Using artificial intelligence to solve supply chain problems, and Kevin O’Leary doubles down on Canadian crypto

As Russia’s Ukraine invasion fans the flames of global inflation that was already on the rise, the Bank of Canada is stepping in to try and put the brakes on surging prices here at home. The central bank hit Canadians this month with its first oversized interest rate hike in decades, a half a percentage point.

The war is also driving up the prices of energy and other commodities, further disrupting global supply chains, with freighters full of commercial goods stuck at overwhelmed ports.

Canada’s top artificial intelligence companies believe they can develop strategies and programs to get products to market faster and that makes the timing ripe for a new Canadian AI startup program.

Federal artificial intelligence agency Scale AI has announced phase two of its supply chain venture accelerator. It will support the growth and commercialization of a dozen promising Canadian AI companies through the Supply AI program, delivered by the MaRS Discovery District.

The 12 startups will work with experts to scale their companies, grow market share and increase their exposure to potential new investors.

Supply chain obstacles: “Many of the products and services we use these days are inherently complex. Some require thousands of parts or co-ordination of suppliers across multiple geographies,” says Osh Momoh, chief technical adviser at MaRS. “Think of vaccines, automobiles or the consumer products Amazon delivers to our doors.”

How AI can help: Many startup founders, like the ones in the Supply AI program, believe artificial intelligence can be used to forecast client demand for supplies and improve routing to move items faster. It can automate the physical movement of goods and the assembly of products in business environments such as warehouses.

Toronto-based Taiga Robotics is part of the program. It aims to reinvent factories with its fleet of AI-powered robots, which it rents out to small and medium-sized businesses to perform tasks such as sorting and packaging.

“This alleviates strained labor resources by making robots more accessible in general,” says CEO and co-founder Dmitri Ignakov, “making them viable for workflows which are smaller than what would have justified an investment in traditional automation.”

Canada as an AI leader: “We have the talent. We need an ecosystem for it to thrive here.” To thrive, Ignakov says AI ventures need help removing barriers to adoption in the marketplace.

“These companies often need support, from being able to run pilots of public streets and roads to getting some assistance reducing the cost of initial deployments with their first customers.”

The shark’s presence grows in Canada’s crypto tank

Kevin O’Leary-backed crypto company WonderFi Technologies Inc. is about to buy its second crypto trading platform this year, Coinberry Ltd., for $38.5 million in shares.

The Vancouver-based WonderFi also recently acquired Toronto-based crypto exchange Bitbuy Technologies Inc., which puts two out of Canada’s six registered cryptocurrency trading platforms under one company’s control.

WonderFI CEO Ben Samaroo thinks having Shark Tank host O’Leary as an investor gives them a competitive advantage.

“Kevin is a major advocate for compliant investments, as compliance is required for institutional investors to get comfortable.”

Canadian market consolidates: When the deal with Coinberry closes, WonderFi will own a third of Canadian licenses for crypto platforms. The company will house more than 750,000 users across its ecosystem and employ more than 180 people, making it the country’s largest crypto company.

Martin Piszel, the CEO of crypto trading platform Coinsquare, says he expects to see further consolidation as companies try to gain overall market share and take advantage of potential synergies. “The cost of regulation and the increasing cost of acquiring clients will drive platforms to look for ways to gain scale and improve efficiencies,” he says.

Crypto grows up: The next step for the industry could be increased regulation. Some Canadian crypto companies operate under temporary two-year regulation licenses. The next stage of their process is to register as a full Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC) dealer to create long-term stability, push out unlicensed operators and attract foreign investment.

“Regulated platforms will become more valuable to the Canadian crypto market,” Piszel says. “Large foreign players will assess the cost and time of entering the Canadian marketplace and may opt to look for acquisition targets who already have done the heavy regulatory work,” he says.

A window of opportunity in biotech

As part of the fight against COVID-19, Ontario recently announced increased access to a new therapeutic drug for patients infected with the virus. Newly approved Paxlovid reduces the risk of hospitalization and death in COVID patients by 89 per cent, according to a Pfizer study.

The pandemic has increased our awareness of the biotech industry, specifically the need to increase Canada’s capacity to produce vaccines and therapeutics. But researchers say we shouldn’t stop there.

The Innovation Economy Council (IEC) has just released a report that says Canada has a huge opportunity to take the lead in gene and cell therapy. The country has the capacity to create a multibillion dollar industry but it needs to expand its ability to manufacture treatments, conduct clinical trials and train talent.

What’s next? Toronto-based Center for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine (CCRM) has helped fund and lead a dozen promising startup cell and gene therapy companies, employing 250 people and raising an impressive $770 million in venture capital. This year, CCRM will break ground on a biomanufacturing plant at McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton. The facility will help Canadian companies get their groundbreaking treatments to patients.

Why is cell and gene therapy so important? CCRM President and CEO Michael May says cell and gene therapies promise cures for diseases, not just treatment of symptoms.

“This is revolutionizing medicine and we can see it playing out around the world today,” May says. “Canadian science has helped define this industry and I believe that industrializing the sector is Canada’s opportunity for global leadership in life sciences.”

Canada’s next best move: May wants the federal government to invest in infrastructure, emerging companies, talent and new therapies.

“I’d like to see products stamped ‘Made in Canada.’ Canada should be the go-to destination for capability and expertise and we must be a trailblazer in clinical adoption of these revolutionary therapies,” May says. “I can picture a vibrant ecosystem with Canada’s ecosystem as the nexus of a global industry.”

In other news:

  • Halifax-based company CarbonCure just announced a deal to sell almost $38 million in carbon credits. The carbon capture company sold the offsets to emissions reduction company Invert and blockchain provider Ripple. It represents the largest investment to date in verifiable carbon storage.
  • Toronto-based startup e-Zinc just raised over $31 million. The company’s zinc-air battery enables sustainable, long-duration energy storage and it will use the funding for its first commercial storage systems.
  • Air-compression energy storage developer Hydrostor Inc. has just secured a more than $31-million investment from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The money will help the Toronto company build its first major commercial facilities to push more wind and solar energy to power grids.
  • Toronto’s Wavy has just raised $2.5 million for its workplace culture management platform. The company will use the money to assemble an engineering and product team, and hire more sales and customer service employees.

Janey Llewellin writes about technology for MaRS. Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, has partnered with MaRS to highlight innovation in Canadian companies.

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

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