Elevate Techfest is Canada’s largest technology and innovation festival that attracts global professionals, tech leaders, investors, and creatives who are at the forefront of innovation. Elevate is taking place in Toronto this week and several University of Waterloo faculty and alumni are featured in this year’s event line-up.

Elevate Originality

Waterloo-based DarwinAI and Elucid Labs competed alongside 14 other Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) companies on September 25 for a chance to win $1 million in funding in the ElevateR Pitch competition. Both companies successfully made it into the top four semi-final spots.

DarwinAIThe semi-finals was where the road ended for DarwinAI and their CEO, Sheldon Fernandez. Fernandez is a Waterloo alumnus and operates DarwinAI out of the Accelerator Centre. Fernandez explained that DarwinAI enables AI to work in the real world by making deep learning faster, portable, scalable, and understandable allowing AI technology to be accessible for anyone to use. Calling the company “Waterloo through and through,” the DarwinAI team is made up entirely of Waterloo alumni. For Fernandez, being a part of this competition sparks some homegrown pride. He was motivated to participate because “techfest is in our own backyard.” DarwinAI is well known in Silicon Valley, but Fernandez believes that techfest gives them exposure and a platform in front of a Canadian audience of industry thought leaders and investors.

Elucid Labs advanced to the final round of the competition, giving them the opportunity to pitch their company to a crowd of 3,000 people on the main stage of the Sony Centre. Although they did not take home the $1 million in funding, they were voted by the audience as Elevate’s People Choice winner. Elucid Labs uses AI to detect and diagnose dermatological diseases by using digital biopsy.

Elucid Labs has a strong Waterloo connection. Co-founders Farnoud Kazemzadeh, Alexander Wong and Iman Khodadad are all Waterloo alumni. Kazemzadeh and Wong are also professors in department of system design engineering. Speaking at the event, Kazemzadeh said he believes that being located in Waterloo is a strength for their company.

“We have a great talent pool to be drawing from. We are fortunate to have access in our area to this level of talent”.

Elevate Connection

Peter Van Beek is a professor of computer science and the co-director of the Waterloo Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute. He was invited to Elevate Techfest to share the institute’s transformational research and collaborations already gaining momentum in just the few short months since its inception. This past spring, the Waterloo AI Institute launched with the mission to bring together researchers and businesses to advance technology and solutions for future economic disruption.

Van Beek was joined on stage by Cindy Forbes, executive vice-president and chief analytics officer of Manulife. The talk coincided with Manulife’s announcement of a $400,000, four-year partnership with the institute. In a statement, Forbes said that the “partnership with Canada’s top university in computer science and engineering is well matched with Manulife as we transform into a digital, customer-centric leader.”

Elevate Entrepreneurship

Tuesday morning kicked off at the Sony Centre with inspiring entrepreneurs who shared their stories of overcoming challenges and creating success. There were a dozen Waterloo alumni participating as speakers at the event. Ray Reddy, Waterloo alumnus and co-founder of Ritual, shared his story of growing from a small start-up to a technology leader in the competitive food-app space.

Ted LivingstonLater in the day, Ted Livingston, founder and CEO of Kik, shared his story of his company’s rise to a $1 billion valuation. Livingston told the crowd that being located in Waterloo is his “secret weapon.” He explained, “I’m happy we have an office there. They [universities] attract great talent and they have a network effect to their co-op programs.” Livingston attends many conferences and events in the United States and around the world, and said he is impressed by the scale of the techfest event as well as the caliber of the speakers and attendees. “Canada is deserving of a conference of this scale,” he notes.

“It is awesome for Canada to have this big tech event. And I would love to one day see the biggest tech event in Waterloo. Hopefully we can do that one day.”