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50 B.C. innovations to watch

Dene Moore sums up all 50 innovations across a wide range of industries such as technology, financial services, education, resources, clean tech and consumer products. It’s a collection of eclectic, impressive and promising people and things.

Dene Moore sums up all 50 innovations across a wide range of industries such as technology, financial services, education, resources, clean tech and consumer products. It’s a collection of eclectic, impressive and promising people and things. We’ve listed the innovations in alphabetical order and had a tough time narrowing it down to just 50!

Abeego Designs Inc.

What they do: Victoria-based Abeego makes reusable food wrap using beeswax.

Why they do it: In 2008 plastic products containing BPA were pulled from store shelves over health concerns. Abeego founder Toni Desrosiers was working as a holistic nutritionist at a health food store when the BPA scare spurred her to explore natural options for food storage. “I felt strongly that nature would have a solution,” she says.

How they do it: Inspired by the lemon peel, Desrosiers came up with her beeswax-based food wrap. Washable and reusable, it is now available in more than 1,000 retail outlets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe. She was Business Development Bank of Canada’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year in B.C. in 2014 and second nationwide.

Adaptive Cooling Wear, Kwantlen Polytechnic University design school

What they do: Cooling vests for elite athletes with cervical spine injuries.

Why they do it: Athletes with quadriplegia often have an impaired ability to regulate their body temperature. The buildup of body heat not only impairs their performance but can lead to heat-induced illness. At its worst, it can be life-threatening.

How they do it: In 2015, Melissa Lacroix, a sports physiologist at the Canadian Sport Institute, brought the problem to Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Wilson School of Design. Design students then spoke to members of the Canadian national wheelchair rugby team, who were all too familiar with the problem, and all too aware that the solutions designed for able-bodied athletes don’t always work for them. The cooling vests designed at Kwantlen use a phase-change material, which is similar to ice, to conduct heat away from the body. It provides a similar function to sweating and circulating blood to the extremities, but in a wearable vest the athletes don whenever necessary. The vests have been used by the Canadian national wheelchair rugby team and by Canadian athletes at the Rio Paralympic Games. The team hopes to see the vests in use at the 2019 Parapan Am Games and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, says designer Jaymes Williams.

Aircover Inflatables

What they do: Aircover Inflatables, a company founded by four Vancouver-area film industry grips, developed a giant, inflatable green screen suitable for outdoors and smaller spaces.

Why they do it: A traditional visual effects screen is cumbersome, time-consuming to build and not terribly adaptive. It also takes up a huge amount of space, says Steve Smith, co-founder and CEO. Aircover Inflatables’ Airwall creates a screen of up to 12 metres in a much smaller space. Portions of the screen can also be inflated and deflated to suit the project.

How they do it: Each Airwall comes as a “tray” measuring 12 metres by 2.5 metres by 35 centimetres – the same dimension as a cargo container. The tray goes on top of the container, which is filled with ballast to give the wall stability. The wall is then filled with air from small fans. Last year, the Delta-based company won the technical-achievement Oscar for the air-inflated green screen. The product has been used in filming all over the world, including in Ireland, England, Australia, the U.S. and at home. Aircover Inflatables is now working on the next version. The even larger AirPanel will inflate or deflate in under two minutes and will be able to rotate in three directions.

Arctic Apple, Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc.

What they do: Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF) Inc.’s non-browning Arctic apples.

Why they do it: Once sliced, apples brown rather quickly. The appearance cuts into the sales potential for packaged, sliced apples and results in higher food waste, says the company. The non-browning apples – and potentially other tree fruits genetically modified to resist browning, pests or disease – reduce food waste and could reduce reliance on pesticides and chemical treatments, says OSF.

How they do it: Using a gene-editing technique called RNA interference, OSF has essentially turned off the enzymatic process that causes apple flesh to brown. While debate may continue among consumers over genetically modified foods, OSF’s Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden have been approved for consumption in the U.S. and Canada. Fresh Arctic Golden slices will be test-marketed in select U.S. Midwest cities this year. The company says the commercial launch of Arctic apple products will follow this year’s Arctic apple harvest – its first commercial harvest – with the availability of products increasing annually. The Summerland-based agricultural biotech company has several more tree-fruit varieties under development.

Austin Wang, scientist, researcher

What they do: Austin Wang was a Grade 12 Vancouver high school student when he won the 2016 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for developing microbial fuel cells that more efficiently convert organic waste into electricity.

Why they do it: Waste water poses a huge problem. We create a lot of it and it is expensive and challenging to rehabilitate. “It takes a lot of energy to process waste water but actually waste water contains a lot of energy inside it. We just don’t have a really good way to extract this energy. With these microbial fuels cells you can process the waste water and at the same time recover the energy out of the waste water – it’s killing two birds with one stone,” says Wang, now 19 and a freshman at Princeton University.

How they do it: Wang set out to find a gene that could be genetically modified to generate electricity more efficiently. He found several. The discovery has the potential to make microbial fuel cells commercially viable. He continues his research at the University of British Columbia, during his breaks from studies at Princeton.

Axine Water Technologies

What they do: This Vancouver-based company has developed a treatment for toxic industrial waste water.

Why they do it: Each year, U.S. industry spends $10 billion to $15 billion managing toxic waste water generated by manufacturing plants. Billions of gallons of this waste water is so toxic it can’t be treated with conventional technologies and must be trucked off-site to be pumped underground, incinerated or landfilled at high cost and risk to industry and communities.

How they do it: Axine uses an electrochemical treatment for the most toxic chemicals in industrial waste water. By applying electricity to advanced catalysts, the system generates oxidants that break down toxic pollutants into gases such as O2, N2 and H2 without producing waste. The company has recently completed development and testing of its first-generation commercial system and signed its first service agreement with a multinational computer electronics manufacturer to treat waste water in California, says Jonathan Rhone, president and CEO.

Ballard Power Systems

What they do: Founded in 1979, Ballard unveiled the world’s first hydrogen-fuel-cell-powered, zero-emission transit bus to worldwide fanfare in 1993. Late founder Geoffrey Ballard went on to be named a Hero of the Planet by Time magazine. In 2008, with hydrogen fuel cell infrastructure developing at a slow pace, Ballard sold its automotive fuel-cell development business to Daimler AG and Ford Motor Co. and changed its focus from consumer vehicles to other areas of its business, including larger-scale commercial transport. In 2015, the Canadian Innovation Exchange named Ballard one of the top 20 innovative public technology companies in Canada. Ballard is currently selling out its 85-kilowatt fuel-cell engine, which is typically used to help power large city buses.

Why they do it: Over the past two years, the company has been making inroads in the Chinese transportation sector, where zero-emission vehicles are key to tackling the world’s worst air pollution problem. Seeing a need for smaller fuel-cell engines for smaller commercial vehicles, Ballard unveiled its 30-kilowatt FCveloCity engine last year.

How they do it: Fuel cells are clean, zero-emission devices that produce electricity through a chemical reaction that occurs when you introduce hydrogen gas and air. The only byproducts are heat and water. The electricity produced is used to power an electrical motor, which then turns the wheels of a vehicle, for example.

B.C. Aboriginal Doors program

What they do: Led by the Aboriginal program at FPInnovations, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art and the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing at the University of British Columbia (UBC) worked together on a high-tech approach to produce Aboriginal carved doors.

Why they do it: Highly coveted by collectors and museums, an original carving takes many hours to complete, limiting the output and, therefore, the income of Aboriginal artists.

How they do it: Artists from 10 Aboriginal communities took part in an intensive four-week carving course last summer at Emily Carr and the Freda Diesing School. Using modern scanning and computer-numerical control (CNC), the program produced original carved doors in limited-edition reproductions. “The limited-edition print concept is key, ensuring that the artists and their communities maintain ownership and credit for their designs and for their work,” says Chris Gaston, an associate professor at UBC. “As is the case with limited-edition reproductions by print-media artists, the CNC technology will allow for increased artist productivity, and for increasing the affordability of signed copies for a wider audience of collectors, and in the case of these doors, home/commercial building designers.” Artists can produce either high-resolution reproductions with little finishing remaining, or low-resolution reproductions of the less-skilled carving – essentially templates – to be finished by hand. “It is our hope that in the end the training and application of machine technologies will lead to capacity building and added wealth to Aboriginal communities,” Gaston says.

BCIT Smart Microgrid Applied Research Team

What they do: For more than 10 years, this team at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) has been researching and developing smart-grid technologies. In 2016, its Energy OASIS project became fully operational at the BCIT Burnaby campus, Canada’s first campus-based smart power microgrid.

Why they do it: Clean energy is the future but scalable, reliable grids that can rely on clean energy sources remain a challenge. Wind energy is available only when there is sufficient wind, solar only when there is enough sunlight. Energy storage is necessary in order to make these clean sources practical.

How they do it: The Energy OASIS microgrid successfully integrates solar photovoltaics and grid-scale energy storage to support a portion of the campus electricity needs. The system has an intelligent energy management system that optimizes the balance of when and how much energy is stored and when and how much is used directly. It can operate in parallel with the larger utility grid or in isolation. The system generates over 160 megawatts of electricity a year, or about 440 kilowatts per day. That’s enough for 12 to 15 average B.C. homes. BCIT and industry partners, including BC Hydro, are currently looking for remote, diesel-dependent communities where they can replicate the OASIS microgrid. They are also exploring field demonstrations for electric-vehicle charging technologies and infrastructure development.

Bee IPM at UBC

What they do: The next-generation Integrated Pest Management of Honey Bees (Bee IPM) project is about developing new tools to protect honeybees from disease, fungi and pests.

Why they do it: For a variety of reasons, North American honeybees are dying off at an unprecedented rate. About one-third of the population has been lost in recent years. Many of the bacteria, viruses, fungi and pests responsible for these deaths are becoming more tolerant to traditional chemical pesticides used to control them, and the public is becoming less tolerant of agricultural pesticides in agricultural products.

How they do it: Using knowledge from years of basic bee research, the team has developed a means to selectively breed honeybees for disease resistance. The project, funded in part by Genome BC and Genome Canada, looks for protein biomarkers in the antennae of honeybees that predict disease-resistant behaviour. Those bees with the biomarkers are bred; those without are not. “This will enable any beekeeper who wants to select their own stock, or to purchase selected stock that should be more disease resistant,” says Leonard Foster, a team leader and professor at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for High-Throughput Biology. It is the first application of this kind of approach in any crop or livestock, says Foster.


What they do: BioSurveillance of Alien Forest Enemies (BioSAFE) is using DNA to combat the invasive species that threaten Canada’s $33 billion annual forest export industry.

Why they do it: Thousands of foreign insects and pathogens arrive in Canada annually hidden among imported goods, on ships, or even in the boots of travellers. “The challenge is that it is virtually impossible to recognize these potential threats in those states and assess the risk they pose to Canada’s natural resources,” says Richard Hamelin, forest and conservation sciences professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and one of the lead scientists on the project partially funded by Genome BC. By decoding the DNA of known threats, it is possible to test for even microscopic traces.

How they do it: The BioSAFE team – which includes UBC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Laval University – decodes the genomes to identify unique markers for those organisms. They then design tools to detect those DNA patterns in environmental samples from plants, soil, insect eggs or other suspect material found during inspection. The team has developed DNA detection tools for the Asian and European gypsy moth, and the sudden oak death pathogen. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has performed over 100,000 tests using these tools already. The BioSAFE team continues to decode the DNA of a broad range of insects and pathogens, along with developing a more precise detection tool. They already have a prototype for a portable DNA test that can be done in the field, allowing a more rapid response.

Cannabix Technologies Inc.

What they do: Vancouver-based Cannabix is developing a marijuana breathalyzer.

Why they do it: The legalization of marijuana in Canada and several U.S. states poses a problem for police in enforcing impaired-driving laws. The race is on to develop a practical, portable breathalyzer that would allow police to determine – with certainty enough to stand up in court – whether a driver is impaired by marijuana.

How they do it: The Cannabix hand-held device tests for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a driver’s breath. Recent trials of the prototype successfully detected THC, says CEO Rav Mlait. “We continue to refine and optimize our breathalyzer prototype in preparation for expanded scientific testing,” Mlait says. “Cannabix is working as quickly as possible to commercialize its device due to the growing demand for its device.” The company plans to conduct another round of trials, using blood samples to correlate the breathalyzer findings. Cannabix – or any of the myriad companies developing drugged-driver tests - will have to seek approval from Justice Canada and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. before a device can be used as a court-approved cannabis breathalyzer.


What they do: This Vancouver startup recycles used chopsticks into new products.

Why they do it: An estimated 100,000 pairs of single-use chopsticks get thrown out every day in Vancouver alone in what ChopValue founder Felix Bock calls “the urban bamboo forest.” Bock wanted to divert these chopsticks from the waste stream and create jobs in the process.

How they do it: ChopValue provides restaurants with a recycling program that reduces their environmental footprint and cuts their garbage tipping costs. The company collects the used utensils and screens them, and then they are “densified” under heat and pressure into new components. In its first few months in operation, ChopValue recycled more than two million chopsticks into products including flooring, shelving, coasters, tabletops, cabinets, serving trays and even cutting boards for sushi chefs. In March, the company announced its stylish chopstick yoga block. “We created five new jobs in recycling, manufacturing and design – purely based on a material that previously would have ended up on the landfill,” Bock says.

Coastline Market fresh fish delivery app

What they do: The app connects fishers with local restaurants, so they can purchase fresh off the boat and cut out the middlemen. The product ends up on the plate much faster, with fewer bites out of profits for harvesters along the way.

Why they do it: According to research by Oceana, up to one-third of all seafood items sold in the U.S. are mislabelled. At the same time, domestic seafood harvesters export a majority of their catch while domestic restaurants rely primarily on imported seafood. Seafood changes hands as many as six times from sea to supper, each pair taking a cut of profits. Harvesters earn pennies on the dollar while middlemen make money. “By trimming down the fat in the supply chain, we help increase fishers’ income while providing better value to restaurants,” says co-founder Joseph Lee.

How they do it: Coastline Market doesn’t store or hold inventory – it simply puts the sellers in touch with the buyers with the click of a button. Chefs know where and how their seafood was harvested, and by whom. Already up and running in Vancouver, Coastline plans to expand into Victoria and Seattle this year.


What they do: A surgical drilling system that allows orthopedic surgeons in resource-constrained settings to treat bone fractures at a fraction of the cost of conventional western surgical drills.

Why they do it: In many countries and under many circumstances, surgeons don’t have access to state-of-the-art surgical drills that cost as much as $30,000. They have to resort to drilling holes with non-sterile drills you would find at Home Depot, or even manual hand-crank drills. Four years ago, Dr. Piotr Blachut and Dr. Peter O’Brien – Vancouver surgeons who do humanitarian work in Uganda – asked University of British Columbia engineering students for help.

How they do it: A group of graduate students produced the first prototype for a drill cover made of pathogen-​resistant surgical gown material that keeps the drill sterile, allowing the same drill to be used in consecutive surgeries and drastically reducing the time lost to sterilization. Those students went on to found Arbutus Medical, which teamed with product design students at Kwantlen Polytechnic University to design the covers and prepare for manufacturing. The DrillCover is certified by Health Canada, and with five covers and one drill, surgeons can do surgery all day without having to wait for sterilization. Responding to a call from a humanitarian group, Arbutus Medical provided 40 drill covers for trauma surgeons in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake. It has introduced the product in East Africa and Latin America and plans expansion into India, Southeast Asia, North Africa and the Middle East this year and next.

Eco Eats

What they do: This Vancouver startup is developing an app to sell or, if that doesn’t work, give to non-profits near-expired or just-expired food bound for the compost bin.

Why they do it: A staggering $31 billion of food is wasted in Canada every year, according to one recent estimate. A large part of that is grocery store food that has passed its expiration date, even though the Canadian Food Inspection Agency officially says it’s fine to feast on expired food.

How they do it: The app connects frugal food buyers with grocery stores and restaurants looking to sell off at a discount food nearing its expiry. If it goes unsold, the app connects grocery stores with non-profits and social service agencies that will take the newly expired eats. It’s like a food version of Groupon, says founder Jennae Gedeon. Eco Eats also will contribute a portion of funds from every purchase to charities in underdeveloped nations. With the help of crowdfunding and funds from Vancity and the not-for-profit Mitacs organization, Gedeon is aiming to test the app this fall and launch by the end of this year.

Electra Meccanica Vehicles Corp.

What they do: This Vancouver-based company builds three-wheeled electric vehicles targeting the urban commuter crowd.

Why they do it: Transportation is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas in Canada, accounting for 24 per cent of overall emissions. Daily commuters are a significant contributor to the country’s carbon load. Despite efforts by governments and public officials, about 80 per cent of travel is still done by single-passenger vehicles. Enter Electra Meccanica and its Solo vehicle. “Solo is designed as a commuter vehicle to get you to and from work and around town as needed at minimal expense,” says Jeff Holland, company spokesman.

How they do it: The single-passenger, all-electric Solo debuted in September 2016. Powered by a 16.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery, it has a range of 160 kilometres with a top speed of 130 kilometres per hour. It is a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly mode of urban commuting, Holland says. In little more than six months, Electra Meccanica has 500 vehicles on order and only just opened its first two retail stores in Vancouver and Richmond. The first vehicles were slated for delivery to customers this summer.

Enterra Feed Corp.

What they do: Enterra rears black soldier fly larvae for use as animal feed. It was a Canadian first last year when the Canadian Food Inspection Agency approved Enterra feed for chicken broilers and another Canadian first earlier this year when the agency approved the feed for salmonids in the aquaculture industry.

Why they do it: Most aquaculture feed is fish meal, meaning fish are taken from the ocean and fed to farmed fish as protein, further depleting wild ocean stocks. At the same time, there is growing concern over food waste in Canada. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians wasted the equivalent of 183 kilograms of food per person in 2007, or more than six million tonnes. “Fish eat insects in their natural environment, and our product is a healthy, digestible and renewable source of protein and fat that can replace less sustainable ingredients, including fish meal and soybean meal,” says Andrew Vickerson, chief technology officer.

How they do it: Enterra uses waste food from grocery stores, food manufacturers, farms, etc., to feed the larvae at its rearing facility in Langley. Over the course of a couple of weeks, they grow from microscopic eggs to larvae the size of the tip of a pinky finger. At this stage most are harvested and processed into nutrient-rich feed while a smaller number are hatched into the flies that will lay eggs and start the whole process again.

ExcelSense Technologies

What they do: Vancouver-based ExcelSense Technologies Corp. makes cameras with self-cleaning technology for the harshest industrial environments.

Why they do it: In nine years of developing and designing products for open-pit mining, ExcelSense Technologies CEO Nima Nabavi saw first-hand the effects of harsh environments on equipment – cameras in particular.  With the massive scale of most mining equipment, those cameras are key to safety but maintaining them is a challenge. “One time when visiting a mine, I saw the flattened remains of a vehicle not more than two feet thick,” Nabavi says. It used to be a bus, he was told. “A mining haul truck had run over the bus without realizing it; the driver of the truck had to be radioed to stop. This gives you the scale of the machines at work in these industries, how limited the vision is for the driver and how important camera reliability and clarity is.” Nobody was hurt but it spurred Nabavi toward the self-cleaning industrial optics designed to withstand the harshest environments.

How they do it: The cleaning technology housed in the camera unit is effective against dust, mud, oil, grease and water without damaging the surface of the camera. In February, Nabavi, University of British Columbia Okanagan engineering professor Jonathan Holzman and Canfor were awarded a $270,000 Ignite Award from the provincial government’s BC Innovation Council to continue development of the technology.

Finger Food Studios

What they do: Finger Food Studios’ 25,000-square-foot Holodeck studio in Port Coquitlam is the largest holographic facility in North America, allowing clients to blend the digital and physical worlds.

Why they do it: The studio allows businesses and designers to use augmented reality in the development of their products. Its first mixed-reality project in the Holodeck allowed heavy-duty truck designer and manufacturer Paccar to eschew expensive and time-consuming clay models in favour of Finger Foods’ full-scale holographic design space. The design time on the semi truck decreased from the usual six months to a couple of months, says Ember Newey, company spokeswoman.

How they do it: In 2016, Finger Food became an official Microsoft HoloLens agency partner – the first Canadian company to do so. Unlike virtual reality, the HoloLens technology mixes people, places and objects from the physical world with a virtual world of your own design. Finger Foods has seen explosive growth, catering to industries ranging from architectural design and industrial engineering to health and retail. smart banking platform

What they do: designed a smart banking platform based on artificial intelligence. In a nutshell, it allows customers to interact with their bank the same way they do with their friends – via voice and text, or via social media such as Facebook Messenger or Slack.’s white-label chatbot is now used by banks across four continents under their own brands. Most recently, the Vancouver-based startup launched North America’s first full-feature banking chatbot with ATB Financial.

Why they do it: While some other banks have chatbot banking assistants, is the first to allow people to move money that way.

How they do it: lets you bank in chat and voice platforms. It also helps you manage your finances with personalized savings tools, information on how you are spending (you can ask, ‘How much did I pay for gas last month?’) and budgeting tools that nudge you to engage in good behaviour based on your current financial habits.

GSC BioMid

What they do: This Burnaby-based business developed a process to use wood waste to produce industrial-strength, biodegradable yarn to reinforce composites, plastic and rubber. The yarn is already used as a separator for lithium-ion batteries, in the manufacture of unmanned aerial vehicles and drones for military purposes and aerospace applications. Earlier this year BioMid was named a winner of a B.C. government agricultural technology innovation challenge for developing recyclable twine for commercial greenhouses.

Why they do it: Synthetic yarns are stronger than those made from natural fibres such as cotton, but they are not biodegradable. After 20 years in the advanced materials business, Gordon Shank felt he could change that.

How they do it: BioMid is manufactured using only cellulose left over from forestry production. “The raw material is waste from the lumber industry that would usually just get disposed of, burned or landfilled,” Shank says. Production is zero-waste, meaning if 1,000 kilograms of wood waste goes into the processing, 1,000 kilograms of fibre comes out. The process produces no waste and one-3,000th of the carbon emissions of synthetic equivalents. “The only ingredients are water and electricity,” Shank says. Commercialized in 2014, following six years in development, BioMid is manufactured in Korea from cellulose produced in B.C. and elsewhere, and shipped all over the world.

Henriquez Partners Architects

What they do: This Vancouver firm was awarded an Architizer A+ Award last year for its work on the Telus Garden building in downtown Vancouver.

Why they do it: The goal was twofold: to create the most sustainable development in Vancouver, if not Canada, and to make it a vital community space.

How they do it: The 22-storey office tower was the first building in Canada to achieve LEED Platinum standard, as set out by the U.S. Green Building Council. In real terms, it means a building that uses 40 per cent less energy, features over 10,000 square feet of green roof, and harvests rainwater for flushing toilets. A glass canopy inspired by Emily Carr’s Cathedral painting spans the front of the building. There’s a koi pond, solar panels, a public art space and a media facade on the building that is essentially a public art installation itself. And there’s a grand piano. “We’ve created a city living room, open to everybody. So somebody who plays piano can actually have access to a $350,000 Fazioli piano in the lobby,” says Veronica Gillies, director of innovation at Henriquez Partners. “You have to combine beauty and sustainability.”

Limbic Media high-tech light installations

What they do: This Victoria-based company produces high-tech reactive art and light installations.

Why they do it: Because it’s really cool. Limbic designed voice-reactive lighting for an installation called Voicebergs at the 2014 Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden. The system allowed visitors to “see” their voices as lights in two floating iceberg structures. Limbic also designed the lighting for the “Singing Tree” that lights up downtown Victoria over Christmas, with 800-plus lights that respond to music and the sounds of the crowd.

How they do it: The team of artists, techs and engineers at Limbic has developed Aurora, one of the world’s most advanced sound-responsive LED lighting systems. The Aurora system uses algorithms to unravel sound. Audio information is analyzed and mapped to an artificial-intelligence-based lighting design model. Limbic has installed the technology at events in cities across North America including New York, Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria. It has also worked with such high-profile brands as Lululemon and Heineken. This summer the company will launch a commercially available product version of the technology.

Lululemon Athletica’s latest fabrics

What they do: The Vancouver-based retailer put pigeon pose on the proverbial map with its high-end line of yoga and athletic wear. From a single Vancouver storefront, Lululemon leveraged its upstart brand to become a major challenger to the global sportswear giants it eschewed.  Then consumers soured a bit on that brand following a wardrobe malfunction in the form of inadvertently see-through pants and a CEO malfunction in the form of founder Chip Wilson’s comments about women being just too large for the product. Now lulu, as it’s known to fans, is aiming to make a comeback.

Why they do it: Lululemon redesigned its women’s pants line based on feel, not fit, says spokeswoman Erin Hankinson. For two years, the lulu team worked on a new high-performance cardio and yoga wear fabric.

How they do it: Lululemon launched its Engineered Sensation pants line a couple of years ago, featuring its Nulu and Nulux fabrics. Tongue perhaps planted firmly in cheek, the retailer included the Naked Sensation products “engineered to give the feeling of wearing nothing at all.” Lulu unleashed its new Enlite bra this year to rave reviews.


What they do: This Vancouver-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly menstruation products has come up with products designed specifically for transgender and non-binary customers.

Why they do it: “Lunapads’ mission is to help everyone have empowering experiences with their bodies, and we began receiving stories from trans and non-binary individuals telling us of their frustrating experiences with menstruation. Pads, tampons and menstrual cups are all highly gendered purchases that can make trans and non-binary individuals feel uncomfortable and unhappy in their own skin.”

How they do it: The Boxer line is based on classic boxer briefs but includes a leak-proof, absorbent protection suitable for menstrual flow. Looking like any other underwear, the Lunapads Boxer is lined with removable, washable and reusable cloth inserts that can be changed throughout the day. Through its One4Her program, Lunapads also supports the Uganda-based AFRIpads program to provide menstrual products to schoolgirls in that country.

Macdonald Dettwiler’s Near Real-Time Ship Detection

What they do: The maker of the iconic Canadarm and Canadarm2 used by NASA has moved heavily toward communications and surveillance technology since the glory days of Canadian aerospace ingenuity. MDA now owns and operates the state-of-the-art Radarsat-2 satellite and was contracted to build two mobile satellite ground stations to provide the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) with detailed satellite imagery. The Unclassified Remote-Sensing Situational Awareness, or URSA, system is used by Canadian Joint Operations Command and last December was deployed to Bahrain as part of Canada’s contribution to Operation Foundation, the multinational counterterrorism effort in the Middle East, North Africa and Southwest Asia. URSA is also used for Operation Artemis involving the Combined Maritime Forces and the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean.

How they do it: A recent software upgrade by MDA now provides more accurate and immediate imagery to Canadian naval commanders of their maritime surroundings. “This state-of-the-art satellite-based technology is being used by the CAF on operations for the first time. It will contribute to greater maritime situational awareness by enhancing the recognized maritime picture in the areas of interest for deployed commanders,” says Wendy Keyzer, MDA’s communications manager.

Microdermics micro-needle

What they do: Microdermics’ micro-needle injection system is a low-cost, pain-free alternative to the hypodermic needle and syringe.

Why they do it: The first hypodermic needle fine enough to pierce the skin was invented in 1853 and hasn’t improved much in 160 years. Millions of people suffer from needle phobia. Millions more suffer needle stick injuries every year, which risks transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis. Because of that risk, injections must be administered by health- care professionals, limiting access and increasing the cost. And there is no biological benefit to administering vaccines or biologics into the muscle as hypodermic needles do, says Grant Campany, founder.  “It simply is what has been done for the past 160 years,” he says.

How they do it: The micro-needle injects just under the skin. The projections are less than one millimetre long – deep enough to deliver but without pain. They are not deep enough to risk hitting nerves or blood vessels, meaning anyone with basic skills can administer, akin to diabetics injecting insulin. “We envision a future where self-administration provides greater access to critical vaccinations as well as reducing expenses for health-care systems,” says Campany. Microdermics has completed dozens of animal studies and a human safety trial. It is planning two human studies this year in support of regulatory filings with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada.

Mogo Finance Technology

What they do: An online lender-come-financial tech start-up aimed at the media-savvy millennial customer.

Why they do it: Bricks-and-mortar banks and traditional credit card companies probably fall somewhere between Donald Trump and tax season in terms of popularity, and this Vancouver-based fintech is among those who hope to cash in on the coming coup. “One of the biggest financial challenges consumers face is overspending, as credit cards are designed to incentivize spending while debit cards make it difficult to stay on budget. Using a traditional chequing account for regular payments and everyday spending doesn’t allow consumers to see their balance in real time, which can result in overspending and overdraft fees when both types of expenses come out of the same account,” says Dave Feller, the company’s founder, CEO and chair of the board of directors.

How they do it: Founded in 2003 as an online lender, Mogo has introduced in recent years products such as an iOS app that allows customers to transfer funds from their bank to a Mogo spending account, which they can track in real time. “Members” can also access a varying range of loans or advances and even mortgages. Since processing its first online loan in February 2006, the company says it now has 350,000 users.

Moose Hide Campaign

What they do: A public awareness campaign to combat violence against Indigenous women.

Why they do it: In 2011, Raven Lacerte and her dad, Paul, were hunting along the Highway of Tears, a stretch of lonely road in central B.C. where dozens of women – many of them Aboriginal – have gone missing or been murdered. Across Canada, a public inquiry is getting underway into cases of murdered or missing Indigenous women. “We wanted better for women in Indigenous communities and women across Canada, and we saw the huge need for men to stand up in this space. As we were cleaning out a moose we got one day, we had the idea to tan up the moose hide and ask men and women to join us in this movement to end violence towards women and children,” says Lacerte, co-founder and youth ambassador for the Moose Hide Campaign Development Society.

How they do it: They ask men to wear a piece of hide as a visual commitment to ending violence toward women and children. Lacerte and her sisters started by cutting up 25,000 squares of hide. To date, they’ve distributed more than half a million to over 300 communities. Each year the campaign hosts a one-day men’s fast to recognize the cycle of violence. The B.C. government proclaimed February 16, 2017, as Moose Hide Campaign Day, and 700 people registered for the fast.

Moovee Innovations Inc.

What they do: Moovee develops situational sensing and motion prediction products for autonomous vehicles.

Why they do it: Autonomous vehicles are coming. Every major automaker and tech company is in the race to replace the human driver behind the wheel. But it is easier said than done for technology to match the human brain, and so far the driverless car is nothing more than a science experiment.

How they do it: Vancouver-based Moovee Innovations hopes to form a piece of the puzzle of bringing the technology to a street near you. The company is developing a situational sensing system that captures real-time 6D data, with motion prediction and mapping of the streetscape, traffic and pedestrian interaction. The system essentially allows an autonomous vehicle to incorporate its entire surroundings to ensure safety. The company has a working prototype with hardware and software functioning as intended, says CEO Donald Wong. The next step is to train the artificial-intelligence engine and construct a prototype suitable for the automotive environment, he says. Moovee is currently seeking funding to put its sensor systems in vehicles for testing.

My Best Helper

What they do: An online database connecting parents with caregivers and other household helpers.

Why they do it: About half of Canadian parents rely on some form of child care, according to Statistics Canada, and unlike generations ago, most of that child care comes from daycare centres, home daycare or paid private child care providers. When Dr. Alexandra T. Greenhill, a doctor and co-founder and CEO of My Best Helper, was looking for child care for her three children, she found out just how hard that can be. “As a health-care leader, I saw all the evidence pointing to the increased stress of the modern family and the need to prevent it becoming disease,” Greenhill says. “I resolved to make it easier to find the support families needed.”

How they do it: Users go to the My Best Helper site or app and describe what they need through a post, and a My Best Helper tech goes to work to compile a short list of available candidates, which are not limited to professional caregivers but may include pre-vetted individual students, stay-at-home parents or part-time workers. The postings go beyond child care to home services, elder care and other needs of working parents. Greenhill was the recipient of a 2015 Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for the site.


What they do: This Victoria-based First Nations tech company provides a web-based secret-ballot voting system and member registrar management for Indigenous communities.

Why they do it: Most modern Aboriginal communities are composed of an increasing number of urban members living far from their home bands. It is estimated that more than half of First Nations live off reserve. This poses a huge problem in band elections and referendums for communities trying to track and engage their membership.

How they do it: The cloud-based system provides an online secret-ballot voting system for band elections, ratification votes and other plebiscites. “Anyone who has access to the web, who can get online, can use it,” says founder Lawrence Lewis, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation. “It’s designed so that there’s absolutely no barrier to access and use.” It’s a secure, confidential system but one that makes it easy for distant band members to participate in community governance. OneFeather verifies the identity of voters from lists provided by the band. Thirty-nine nations have used the system since it went live in 2015, he says. The oldest voter to use the system was 99, Lewis says.

Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc.

What they do: In 2005, Ostara licensed from the University of British Columbia (UBC) a novel technology to recover phosphorus and nitrogen from municipal and industrial waste water and recycle them as eco-friendly fertilizer.

Why they do it: Phosphorus is a naturally occurring nutrient essential to plant life, but too much of it – from all sorts of human activity – can spur algae blooms that kill aquatic life. Bodies of water such as the Great Lakes are at increasing risk from phosphorus pollution.

How they do it: Donald S. Mavinic, the UBC civil engineering professor who came up with the nutrient recovery technology, was awarded the $25,000 Dave Mitchell Award of Distinction from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation for the invention. Now licensed by Ostara, the technology removes these nutrients from waste water systems with the company’s Pearl fluidized bed reactor. The nutrients crystallize and grow like pearls to be harvested, dried, bagged and sold under the brand Crystal Green. The process removes up to 85 per cent of phosphorus and 15 per cent of nitrogen that would otherwise cycle back to the plant, says Debra Hadden, company spokeswoman. The fertilizer is also slow-release and highly insoluble in water, causing less run-off from agricultural use into waterways, the company says. Ostara now has 14 commercial facilities in operation in North America and Europe.

PHEMI Central data solutions

What they do: PHEMI Central is essentially a digital warehouse that collects, organizes and stores data in a way that is secure and makes reams of information (think everything from lab results to genomic files to disease statistics) usable.

Why they do it: We are swimming in data. Drowning in it, in some cases. But just having data is far from making use of it – a problem that PHEMI Central aims to solve for the health-care profession in particular.

How they do it: Each piece of data is independently and automatically indexed and catalogued, making extremely fast and advanced searching possible and ready for analytics. Taking into account privacy, governance and data management issues, PHEMI Central clients are so far using the system for medical and health applications, including tracking adverse drug events, occurrence of autism, heart disease, population health statistics, and on and on. The system allows clients to mine multiple years’ worth of information from multiple sources, analyzing for patterns and testing hypotheses at a previously impossible pace.

QHR Technologies Inc.

What they do: This Kelowna-based health-care technology company provides electronic medical records and a virtual health-care platform.

Why they do it: Ever wonder why anyone still makes fax paper? Believe it or not, health care is one of the industries that often still uses fax as the primary channel of secure communication. An early adopter health care is not. QHR set out to change that.

How they do it: QHR has two products, Medeo and Accuro EMR. Medeo is a virtual care platform that allows physicians to securely connect to patients via secure messaging, like email, and online video visits. Accuro Electronic Medical Records provides computer-based medical records software for specialists, primary-care doctors and allied health professionals. In 12 years, QHR became a health-tech leader in Canada, accounting for 20 per cent of the Canadian electronic health record market worth about $350 million per year, according to reports. It was named a top-50 company on the 2014 TSX Venture 50. Loblaw, through its Shoppers Drug Mart subsidiary, purchased QHR last October.

Solegear Bioplastic Technologies Inc.

What they do: This Vancouver-based company manufactures plant-based plastics.

Why they do it: About 300 billion tons of plastic is produced globally every year and only about 12 per cent is recycled. Much of it ends up in our oceans, and one recent study estimated that in 2010 alone, between four million and 12 million tonnes of plastic washed ashore around the world. In landfills, plastics can leach hazardous chemicals that make their way into the water table. And there are health concerns about toxic components such as BPA. But plastics are durable and cause fewer carbon dioxide emissions from shipping, compared with glass and metal.

How they do it: Solegear produces plant-based plastics as durable as their traditional counterparts. Rather than use byproducts from natural gas or oil refinement, such as ethylene glycol or propylene, Solegear bioplastics start with bio-based ingredients, like lactic acid, to create a basic plastic formula. Additives to improve the durability, heat resistance and flexibility of the product are screened against a list of known chemicals of concern. In full-scale commercial production since 2013, Solegear has expanded to 60 brands and customers throughout Canada and the U.S., including its Good Natured brand of office products that are certified compostable.

Stemcell Technologies Inc.

What they do: Stemcell Technologies Inc. produces cell culture media for use in medical research around the world.

Why they do it: Medical scientists need standardized, high-quality cell culture media to grow cells for research. Stemcell Technologies was founded in 1993 by Dr. Allen Eaves, then the head of the BC Cancer Agency’s Terry Fox Laboratory. Eaves was unable to get the cell culture media to grow blood-forming cells for his own research, so he began making media.

How they do it: Cell culture media is a nutritious liquid broth that may be supplemented with growth factors to allow cells to be grown in plastic culture dishes placed into an incubator at 37 C, approximating the conditions they would experience within the body. This allows researchers to study the characteristics and behaviours of healthy and diseased cells in isolation and under various experimental conditions. Stemcell has expanded far beyond its original focus and now provide reagents for cell types and tissues beyond the hematopoietic (blood-forming) system. Stemcell is today the largest biotech company in Canada, providing cell research tools to medical scientists in more than 80 countries. Eaves, president and CEO of Stemcell Technologies, was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year, Pacific, by Ernst and Young Canada last year.

Stephanie Simmons/ Quantum computing

What they do: Quantum computing, as envisaged by Stephanie Simmons, a physics professor at Simon Fraser University and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Quantum Nanoelectronics.

Why they do it: The global race is on to build technologies that harness the laws of quantum mechanics for universal quantum computers, transcending the limits of modern computing. “There are many computational problems that would take hundreds, thousands or even millions of years to compute even if we devote the entire planet’s conventional computing power to the problem,” says Simmons, whose work on silicon qubits was awarded a Physics World Top 10 Breakthrough of the Year in 2013 and again in 2015. “These problems are very important problems; they include material and chemical (e.g. drug) simulation and design, certain machine learning and AI tasks, code breaking, optimization and forecasting, and much more. Universal quantum computers offer exponentially more computing power to specific tasks such as these, bringing them within reach.”

How they do it: Modern computers are limited by the laws of physics as to how data is stored and processed. Simmons and her team are working to build a large-scale, universal quantum computer in silicon. To call it complicated is an understatement, but it involves manipulating the material on an atomic scale. Harnessing the laws of quantum mechanics will be a game-changer. “We’re at the dawn of a new stage of technological development, not unlike when we first harnessed the laws of semiconductors to make computer chips or first harnessed the laws of electromagnetism to give us all electricity, batteries and electrically powered devices.”

Structurlam wood alternative

What they do: Structurlam opened the first plant to manufacture cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels in North America in 2011. It’s now one of two Canadian companies manufacturing the panels, which are a solid wood product that offers a lighter-weight alternative to concrete in commercial construction.

Why they do it: Because CLT can compete with concrete, it allows more wood to be used in construction overall, which is a boon to B.C.’s forestry sector.

How they do it: To produce CLT, lumber is finger-jointed up to 40-feet long and laid crosswise with glue to make a super panel up to 10 feet by 40 feet. The product is very strong, five times lighter than concrete and performs well in seismic areas and in poor soil conditions. The Penticton-based company also manufactures glue-laminated timber. Glulam is used for the bones of a building and CLT for the floors, walls and roof.

Tech Easy Foundation

What they do: It’s a non-profit organization that teaches computer skills to seniors.

Why they do it: In Grade 5, Tech Easy founder Albert Cherng was teaching his grandparents how to use computers. “Them being in a separate generation, it was something completely new to them but, nevertheless, they still wanted to learn,” Cherng says. “It was really awesome to see. That was when I realized there is a huge gap between seniors and technology and no one is really addressing this issue.” His grandparents lived in Taiwan and each summer visit became an ad hoc computer camp.

How they do it: When he was in Grade 10, inspired by his grandparents’ adoption of computer technology, Cherng began volunteering at seniors’ homes to teach these basic skills. A few of his friends joined in and Tech Easy was eventually born. Students fulfilling volunteer requirements for high school graduation stepped up and, at its peak, Tech Easy ran six workshops per week for seniors with a series of lesson plans and drop-in tutorials. Now 20 years old and attending university, Cherng is looking for someone to take over the project as he immerses himself in his studies. He won a B.C. Social Innovation Youth Award earlier this year for his effort.

Terra CO2 Technologies

What they do: Terra CO2 Technologies, a subsidiary of Strategic Metals Ltd., is working on technology to convert mine wastes to stable compounds.

Why they do it: Acid mine waste is a huge problem for the mining industry. Conventional mining operations treat acid drainage by adding lime to form a toxic sludge that is then stored permanently in tailings ponds. As British Columbians know all too well (think Mount Polley mine), tailings ponds can breach or leak toxins into the environment. On top of that, like many other industries, mining is also struggling to reduce its overall carbon footprint.

How they do it: Working with Lee Groat, a mineralogist at the University of British Columbia, Terra CO2 is developing mine remediation technology that involves coating small grains of mine waste with a layer of carbonate material to prevent them from creating acid, similar to the way oysters coat a pearl. The carbonate material is produced from metals present in mine tailings and drainage, combined with carbon dioxide gas from an industrial source. “This process has the potential to replace the status quo of perpetual tailings storage and treatment,” says CEO Dylan Jones. Terra CO2 plans to launch a pilot plant this fall. Because of the carbon capture element, the company is among 27 international semifinalists for one of two US$7.5 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPrizes.


What they do: Vancouver-based UrtheCast Corp. provides high-quality images of Earth taken from outer space.

Why they do it: The Vancouver-based company’s customers include governments and corporations that use the images for everything from crop monitoring and disaster management to tracking ships and security applications.

How they do it: Born of a 2010 partnership with the Russian Space Agency to put cameras on the International Space Station, UrtheCast has evolved into a global geo-analytics leader. The latest iteration of UrtheCast innovation is OptiSAR, the world’s first fully digital synthetic-aperture radar (SAR). As opposed to traditional electro-optical cameras, the company has deployed these digital systems that send out radar pulses, which are then converted into images. Unlike other SAR technology, Urthecast’s next-gen technology is not black and white and has the advantage of “seeing” despite the conditions below. “Day, night, any weather conditions, you get an image,” says president Wade Larson. “Whereas with optical cameras it has to be sunny and it has to be cloud-free.” Next for UrtheCast is to finance, build, launch and operate a constellation of OptiSAR satellites. UrtheCast employs about 250 people today and brought in nearly $50 million in revenue from customers around the world last year.

Vandrico Solutions Inc.

What they do: What began as a wearable-tech company has transformed into a digital safety system for mining and other industrial uses.

Why they do it: In their early days developing wearable tech, the team at Vandrico noticed a gap between having the technology and making use of it. In mining in particular, safety practices hadn’t changed much in 100 years. Despite all the wearables available, on the ground mines still relied on a fraught system of having miners physically tag in and tag out to track personnel. One forgotten tag can cause serious delays in the process – especially during blasting. “Mines can’t detonate explosives to perform their blast if there may be a miner still underground in the area. One worker who forgets to remove their tag before going home can cost a mine hundreds of thousands of dollars by causing delays in the blasting schedule,” says Kenny MacKenzie, president.

How they do it: The Vancouver-based company’s ConnectedWorker and digital Tagboard platforms replace the physical tag board with a digital record that provides real-time location for personnel from any smart device within the mine. In addition to tracking personnel, the digital tracking offers management new insights into safety procedures, shift traffic and other data.

Victoria Hand Project

What they do: A non-profit organization that designs low-cost, 3D-printed prosthetics for amputees in underdeveloped nations. It also provides equipment and trains health-care providers in those countries to manufacture the Victoria Hand and fit patients.

Why they do it: There are an estimated 40 million amputees worldwide, many of them maimed in war and about 80 per cent of them in low- to middle-income countries. Fewer than five per cent of these amputees have access to prosthetics.

How they do it: In 2014, University of Victoria Prof. Nick Dechev and student Josh Coutts began exploring 3D printing a prosthetic designed by Dechev. Many iterations later, the 3D-printed Victoria Hand costs about $300, compared with thousands for more sophisticated metal prosthetics. It is entirely mechanical, with no motors or sensors. Equipped with a simple steel cable attached to a shoulder harness, it has an “adaptive grasp” that allows the fingers to conform around objects. The wrist moves and the thumb rotates, allowing enough grasp to write with a pen or tie shoelaces. The non-profit has provided prosthetics to more than 70 people in Guatemala, Nepal, Cambodia, Ecuador and Haiti. A finalist for the Google Impact Challenge Canada, the project didn’t win but was awarded $250,000 from Google, along with support to expand operations.


What they do: ViewsIQ is a medical technology company that developed an image-stitching algorithm.

Why they do it: Ninety-two per cent of the world’s 300,000 labs do not have the specialist pathologists on site to diagnosis patient samples. Those labs are left to ship patient slides via courier to other institutions for diagnosis or a second opinion. In addition to the enormous cost – up to $50 per sample for potentially millions of samples – it’s also slow, which can delay critical treatment. Despite that, pathology has been one of the last health-care silos to go digital. The digital options available have been hardware-based, which can be costly and cumbersome to the clinical workflow. In collaboration with the pathology department at Vancouver General Hospital and the British Columbia Institute of Technology, ViewsIQ founder Herman Lo developed the image-stitching algorithm launched as Panoptiq in 2012.

How they do it: The Panoptiq platform lets clinicians scan and stitch together slides into one panoramic view using a microscope-based scanning software, essentially digitizing specimens as a pathologist views them through a microscope. Its cloud-based sharing portal allows them to share slides and offer expert diagnostic care to patients anywhere in the world. The Richmond-based company’s technology is now used in labs across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, China and Japan for everything from teaching curriculum to telepathology.

VSSL Outdoor Utility Tools

What they do: Abbotsford-based VSSL won silver at the international Edison Awards last year for its military-grade LED flashlight that contains survival gear in the handle. The company makes an array of outdoor survival gear.

Why they do it: VSSL founder Todd Weimer grew up adventuring in the outdoors. Now with kids of his own venturing out, he decided to make the survival tool all explorers should take with them. “The real problem arises when people are heading out for a short hike, they usually don’t bring any (or enough) gear with them,” says Weimer. “Nearly every survival story starts with ‘but I was only going to be out for a few hours,’ then something goes wrong. We wanted to make something that would be easy/convenient/practical for those short-term excursions, but that carried life-saving gear if things went south.”

How they do it: LED lights require far smaller batteries than traditional flashlights. VSSL uses that freed-up space for critical survival gear, including water purification tablets, fire starter and fishing gear. The flashlight is weather-resistant and weighs in at just 18 ounces. All VSSL products are assembled in B.C. by youth with special needs, which earned the company’s operations manager a community award last year.


What they do: 3D-printed custom insoles and footwear.

Why they do it: The average adult takes 4,000 to 6,000 steps per day, adding up to 160,000 kilometres in a lifetime. There are 52 bones in a pair of feet – 25 per cent of all the bones in the human body. It’s no wonder that an estimated 75 per cent of people will experience foot problems in their lifetime. But traditional orthotics are expensive. Wiivv co-founders Shamil Hargovan and Louis-Victor Jadavji set out to change that with a high-tech, direct-to-consumer product line.

How they do it: Using the latest technology in 3D printing, Vancouver-headquartered Wiivv has developed its own patented software. The Wiivv app downloaded from the Apple Store or Google Play takes customers through the process of inputting data from their smartphone into orders for biomechanically designed, custom insoles and soon sandals. The ordering process takes only about five minutes, says Hargovan, but collects more than 200 data points. The footwear is printed and assembled at a facility in San Diego and delivered in a week. Founded in the summer of 2014, Wiivv has undertaken two highly successful Kickstarter campaigns, and Hargovan and Jadavji made Forbes magazine’s 2016 30 Under 30 list for manufacturing and industry.

Wize Monkey Coffee Leaf Tea

What they do: While studying for their master’s degrees, Max Rivest and Arnaud Petitvallet came across a study of the health benefits and history of use of coffee leaf tea, which the study said had less caffeine and more antioxidants than green tea. Yet coffee leaf tea was not available commercially. With their curiosity piqued, it became their thesis project and the pair decided to pursue the venture after they completed their M.Sc. in international business. To do that, they teamed with Enrique Ferrufino, a third-generation coffee farmer in Nicaragua.

Why they do it: Coffee beans can be harvested only three months of the year. The rest of the time, 90 per cent of the plantation staff are out of work while the remaining staff prune extra leaves from the plant. Those leaves are normally discarded, says Rivest. By using them in a premium tea, more staff are employed and the leaves aren’t wasted. And they’re processed on-site, unlike the coffee beans that are generally exported unroasted for value-added processing elsewhere.

How they do it: Wize Monkey Coffee Leaf Tea is now sold in 200 stores across Canada and employs more than 110 farmers through the off-season, Rivest says. The company is expanding into the U.S. West Coast.

YVR Innovative Travel Solutions

What they do: YVR Innovative Travel Solutions (ITS) allows border agents to process passengers more quickly and send them on their way.

Why they do it: The airport customs line is to travel what traffic jams are to driving: a frustrating test of just how badly you want to go somewhere. The team at Vancouver International Airport noticed more than a decade ago that long lineups were a problem, but expanding border clearance facilities was too costly.

How they do it: ITS developed a proprietary self-service border control system called BorderXpress. Working with Canada Border Services Agency, the company first automated the administrative functions of border control. Next, ITS worked with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to develop BorderXpress Automated Passport Control for U.S. customs. It is a two-step process: travellers complete the data-entry functions at the kiosk, which then sends their encrypted information to a border control agency that returns a government response in seconds. A receipt is printed from the kiosk, which the traveller takes to a border services agent, who verifies the document and makes the final approval. The process allows border agents to process up to four times more passengers per hour. BorderXpress technology is now used at more than 1,050 kiosks at 34 airport and seaport locations in North America and around the world, and has processed over 100 million passengers to date. ç