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NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
In a new five-part series, SaltWire Network delves into some of the hottest startups in Atlantic Canada. Each story focuses on three startups shaping a cluster of the entrepreneurial economy. Part three focuses on green startups that are working in the ocean tech, clean tech or industrial tech fields.
What’s the startup
Halifax’s eOceans is developing an online platform for gathering ocean data. The mobile app is aimed at ocean explorers around the world, from a tourist on a whale watching trip to a scientist studying marine biology. It has a free version and a pro enterprise version, and the data collected can be either open- or closed-source as well as used by teams to collaborate. "It's a platform to speed up ocean science,” says company founder and CEO Christine Ward-Paige. “It's for everyone who goes to sea.” She describes it as a marine-based hybrid between social networks Facebook and Strava, allowing users to log observations and track activities.
The genesis of eOceans
The idea came about when Ward-Paige was working as a field ecologist. “I would show up at docks anywhere in the world and people would say, ‘Oh, you’re sampling in the wrong location,” she says. “But they’d tell me the locals had all the information.” Ward-Paige went on to do her PhD on crowdsourcing marine science data, focusing on sharks and rays. She says the idea for eOceans grew out of her desire to create a platform where ocean observations could be quickly and accurately recorded in real-time.
How it works
Most scientists record their data using a pencil, paper and GPS. “They write down this long GPS unit, the date, time, initials and whatever the observation is,” Ward-Paige says. “Instead of doing that, eOceans automatically does it in a standardized format.” After the data is logged, it can be analyzed, searched and filtered based on species, areas and issue. The real-time nature of the data provides insights that can help mitigate or adapt to ocean changes or recognize successful conservation efforts.
The eOceans platform has been chosen to be part of the U.S. Maritime Blue Innovation accelerator. Ward-Paige says she’ll be travelling to Seattle in April to live-demo the mobile app. During ocean’s month in June, she says the startup aims to have 30 people in 30 countries using the app at once, to create the first global map of real-time ocean observations. She says the mission of eOceans is to reach a billion observations in one day and one million analytics in a month.
What’s the startup
Arolytics has developed a cloud-based software that organizes and analyzes atmospheric emissions data from the energy sector. The startup aims to help oil and gas companies measure, track and understand their greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the AROviz software, the company provides consulting and advice for designing emissions monitoring programs.
How it started
The three founders behind Arolytics were working out of St. Francis Xavier’s Flux Lab, a gas measurement research group, when new emissions regulations were announced for the energy sector. Oil and gas companies would have to reduce methane emissions by 45 per cent by 2025. “Methane is really important because it's a much more potent greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide,” says president and co-founder Liz O’Connell. “These new regulations sparked tons of innovation.”
Why a software
While the new rules prompted some startups to focus on how to collect the raw data using high-tech sensors, Arolytics worked on what to do with the information. O’Connell says the online platform the company has developed improves both the cost and efficiency of tracking emissions. “The current practice for industry right now is largely managing these datasets with Excel spreadsheets,” she says. “By moving it to the cloud, we enable more real time analysis in terms of tracking progress on their emissions reductions and helping the company understand what that data actually means.”
The startup now has offices in Calgary and Halifax, and O’Connell says the software is ready for trials. Arolytics will be piloting the first version of the software with some energy companies. The startup is also consulting for some of the country’s largest oil and gas companies, helping them plan for the new regulations. Meanwhile, although Arolytics is focused on the Canadian energy sector, O’Connell says there are also new methane regulations in parts of the U.S. and Mexico. The startup is also hoping to expand into other sectors emitting atmosphere emissions, like the pulp and paper industry and fossil fuel power generation. “There are several other industries that will likely begin to need to start tracking emissions.”
What’s the startup
CoLab Software is a collaboration platform for design and manufacturing teams. The cloud-based software was developed to streamline the workflow of manufacturing teams and provide a hub for design review and issue tracking. “The simplest way to think about this is if you are building a new vehicle, there are dozens or hundreds of companies involved in building the components,” says co-founder and CEO Adam Keating. “They’ll do thousands of design reviews and our software streamlines that process.”
While studying mechanical engineering at Memorial University, Keating and co-founder Jeremy Andrews both gained experience at companies like Tesla and ExxonMobil. After graduation, they took part in SpaceX's hyperloop pod design competition. But the real-world experience exposed a problem. “We saw the same issues industry wide,” Keating says. “Software engineering teams had amazing tools to do their day-to-day job, but teams that were building things really had nothing.” He says design reviews and issue tracking was done by email, spreadsheets or screenshots. “They're building incredibly innovative designs and they're stuck using tools that are being repurposed from like the 90s.”
Working from N.L.
The two engineers returned to St. John’s to develop a platform that would help manufacturing teams collaborate. Although they have to travel frequently to meet customers, Keating says there is growing support for statups in St. John’s that makes it possible to keep CoLab’s growing team in the city. Last summer, the company took part in the California-based startup accelerator Y Combinator — the first Atlantic Canadian company to be chosen to participate. The company then raised $2.7 million in seed financing, and now has a team of 23 and Fortune 500 companies as customers. “We’re in a heads-down building mode right now.”
The green angle
The limitations of existing collaboration tools caused many design teams to fly around the world and print off reams of paperwork. “People often have to literally fly to China,” explains Keating. “One of our goals is to help reduce the amount of travel needed.” The software-as-service product allows teams to buy licenses and log in using their browser. Then if the team is working with a supplier in China, for example, CoLab has developed a free version the supplier can log into to receive information. But it’s not just about reducing airline travel. Keating says the current practice is to “print off every single drawing, mark them up and scan them.” CoLab’s software can vastly reduce paper use while providing teams with the benefits of using a digital platform.