Hamilton innovators have solution to age-old education problem
Matt Gardner stood in front of groups of innovators and made a guarantee that entrepreneurs can’t always keep.
At the recent StartUp Weekend in Toronto, a competition where entrepreneurs collaborate to develop a company from the ground up in 54 hours, the 23-year-old McMaster University student said his product would generate revenue by the end of the weekend.
Gardner and his business partner Jason Moore, also a McMaster student, told no lie.
‘We delivered,” Moore said.
The team had people shelling out cash from their pockets to buy Groupnotes, an education software tool that allows school groups to leave notes for each other on webpages.
Now, Gardner and Moore, along with the three partners they gained just two weeks ago, find themselves in the Global Startup Battle, an online competition with up to 180 companies from 60 countries. With enough votes, Gardner and Moore could win the chance to pitch their idea to a Silicon Valley investor.
“People really responded,” said Gardner, of their product. “Everyone who tried it had a different idea about how to use it.”
Groupnotes is software that is embedded into a web browser. Hit a button and a Post-It-like note appears on the webpage. Students can leave each other time-stamped notes, so if they’re collaborating on a project they can communicate effectively while at their own computers. If working independently, they can leave an online research trail.
“[Teachers] say ‘here’s the assignment paper,’ and then there is a black box and out of the other end comes an essay,” Gardner said, describing how school assignments typically come together. “And teachers, especially middle and elementary, say: ‘I don’t know what happened in between.’”
With Groupnotes, teachers can figure out their students’ research patterns.
“It turns a whole empty area into a teachable area,” Gardner said.
When it comes to group work, teachers can find out who is pulling the most weight, added Moore.
The software was immediately popular with Halton teachers for this reason, because as of next term, students must be awarded a process grade for projects and group work, Gardner said.
Gardner and Moore make ideal innovators. Both students in the Master of Engineering, Entrepreneurship and Innovation program have the skills to both create and market new products, a constant battle for new innovators.
Working for big corporations during a 16-month work placement is what made Gardner and Moore realize this is the career path they want to take.
“You’re at the bottom,” Gardner said. “That’s what got us going on the entrepreneur route.”
Entrepreneurship was in Gardner’s blood. He developed his own companies as a teenager, first as a designer and then selling band clothing.
Now, the two boys from Burlington are happy to be representing Hamilton, a city with a bustling innovation community, on the international stage. Groupnotes is the only company from this end of Canada in the competition.
“We want the spotlight to be on Hamilton,” Moore said.
Online voting continues until next Wednesday. Moore said their biggest challenge gaining enough votes to beat out companies from heavily populated Hong Kong, where 2011’s winner is from.
“In Hong Kong, you look to your left on a train and there are 1,000 people,” Moore said. “We’re trying to pool our Hamilton resources … to get more exposure.”
Even while tending to online voting, Gardner and Moore haven’t let anyone down on their guarantee about generating revenue. Groupnotes software is still being sold online, even though it won’t be ready for distribution until January.
“It’s the best form of validation,” said Gardner. “There is definitely a market for the platform.”
Article by Julia Chapman, CBC News
John Street North gallery starts a revival of its own
One of the reasons the Nathanial Hughson Gallery opened on John Street North was that it wasn’t James Street North. Owners Dan Banko and Phil Quick chose the main floor space of the John Street building Banko owned when it became vacant, but their reasons had to do with more than simple convenience.
Banko says they wanted to show people art happens elsewhere in the city — that you can run a gallery beyond James North.
“Two years ago when we were talking about doing this, we had looked at space on James Street,” says Banko. “We just figured because of how we’re approaching this it doesn’t matter where we are.”
That’s good, because the gallery is located across the street from Golden Fortune Restaurant, which sits shuttered between a methadone clinic and a dim 24-hour Internet café. The area is coming back to life though, Banko says. King William has a coffee culture. Treble Hall is being renovated. The gallery is surrounded by restaurants like Capri and My-Thai. Business is brightening the west side of the street. Ample foot traffic passes from the sea of parking lots north of the gallery, to the core.
Banko sits in an interior room at the centre of his gallery, on a mod-looking red leather couch the previous tenants left behind. The white walls are freshly painted. The floor is hardwood. A silver duct runs along the length of the ceiling. The walls are hung with work from a handful of local artists.
Unlike many of the galleries on James, where shows switch up monthly to offer something new to Art Crawlers, the Hughson Gallery maintains a stable of 13 mid-career artists including D’Arcy Elliot, Dave Hind, Tina Newlove, Christina Sealey, Sandra Henry, Kevin Tearle, Stephanie Vegh, Todd and Elesavet Lawson, Beverly Hawksley, Ryan Price, Erin Vincent and Fiona Kinsella.
They’re all fairly well established, so the price points are a bit higher than you might find on James (Newlove’s miniatures could go for $200, while Hind’s larger paintings are priced at $16,500), but an affordable rental service is part of the business plan too. The majority of the work consists of conceptual/figurative paintings, though Kinsella’s pieces border on sculpture, and Tearle’s furniture is made from reclaimed local barn board that’s been painstakingly traced back to the forests the wood grew in. Banko says the selection reflects his own tastes.
He runs his own design and photography firm (located above the gallery), but he has a degree in fine art from McMaster University. Four of the artists at the gallery are former classmates of his.
“They all went the art route and I went the commercial route,” he says. “Even when I was in university I saw that they were all far better artists than I was. I saw myself being the guy who was going to bring everybody together at some point and help them sell their work.”
Having a consistent roster is important, he says. A lot of artists don’t do much in the way of marketing themselves. The hope is that gallery can help develop the business side of each artist’s practice while also growing itself.
“We’d like to ideally kind of grow with the artists,” says Banko. “So I realize there is going to be some turnover with the artists as they either retire or we just don’t mesh but we’d like to kind of keep a stable of about 15 artists and then build some relationships in the U.S. and in Europe (where Quick often travels with his job as a computer programmer) so we can kind of cross-pollinate with galleries that have similar set-ups and structures.”
The Nathaniel Hughson Gallery is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12 to 8 p.m. or by appointment for private viewing sessions.
Article courtesy of Amy Kenny, The Hamilton Spectator.
City takes first place in social media marketing
Hamilton’s economic development department has topped a list of Canadian cities marketing themselves through social media.
The city tied with Halifax, both earning a score of 84 on a matrix designed by Montreal-based marketing consultants Intelegia. Across North America, the only city earning a higher score was New York, clocking a 92.
The matrix combines a list of criteria, including frequency of social media posts, number of followers across various platforms and engagement with the social media community, says Intelegia president and founder Isabelle Poirier.
Hamilton has earned high marks on the index since it first came out in 2009, but this is the first year it has reached No. 1.
“They have a clear plan of what they want to achieve. Their content strategy distinguishes them. It’s not just, ‘We’re on Facebook because we have to be,’” said Poirier. “From the outside, it’s clear they have a plan.”
The city was particularly cited for an animated video called Wake Up From Your Commuting Nightmare, which cajoled those commuting to Toronto to consider living and working in Hamilton.
Norm Schleehahn, manager of business development with the economic development department, says staff has also put a lot of energy and resources in ensuring various city websites are optimized to show up prominently in search engines such as Google and to be read on tablets and smartphones.
“We’re being more aggressive and creative. It’s important to the resurgence of the downtown and the creative core. Social media resonates with the younger population, the people we’re trying to attract and to keep in Hamilton.”
Schleehahn said the city will continue to focus on social media and that next year, all department staff will have tablets while out in the field.
“Five years ago, none of this was on the radar screen, but it’s a whole new way of doing business.”
Article courtesy The Hamilton Spectator.
Future is Bright Indeed
Yesterday (Thursday, November 1st), The Business Link Newspaper of Hamilton/Halton honoured the top 40 under 40 in this region. From real estate developers to accountants, to health care professionals, the awards honoured the full gamut of talented young professionals in the area.
But, clearly with the economic successes that the City of Hamilton is enjoying there are many, many more than just 40 individuals making a difference in Hamilton and adding to its economic progress. There are a number of great young professional groups representing hundreds of Hamilton’s top young professionals and entrepreneurs and these groups can all be found via the city’s pre-eminent young professional network – the Hamilton Hive (www.hamiltonhive.ca).
Think you’ve got something to contribute to this city, and interested in connecting with like-minded individuals, then check out the Hamilton Hive website and get started. After all, you can do anything in Hamilton!