Using Artificial Intelligence to Solve Supply Chain Problems, and Kevin O’Leary Doubles Down on Canadian Crypto

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

The war is also driving up the prices of energy and other raw materials, further disrupting global supply chains, with freighters full of trade goods stranded in overwhelmed ports.

Canada’s top AI companies believe they can develop strategies and programs to bring products to market faster, making the time right for a new Canadian AI startup program.

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

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

Supply chain barriers: “Many of the products and services we use today are inherently complex. Some require thousands of parts or the coordination of suppliers in multiple geographies,” says Osh Momoh, Chief Technical Advisor at MaRS. “Think of vaccines, automobiles, or consumer products that Amazon delivers to our doorsteps.”

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

Based in Toronto 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 packing.

“It alleviates strained labor resources by making robots more accessible in general,” says CEO and co-founder Dmitry Ignakov, “making them viable for workflows that are smaller than would warrant 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 companies need help breaking down barriers to market adoption.

“These companies often need support, whether it’s being able to run street and public road pilots or getting help reducing the cost of initial deployments with their first customers.”

Shark Presence Grows in Canada’s Crypto Pool

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

Vancouver-based WonderFi also recently acquired a Toronto-based crypto exchange Bitbuy Technologies Inc.which places two of the six Canadian-registered cryptocurrency trading platforms under the control of a single company.

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

“Kevin is a big advocate for compliant investing because compliance is necessary for institutional investors to feel comfortable with.”

The Canadian market is consolidating: When the deal with Coinberry closes, WonderFi will own one-third of the Canadian licenses for the crypto platforms. The company will host over 750,000 users in its ecosystem and employ over 180 people, making it the largest crypto company in the country.

Martin Piszel, the CEO of the crypto trading platform Coincarre, says it expects further consolidation as the companies try to gain overall market share and take advantage of potential synergies. “The cost of regulation and the rising cost of customer acquisition will cause platforms to look for ways to gain scale and improve efficiency,” he said.

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

“Regulated platforms will become more valuable to the Canadian crypto market,” says Piszel. “Large foreign players will assess the cost and time of entry into the Canadian market and may choose to seek acquisition targets that have already done the heavy regulatory work,” he says.

A window of opportunity in biotechnology

As part of the fight against COVID-19, Ontario recently announced increased access to a new therapeutic drug for patients infected with the virus. Recently Approved Paxlovid Reduces Risk of Hospitalization and Death in COVID Patients by 89% according to a Pfizer study.

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

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

And after? Based in Toronto Regenerative Medicine Commercialization Center (CCRM) has helped fund and lead a dozen promising cell and gene therapy start-ups, employing 250 people and raising an impressive $770 million in venture capital. This year, the CMRC will open a biofabrication facility at McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton. The facility will help Canadian companies bring their breakthrough treatments to patients.

Why is cell and gene therapy so important? CCRM President and CEO Michael May says cell and gene therapies promise to cure disease, not just treat symptoms.

“It’s revolutionizing medicine and we can see it playing out in the world today,” May says. “Canadian science has helped define this industry and I believe that the industrialization of the sector is an opportunity for Canada to become a world leader in the field of life sciences.

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

“I would like to see products labeled ‘Made in Canada’. Canada should be the destination of choice for capacity and expertise and we must be a pioneer in the clinical adoption of these breakthrough therapies,” said May. “I can imagine a vibrant ecosystem with Canada’s ecosystem as the nexus of a global industry.

In other news:

  • Halifax-based company Carbon Cure just announced an agreement to sell nearly $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. CarbonCure’s technology helps recycle carbon dioxide back into fresh concrete mixes.
  • Toronto-based startup e-zinc just raised over $31 million. The company’s zinc-air battery enables long-lasting, sustainable energy storage and it will use the funding for its first commercial storage systems.
  • Air Compression Energy Storage Developer Hydrostor Inc. has just obtained an investment of more than 31 million dollars from the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. The money will help the Toronto-based company build its first large commercial facilities to push more wind and solar power to the power grids.
  • from Toronto Corrugated just raised $2.5 million for its corporate culture management platform. The company will use the money to build an engineering and product team, and hire more sales and customer service employees.

Janey Llewellin writes on technology for MaRS. Torstar, the parent company of the Toronto Star, has partnered with MaRS to shine a light on innovation in Canadian business.

Warning This content has been produced in partnership and therefore may not meet the standards of impartial or independent journalism.

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