Halfway through 2014, a look back at the nine Canadians to watch in tech

One of the best things about contributing for IT Business is that every year, I get the opportunity to highlight some of the people I think are going to make waves in the digital space in Canada. At the beginning of the year, I told you about 9 Canadians we should be watching in 2014. Now that we’re just over halfway through the year,  I thought this would be a great time to pause and take a look at what some of these Canadians and their Canadian-based companies have accomplished.

Thalmic Labs Co-Founder and CEO Stephen Lake – It was predicted that 2014 was going to be the coming out party for Stephen Lake and his company, Thalmic Labs. After winning the 2013 StartUp of the Year Award in late January, Thalmic Labs has continued to impress. In June, ITBusiness announced that cloud software vendor had released a developer pack for wearable technology. One of these devices was Thalmic Labs’ Myo armband. While it’s been almost 18 months since the Myo was first available for pre-order, early adopters will be excited to know the device should be ready for shipping later this summer.

Canadian astronaut-turned-professor Chris Hadfield – Commander Chris Hadfield has been nothing short of busy in 2014. From speaking to audiences as interesting and diverse as dentists and real estate agents, Hadfield also found time to release another viral video this summer with his brother in honour of Canada.

And while Hadfield has not branched out from his speaking gigs, he was honoured this past spring at the Canadian Technology Leaders Award, receiving the Science and Community Award for his achievements and contributions to Canada’s tech scene.

BroadbandTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati – BroadbandTV recently announced a huge increase in their reach and frequency numbers. According to a press release, BBTV now achieves two billion monthly impressions across its network and boasts over 20,000 partners, highlighting continued success and cementing the company as one of the largest and fastest growing players in the industry. As her company continues to grow at such an astounding pace, Rafati has also started to earn recognition as a leader and innovator in publications such as Forbes and Fast Company.

Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau – This Canadian startup has continued its successful growth trajectory in 2014.  In April, Wattpad announced $46 million in its Series C funding round.  One of the first things Wattpad did with their new funding was to  purchase Red Room, which was set up as an online writing community. Details of the deal remained sketchy, but the site (which has since been pulled down) at one time boasted 20,000+ writers as far back as 2009.

Soon after, Wattpad made the transition to Creative Commons 4.0, which allows Wattpad authors around the world to search millions of stories while sharing and remixing their work. It will be very interesting to see how Wattpad makes the transition to a company that starts to generate revenues and profits. 

Twitter Canada’s Kirstine Stewart – While Twitter has been around for awhile now, Twitter Canada, headed by Kirstine Stewart has just celebrated its first birthday. And where is Twitter Canada now? Virtually every major Canadian broadcaster has signed up for Twitter’s Amplify program. This allows these broadcasters to capture the excitement on TV and distribute it to fans and audiences across Twitter, reaching out beyond their own followers.

HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes – HootSuite, and by extension, its co-founder, Ryan Holmes, has been uncharacteristically quiet so far this year. However, this does not mean that the social media tool for business and brands has been resting on its laurels. The Vancouver-based company has hired over 100 new employees and reached over 9 million users earlier this year. They also acquired social analytics firm uberVU at the beginning of the year.

BlackBerry’s John Chen – From less than $8 a share at the beginning of this year, Canada’s former darling of technology, BlackBerry, has seen its stock rise as high as $11.42. John Chen has singlehandedly made BlackBerry relevant again. So far this year, we’ve seen BlackBerry start planning to monetize their wildly successful BBM messaging app,  launch the Q20 and gain praise from longtime BlackBerry users, and even plan to launch a classic phone later this year. And finally there was the new BlackBerry Passport “phablet” surprise a couple of months ago. Now that the company has finally reached profitability, it will be interesting to see what Chen has up his sleeves next for BlackBerry.

Big Viking Games co-founder Albert Lai – After the Globe and Mail ranked Albert Lai’s company as a top Canadian employer at the end of last year, we thought Big Viking Games was on the cusp of something special. Seeing that Big Viking Games is his sixth startup, it will only be a matter of time before Lai is back in the news again.

Kik Interactive CEO Ted Livingston – In the earlier part of this year, mobile chat apps such as Kik were given a boost of relevancy when Facebook purchased WhatsApp for $19 billion. While Kik claims to have 40 per cent of the U.S. teen market, the Waterloo-based team has been doing a couple of cool things.

First, when Amazon announced their new Fire smartphone, Kik was one of the early apps on the device. Kik has also been one of the few messaging apps experimenting with monetizing their user base. Using a chat bot, Kik has enabled brands to communicate with their fans in real time.


Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji
Karim Kanji is the Canadian Director of Social Media Strategy at iNvolved Media. iNvolved Media was purchased by Active International in 2015. Clients include popular food brands, technology brands and other CPG companies. Prior to joining iNvolved Media, Karim led the paid social media strategy for some of Canada's most popular CPG and confectionery brands for Catalyst/GroupM. Karim started in the social media space when he co-founded and was the President of THIRDOCEAN where he led the creation of digital content for companies including Scotiabank, Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, Microsoft, Wild Water Kingdom, Palomino Systems Inc. and Techvibes. Karim has also been recognized as a pioneer in podcasting having interviewed people such as such as federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, former MLSE boss Richard Peddie, TVO's Steve Paikin, Canadian serial angel investor Dr. Boris Wertz, HootSuite founder Ryan Holmes, Mathew Ingram, Mitch Joel from Mirium and many, many others. As a demonstration of thought leadership, Karim led the development and execution of reports discussing how technology and digital media have impacted industries such as retail, education, health, gaming, sports and banking.

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