This has been an exciting year for Toronto’s startup ecosystem. 2013 saw it continue to take significant strides towards maturation. Perhaps the most encouraging development was the continued growth of the city’s university-based accelerators.
One of the startups featured in this list, Revelo Bikes, was nurtured at the Ontario College of Art and Design’s Imagination Catalyst, and it’s exciting to consider what other startups will come out of those programs in the coming years.
Crowdfunding has become of huge value to companies seeking an alternative way to get their businesses and/or products off the ground. All five of the startups featured in this list were the recipients of incredibly successful crowdfunding campaigns. Last month, I wrote about the increase in investment by foreign venture capital firms into Toronto’s startups, and that trend, coupled with the advent of crowdfunding, means that slowly but surely Toronto’s startups will have greater access to the capital they need to realize their ambitions.
Not only that, but Toronto is becoming a key player in multiple industries, most notably in the wearable tech realm. Already, Toronto has two of the most promising companies working in the space in InteraXon and Bionym, not to mention the companies we featured last week that are taking wearable technology beyond the closet.
We rounded up five companies with big accomplishments in 2013 and asked them to share some of their plans for the upcoming year. Without further ado, listed in alphabetical order are the Toronto-based startups we see finding major success in 2014.
One of the more encouraging trends in 2013 was the continued growth of maker culture. Whether it was our growing fascination with 3D printers or people simply shopping at the city’s independent retailers, there’s been a renewed interest in buying things that are locally handcrafted. Thankfully, one of the companies enabling the spread of that culture is from Toronto.
“Buying authentic, buying local, buying special, buying something no else has, these are things that are never going to go way,” says Jen Lee Koss, one of the co-founders of Brika, an e-commerce platform for maker goods that launched earlier this year.
That desire by consumers to purchase things that aren’t manufactured has helped the company have a great 2013, enabling it to sign up more than 300 makers to its service, and broker a relationship with The Bay that saw Brika host a pop-up at the retailer’s Eaton’s Centre location.
As for its plans in the New Year, Koss says, “I think it’s definitely going to be about growth, as it is with all companies and startups.” Beyond that, she says the company plans to continue to explore ways to build its voice and brand.
Hopefully Brika can prove that our love for things that are made with care is not a fleeting trend.
Imagine donning an augmented reality headband and exploring a far away locale from the comfort of your own home. It might sound like something from Star Trek, but it’s actually closer to reality than you think. It is one of the potential uses of the Bublcam, an affordable 360-degree camera. In fact, it’s this feature, as well as many others, that have convinced—as of publishing—more than 800 people to donate some $346,122 to Bubl’s ongoing Kickstarter campaign.
That influx of capital will allow Bubl, a primarily self-funded company, to hasten the development of features it had planned to add down the line, says Sean Ramsay, the company’s founder and CEO.
More importantly, after several years in development, 2014 will mark the release of the Bublcam. “2014 will be the first year that the Bublcam will be placed in the hands of consumers. It’s one thing to do that for our backers, but I hope that by the end of the third or fourth quarter of 2014 we will be in a position to put Bublcams in the hands of anyone that wants one,” says Ramsay.
It’s a good thing, too, because it will be exciting to see what content creators will be able to do once they get their Bublcam.
If there’s someone that understands the transportation woes that Torontonians face every day, it’s Henry Chong. After spending decades commuting to work on his bicycle, Chong left his job at IBM to pursue a design degree at the Ontario College of Art and Design. His thesis project, an innovative e-bike called the LIFEbike, became the basis of his company, Revelo Bikes, and the way he intends to help commuters around the world.
Revelo is set to ship its first three e-bikes later this December, and in 2014 it’s full steam ahead. “As far as the start of the year goes, our plan is to launch our online store, sell our first 100 bikes, and do some market intelligence research about where our bikes are being bought,” says Chong.
With the LIFEbike expected to retail at $1,800 USD, the market research the company plans to do will go a long way towards helping it find that perfect balance between price and quality. Once that’s done, Chong and company will have a tremendous chance to make their aspirations a reality.
Two years ago, Isabel Hoffman spent eight months trying to help her 13-year-old daughter recover from a chronic illness. The problem was that almost every doctor was unable to find the root of her sickness. Eventually, it turned out that her daughter suffered from a variety of severe food allergies.
It was then that Hoffman, the founder of seven previous companies, found a problem she could apply her expertise to. After enlisting the help of one of her friends, mathematician Stephan Watson, the two founded TellSpec. Their company uses a three-part solution—a scanner, algorithm and app—to allow anyone to scan the contents of their food.
After a successful Indiegogo campaign saw the company raise more than $386,000 USD, TellSpec is set to ship in April its first set of scanners to beta testers, developers and members of the media. Beyond that, Hoffman is looking to expand her team from it’s current 15 to something approaching 50 people.
“Our goal is the hire the best of the best, and only the best of the best, because I have no patience to work with someone who’s not great at what they do; at this stage, we have to work fast,” says Hoffman. Rightfully so, she and her company believe they can change how we consume our food.
Perhaps no other Toronto-based startup captured the imagination of non-tech people like Whirlscape did with its Minuum Keyboard. It’s simple reinvention of the touchscreen keyboard, and the media coverage that followed the start of its Indiegogo campaign, helped the company not only capture mindshare, but also ensured its crowdfunding campaign was a massive success.
The excitement that fueled that campaign has carried over to its more recent efforts; Whirlscape released the beta version of its keyboard to Android devices, which Will Walmsley, the company’s CEO, says more than 25,000 people paid to download. In 2014, he says the company plans to make its product more accessible by reducing its price and by continuing to add polish to it.
More importantly, he and the rest of his team are working to ensure that the keyboard functions well on a multitude of platforms and devices, including a variety of wearable tech devices that are set to enter the market in the coming year. “We’re focusing on how we can become the go-to input method for all variety of mobile devices,” he says.
It’s that ambition and the traction they’ve already gained that it makes it easy to believe that 2014 will be Whirlscape’s year.
This article first appeared on Yonge Street Media.ca.
Igor Bonifacic is a Toronto-based writer interested in exploring the intersection of technology, entrepreneurship and life. He wishes to give special thanks to Katherine Hague of Shoplocket and Andy Yang of 500px for helping us compile this list.