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Location: Home / Technology / Tech update: Toronto ventures among top global tech pioneers, and renewable natural gas usage expands into Ontario buildings

Tech update: Toronto ventures among top global tech pioneers, and renewable natural gas usage expands into Ontario buildings

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) named two Toronto-based companies to its annual list of tech pioneers, companies that are tackling issues from sustainability and climate change to health care and food production. The international organization best known for its annual gathering of global leaders in Davos, Switzerland named 100 companies to the list, and the nominees will get access to initiatives, activities and events, where they bring their cutting-edge insights to world-critical discussions.

Toronto-based DNAstack was selected for establishing centralized genomics data networks and powering insights into pandemic surveillance, neuroscience, rare diseases and oncology.

At Horizon Blockchain Games, the team was recognized for making blockchain easy, fun and powerful for users and its work to drive the adoption of Web3, a term used to describe the emerging blockchain-based internet.

A slight dip: In 2020, six Canadian companies made the WEF’s annual list of tech pioneers. The drop in Canadian companies could be due to the greater global representation in this year’s cohort, including first-timers Vietnam, Rwanda and Czech Republic.

Why this list is significant: Global recognition of two Toronto-based companies proves that the future of tech talent is alive and well in Toronto. Horizon Blockchain Games has 48 people distributed across 15 countries with the highest concentration of staff in Toronto. Co-founder and CEO Peter Kieltyka explains that, “Toronto has amazing contributors to AI, machine learning, biotech, e-commerce, and so many other industries. All five co-founders at Horizon are from Toronto.”

Did you know? DNAstack and Horizon Blockchain Games are joining an impressive group of WEF tech pioneer alumni that include international names, such as Airbnb, Google, Kickstarter, Mozilla, Spotify, TransferWise, Twitter and Wikimedia.

One of Canada’s largest mechanical contractors looks to reduce its carbon footprint in the province

With the announcement of Ottawa’s recent emissions-reduction plan to achieve our 2030 emissions targets, companies are increasingly looking at ways to decarbonize their energy supply. For Modern Niagara, one of Canada’s largest mechanical contractors, with operations in six major markets, integrating renewable natural gas (RNG) into its network seemed like a natural choice.

Quick fact: More than 60 per cent of municipal carbon emissions come from buildings.

Modern Niagara recently inked a 10-year contract with Ontario-based StormFisher, which takes organic waste and converts it into renewable natural gas and organic-based fertilizer. This new partnership will help the commercial contractor, which builds mechanical systems like electrical, heating and plumbing infrastructure, become a net-zero organization by 2030.

Tech update: Toronto ventures among top global tech pioneers, and renewable natural gas usage expands into Ontario buildings

What is renewable natural gas? Methane is a greenhouse gas that is as much as 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and as much as 34 times more potent over a 100-year period. It’s produced from the breakdown or decay of organic material. StormFisher uses a process known as anaerobic digestion (AD) to convert organic waste to biogas and this biogas can be used to generate electricity or it can be purified into renewable natural gas (RNG).

How will it work? StormFisher will create the RNG at its anaerobic digestion facility in London, Ont. It’s then captured, cleaned, and injected into the existing network within Modern Niagara’s Ontario buildings’ natural gas consumption. According to Modern Niagara’s construction services manager Stefan Ritchie​, “Integrating RNG into our existing infrastructure was not a difficult process. RNG is injected into the same storage and distribution system as existing natural gas.”

At first glance: “There is an element of taking a leap of faith required for this initiative. RNG is a new concept to most consumers, including us. But we truly believe that we all need to step up and invest in new solutions to combat climate change,” says Ritchie​.

Next steps: Modern Niagara has already begun to blend StormFisher’s RNG in its Ontario buildings. According to Ritchie, the next step is to start having conversations with clients as partners in their carbon reduction strategies and planning. He says, “RNG is not a final solution for space-heating decarbonization, but it is a cost-effective interim step with zero capital cost investment that can be immediately integrated into carbon reduction strategies. We see RNG as a great opportunity to efficiently achieve some of these targets.”

Wattpad’s Allen Lau turns the page

Allen Lau knows all about storytelling. In 2002, he began developing a mobile reading application on an old grey-scale Java phone with a display capacity of five lines of text. This concept eventually turned into Wattpad, a leading social storytelling platform. Today, more than 94 million people use the platform to comment on a book as it’s being written and posted, message with the creator, join communities, and follow their favourite writers or genres.

After more than a decade leading Wattpad, Lau is stepping aside as CEO and says. He will become executive adviser for both Wattpad and WEBTOON, a South Korean web comics publisher launched in 2004 by Naver Corporation, which acquired Wattpad for more than $754 million in 2021.

Next steps for Lau: Webnovels have a massive global market, with enormous growth potential. According to Lau, Wattpad brought the category of webnovels into the mainstream for millions of Gen Z readers and writers. People are reading on their phones like never before and webnovels are becoming an important fiction category for Western readers.

Lau hopes to leverage his experience and skills to work on strategic projects that support Wattpad’s continued growth and WEBTOON’s overall webnovel business.

He will also continue to run the early stage investment fund Two Small Fish Ventures and is on the board of the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as MaRS Discovery District.

Biggest accomplishment: “We’ve pioneered storytelling technology, launching multiple apps that allow people to read, write and engage with fictional stories in new ways,” says Lau. “We raised record amounts of capital at the time from top-tier investors in Canada, U.S., and Asia. We were one of the first to commit to scaling our company in Toronto and then successfully proved you could build a world-class tech company here.”

Did you know? Numerous Wattpad stories have been turned into hit movies, TV shows, and bestselling books. The popular After series was written by 24-year-old Anna Todd who used her iPhone and Wattpad to post the story chapter by chapter. Todd quickly rose to fame with After becoming Wattpad’s most-read series with over 2 billion reads. It then turned into a series of novels and movies.

Advice for other entrepreneurs: Simply put, Lau’s advice is, “just get started”. He emphasizes, “You won’t know the answer until you try. It’s better to make reversible decisions quickly as speed is important when you are starting out.”

In other news:

Amanda Whalen writes about technology for MaRS. Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, has partnered with MaRS to highlight innovation in Canadian companies.Read more about: Climate ChangeSHARE:

Disclaimer This content was produced as part of a partnership and therefore it may not meet the standards of impartial or independent journalism.