member & Alumni STORIES
Over the past six 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.
Trent Oster will be the first to tell you he owes much of his success to nostalgia. His game development studio is known for enhancing classic roleplaying games (RPGs) from the 90s after all. But did you know he also owes a debt of gratitude to the late Steve Jobs?
In 2009, Beamdog — now the largest independent game studio in Edmonton — was struggling to distinguish itself in an ever-crowded online gaming market. Firm believers in direct sales, Oster and his co-founder Cam Tofer set up a digital distribution platform similar to online PC-games retailer Steam. Despite more than 300 unique titles on offer, Beamdog barely had any sales. This was the same year the iPad launched.
“It’s a big iPhone,” Oster thought when news of the tablet broke. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
So naturally he bought one.
People imagine real estate agents as always on the job. Roberto Moreno wants to change that. A few years ago, when his wife Elisse wanted to return to the world of real estate, they wondered how they could use the latest developments in technology to make the job easier and let her spend more time with her family. And so Gabbi, the A.I. assistant they have been developing over the last two years, was born.
Touted as a central hub for all communications between an agent and a client, Gabbi aims to step in to help convert leads and move sales forward.
In his work as a divorce lawyer, Tim Mallett often hears the same request from his clients.
“‘All I want is this done as quickly and cheaply as possible,’” he recalls. Which is, of course, easier said than done: the cost of a typical divorce in Canada can range into the thousands (or more) depending on the complexities of the situation. And that’s not factoring in all the time and energy spent on the runaround: finding a lawyer you trust, working around their schedule, standing in line-ups to file paperwork, and every other step involved can quickly add up.
So Mallett, alongside fellow lawyer Melanie d'Haene, founded Undo (undo.ca), a completely online resource to streamline the complexities of the divorce process.
dealcloser was founded in typical startup fashion: a personal problem sparked an idea, which led to a set of terrible user interface mockups on Power Point and an initial investment that just covered the cost of building a prototype.
Like most startups, it took a while to hammer out a minimum viable product, but a solid product market fit kept investors and customers interested. Now, dealcloser is being used in law firms in 9 cities in North America, in 5 states and provinces, in 2 countries around the world.
The secret to dealcloser’s success? It’s solving a real problem in a traditional industry ripe for disruption: the legal industry.
Darren Nakonechny is excited. The first PATCH units — a digitally controlled analog routing system for audio recording — that he and his colleagues at Flock Audio have been developing for almost two years, are shipping out to the customers who had preordered them in 2018.
“You go through such rough times along the way it makes you wonder, ‘Is this going to actually be something, or is it going to fail?’” explains Nakonechny, founder and CEO of the Edmonton audio company. “But when you step back, you go ‘Wow, this is very cool.’ We started literally in the basement of my home and now we have an office and work with a network of professionals building a product that people are excited about. Shipping out our first units is a milestone we’ve all been working toward for a long time.”
Imagine being able to understand the cause of your chest pain or screen for liver cancer using your smartphone.
While home use is likely years away, Dornoosh Zonoobi and her team at Medo.ai have developed a software using artificial intelligence and cloud computing that eliminates the need for an expert to perform or analyze an ultrasound scan.
Medical imaging is critical to the diagnosis and treatment of many medical conditions, yet nearly two-thirds of the world’s population does not have access to the most basic radiology services. This gap is most profound in developing countries, but, as Medo’s founders realized, access isn’t always great in developed countries either.
Jason Suriano wrote the book on game-powered learning. Literally.
While many companies understand that game-powered learning is more engaging and can, in turn, lead to higher retention of information, they simply don’t see the value in investing in what they perceive as fun and games, explains Jason Suriano, Founder & CEO at Trajectory
“[They think] ‘Yeah it's more engaging or interactive, but what is that going to do for the company?’”
When Colin Bramm and Roy Pombeiro launched Showbie in 2012, the pair thought it would be impressive if they could have their classroom software used not just in Alberta, but across the border in Saskatchewan or even the United States. It turns out, they may have set their sights a little small – today, Showbie is used by 3 million teachers, parents and students in more than 135 countries.
The company grew out of previous works for school boards. They soon realized that many schools were facing the same challenges, and set out to build a one-size-fits-all application that would allow teachers to organize their classes, assign and grade homework, and provide personalized feedback to their students.
When Jonathan Verk was going through a difficult divorce 6 years ago, he also realized his situation was no different from that of any family’s going through the separation process in the sense that as hard as it was for the parents involved, it was even more difficult for the children. He knew there had to be a better way to resolve disputes.
After conversations with judicial officers to get their feedback on how the co-parenting process could be improved, Verk connected with Sherrill Ellsworth, past presiding judge of Riverside County in California, who offered an experienced judicial perspective. Together with Eric Weiss, co-founder and coParenter COO, they set out to create a tool to help parents save time, save money, and stay out of court.
For the past seven years, Scope AR has quietly revolutionized workplace training and equipment maintenance in traditional industries, such as manufacturing, natural resource development and aerospace. But the release of staggering new return-on-investment figures for their customers could change everything for this sleeping giant.
An augmented reality training solutions provider, Scope AR counts several multi-billion-dollar clients — with more expected to come knocking as word spreads about the results they can expect.
RunGunJumpGun started off as a fun parting gift to an old workplace.
“Originally it was going to be this super simple thing — just, you know, maybe stick our co-workers' faces on the characters so they can play as themselves. Just a totally tiny stupid game,” explains Gilmour, co-founder of Edmonton-based game design studio, ThirtyThree Games.
But when they came up with an innovative twist on a classic Nintendo-style platformer they realized they were on to something much bigger than a simple gag game.
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.