Toronto company gets “top innovator” award for online collaboration tool

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Toronto-based Octopz Inc. was voted the top innovator for its online collaboration software targeting creative professionals at an event this week.

Twenty technology firms from coast to coast were given a change to pitch their company to a room full of venture capitalists from Canada and the U.S. during the event organized in Toronto by the Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) on Wednesday.

They were evaluated on how inspired collaboration through technology. Attendees voted Octopz the top innovator out of the pack for its collaboration tool of the same name.

Montreal-based Akoha Inc. also caught investor attention with its real-world, technology-facilitated game that hopes to inspire social change.

CIX founder and chair Sean Wise says the event demonstrated the ascendance of Canadian companies in the area of technology innovation.

Octopz, he says, is one of a growing number of Canadian firms that are world leaders in this area. “Five years ago, we could name one leader, RIM [Waterloo, Ont.-based Research In Motion]. Today we can name dozens,” said Wise, who is also founder of Wise Mentor Capital.

“We’re moving from an age of information to an age of collaboration,” the venture capitalist adds. “Just look at the number of top-selling books on the issue in book stores everywhere.”

Octopz is a tool that collects people in a room accessed through a Flash-enabled Web browser and allows them to work together on more than 100 different file types, explains the company’s CEO Ron McKenzie.


Octopz CEO Ron McKenzie demonstrates his collaboration tool.


Its target audience includes media developers, game makers, and product designers.


“It’s ideal for creative professionals who are on a deadline and need to work together quickly,” he says. “Or they’ve got a product they want to put to market and need some customer feedback as they’re designing it.”


Since its launch just a year ago at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Octopz has been recognized several times by the industry.


For instance, it was named as company to watch by the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 awards, and listed as one of the 10 hottest startups in Canada by Red Herring magazine.


Octopz carried the day for the same reason Akoha was the runner-up, Wise says. Both help people interact with one another and work together to solve problems – just in different ways.


“It’s the same theory, all working together and changing the world by standing shoulder to shoulder,” he says. “That’s something that Canada has known for a long time.”

Akoha CEO Austin Hill won’t let the cat out of the bag when it comes to details regarding how his game works. The company is keeping that under wraps until a beta launches this September. But investors were still won over by his concept pitch.

“The idea is that we can turn the world into an everyday playground with technology,” he says.

Hill was disappointed by what the Internet had to offer when it came to philanthropy.

He said despite the Web’s impact on fostering engagement and knowledge creation, options for those interested in pursuing social change were still limited to donating money or signing up for a protest.

His solution is a real-world game people play based on the principle put forward in the 2000 movie Pay It Forward. The concept is that people pass along random acts of kindness in a sort of chain-letter method.

“It’s no longer a crazy idea that you can build a for-profit company with larger social meaning,” Hill says. “Lots of people working together on things can accelerate business processes, and lead to unexpected results.”

Akoha recently announced receiving $1.9 million from investors and also stands to benefit from Hill’s past success in the software industry, Wise says. Previously the president of Zero-Knowledge Systems, now Radialpoint Inc., Hill helped raised $70 million in venture capital.


Octopz in action.


The scene at CIX – a room full of investors looking to fund Canadian companies to the tune of millions of dollars – was significant given recent media headlines warning about a possible recession.


“I think Canada is on the precipice of greatness,” Wise says. “Everyone wants to talk about the Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger, but no one wants to talk about the Canadian wolverine – they forget it is the most dangerous animal in the world, pound for pound.”


Canadian technology companies are being recognized as world leaders, he adds.


Octopz’s McKenzie agrees, saying his company chose Toronto as an ideal home base because he can tap into talent coming out of the city’s universities, and have a good relationship with city developers.


“I see nothing but a bright future on the horizon for the Canadian technology companies,” he says. “We’re moving to a knowledge-based economy and companies are looking for technology-based tools to give them the advantage.”



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