The insiders’ guide to Elevate
What to see, what to do and the massive ideas that matter at Canada's Tech Week, September 21 to 27
It’s no secret that Toronto has become a key player on the global technology stage. We’re lucky: Toronto is home to some of the brightest and boldest innovators and creators. Now, we need to bring the world to the city—to connect, celebrate and collaborate within our booming tech ecosystem. That’s where Elevate comes in. Now in its second year, the city-wide festival will welcome more than 10,000 guests to explore the next generation of ideas, leaders and innovations. This insider’s guide highlights just some of the events, speakers, parties and celebrities descending on Toronto from September 21 to 27. From ask-me-anything sessions with headline speakers (Wyclef Jean, what is Beyoncé really like?) to the best parties at Elevate King West (we’re buzzing about the Bumble soirée) to a sighting of Al Gore (oh hi, Mr. Vice-President), this guide maps out how to get the most out of this year’s festival. Experience the next generation of trailblazers at Canada’s Tech Week. For tickets and more, see Elevatetechfest.com.
The Queen Bee
Whitney Wolfe Herd,
Founder and CEO, Bumble
Proof that lightning can strike twice in tech, Whitney Wolfe Herd—who will be onstage September 25 in conversation with Elevate CEO Razor Suleman—has been a force behind two blockbuster dating apps, Tinder and Bumble. She founded the latter in 2014 after a headline-grabbing split with the former.Used by over 30 million people, Bumble is based on an innovative premise: after two users swipe right on each other, only the woman can initiate a conversation. The shift in power dynamic has made online dating a friendlier place for women. “Men are trained from a young age to pursue, and women to play hard to get,” she says.“On traditional platforms, we’ve seen that lead to a lot of aggressive behaviour.”And as it turns out, empowerment in romance has a spillover effect, as networking offshoots Bumble BFF and Bumble Bizz have helped launch friendships and business relationships. “We need to train girls and women not to fear putting themselves out there in all facets of life,”Wolfe Herd says. “We don’t look at connection as exclusively romantic. If you’re empowered in one category, you will be in others.” Sept. 25 at the Elevate Main Stage (Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E.).
Al Gore and Eric Schmidt
Is AI a job-killing technology? Or is it a way to access higher levels of problem solving than our own brains are capable of? Nobel laureate and former U.S. vice-president Al Gore sits down Eric Schmidt, former executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., for a must-see Elevate fireside discussion to explore the most pressing issues. Expect plenty of optimism about the future from these members of the tech vanguard: Gore has long spoken on technology’s power to shape the world for good, including developing new renewable sources of energy. Schmidt believes that AI will not only liberate us from the mundane routines of life—like driving our own cars, for example—but improve the health of our cities by reducing traffic congestion and creating more people-friendly neighbourhoods. Expect a spirited repartee full of big ideas about hyper-connectivity and the next generation of building and nurturing a sustainable business. Sept. 25 on the Elevate Main Stage (Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E.).
The Music Man
The founding member of the Fugees, three-time Grammy Award winner and one-time Haitian presidential candidate is a staunch advocate of technology as a tool for creating and learning. He’ll be at Elevate to discuss his latest projects, including touring college campuses for Wyclef Goes Back toSchool, his search for young vocalists and instrumentalists to contribute to a 12-song mixtape. Jean has also partnered with the freelancers’ platform Fiverr Pro on its newly launched audio service, invitingaspiring musicians to submit work for him to critique.The platform has introducedthe Wyclef Jean Collection, a curated list of his favouritegigs. He’s also developing a line of software-based “guitars” that pair with anapp to teach you how toplay. Jean describes it as a hip-hop version of GuitarHero. While in town for Elevate, Jean will also host a breakfast with30 inner-city youth to talk about the challenges ofbeing underrepresented inthe world of tech. Sept. 26 on the Elevate Main Stage (Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E.) and at HP House (473 Adelaide St. W.).
Navid Nathoo, The Knowledge Society
A recurring theme at Elevate is generational impact: how the future is being shaped by people and ideas in technology. That’s also key for the Nathoo brothers, who built The Knowledge Society (TKS) to develop what Nadeem Nathoo calls “unicorn people,” savvy young go-getters with a superior business network, mindset and knowledge base. With a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship, TKS is intended to replicate lofty institutions like MIT, Stanford, Google and Facebook. Its 13- to 17-year-old students spend eight to 10 months learning about AI, nanotech and blockchain, and are mentored by insiders from Apple, YouTube, Facebook and Tesla. About 200 students have gone through the program since it started in 2016. “We felt there weren’t enough smart people in the world working on really hard problems,” says Nadeem, a former consultant at McKinsey. “Human potential is the world’s most valuable resource—not gold or oil—but it feels like we’re still using pickaxes to try and extract it.” Sept. 26 at Elevate NextGen (TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W.)
Yung Wu, CEO, MaRS Discovery District
Toronto used to lose its tech talent to Silicon Valley. But thanks largely to our thriving startup scene (and Donald Trump), the city’s brain drain has reversed. Companies that work with MaRS in Toronto employ 12,000 people (double the head count from a year ago), and those businesses will earn $1.36 billion in revenues this year (up 180 per cent year over year). During his keynote talk on next-gen ecosystems, Yung Wu will explore why Toronto is an amazing place to launch a new venture, but, perhaps more importantly, what it needs to keep growing. “Right now, there is a window in the global innovation economy,” he says. “And we have some big advantages—an excellent education system, a diverse workforce. What we need now is to get our big corporations and big pension plans, all of which are at our doorstep on Bay Street, off the sidelines to help fund that innovation.” Sept. 25 at the Elevate Main Stage (Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E.).
Pepper, the oddly endearing new frontier in customer service, will be demonstrating its abilities at Elevate this year. Developed by SoftBank Robotics, the humanoid robot stands 120 centimetres tall and can talk more than 15 languages, while also using natural hand gestures. Created with emotional intelligence in mind, Pepper can interpret facial expressions, language, even the angle of a person’s head, adjusting its behaviour and responses accordingly. Pepper is designed to be duplicated, and units have been deployed in service roles in more than 2,500 public spaces in 70 countries. Here in Toronto, Humber River Hospital has adopted two units: one to greet and guide visitors, and another that interacts with children, reading stories, dancing and playing games. Sept. 26 at Capital One House (485 King St. W.) during Elevate King West.
The Advocacy Piece
Elevate Everyone and Project Belong
“We have a responsibility to design events and festivals thatare inclusive and accessible,” says Lisa Zarzeczny, Elevate’sdirector of operations. That’s why a working committee of thefestival called Elevate Everyone—consisting of leaders fromthe City of Toronto, CIBC, Facebook, #MovetheDial andothers—has started a collaborative initiative called ProjectBelong. Its aim is to craft a set of principles for an accessible,equitable and inclusive environment at Elevate. Advising theproject is photographer and Elevate 2017 speaker Maayan Ziv(above, right). Born with muscular dystrophy, Ziv was oftenfrustrated by the lack of information about whether aparticular restaurant, museum or other business waswheelchair accessible. It turned out there wasn’t an app forthat, so she built one: AccessNow, a combination of Wazeand TripAdvisor, which now has 100,000 users and info on24,000 establishments in 35 countries. Ziv’s goal is at theheart of Project Belong: to give people a way to do “whateverthey want to do, wherever they are in the world,” she says.
The Big Sprint
Smart Cities Hackathon
More than 500 participants will participate in a three-day hackathon aimed at solving one question—which technologies will lead the way for Toronto to become a “smart city”? The event will be broken down into three main challenges, focused on the future of the smart economy, smart housing and connected communities. Teams can sign up together or pair up at the start of the event. “It’s really going to be very flexible, in terms of who can work with who and on what,” says Patti Mikula, CEO of Hackworks, which will be co-organizing the event alongside TD and Sidewalk Labs.“Solutions could range from an app that makes it easier to buy from local businesses to tech that facilitates green living in an urban setting. We’re excited to see what people create.” Sept. 21 to 23 at MaRS Discovery District (101 College St.).
And more events…
Elevate King West
For one night only on September 26, Elevate sprawls across the downtown core with parties, meet-ups and surprise appearances and performances—plus the festival’s own signature beer. For highlights of the events, check out our Elevate King West Map.
Elevate Eats and the Digital Food Festival
Elevate has partnered with Ritual and Foodora, players in Toronto’s food-app scene, to give guests access to great food wherever they are. Place a food-truck order from your seat at the Sony Centre, pick up a drink at select pop-up bars by Sipbar and hear how the next generation built their businesses. Ray Reddy, Ritual’s co-founder and CEO and a featured speaker at Elevate, recently raised $90 million in the latest round of funding for his order-ahead-and-pick-up app. He’s clear about his target audience. “For many urban workers, their neighbourhood is their food court,” says Reddy. “Ritual is designed so that coworkers can easily enjoy the local eateries around them and feel like they are one team dining together.” See Reddy Sept. 26 at Elevate Retail (Loblaw Digital, 40 Hanna Ave.) and Elevate Scale Up (Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt, 100 King St. W.).
Sixteen of the brightest up-and-coming AI entrepreneurs will pitch their businesses to a panel of established industry veterans in a March Madness–style competition. What’s at stake: $1 million in funding and the opportunity to get noticed by industry heavy hitters. Panel judge and Dragons’ Den star Bruce Croxon offers this advice to first-time pitchers: “When I meet an entrepreneur, I want to understand three things within the first 30 seconds: Does the product or service you’re pitching serve a real need? Can it be delivered to the market cost-effectively? And why would you choose to invest in it?” The final four teams will get the once-in-a-lifetime shot to pitch on the Elevate Main Stage. The finals are Sept. 25 on the Elevate Main Stage (Sony Centre, 1 Front St. E.).
In October, recreational marijuana will be legalized in Canada, creating an economy projected to reach $29 billion in the next 10 years. Elevate’s Cannabis track will examine the key business opportunities, medical discoveries and legal challenges. One draw is speaker Karan Wadhera of Casa Verde Capital, co-founded by Snoop Dogg. Wadhera has invested in some of our homegrown cannabis companies, like Green Tank and Trellis. Another presenter is Toronto’s Lobo Genetics, which will demonstrate a cheek swab that predicts the kind of high a person will get based on their genetic profile. “Cannabis is not without its risks,” says Lobo director of policy and communications Dan Skilleter. For example, up to 20 per cent of the population carries a genetic mutation that inhibits their ability to quickly metabolize THC. Sept. 26 at The Carlu (444 Yonge St.).
The Success Story
After a warm reception at last year’s Elevate, AI startup Layer 6 was acquired for $100 million in early 2018 by TD, in a major move for the bank. According to the company’s co-founder Jordan Jacobs, it was important to Layer 6’s founders that they stay in Canada. “AI is one of the most important technological innovations in Canadian history, and we really thought a lot and decided that if we were going to sell, we’d rather sell to a Canadian company,” he shares. This year at Elevate, Jacobs hopes to impress on attendees just how quickly machine-learning technology is progressing, and the effect it will have on the economy and our lives. “This tech is the future of the world,” he says. “That’s a message we’re trying to impress on people.” He’s also adamant that Canadians have been, and will continue to be, leaders in the space. “We’ve got the best researchers in the world here, and we have the opportunity to build on our lead,” he says. Sept. 26 at Elevate AI, MaRS Discovery District (101 College St.).
Through a series of 10-minute, TED-style talks, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs working with MaRS will explain how advances in artificial intelligence, data analysis and digital technologies are not only improving medical treatments, but making those treatments more accessible (which, let’s be real, is desperately needed in Canada). Among the presenters will be Dr. Sean Kidd, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health whose App for Independence (or A4i) supports patients living with schizophrenia by predicting readmission risk and providing personalized reminders and education about the illness. The co-founders of EmojiHealth—Alexandra Philp-Reeves, 19, and Lexi Kaplin, 23—have developed a teen-focused AI chatbot that is accessible through social media platforms like Facebook Messenger. It answers health-related questions—what is HPV? What are the symptoms of depression?—that young people might be too embarrassed to ask their doctor. Sept. 26 at The Carlu (444 Yonge. St.).
It can be hard to keep Canadian tech talent in the country, a point that was hammered home when blockchain darling Ethereum chose to move to Switzerland in 2014. Those worried about keeping homegrown stars here have created BTCC, a non-profit dedicated to educating the public about the merits of blockchain technology while providing guidance and support to new Canadian companies. The coalition, which is co-led by Canadian blockchain company Aion, is creating a code of conduct for blockchain firms to follow, requiring them to submit quarterly audited reports and take other measures that will add legitimacy to the industry. “The main mandate is to work with policymakers to foster an environment in Canada that protects the consumers while enabling blockchain projects to succeed on an international stage,” says Aion founder Matt Spoke Sept. 26 at TIFF Bell Lightbox (350 King St. W.).
Fintech’s Next Wave
The conventional tech success narrative often involves small upstarts disrupting the giants of a calcified industry. Canada’s financial technology space is changing that. Rather than waiting to be made obsolete, big banks are partnering with nimble new businesses to reinvent the way we save, spend and transfer ourcash. Elevate’s Fintech track spotlights several of the key players, such as Alyssa Furtado (above), co-founder of Ratehub (and former Dragons’ Den contestant who sparked a bidding war on the show only to turn down the $1-million offer to raise substantially more on her own). At Elevate, Furtado will share her experience as a founder and how she envisions the increasing focus on women’s participation and leadership will shift the conversation and outcomes. Sept. 26 at Telus Tower (25 York St.)
The second annual Elevate: Canada’s Tech Week runs September 21 to 27, Elevatetechfest.com.