After Scott Vanstone’s wife, Sherry Shannon-Vanstone, received a posthumous award in her husband’s honour, she mentioned his dedication to teaching and to furthering the Canadian tech scene through his students.
Vanstone, a former professor of math and computer science at the University of Waterloo, died earlier this month. He was honoured with the lifetime achievement award at the first Canadian Technology Leaders Awards on Wednesday night. Held in Toronto, the awards ceremony carried a “Made In Canada” theme, celebrating the contributions of Canadians to the field of technology.
“He was an academic who encouraged a lot of young people to go on and get PhDs. He could recognize talent — he said he never took on a PhD student that wasn’t smarter than he was,” said Shannon-Vanstone, president and CEO of TrustPoint Innovation Technologies Ltd., the company her husband co-founded. Toronto mayor Rob Ford presented the award to Shannon-Vanstone.
Geordie Rose, founder and CTO of D-Wave Systems Inc., received the title of Canadian Technology Leader based on popular vote from 60 judges with backgrounds in tech, finance, media, and business. One other award went to Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who was recognized with the Science and Community award.
While the theme of the night was about celebrating what Canada’s tech community has accomplished, there’s also a lot of room for the community to keep growing – something that Vanstone recognized while he was encouraging his students.
And there’s a lot that Canadian startups can do in moving forward, said Sabrina Geremia, managing director of integrated solutions at Google Canada. She was one of the speakers at the awards night.
“Businesses often spend a lot of their time on 10 per cent incremental improvements … But we don’t spend enough time thinking about what the world would look like with a 10x improvement. And with all the technological change that’s happening right now, that 10x improvement is more likely or more possible,” she said.
“So I really want the startups and the businesses to think about that and understand that and get inspired about the technology – and that’s what going to give us ‘made in Canada.’”
Mobile, cloud, and Internet technologies are the three biggest areas where tech-focused startups can truly make an impact, she added.
Plus, there’s something to be said for any startup that can look at a problem and solve it, especially if it’s a little problem that causes friction in daily life. For example, startups like Hailo and Uber have been making it easier for people to get taxis – a dilemma that many people wouldn’t have even considered solving, Geremia said.
Andrew D’Souza, president of Toronto-based startup Bionym Inc. and another attendee at the awards ceremony, agreed with Geremia.
Raised in Mississauga, Ont., he spent time living and working in Silicon Valley, but returned home to Canada to work on the Nymi wristband, a piece of wearable tech that measures users’ electrocardiograms to authenticate their identities. The idea is to use this as a passcode so a user can access his or her computer, smartphone, car, and anything else that requires identification.
“One thing that we do really well as Canadians is that we have incredibly talented engineers, designers – very good problem-solvers,” said D’Souza. “One of the things we haven’t done as well in the past is commercializing it – taking it to market, and telling a story. But we’re getting better.”
“I think it’s going to take a generation of companies that are supporting each other as we do this, but we can actually build world-class businesses … The next three to five years between Toronto and Waterloo is going to be really exciting.”
With files from Howard Solomon