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Showing posts from 2008

SR&ED changes don't seem as dramatic as feared

Lots of discussion lately about changes made by the Canada Revenue Agency to the federal scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) tax credit. The Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) is concerned about the impact of the changes on the high-tech industry, and I think all the national accounting firms have published reports on the modifications to the program.

I read the reports and the information released by CRA and reached two conclusions: 1) most of the changes just make it easier for companies applying for SR&ED to give CRA the information it always wanted (which I'll focus on in just a second), and 2) the SR&ED application process is -- and apparently always has been -- tied to chiched notions of science and discovery having little to do with how companies conduct R&D (particularly in the ICT world), making the application process both burdensome and artificial.

That's been an eye-onener. While I've worked with companies for the la…

Narrow view of innovation drives proposed Ontario law

The Ontario government introduced its "Ideas For the Future Act" last week—following through on its pledge earlier this year to provide a refund of provincial income tax to university spinoff companies over their first 10 years in business.

The refund would only be available to companies incorporated after March 24, 2008 and only to companies whose sole purpose—in the opinion of the Ministry of Research and Innovation—is selling/licensing:

1) Software created by university employees or students "in the course of" their employment at the university or their academic studies. The software must constitute "a technological advancement" in the opinion of the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

2) Computer/communications/semiconductor/electronics equipment, health technology, or bioeconomy products "an essential element of which" is a patented technology wholly developed by university employees or students "in the course of" their employment a…

Proposed copyright amendments fall far short

It's been a couple of weeks since the federal government introduced its long-awaited—or dreaded—amendments to the Copyright Act. As was feared, the bill is inconsistent and leaves Canadians vulnerable to pay outrageous damages for activities that no one could reasonably confuse with piracy.

To give one example, you come home with a new CD and a new DVD. You load them both on to your spacious hard drive to play them on your computer or to transfer them to an iPod or other mobile device. Under the proposed new law, you're probably okay with transferring the CD, at least for most CDs now in stores (record companies could decide at any time to change that—it would now be entirely up to them). With the DVD, on the other hand, you could face a lawsuit for at least $20,000 in damages, and possibly several times that, depending on who sues you. And those are just statutory damages—there could be punitive damages as well. Even the tools you used to copy your DVD to your hard drive or …

Why start a startup?

The third StartupCampWaterloo will be starting soon—kicking off with a panel discussion of "why start a startup?" Maybe some startup founders will say that they needed some convincing on that question, but I suspect that if it's something you need to have answered, then maybe creating a startup isn't the best thing for you.

It's always going to be easier being employee #57 or #5,700 where you can have your job description and be given tasks to perform—maybe in a skillful way, but within a framework that is planned and managed by others. Every two weeks, money gets deposited in your bank account, even if you've been in a rut and have only been moderately productive. Want to go to a business event? Feel too sick to work? That's fine, you still get paid your full salary—no money comes out of your pocket. On top of that, you're guaranteed a paid vacation every year and probably have at least a basic benefits package.

It's a pretty good deal and one that…

Waterloo startups finding money close to home

Toronto lawyer Suzanne Dingwall Williams wrote a piece for the CVCA blog this week lamenting how often the startups she works with choose to seek investment from American VCs over their Canadian counterparts.

If that's the case, it sounds like another significant difference between the Toronto and Waterloo startup communities. In these parts, if you go much farther than Toronto to look for early stage capital you risk being accused of being exotic. It happens, but not often. Of the six seven-figure seed/early-stage deals we saw last year, I think only one involved a foreign investor. That seems to be consistent with the national statistics, which saw most foreign investment being put into later stage deals.

In the same post, Dingwall Williams also writes about the reputation of Canadian VCs being tarred by American brushes, but from a Waterloo perspective, I'd be shocked if one startup founder in ten here knows anything about Blackstone and Stephen Schwarzmann, to use the exampl…

BlackBerry fund looks to startups for innovation

With the new BlackBerry Partners Fund, RIM is putting its money and brand behind an initiative to look for innovation in the entrepreneurial world of startups, helping fund new companies that will create and develop innovative technologies and products.

RIM is Canada's largest company by market value and is now one of the 10 most valuable companies on Nasdaq—a list headed by Microsoft and Google in the top two positions. With its size and resources, it could have pursued any approach to innovation that it wanted, and it chose to put its support behind startups.

It could have allocated the money to university professors and told them to stop what they were working on and focus their efforts on coming up with a bunch of patents ... which RIM might then incorporate into its products.

Or it could have invited companies to rummage through RIM's patents—particularly any that aren't being used—to see if there was something there that they'd like to try to commercialize.

But it di…

Best Canadian business blogs ... and mine

Just wanted to thank Andrew Willis of The Globe & Mail for including this blog as one of his five picks for Canada's best business blogs. Most of my favourite blogs aren't even on the list -- I think the Wellington Financial blog is the only other one I often read (also a Willis pick) and many of the others are ones I've never heard of. I'll have to take a look to see what I'm missing.

There's a poll where readers can choose their favourites among the ones nominated by the Globe's writers. I don't imagine too many Globe readers will be voting for a site that focuses on Waterloo tech news -- and I doubt that I can clear my cookies fast enough or log on to enough proxy servers to have much impact. :-) But it was nice to be mentioned when so many deserving others weren't.

UPDATE: Now that I read things more carefully, it says "finance and investment" blogs -- which mine really isn't, although there is a monthly stock section. That ex…

Ontario's innovation agenda shows progress

The Ontario government released its innovation agenda last week -- outlining directions and priorities for achieving a "high and sustainable level of prosperity" for residents of the province. For the most part, these kind of documents are views from 50,000 feet and aren't particularly contentious -- not many people are going to oppose easier access to capital, building business skills, and streamlined government processes, for example.

But I was pleased to see that there's been a lot of progress made over the last couple of years. I wrote a blog post in December 2005 taking issue with the language of government "commercialization" policy at that time, and all of my key complaints were addressed in last week's document.

It shows an awareness of the primary role of markets and products -- something almost unheard of in 2005. There's no mention of "receptor capacity" or any of the other artifacts of innovation theories generated by wonks and a…

Showing off our startups at TLC 2008

About 400 people are expected to attend the 2008 Technology Leadership Conference this Thursday at Bingemans in Kitchener. Along with being one of the top events of the year for the local tech community, the conference has become the place where you can see some of the top startup companies from the area as they present their companies at the Tech Expo in the main hall.

Exhibitors this year are AideRSS, LoyaltyMatch, Semacode, Tungle, Well.ca, Smartpatterns, Something On, Client Outlook, Aeryon Labs, Ghoti Studios, T-Ray Science, and FOSS Factory. ProductWiki, SuitedMedia, and Crez had tables at last year's event and are expected to be among the attendees this time, as are Primal Fusion and Metranome.

It's great to be able to show off our startups to the community and guests from out of town. Two years ago, I had trouble coming up with more than a handful of names but since then we've had no trouble filling all the available tables. With companies like Primal Fusion, Metrano…

Well.ca raises angel funding

Congratulations to online drugstore Well.ca, which announced today that it has closed a round of funding -- one that has been several months in the making. The size of the round wasn't disclosed, but the investors were Jim Estill and Toronto's Maple Leaf Angels. It's the first external funding for the company and also seems to be the first deal that Maple Leaf Angels has announced.

It's the latest in a string of angel-backed deals for local startups. As I mentioned before, we had six companies raise seven-figure seed rounds in 2007 and every one of them involved angels (although one -- AideRSS -- was led by VC firm Tech Capital Partners).

I first talked to Well.ca founder Ali Asaria late in 2006, and the entire entrepreneur services team -- and I think just about everyone else at Communitech too -- has enjoyed working with Ali and his team ever since.

(See Ali's comments about the investment.)


Tungle launches

Tungle launched today. You can now download the beta version of the Tungle Outlook plug-in that lets you share calendars and availability across organizations.

The company is headed by Marc Gingras and Fang Yang, who have a long history as a team in Waterloo. I first met Marc eight years ago when he was heading the Kitchener-based development office of Entrade. Marc, Tungle's CEO, is now in Montreal, while Fang, the CTO, is based in Waterloo. Tungle raised $1.5 million last year from JLA Ventures and Desjardins Venture Capital, with additional funding from a U.S. based angel investor.

Marc blogged about the launch earlier today.

Is this the best way to meet potential investors?

The Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) is being held in Toronto at the end of this month. If selected, a company looking for early-stage funding pays $600 to give a presentation to an audience that includes several VC firms and other potential investors.

Even though there's a Communitech logo on the site (which I had nothing to do with -- I've had no contact with anyone organizing this event), and my colleague Ron Neumann is a scheduled presenter, I have mixed feelings about these kind of events.

For entrepreneurs, it certainly seems convenient to get your company in front of several investors with just one pitch. I'm sure some would say that the amount of time saved when compared to arranging individual meetings with each investor justifies the fee by itself. And there's no question that there are some good speakers scheduled for CIX.

On the other hand, these events reinforce the myth that companies need to pay intermediaries (in this case, the event organizers) to get …

Don't all innovative startups deserve access to the same tax break?

One of the items included in the Ontario budget unveiled yesterday was "a 10-year Ontario income tax exemption for new corporations that commercialize intellectual property developed by qualifying Canadian universities, colleges or research institutes."

As with all budget announcements, this will be subject to refinements and revisions before it gets implemented ... if it ever does ... and an obvious first reaction would be that few tech startups are particularly concerned about paying income tax (and provincial income tax in particular). There's usually enough losses up-front to put off paying a significant amount of income tax for a long time.

What disappointed me, though, was the distinction this announcement made between university spinoffs and other tech startups. As presented in the budget, only spinoffs would qualify for the tax exemption.

We have several university spinoff companies in the Waterloo area, but most of our tech startups are not spinoffs -- certainly no…

Strong year for seed investment in Waterloo Region

Links to a couple of posts I made on the WatStart blog:

There may be some ominous signs for the future of venture capital in Ontario, but 2007 was a good year for Canadian VC investment.

In Waterloo Region, it was an amazing year, with a record number of seed-stage investments ... even though you may never have heard about most of them.

More associations demanding new Internet taxes

A couple of weeks ago, ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), the Directors Guild of Canada (DGC) and the Writers Guild of Canada (WGC) issued a news release claiming that Canadians wanted the federal government to require all Canadian Internet service providers (ISPs) and wireless service providers (WSPs) to pay money "to help fund the production of Canadian digital media content."

This request for what is essentially a new tax was said to be supported by a poll commissioned by the four groups that issued the news release. You'd have to take their word for it though, as they chose not to disclose the questions asked in the poll. Presumably, those four groups think that they should be -- at the very least -- among the recipients of the proceeds of this new tax, although they don't go into any specifics about what kind of levy they want and where the funds would go (and this co…

Geosign in Financial Post Business Magazine

The cover story of the current Financial Post Business Magazine is a piece on the Geosign saga, written by Robert Thompson. The story will be familiar to people in the local tech community, but this may be the first time the story has been covered by the mainstream national print media.

The one part that didn't seem quite accurate was this:
American Capital's latest securities filings peg Moxy Media's value at US$128 million - which means the sum of Geosign's former assets are worth less than American Capital's original minority investment. American Capital, from the outset, listed its Geosign investment at around this level. In fact, it was initially listed as US$126.7 million in its first appearance on a 10-Q, and the debt component rose slightly with the next two reports until the total was finally listed as US$128.2 million.

The just-filed annual report shows a disposition of the full investment. I don't believe that Moxy Media was ever mentioned in any of the…

Selling 30K albums in 60 days no reason to be disheartened

Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has posted sales and download figures for the Saul Williams album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust, which Reznor produced.

In the two months since it was released -- available by download only -- the album has sold 28,322 copies, not far short of the 33,897 copies Williams's last album has sold in three years. And this was achieved even though, according to Reznor, "not one cent was spent on marketing" the new album. The album has generated nearly $150,000 in revenue, and Reznor says no one's getting rich from it (which is what you say when you've made some good money but don't want people getting the impression you're rolling in cash).

On top of that, the album was downloaded 154,449 times from the official site and this seems to be the number that Reznor has focussed on. He's says it's "disheartening" that just 18.3% of downloaders paid for the album -- which he describes as doing "…