How Long Does Tech Take To ‘Emerge?’

Editor’s Note: This space was supposed to be occupied by a “deep dive” into the Ekistics (sorry, Fathom Studio) report into the relocation of the NSCC Marconi Campus to downtown Sydney, but after a week of (politely) hassling the spokesperson for the Department of Education and Higher Learning for a copy, I’ve come up empty handed.

Shannon Kerr told me yesterday she was “still waiting” on a copy of the report, which cost us $144,586 and which (apparently) evaluates three potential sites for the campus, including the waterfront location the provincial government ultimately chose.

This is a public report, paid for with public money, dealing with the relocation of a public institution to a publicly owned piece of land on the waterfront and yet, it has not been made public.

(Mind you, this refusal to share such documents is not without precedent, Stephen McNeil’s government has also refused to release a Deloitte consultant report used to justify the public-partnership model for the QEII hospital project in Halifax.)

I will keep badgering and if unsuccessful, will try the FOIPOP route (although I will brace for either a heavily redacted document or an outright refusal in response.)

Luckily, Sydney-Victoria MP Jaime Battiste came to town today, so I have something else to discuss in this space.

 

Funding

I had been thinking that I had not heard anything lately about Orenda Software Solutions, the Membertou-based tech company founded by Tanya Seajay (formerly Tanya Collier-MacDonald) when suddenly, there it was in my inbox: Sydney-Victoria MP Jaime Battiste would be in town on Wednesday to announce federal funding worth $1,447,169 million for two “emerging” Cape Breton tech companies, Orenda Software Solutions and Swarmio.

Both companies have been the beneficiaries of ACOA largess before. Today, however, I am going to focus on Orenda because it is the one I actually was wondering about but in fairness to all concerned, I will look more closely at Swarmio (formerly Ubique Networks) next week.

Tanya Collier MacDonald pitching during Innovacorp competition, 2016.

Tanya Seajay pitching during Innovacorp competition, 2016.

 

Follow your bliss

Orenda received “up to” $418,000 from the National Research Council of Canada and $440,000 (in the form of an conditionally repayable contribution) from ACOA, which brings its total federal and provincial funding to date (as best I can tell) to $1.3 million:

DateAmountType of FundingOrganizationProgramTotal Gov't FundingPurpose
FEDERAL
26 August 2015$141,031Conditionally Repayable ContributionACOABusiness Development Program$181,031Create a social media mining/monitoring service
20 January 2016$34,295.00Award spanning more than one fiscal year.National Research Council CanadaN/AN/AN/A
26 October 2017$200,000Conditionally Repayable Contribution.ACOABusiness Development ProgramN/ADevelop a predictive model and impact index using artifical intelligence
1 July 2019$418,800Award spanning more than one fiscal year.National Research Council of CanadaIndustrial Research Assistance Program ContributionN/ATo research and develop AI and NLU (Natural Language Understanding) technology to determine a firm’s social positioning and predict how alignment and misalignment with social values impacts a firm’s bottom line and standing in the financial markets.
24 September 2019$440,000Conditionally Repayable ContributionACOAREGI - Business Scale-up and Productivity$858,800.00Develop social positioning and prediction models using artificial intelligence
PROVINCIAL
3 February 2016$100,000PrizeInnovacorp1-3 Technology Start-Up CompetitionN/AWinning entry in Zone 5, early stage venture capital
Total$1,334,126

 

In the press release accompanying today’s funding announcement, Mélanie Joly, the federal minister responsible for ACOA, says:

Advances in the digital economy mean more than just the development of new products or services. It [sic] has the potential to help us solve some of the most difficult challenges…

Although I do recognize that tech sometimes has benefits beyond those it initially targets, I’m not sure that either of these companies is tackling our “most difficult challenges.” Swarmio hopes to eliminate “lag time in eSports and online gaming” and Orenda…well, to be quite honest, I am not entirely certain what Orenda does, although I know the company  “pivoted” toward the financial technology sector back in 2017, a move not reflected in Wednesday’s press release which says the firm:

…has developed a social media mining software service that interprets impressions about an organization and calculates the potential impact on its brand and reputation. The company uses machine-learning technology that assigns human sentiment to each word in the dictionary before storing, interpreting and illustrating it on a user-friendly dashboard design.

Compare that to the description on Orenda’s website:

Orenda is a unique, timely and market-ready innovation based in ESG methodology. It provides an AI – based alternative dataset tailored to the needs of the financial market.

The transition happened after the company changed incubators, moving from the IBM Watson Innovation Space to the Fintech Sandbox:

The move brought new perspectives, advisors, and opportunities. The move had put us in front of new audiences, specifically those in the financial management industry. They recognized the value in leveraging social data for decision-making and developing long-term strategies. After some consideration, we realized that the financial technology sector is a better market for us, so we are pivoting…

After making presentations in Boston and New York as part of the Fintech Sandbox, interest in our product has come from an emerging trend for people wanting ethical returns on their investments. There is an emphasis on investing in companies or technology that seek to improve Environmental, Social, or Government related issues.

I think the graphics on the site pre-date the shift in focus, because I find it hard to believe the company you would choose to illustrate this concept would be Lockheed Freaking Martin:

 

Lockheed Martin is an arms dealer. The world’s largest arms dealer. The company that built the 500 pound, laser-guided bomb that killed 10 Yemeni adults and 44 kids last summer during a Saudi-led airstrike.

It’s the firm behind the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Jet — which Esquire termed “The Flying Swiss Army Knife” and “The Flying Bonfire of Cash” (terms that must surely have triggered Orenda’s “Trust Index”).

I get that this is just an example, but why — out of all the companies in the world — would you choose this as your example?

 

‘Emerging’ tech

Defining the stages of a tech startup is not an exact science, but five years in, from what I understand, a firm should probably have attracted some private sector investment and some customers.

If Orenda has either of those things, it’s not making a big deal about it on its website. There are no client testimonials and no press releases announcing successful fundraising rounds.

In 2016, when Orenda received $141,000 from ACOA, Seajay told the CBC the money would help take the project “from beta to commercialization.”

“There is still no revenue coming in but you still need a really good skilled team,” she said. “So you need to be able to pay their salaries.”

In 2018, when Orenda received $200,000 from ACOA, Seajay told the Post that the company had six employees and planned to expand to 20.

Today, the press release announcing the latest round of (public) funding said the company had recently hired five people and hoped, with the new money, to hire seven more.

As for its current stage of development, the press release quotes her as saying:

We are extremely proud to continue our work at Orenda here in Membertou. We have seen this company grow significantly over the last five years and anticipate that this growth will continue with the help of the investments received here today.

Which tells me…well, nothing.

I would like some more “data points,” please.