with public data that somehow betters their own city.” 
  4. City of Toronto (Toronto.ca/open): Toronto wants citizens to create mashups, for example: “...dinner and entertainment lovers would benefit from an events listing application that includes ride guides, lineup information, parking availability and restaurants and menus….” 
  5. The City of Vancouver Open Data Catalogue: provides free and open access to more than 130 city datasets.

Best 3
Office chairs

Really, it should be called the Sitting Age: knowledge workers spend most of their time planted in a chair, so that chair better be good. 

  1. Aeron: we’re big fans of this chair from Herman Miller. Incredibly adjustable and so cool it has earned a spot in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection, the Aeron is comfortable for hours on end. 
  2. LimbIC Chair: a fully moveable “seating shell” supports each leg independently, encouraging small, continuous movements. 
  3. Standing desks: this is the “no chair at all” option. Many great thinkers have preferred standing desks, from Leonardo da Vinci to Ernest Hemingway.
Ultimately, you have to go with gut instinct, or something a bit lower down. In the words of Aeron’s co-designer, the late Bill Stumpf, “I can’t tell when you sit in a chair whether your butt feels good. But I know when mine does.”

Best 3
Legal firms

What does the law have to do with ICT?

Tech companies need a legal partner for everything from protecting intellectual property to navigating privacy issues. In addition, new technologies force societies to determine whether and how they should be regulated and whether citizens or companies need legal protection. Think of Napster and copyright. Think of Facebook and privacy. Think of so-called “stalking” apps and personal safety. Companies depend on legal counsel to help create the best business environment while avoiding trouble. Here are three Canadian law firms recognized for their grasp of issues affecting the ICT sector, according to lawyer and former GTMA chair Lou Milrad:

  1. Bennett Jones: offices in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Beijing. 
  2. McCarthy Tétrault: offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Montréal, Québec, London. 
  3. Osler, Hoskin & Harchourt: offices in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, New York.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Law Firms

Best 4
Outsourcing services

Traditional outsourcing services are relatively mature in Canada, according to Mark Schrutt, director of services and enterprise applications at IDC Canada. “There’s not a lot of evolution or things happening there, but the traditional end-to-end outsourcing is on the way out,” he said.

“In fact, by early 2015 that market will start to decline.” The market has moved from a traditional long-contract “megadeal model” to a multi-vendor model and to a multi-sourcing approach, Schrutt said.

This approach, he said, is giving the business services players like Bell Canada and Telus, as well as offshore firms, a larger percentage of the outsourcing business than they’ve had in the past. Alternative providers like that are taking about 25 per cent of the new business in Canada. 

  1. Amazon Web Services: the largest Internet as a Service (IaaS) provider in Canada, despite not having data centres here. 
  2. Bell Canada: network (including mobility) solutions and, with its investment in Q9, the leading force in co-location hosting. 
  3. CGI Group: the company has built a solid base of IP solutions around software, processes and people. 
  4. Telus: widest and largest data centre footprint in Canada, building enterprise-focused IT delivery capabilities.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Outsourcing

Best 5
Countries to watch

While the term’s a mite dated, the planet is living in the Information Age, and countries that rank high on any ICT scorecard are ones to watch. Access to ICT drives innovation in products and services, and ever since e-commerce took a sledgehammer to economic Berlin Walls, the most innovative ideas command global markets.

So, want to know where innovation is happening? Start by looking at the countries doing ICT “right.”

That strategy works for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which monitors technology development around the world. Of the top five countries in 2011, the ITU said four are in Nordic countries, home to companies like Ericsson and Nokia. It’s also interesting to note that the top five countries did not change between 2010 and 2011. 
  1. Republic of Korea: the world’s most advanced ICT economy, even before the “Gangnam Style” video broke one-billion views on YouTube. 
  2. Sweden 
  3. Denmark 
  4. Iceland 
  5. Finland

Best 3

Every year, hundreds of tech and business conferences are held in Canada. (We list almost all of them at www.backbonemag.com/Events). We chose three that were especially ambitious. 

  1. mesh conference: since the inaugural event in Toronto in 2006, mesh has been the go-to show for those trying to stay current on Web 2.0 trends and best practices. Consistently sold out and filled with top-notch speakers, mesh, in recent years, added the annual meshmarketing and meshwest spin-off shows, and the main conference remains one of the few must-attend events of the year. 
  2. Canada 3.0: in June 2009, about 1,500 people gathered in a Stratford, Ont., hockey arena to discuss Canada’s standing in the global digital economy. Since then, the annual conference has only gotten bigger, drawing politicians, business execs and the creative community. For 2013, the event moves from Stratford to Toronto. The core mandate remains unchanged: to help Canada define its role in a worldwide digital economy. And with Canada dropping in every international study ranking competitiveness and ICT excellence, Canada 3.0 has only gotten more important. 
  3. WCIT: the World Congress on Information Technology is a travelling global show held every two years; Montreal hosted in 2012. Unique among technology conferences, WCITs attract senior government and business representatives from around the world. In 2012, ministers and leaders from Macedonia, Nigeria, Taiwan, Malaysia, Mexico and South Africa joined business leaders from Intel, Canada Health Infoway, Dell, Cisco, Ryerson, MasterCard and others. The show was a rare opportunity to learn about initiatives from around the world and compare those efforts to our own.

Best 10
Incubators and accelerators

Great tech ideas sprout like mushrooms after a rain, but they need the rain. In technology businesses, that means more than money: start-ups often require advice on everything from managing a business to marketing a product. Help may be as simple as offering a decent place to hold meetings or as valuable as facilitating introductions to potential investors, partners and clients.

Business incubators and accelerators are vital to the modern innovation chain. Here are 10 resources every tech entrepreneur should know about, with thanks to Michael Donahue at the Toronto Business Development Centre. 

  1. Centre québécois d’innovation en biotechnologie: life-sciences incubator in Laval. 
  2. Extreme Start-ups: Toronto-based start-up accelerator. 
  3. FounderFuel: Montreal-based startup accelerator. 
  4. Genesis Centre: St. John’s network for tech ventures seeking business advice and capital. 
  5. GrowLab: Vancouver-based start-up accelerator. 
  6. Innovacorp: an early-stage venture capital fund in Halifax. 
  7. Innovate Calgary: Alberta-based technology accelerator and business incubator. 
  8. MaRS: a science and tech organization in Toronto’s Discovery District, bringing together science, business and government. 
  9. The Stiller Centre: a London, Ont.-based centre for technology commercialization. 
  10. Toronto Business Development Centre: the city’s business incubator since 1990.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Accelerators and Incubators

Best 10
Tech associations

Networking. Problem solving. Advocacy. These are some of the important roles associations perform. Here are 10 that make a difference for Canada’s tech sector: 

  1. Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada: The association that represents those who train the next generation of knowledge workers. Policy areas include research and innovation. 
  2. BIOTECanada: a national association for biotech innovators. 
  3. Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance: the country’s largest high-tech association. 
  4. Canadian Association of Business Incubation: for business incubators and economic development organizations. 
  5. Canadian Clean Technology Coalition: national alliance for companies in the clean-tech sector. 
  6. Canadian Federation of Independent Business: advocacy and research for Canadian small businesses and entrepreneurs. 
  7. Canadian IT Law Association: fosters development among Canadian lawyers specializing in IT law, e-commerce and intellectual property. 
  8. Canadian Women in Technology: part of the CATAAlliance, CanWIT encourages women to consider careers in technology and helps accelerate the careers of those already in the sector. 
  9. CIO Association of Canada: networking, professional development and sharing of best practices by IT executives and CIOs. 
  10. Information Technology Association of Canada: the voice of the Canadian ICT industry.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | Canadian Tech Associations

Best 10
Business books

Reg Nordman has blogged since 2004 on business books at www.regnordman.com. His 10 suggested books, in no particular order: 

  1. Strategic Sales Presentations, Jack Malcolm: Make the right presentations. 
  2. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There in Sales, Marshal Goldsmith: The personal-coaching guru. 
  3. Lead with a Story, Paul Smith: Find the right story and know when to use it. 
  4. The Innovator’s Dilemma, Thomas Christensen: Classic, still not followed. 
  5. Smart Thinking, Art Markham: Solve problems, innovate, get things done. 
  6. Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual, Guy Smith: A book for any CEO, at any stage. 
  7. Negotiating with Backbone, Reed K. Holden: We all have to negotiate, do it well. 
  8. The Accidental Salesperson, Chris Lytle: This is most likely you. 
  9. The End of Growth, Richard Heinberg: Makes way too much sense. 
  10. Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson: Apple in one unvarnished book.

Best 5

Canadian businesses continue to transition to Voice over IP, particularly small and start-up businesses and enterprises with aging telephony systems. “It’s not hard to discover you can save money with VoIP. The challenge comes from figuring out how to adopt it,” said Jon Arnold, principal at J Arnold & Associates.

Top businesses in VoIP ensure redundancy, provide security and integrate well with existing systems, he said: 

  1. Avaya: acquired Nortel Enterprise Solutions, large footprint in Canada. 
  2. Metaswitch: popular technology provider with small, rural and indie Canadian VoIP providers. 
  3. Microsoft: Lync Online provides well-developed unified communications platform. 
  4. Mitel: a Canadian player of note, with strong focus on virtualization and video. 
  5. ShoreTel: both hosted and on-premise VoIP and UC solutions, especially for SMBs.
Also see:
Backbone's Tech Resources | VoIP Services

Best 10

A lot of devices flow through the Backbone editorial office. Here are our favourites of 2012: 

  1. Best notebook: a tie. Windows users: the Dell XPS 13 is sleek, light and fast, with a responsive trackpad and a great keyboard. Apple fans: nothing is better than the 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s design, sexiness and productivity defined. 
  2. Most innovative notebook: Google Samsung Chromebook. It’s not sold here yet but we managed to get a loaner from Google Canada. Chromebooks run Chrome OS, a simple, effective Web-based operating system that can’t run Word or iTunes (downsides) but does support Google Docs and Gmail, never slows down, is always up-to-date and is just about entirely immune to malware. It’s not going to be your only computer, but at a price of only $250, we’re definitely buying one as soon as Google sells them in Canada. 
  3. Online life: SurfEasy: This $70 USB dongle is a wonder. It creates a VPN connection to the Internet for online banking and shopping, and for accessing geo-blocked sites like Hulu.com and Netflix.com. 
  4. Smartphone gatecrasher: Samsung Galaxy SIII. In a world awash with Android phones, the SIII stood out for design and usability—and for selling 40 million units as of January 2013. 
  5. Best tablet value: Google Asus Nexus 7. The no-question value-for-money tablet winner is the $209 16GB Nexus 7. It boasts pure Android, great build quality and the likeable 7-inch size. 
  6. Game changer: Microsoft Surface tablets, running Windows 8. We’re not sold yet on either the Surface or Redmond’s new OS, but both are bold moves by the world’s pre-eminent software company. Kudos to Microsoft for stirring up the still-sleepy OEM community. 
  7. Over-the-top media streamers: a tie. If you like the Apple ecosystem, get an Apple TV; for everyone else, the Roku 2 XS is sure to please. 
  8. Home automation: Nest Learning Thermostat. It connects to your Wi-Fi network, learns when you’re home (and adjusts the temperature) and reduces heating and cooling costs. 
  9. E-reader devices: Kobo Glo. Light and with a battery that lasts forever, the inexpensive Glo can bathe the screen in a soft and even illumination for reading in a dark room. Honourable mention: Kobo Mini. At only $80 this five-inch wonder is almost an impulse buy. 
  10. Most promising home technology: TV remade. We disliked Sony’s Internet Player with Google TV but it’s easy to imagine this becoming a great device and, if you add in the ongoing rumours of an Apple-branded TV, we at Backbone envision a near future in which the big TV news is not higher resolution hardware (because, honestly, who cares?) but rather a revolution in the functionality and interactivity of the viewing experience.

Best 5
Municipal CIOs

Cities need to do more with less and they turn to ICT to improve service delivery while saving money. In the process, municipal CIOs are blazing a trail for all levels of government. Here are five fabulous CIOs who are transforming Canada’s urban experience, with thanks to Roy Wiseman at the Municipal Information Systems Association of Canada: 

  1. Per Kristensen, Nanaimo. B.C.: first municipal Web-based voter registration and election results; first Canadian municipality to implement open data. 
  2. Chris Moore, Edmonton: first Canadian municipality to adopt Google’s Gmail and applications; founding member of World e-Government Organization’s Executive Committee (we-gov.org). 
  3. Rob Meikle, Brampton, Ont.: a leader in using social media; GTEC award winner for Citizen Service Platform (2010) and for SmartBus Intelligent Transportation System (2012). 
  4. Gaston Huot, Villes de Boucherville, Brossard, Saint-Bruno et Saint-Lambert, Qué.: leader of MaVille.net, providing IT services on a shared basis for several municipalities on Montréal’s south shore; award-winner for Brossard Interactif, the first client service Web portal in Québec, and for Clic Brossard, a virtual business centre. Retired in 2012. 
  5. Maurice Gallant, Fredericton, N.B.: implemented a citywide fiber-optic network; founding member of the Intelligent Community Association; helped Fredericton become the first ISO 9000 registered municipality in Canada.

Best 5
IT Multinationals

IT multinational investment in Canada remains healthy, especially in the areas of R&D and education, said Andrew Bisson, vice-president of consulting services at Branham Group. “I think it’s important for these guys to have a strong asset base around the skills found in Canada,” Bisson said. “And various multinationals are looking to leverage the talents found here.”

Branham Group creates the annual Branham300; Bisson said he’s seeing increased attention from multinationals in the hot areas of cloud and big data. 

  1. Cisco Systems Canada: proactive involvement in universities and colleges; in 2012 launched incubation centre in Waterloo. 
  2. HP Canada: consistently huge presence in the Canadian market; looking to leverage hardware strength in the services space. 
  3. IBM Canada: heavily invested in Canadian R&D; continues to make strategic acquisitions like Toronto’s Varicent. 
  4. Microsoft Canada: concentrating on cloud computing; recently made Office 365 free for Canadian schools. 
  5. Xerox Canada: acquired LaserNetworks of Oakville, Ont., to foster growth in managed print services. 

Best 10
Research facilities

Canadians are great researchers. Mark Henderson, publisher and editor of Re$earch Money, helped us compile nine facilities and one company to watch: 

  1. AECL: this Chalk River, Ont., facility runs one of the world’s largest and most versatile nuclear reactors dedicated to research. 
  2. Canadian Light Source: Canada’s national synchrotron research facility in Saskatoon. 
  3. High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory: a computational powerhouse hosted by five universities and two colleges in Ontario. 
  4. IBM Canada Research and Development Centre: this new Toronto-area facility will tackle myriad problems including urbanization, health care, and water and energy management. 
  5. Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre: this centre for genomics and bioinformatics research is part of the BC Cancer Research Centre, and has earned a global reputation. 
  6. Ontario Cancer Institute: part of the University Health Network, Canada’s top spender on medical research. 
  7. SNOLAB: a lab for neutrino and dark matter physics, 2 km underground near Sudbury, Ont. 
  8. TRIUMF: a Vancouver-based lab specializing in particle and nuclear physics. 
  9. Xerox Research Centre of Canada: This private lab with a global mandate creates new imaging materials processes. 
  10. Despite its recent woes, Research in Motion remained Canada’s top corporate R&D spender in 2012, according to Re$earch Infosource.

Best 3
Movies about work

Hollywood is not kind to workplaces, but maybe that’s why we love movies about the world of nine-to-five: it’s comforting that some people have it worse than us. With honourable mentions to Glengarry Glenn Ross, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and Clerks, here are the three best movies about the daily grind. 

  1. Office Space: “Since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before. So every day that you see me, that’s the worst day of my life.” Great characters, a fun revenge plot and a famous fax-machine death scene make this a must-see. 
  2. Swimming with Sharks: “Shut up, listen and learn!” Kevin Spacey clearly had a ball playing the world’s most abusive boss. “What you think means nothing, what you feel means nothing, you are here for me, you are here to protect my interests and serve my needs.” 
  3. Horrible Bosses: what can you do when your boss is intolerable? Well, there’s always murder. A funny movie with a Strangers on a Train vibe, this is well worth watching, even if the Jennifer Aniston sexual harassment bits are overdone.

Also read:
Backbone's Tech Resources


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