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Wealthsimple and H&R Block partner, launching tax refund solution

Wealthsimple and tax prep company H&R Block have announced a partnership to provide Canadians with a solution to grow their tax refund.
Through the offering, H&R Block customers will be able to contribute to a Wealthsimple portfolio with no management fees for the first year when they open their first account.
“Our customers are in a great position to grow their refund into so much more.”
A survey from H&R Block found that 47 percent of Canadians reported they did not contribute to an RRSP or a TFSA at all in 2018. With this in mind H&R Block noted the importance of investing as a way to save for the future and that “every penny contributed to an RRSP is tax deductible.”
“Combining the decades of experience and skills of our experts to maximize refunds for our clients, and the simple and optimal investment options Wealthsimple provides, our customers are in a great position to grow their refund into so much more,” said Peter Bruno, CEO of H&R Block Canada. “Our clients receive on average a $1,700 refund, and that amount can be a great starting point for investments.”
Related: Wealthsimple launches previously announced stock-trading mobile app
In January, Wealthsimple also announced a partnership with tax service TurboTax. The partnership allowed TurboTax customers to assess their taxes and open an RRSP account in a unified process. TurboTax users were able to look over their tax filings to see the effect RRSPs would have on their taxable income. They would then have access to Wealthsimple’s platform to open an RRSP account.
That same month, Wealthsimple launched a mutual-fund investment firm with its own financial advisors. The firm, Wealthsimple Advisor Services, is registered with the Mutual Fund Dealers Association (MFDA), so MFDA-licensed advisers can run their independent businesses while using Wealthsimple’s platform.
H&R Block customers opening their first Wealthsimple account, won’t have to pay management fees on their first $10,000 for one year. After the first year, users will pay a 0.5 percent to 0.4 percent management fee, depending on their level of investment.
Image courtesy Wealthsimple.

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NexTech AR signs LOI to acquire ecommerce business for $1.85 million CAD

NexTech AR, a developer of a proprietary augmented reality (AR) advertising platform, is looking to acquire an unnamed ecommerce business for $1.85 million CAD.
Acquisitions are part of NexTech’s strategy to grow by acquiring companies that possess industry-leading technology.
According to a statement from NexTech, the company to be acquired generated $2.9 million CAD in revenue and nearly $800,000 CAD in earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) last year. Toronto-based NexTech is currently conducting its due diligence, which is expected to last approximately three weeks, with an expected close of the transaction to follow.
This is the company’s third acquisition this year and it noted that these acquisitions are part of its strategy to grow through acquiring revenue generating companies that possess industry-leading technologies.
“This LOI sets the stage for our third acquisition in 2019, and upon closing, would push our ecommerce division toward a projected USD $5 million in consolidated revenue and $1 million in EBITDA for 2019,” said Evan Gappelberg, CEO of NexTech. “Since going public we have been focused on both launching our AR platforms around our three verticals, AR ecommerce, AR university, and AR live streaming, and a growth-by-acquisition strategy that we continue to execute on.”
NexTech has already closed two acquisitions this year. In January, NexTech acquired Vancouver-based AR Ecommerce, in consideration for two million common shares of NexTech. In February, the company acquired US-based Hoot, a major player in the 2D to 3D photography software industry.
NexTech, founded in 2018, brings AR to e-commerce solutions for websites, as well as AR education and event live streaming. Its AR e-commerce platform is currently integrated with Shopify, WordPress and Magento. In January, NexTech AR signed a deal to bring AR to cannabis education through learning kiosks with Cannvas Medtech Inc., a Toronto-based digital cannabis education company.
Upon closing this acquisition, NexTech plans to fast-track the launch of its new and existing AR and AI technologies, as well as advance its knowledge of customers through real-time data analysis. The company also intends to integrate a range of AR and AI capabilities on its website.
Image courtesy NexTech AR.

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How Harley Finkelstein went from lawyer to COO of Shopify

Last week, the University of Ottawa law faculty’s All Sorts of Torts club and the Telfer School of Management’s Entrepreneur’s Club invited Harley Finkelstein to discuss how he transitioned from being a lawyer to leading one of the world’s fastest growing tech companies – Shopify.
Speaking to a room full of MBA and law students, Finkelstein, COO of Shopify, described how his drive for entrepreneurship, since he was seven-years-old, led him to join the Shopify team in 2010.
“I got this weird confidence when I was really young that entrepreneurship was something I could do.”
“I realized that I liked the idea of starting businesses,” said Finkelstein. “My dad would make me business cards for every silly idea I had. I got this weird confidence when I was really young that entrepreneurship was something I could do. Entrepreneurship, being this incredible way to solve problems, was what I wanted to spend my life doing.”
Throughout his teenage years and into his undergraduate studies, Finkelstein explored entrepreneurship through launching his own businesses. At 13-years-old, Finkelstein was DJ’ing at special events and Bar Mitzvahs, and at 17, he founded a T-shirt company while attending McGill University. When Finkelstein realized that he wouldn’t always have a competitive advantage with his T-shirt business, he took the advice of his mentor, Ottawa lawyer, Philip Rimer, and decided to attend law school.
RELATED: Foteini Agrafioti, Harley Finkelstein among tech leaders in Canada’s Top 40 Under 40
“Phil hinted at the idea that I should consider going to law school because it might help provide me with a better platform for entrepreneurship. I could write better, think better, negotiate better, and be more articulate,” said Finkelstein.
Building Shopify at a coffee shop
It was while he was attending law school in Ottawa that Finkelstein met Tobias Lütke, current CEO and co-founder of Shopify. The two met at a coffee shop, where they would get together with other engineers and creative minds to discuss entrepreneurial ideas, such as the software that ended up becoming Shopify.
“People like myself wanted to use Tobi’s software to sell products like T-shirts. I ended up becoming one of Shopify’s first customers,” said Finkelstein.
While Finkelstein initially took the traditional pathway of a law student, working a summer job at Ottawa-based law firm, LaBarge Weinstein, and articling for 10 months at a Toronto law firm, he knew this wasn’t for him. What he really wanted was to pursue entrepreneurship by “creating much with nothing” and “doing a lot with little.”
“I’m doing my life’s work. I don’t necessarily regret any steps I took to get to this point now.”
After finishing his articling program, Finkelstein reached out to Lütke to see whether he could help build a business around Lütke’s online ecommerce software. Eventually, Finkelstein joined the company in a hybrid role where he was both general counsel and looked after the business side of Shopify.
“I’m doing my life’s work. I don’t necessarily regret any steps I took to get to this point now,” said Finkelstein, adding how excited he was to work with “brilliant minds” building an incredible piece of software.
“My job was to add a lot of value. Part of any good startup story is you wear a lot of different hats. I tried to protect those geniuses from stuff that wasn’t going to be value-add,” he said. “People get caught up in title and salary, and the problem with doing that is pulling future gains at a discount. What I brought to Shopify was that I was relentless. I was loud.”

During his talk, Finkelstein described to the audience the successes of Shopify to date, including that the company has 800,000 stores on its platform; how seven percent of all products sold on Black Friday were sold through Shopify; and that the company currently has about 4,500 employees across 12 offices around the world.
He also noted how Shopify’s $100 million Series C funding round led by OMERS Ventures in 2013 helped take the company to the next level, eventually leading Shopify to announce its public filing in 2015.
“That changed things. The Series A was $7 million. The Series B was $15 million. Those are big numbers but it didn’t necessarily give us the money we needed to really build what we thought could be Canada’s next great company. But by the Series C, it was like, let’s go hire a CFO, let’s hire a CMO. Let’s hire people that know what they’re doing as opposed to just being scrappy all the time.”
RELATED: CanCon Podcast Ep. 115: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein on Canadian swagger and enabling entrepreneurship
Today, Finkelstein said Shopify strives to continuously bring in experts to help the company’s executive team broaden its skill set with the aim of scaling Shopify.
“We agree that we have a growth mindset. We all believe we have to requalify for our jobs. We serve at the honour of Shopify,” he explained.
“The common thread [is that] every year we re-qualify for our job. I think that if you just have that mentality that everyone, Tobi included, has to requalify for their job on an annual basis, it forces you to get really good or really comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Finkelstein said, adding that Shopify currently has 15 coaches that help the executive team improve.
Advice for future entrepreneurs
For people who are looking to become entrepreneurs or don’t plan on taking traditional education or career paths, Finkelstein wrapped up his talk with a few pieces of advice.
Finkelstein expressed that being relentless can lead to success, and it’s crucial for startups to embrace their differences.
“The best companies I’ve encountered and invested in, if you look at their leadership team, they would not be friends in high school. I was class president. Tobi was playing video games,” said Finkelstein. “I think what I brought was a unique perspective they didn’t have and this unrelenting push. Once we realized that we have the best product in the world, I felt it was my job to monetize it. It’s on me to make sure people use and pay for it.”
RELATED: #GlobeSBS16: Shopify’s Harley Finkelstein on how large companies maintain startup culture
Finkelstein also addressed how valuable mentorship can be for personal and professional growth. He noted that the best way to secure strong mentors is by reaching out to people who inspire you, and telling them there’s a lot you can learn from them.
“Mentorship is something no one teaches us and it’s one of the most important life skills to acquire.”
“I try to acquire different mentors and people that I look up to and respect. Someone’s not your mentor just because you sent them an e-mail. It’s a commitment,” said Finkelstein. “Send a modest, humble e-mail saying ‘Can I buy you coffee for 10 minutes?’ and the good ones will respond. Mentorship is something that no one teaches us and it’s one of the most important life skills to acquire.”
Finkelstein wrapped up his advice by suggesting letting go of ego and striving to learn from, and work with, people who are smarter than you.
“I’ve learned to hire people better than me. I struggled with this in the early days because I thought if I hire people better than me, I’ll put myself out of a job. But the more people I hire [that are] better than me, the better I become.”
Overall, Finkelstein stressed that traditional educational pathways may not be for everyone, but pursuing different forms of education can certainly equip aspiring entrepreneurs with the skills needed to disrupt industries and build tech giants like Shopify.

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How Retailers Like Sam’s Club Repurpose Physical Spaces For Fulfillment & Frictionless Checkout

Retailers are rethinking the use of the physical store, replacing cash wraps with mobile checkout and utilizing excess space for online order fulfillment

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[New report] Reinvigorating The Airport Experience

The following research provides an overview of the innovative experiences that airports are developing in order to transform the airport from a tedious, yet essential, part of traveling to an enjoyable, memorable experience. From entertainment lounges to integrated wellness activations, these airport innovations ensure that customers not only have a seamless, frictionless traveling experiences, but can have enjoyable and relaxing experiences too.

New strategies involve keeping the traveler engaged, entertained, and even healthy while in the airport. Integrating wellness and health-oriented experiences consumers get into the airport experience to minimize stress and anxiety associated with travel.

Creating designated spaces in the midst of airport bustle that offer patrons a valuable area to rest, work or seek privacy. Using a mix of automation and data-driven services to remove the friction from the end-to-end airport experience, some companies are working to ensure passengers have optimal peace of mind pre-boarding.

Airports recognize the importance of ensuring passengers with long layovers can elude boredom by integrating interactive activities and technology like AR, VR, gaming and movies that travelers can enjoy while on-the-go. Airport retailers offer travelers exclusive shopping experiences that allow them to immerse themselves into products using sensory technologies (AR/VR) or simply pop-ups that focus on stimulating the senses.

Published March 2019

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Retail Trends Playbook Excerpt: How Retailers Like Walmart Empower Employees For Faster Service

Top retailers like H&M, Kohl’s and more are marshaling AI-enabled tools that provide in-the-moment access to key data and analytics, streamlining staff communication and optimizing customer service

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CDPQ expands AI offering with $250 million fund, new collaboration with Mila

Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) has announced the creation of a $250 million fund for Québec businesses with a proven track record in artificial intelligence.
The CDPQ–AI Fund aims to ramp up growth in businesses whose product offerings are based on the development of AI, and to accelerate the commercialization of artificial intelligence solutions.
“Since Montréal is emerging as a global beacon of excellence in artificial intelligence, we need to enhance our offering.”
 
“Since Montréal is emerging as a global beacon of excellence in artificial intelligence, we need to enhance our offering and ramp up the financial and development support we provide AI businesses through the various stages of their growth,” said Charles Émond, the executive vice-president of Québec and Global Strategic Planning at CDPQ. “This fund will encourage the commercialization of new artificial intelligence solutions, as they are of considerable strategic value to all sectors of our economy.”
The fund, managed by CDPQ’s Venture Capital and Technology team, will serve technology companies that have developed demonstrably sound business models and shown a capacity for continued strong growth. The companies will need to have a well-established management team as well as a dedicated team with AI experience.
The CDPQ-AI Fund’s objectives include supporting the development of the most promising businesses to emerge from these funds, once they have reached their growth phase. In 2018 this co-investment strategy, combined with a CDPQ-sponsored venture capital fund, resulted in CDPQ making direct investments in AI businesses, such as Hopper, TrackTik, and Breather. The CDPQ-AI Fund will be used for new transactions of this kind.
In addition to this new fund for growing technology companies, CDPQ has recently announced a series of initiatives and partnerships targeting young AI companies in the startup phase.
CDPQ, in collaboration with Mila – Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, has created a space to house nine startups from innovative sectors. Those startups will also have access to Mila’s academic resources and advice, coaching, and a network of experts from la Caisse and Espace CDPQ, to accelerate the commercialization of their AI solutions.
Espace CDPQ, a CDPQ subsidiary, is also a founding partner of the Creative Destruction Lab Montréal, which is driving the development of AI technology companies with strong growth potential.
Feature image courtesy CDPQ’s Twitter

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A|I: The AI Times – Controlling superhuman AI

The AI Times is a weekly newsletter covering the biggest AI, machine learning, big data, and automation news from around the globe. If you want to read A|I before anyone else, make sure to subscribe using the form at the bottom of this page.

Fredericton-based Eigen Innovations receives $800,000 government funding

Eigen creates AI business solutions that help manufacturers refine their processes.

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Facebook Canada introduces Ad Library ahead of 2019 federal election

Facebook Canada launched the Ad Library tool ahead of Canada’s federal election later this year in an effort to promote transparency.
“We take the protection of elections on Facebook very seriously, and we are committed to being a force for good in Canadian democracy.”
The social media giant said the tool will require advertisers to “confirm their identities before running political, election-related and issue ads,” and that includes those that refer to candidates.
The news was announced to be in line with the requirements of Bill C-76. The government House Bill C-76, which received Royal Assent on December 13th, 2018, provides rules and regulations on the use of social media during an election campaign.
“Understanding the importance of Bill C-76 and what’s potentially at stake, we’re doing the hard and rigorous work to get our political ads transparency tools right for Canadians. We are approaching our efforts with a Canadian lens in building the Ad Library and other processes, while simultaneously applying learnings from similar efforts around the world,” Keven Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, said.
“We take the protection of elections on Facebook very seriously, and we are committed to being a force for good in Canadian democracy. This is why we devote significant time, energy and resources to these issues.”
Facebook has remained in the hot seat when it comes to meddling in elections campaigns, an issue that has affected many countries, including Canada. The Cambridge Analytica scandal involves the firm that helped US President Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election campaign by harvesting data from millions of Facebook users.
RELATED: Report: ‘Delete Facebook’ movement stronger in Canada than many other countries
In Canada, 60,000 people were affected by the scandal. More recently the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) concluded its study on Cambridge Analytica and produced recommendations for how Facebook should be involved during elections as well as how the Privacy Commissioner’s office can deal with social media.
Facebook Canda says the Ad Library will store ads related to politics and will be “viewable and searchable by anyone globally for up to seven years.”
The library will also not only house electoral ads but also “issue ads – ads which don’t explicitly back one candidate or political party but that are major issues of national importance.”
Advertisers that want to run these types of ads, which reference political figures, political parties, elections, or issues of national importance, “will have to go through the ad authorization process and comply with all applicable laws.”
Facebook Canada also said it intends to work with the advisory group to get input on political advertising.
The group consists of Megan Leslie, CEO of WWF Canada and former deputy leader of the NDP, Antonia Maioni, dean of the faculty of arts at McGill University, Ry Moran, executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Centre at University of Manitoba, Ray Novak, managing director of Harper & Associates and chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper and David Zussman, adjunct professor at University of Victoria.
This article was originally published on MobileSyrup.

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Millennials consider AI “threat to future employment”, according to survey

According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 Canadians, 85 percent of young people aged 18 to 34 believe artificial intelligence will be a threat to the job market within the next 10 years, while 25 percent believe it’s already an issue.
The survey was conducted by Maru/Matchbox on behalf of Centennial College post-graduate public relations students in partnership with CivicAction, a nonprofit organization that creates collective action on big urban challenges.
“Understanding how young people feel about the future of work isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s a ‘need to know’,” says Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction. “Millennials make up the largest percentage of Canada’s workforce at 37 per cent and are already shaping our workforce’s relationship with technology and automation.”
The survey explored how young people feel about the changing landscape of work and which institutions are taking steps to best prepare for it. It also showed a relative optimism in millennials’ ability to adapt to the changing work landscape, including the following insights:

Even with the impending threat of AI to the future job market, young people are still relatively optimistic, with 71 percent of respondents believing they will be able to make a good living throughout the course of their career.
Approximately three in five young people are confident corporations and post-secondary institutions are taking steps to prepare for the changing landscape of work. Millennials are less confident that government is doing likewise.
The top three things young people believe are negatively affecting their employment opportunities: the competitive labour market (60 percent); changing skillset requirements (55 percent); and lack of personal network (53 per cent).

“As students who are just about to enter the job market, these results confirm our own experiences and feelings about the impact of automation on our future employment,” says Mary Davidson, one of five public relations students at Centennial College.
Davidson and her team helped conduct the survey as part of the ‘Generation Uncertain’ campaign, created and executed by the students for a course that has them working with real clients on real issues.
“Our generation is concerned about how employment is changing, yet optimistic in our ability to adapt,” Davidson noted about the results.
Image courtesy Unsplash

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