member & Alumni STORIES
Over the past five years, many entrepreneurs and tech-enabled companies have found a home at Startup Edmonton. Our members and alumni are passionate about fostering startup and innovation culture in our city and we're proud to support them through mentorship & programs, workspace, talent support, and a thriving community.
When DrugBank launched three years ago, it wasn’t exactly brand-new. The online database had started in 2005 as a research project in the lab of U of A computing science professor Dr. David Wishart. Company co-founders Craig Knox and Mike Wilson had helped develop the tool as undergraduates and watched it grow into a leading Internet resource for free drug information.
“The first weekend we released it, the servers crashed because there was so much traffic coming in,” explains Craig Knox. “It was quite popular and grew in its popularity over the years.” Over the next decade, DrugBank became ubiquitous in the pharma world, with millions of global users ranging from university researchers and students to health professionals like pharmacists and physicians, and even members of the general public. The resource also attracted the attention of pharmaceutical and health information businesses.
Like so many inventions, Frettable was born out of necessity.
Greg Burlet dreamt up the artificial intelligence-driven music transcription service after his bandmate moved to B.C.
Still wanting to write music together, the duo started emailing audio files back and forth. The lack of visuals made collaborating difficult, so they tried pointing webcams at their fretboards instead. This too was unsuccessful.
“There was so much lag and the audio quality wasn’t great,” Burlet says.
A University of Alberta undergrad at the time, Burlet had recently taken an introductory class on machine learning and thought: what if a program could recognize the notes played and automatically transcribe them into sheet music or tabulations? It would work like speech recognition, but for music.
The first inkling of Testfire Labs entered Dave Damer's head on Day 6 of a 10-day meditation retreat.
He had some ideas "in his back pocket," a favourite place he stashes inspirations that come up on his path through business.
His inspiration? "We would take some recent developments in speech-to-text and machine learning and natural language processing and we would make a companion for business people so they wouldn’t have to, in my initial iteration this, stress about all the mental to-do lists we have.... They would be better at staying on top of things and prioritizing their daily activities."
With some consultation and working through the idea, the first product was narrowed down to Hendrix.ai, an intelligent companion who helps make meetings more productive.
“Five years ago there was barely a Jobber,” says Sam Pillar, Co-founder and CEO of the software for service business with more than 100 employees working out of their headquarters in Edmonton and second office in downtown Toronto.
In 2011, Sam and Forrest Zeisler, Jobber’s CTO, founded the company. In those early days, without an office to call home, the coding duo spent their time tapping away on laptop keyboards in businesses around town. “We had a circuit every day of five or six coffee shops that we would go to,” explains Sam. “You don’t have a lot of money when you’re starting a company—well, no money.”
Then in February of 2012, they raised their first round of seed funding, hired their first employee, and moved into their very own office—a 1200 square-foot space on Whyte Avenue.
Shift scheduling sounds like a deceptively simple problem until you have to do it in a large organization like a hospital, with many shifts over several weeks, with many rules dictated by collective agreements.
Maybe not so simple after all. The multi-dimensional aspects of shifts and the millions of variables involved require a computer program at least as smart as a human. And that's where machine learning, a field that involves computers able to learn and improve without being specifically programmed with the data, comes to the table.
Like several firms in the artificial intelligence and machine learning field in Edmonton, PFM Scheduling was born to solve a problem.