MIT: A new approach to rechargeable batteries – metal-mesh membrane could solve longstanding problems – lead to inexpensive power storage

MIT-Battery-Membranes_0A type of battery first invented nearly five decades ago could catapult to the forefront of energy storage technologies, thanks to a new finding by researchers at MIT. Illustration modified from an original image by Felice Frankel

New metal-mesh membrane could solve longstanding problems and lead to inexpensive power storage.

A type of battery first invented nearly five decades ago could catapult to the forefront of energy storage technologies, thanks to a new finding by researchers at MIT. The battery, based on electrodes made of sodium and nickel chloride and using a new type of metal mesh membrane, could be used for grid-scale installations to make intermittent power sources such as wind and solar capable of delivering reliable baseload electricity.

The findings are being reported today in the journal Nature Energy, by a team led by MIT professor Donald Sadoway, postdocs Huayi Yin and Brice Chung, and four others.

Although the basic battery chemistry the team used, based on a liquid sodium electrode material, was first described in 1968, the concept never caught on as a practical approach because of one significant drawback: It required the use of a thin membrane to separate its molten components, and the only known material with the needed properties for that membrane was a brittle and fragile ceramic. These paper-thin membranes made the batteries too easily damaged in real-world operating conditions, so apart from a few specialized industrial applications, the system has never been widely implemented.

But Sadoway and his team took a different approach, realizing that the functions of that membrane could instead be performed by a specially coated metal mesh, a much stronger and more flexible material that could stand up to the rigors of use in industrial-scale storage systems.

“I consider this a breakthrough,” Sadoway says, because for the first time in five decades, this type of battery — whose advantages include cheap, abundant raw materials, very safe operational characteristics, and an ability to go through many charge-discharge cycles without degradation — could finally become practical.

While some companies have continued to make liquid-sodium batteries for specialized uses, “the cost was kept high because of the fragility of the ceramic membranes,” says Sadoway, the John F. Elliott Professor of Materials Chemistry. “Nobody’s really been able to make that process work,” including GE, which spent nearly 10 years working on the technology before abandoning the project.

As Sadoway and his team explored various options for the different components in a molten-metal-based battery, they were surprised by the results of one of their tests using lead compounds. “We opened the cell and found droplets” inside the test chamber, which “would have to have been droplets of molten lead,” he says. But instead of acting as a membrane, as expected, the compound material “was acting as an electrode,” actively taking part in the battery’s electrochemical reaction.

“That really opened our eyes to a completely different technology,” he says. The membrane had performed its role — selectively allowing certain molecules to pass through while blocking others — in an entirely different way, using its electrical properties rather than the typical mechanical sorting based on the sizes of pores in the material.

In the end, after experimenting with various compounds, the team found that an ordinary steel mesh coated with a solution of titanium nitride could perform all the functions of the previously used ceramic membranes, but without the brittleness and fragility. The results could make possible a whole family of inexpensive and durable materials practical for large-scale rechargeable batteries.

The use of the new type of membrane can be applied to a wide variety of molten-electrode battery chemistries, he says, and opens up new avenues for battery design. “The fact that you can build a sodium-sulfur type of battery, or a sodium/nickel-chloride type of battery, without resorting to the use of fragile, brittle ceramic — that changes everything,” he says.

The work could lead to inexpensive batteries large enough to make intermittent, renewable power sources practical for grid-scale storage, and the same underlying technology could have other applications as well, such as for some kinds of metal production, Sadoway says.

Sadoway cautions that such batteries would not be suitable for some major uses, such as cars or phones. Their strong point is in large, fixed installations where cost is paramount, but size and weight are not, such as utility-scale load leveling. In those applications, inexpensive battery technology could potentially enable a much greater percentage of intermittent renewable energy sources to take the place of baseload, always-available power sources, which are now dominated by fossil fuels.

The research team included Fei Chen, a visiting scientist from Wuhan University of Technology; Nobuyuki Tanaka, a visiting scientist from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency; MIT research scientist Takanari Ouchi; and postdocs Huayi Yin, Brice Chung, and Ji Zhao. The work was supported by the French oil company Total S.A. through the MIT Energy Initiative.

Google’s Parent Company Will Soon Compete With Tesla for Energy Storage Solutions: Project Malta at ‘Alphabet X’

Maximizing Renewables

Given the dramatic impact human-made carbon emissions are having on our planet, cleaner energy sources have become increasingly popular alternatives to their fossil fuel counterparts. Currently, solar and wind are the most widely used renewable energy sources, but both are dependent on certain conditions.

The former can capture energy only during daylight hours, while the latter is more unpredictable, but often peaks at night.
As such, there’s a mismatch between when solar and wind energy are available and when energy is needed.

The world needs a way to maximize renewable energy usage, and that’s what Malta, a project currently brewing at Alphabet X, the “moonshot” factory by Google’s parent company, is hoping to provide.

The goal of Alphabet X is to develop technologies that could “someday make the world a radically better place.” The organization follows a three-part blueprint for their moonshot projects that starts with identifying a “huge problem” and then providing a “radical solution” that could be implemented using a “breakthrough technology.”

For Malta, the idea was to find a way to maximize the use of energy generated from renewables. Their radical solution is bridging the gap between renewable energy and grid-scale energy storage technologies using a breakthrough technology developed by Stanford physicist and Nobel laureate Robert Laughlin.

According to the project’s website, this technology is still theoretical and involves storing electricity as either heat within molten salt or cold within a liquid similar to the antifreeze used in cars. They claim this energy could remain stored for up to weeks at a time.

Storing Energy

Essentially, Malta is hoping to develop clean and cost-effective energy storage devices, which is similar to the concept behind Tesla’s Powerpack. The difference between the Malta project’s tech and the Powerpack is mostly what’s inside. While Tesla’s energy storage device uses 16 individual battery pods, Malta’s relies on molten salt or the antifreeze-like liquid.

Additionally, the tanks used to store the salt used by Malta’s system could potentially last for up to 40 years, which the project claims is three or more times longer than other current storage options. That extended lifespan would make Malta a cheaper alternative to other renewable energy storage devices.
alphabet x malta renewable energy.

Image credit: Malta/X

After two years of developing and designing their system, the Malta team is now gearing up to test the commercial viability of their technology. “The next step is to build a megawatt-scale prototype plant which would be large enough to prove the technology at commercial scale,” according to their website.
We now have multiple ways to generate energy from renewables, but if we ever hope to fully transition away from traditional energy solutions, we need better storage devices.

Though they are clearly better for the environment, renewables aren’t as consistent as fossil fuels, and that unreliability is a huge barrier to widespread adoption.

Storage systems like those proposed by Malta could collect the energy generated by renewables and ensure it is available to power grids whenever needed, putting us one step closer to a future completely free of fossil fuels.

Watch Our Video on a New Energy Storage Company for Nano-Enabled Batteries and Super Capacitors

Update: Super Capacitor Assisted Silicon Nanowire Batteries for EV and Small Form Factor Markets. A New Class of Battery /Energy Storage Materials is being developed to support the High Energy – High Capacity – High Performance High Cycle Battery Markets.

“Ultrathin Asymmetric Porous-Nickel Graphene-Based
Supercapacitor with High Energy Density and Silicon Nanowire,”

A New Generation Battery that is:

 Energy Dense
 High Specific Power
 Simple Manfacturing Process
 Low Manufacturing Cost
 Rapid Charge/ Re-Charge
 Flexible Form Factor
 Long Warranty Life
 Non-Toxic
 Highly Scalable

Key Markets & Commercial Applications

 EV, (18650 & 21700); Drone and Marine Batteries
 Wearable Electronics and The Internet of Things
 Estimated $240 Billion Market by 2025

Google Eyes Nanoparticle Platform: Grand Challenge Health Rethink

google rethinkGoogle likes taking on big problems and that’s no secret. Transportation. Communication, and now Health. The Atlantic has posted a video and it is all about Google’s attempt to redefine how we manage our health.

“Over the last three years, Google has quietly built a cutting-edge health care facility,” said the magazine video. Google’s facility employs over 100 doctors and scientists. James Hamblin, senior editor at The Atlantic, sat in Mountain View, California, and spoke with Andrew Conrad, head of Google Life Sciences. Conrad told him that the group is trying to change medicine from being episodic and reactive (like going to the doctor because your arm hurts) to proactive. Google is working on a wristband that can detect when they first appear. That would be possible in a system where they would be designing tiny magnetic particles to patrol the human body for signs of cancer and other diseases. “So imagine that you swallow a pill [You would take a pill maybe twice a month] and that pill has small things called nanoparticles in it, decorated on their surface with markers that attach to cancer cells, We have them circulate through your whole body, and we collect them in the vasculature of the arm with a magnet, and you ask them what they saw.”
google rethink

In brief, Google is designing a system where tiny magnetic particles patrol the human body for signs of cancer and other diseases. UPI’s Brooks Hays said that “the pill would release nanoparticles into a patient’s bloodstream; the magnetized particles would tour the body seeking out cancer cells to bind to. A wearable monitor would attract and count the particles, pulling information as to what the particles had detected.” Cancer cells, for example, would light up. How does light pass through skin? To understand that, Google started to make synthetic skin. For their arm model, they had to use materials that behave like skin with biocomponents of real arms. Also, Google is monitoring 175 healthy volunteers, collecting physiological data frequently,. The goal is to understand what defines a “healthy” person, to know what ‘normal’ is. They need to understand the baseline. In the video, Conrad, had a memorable reply when his interviewer asked if some people would feel weird having nanoparticles floating through their body as trackers. “It’s way weirder,” said Conrad, “to have cancer cells floating through your body that are constantly trying to kill you.”

In November, Conrad also talked about Google’s health explorations at the WSJD Live conference. As a complex system, a reactive, episodic paradigm for a health system makes little sense, said Conrad. “Can you imagine,” said Conrad, “changing the oil in your car when the engine is broken?” Yet that is what we do in health care. We wait and go to the mechanic when we are broken. He talked about the use of to monitor for signs of cancer and other diseases. He said the goal was to functionalize these , the nexus between biology and engineering, to make them behave the way they wanted. The idea, he said, was to swallow a and one could call them somewhere, trap them and then can ask them what they saw.

“Imagine you want to explore Parisian culture and you do it by flying a helicopter over Paris once a year. That’s what doctors do now. What we’re hoping to do is that these little particles go out, mingle with the people, we call them back to one place, and we ask them, hey what did you see?” Did you find cancer? … Too much sodium?”

Explore further: Google seeks way to search bodies for disease

Google Developing Nanotechnology To Detect Cancer, Heart Disease

1-google developGoogle Inc. revealed Tuesday at a conference in California that it is creating a wearable device and a pill with nanoparticles to detect certain developing diseases in the body, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Andrew Conrad, Google‘s head of the Life Sciences team at the Google X research lab, revealed that the company’s goal is to provide an early warning system for cancer and other diseases with a more efficient detection rate.

“Every test you ever go to the doctor for will be done through this system,” Conrad said. “That is our dream.”

Google X is designing tiny magnetic particles that seek out and attach to cells, proteins or other molecules inside the body. A wearable sensor with a magnet will attract the particles, along with the attached cells, and monitor the signs of medical trouble in the user’s bloodstream.

1-google develop

Google is developing a disease-detecting wristband sensor that can monitor your body for early signs of illnesses, such as cancer.
(Photo : Getty Images)

Experts said that the research is still on its early stages, according to the Daily Mail.

Researchers at Google X have yet to identify how the nanoparticles would bind itself to infected cells. Google said that its research team doesn’t know how much nanoparticles are needed for the system to work.

“Nanoparticles… give you the ability to explore the body at a molecular and cellular level,” Conrad explained. “Then [you can] recall those nanoparticles to a single location and that location is the superficial vasculature of the wrist, [where] you can ask them what they saw,” Conrad continued.

“In principle this is great. Any newcomers with new ideas are welcome in the field,” professor Paul Workman, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research in London, told BBC. “How much of this proposal is dream versus reality is impossible to tell because it is a fascinating concept that now needs to be converted to practice.”

A hundred Google employees, with expertise in molecular imaging, structural biology of neurodegenerative disease, astrophysics, chemistry and electrical engineering among others, have taken part in the nanoparticle project, TechCrunch has learned.

“We’re trying to stave off death by preventing disease. Our foe is unnecessary death,” said Conrad.

Google-backed O3b is working with Kymeta to build a next-gen satellite antenna

Nanotubes images


O3b and Kymeta are trying to build a self-steering non-mechanical satellite antenna using metamaterials. Such an antenna could make O3b’s satellite broadband links mobile, helping further it and Google’s goal of connecting billions of people.



O3b Networks, a satellite venture with financial backing from Google, put its first four broadband satellites into medium-Earth orbit this summer, and it’s already started signing up customers. ISPs from Somalia to Micronesia have committed to buying capacity when it goes live in 2014, which has gotten O3b thinking about how the ways it can connect those customers.

A cross section of Kymeta's metamaterial antenna

A cross section of Kymeta’s metamaterial antenna

O3b is now working with Kymeta, a Redmond, Wash.,-based satellite antenna startup to develop steerable terminals based on metamaterials technology. The idea is to build an antenna that can dynamically point itself at a satellite overhead using synthetically engineered materials that manipulate the electromagnetic waves around them (Intellectual Ventures, which spun out Kymeta last year, has even said metamaterials could be used to build cloaking devices).

They expect to have their first electronically steered prototype antennas in 2014, though O3b and Kymeta wouldn’t give any details about what kinds of devices or terminals would come out of the partnership. I wouldn’t get your hopes up, however, for a smartphone that connects to the heavens rather than the cellular network.

Kymeta is still working on a larger scale. It’s antennas are connecting boats, trucks and planes, though it is exploring the possibility of a portable antenna terminal the size of a laptop that could be used to connect other devices like phones, tablets and PCs.

Kymeta Plane antenna

Still, building portable or mobile antennas would be a big step over a satellite dishes or mechanically steered antennas pointing at moving specks in the heavens. O3b’s initial customers are wireless ISPs using WiMAX and wireless broadband technologies to provide broadband access and O3b’s satellite links as backhaul. A cheap, efficient antenna with no mechanical parts would be ideal for connecting customers directly as well as giving them a broadband link they can move from location to location.

Google has been relatively quiet about its involvement with O3b since it first invested in it in 2008. But the search giant hasn’t been shy about its intentions to use new technologies to connect the billions of people globally that have unreliable or no access to the internet. It’s exploring white spaces broadband in Africa, and its ambitious — and perhaps crazy — Project Loon would set a wireless broadband network free in the stratospheric winds.

Google has said that satellites would be a component of its grand connectivity plan, and so far O3b and Google’s goals seem perfectly aligned. You only have to look at the name of the company: it stands for the “Other 3 Billion.”

Mercedes Is Testing Google Glass Integration, and It Actually Works

imagesCAMR5BLR Einstein Judging a FishI put the car in park, unplug the phone, and put Google Glass on my face. Within seconds, I’ve got step-by-step directions to a coffee shop down the street beamed directly to my eyeballs. This is what Mercedes-Benz has planned for the future, and not only do they have a functioning prototype, they’re working with Google to make it a reality.




It’s called “Door-to-Door Navigation,” and it’s just the latest in a string of high-tech pushes the automaker has made in the past few years. It started with Mercedes doubling its resources and employees at its Silicon Valley research center, which allowed the automaker to work on a thoroughly revised infotainment platform and develop one of the first comprehensive integrations of Apple’s iPhone into its entry level and youth-focused CLA.

Now, it’s Google’s turn.

“We definitely see wearable devices as another trend in the industry that is important to us,” says Johann Jungwirth, Mercedes’ North American R&D President & CEO. “We have been working with Glass for roughly six months and meeting with the Google Glass team regularly.” And it’s helpful that Google HQ is just a 10-minute drive from the automaker’s Palo Alto research facility.

We’ve already established that cars are the killer app for Google Glass. And Mercedes agrees. The German automaker’s R&D center snagged two pairs of Google’s goggles as soon as they became available — recognizing the potential — and started hacking away.

The first application is a navigation program that allows you to enter an address through Google Glass, get in your car, plug in your phone, and then the destination is transferred to the in-dash navigation system. Once you’ve arrived near the restaurant/bar/nightclub/BBQ joint and unplug your phone, the system re-transfers the data back to Glass to complete the journey. And based on hands-on time, it works. But the way it works is … a little rough.

Google doesn’t offer Glass support for the iPhone. Yet. And the Mercedes “Digital DriveStyle App” doesn’t work with Android. Yet. (Jungwirth tells WIRED that iOS is the dominant platform for Mercedes owners). So in order for the destination information to be sent from the car to Glass, Mercedes connects to its own cloud server between the iPhone and the embedded infotainment system. Google Glass handles the communication between the two, and the trigger to communicate is the disconnection of the iPhone from the car. When that happens, it contacts the server, connects to Glass, and downloads the destination information.

Jungwirth is quick to point out that this elaborate dance of connections is just a proof of concept.

“This is, perhaps, not how we will accomplish it when we launch it as a product,” Jungwirth told WIRED. “As we are in talks with Google about making a direct connection to Glass work, but it is how our prototype works today.”

Jungwirth makes it clear that Mercedes has every intention of integrating some form of Google Glass functionality into its future products. And by the time Glass goes into production in the next year, Mercedes may have something to offer its customers. In the meantime, Jungwirth says that Android integration for Mercedes vehicles is coming in 2014.

Nanosolar is now selling off its solar assets

QDOTS imagesCAKXSY1K 8Nanosolar is winding itself down as the once-promising thin film solar startup sells off its German assembly factory to an unnamed Swiss investor, and is holding an auction for the rest of its assets in August.

*** From the “Crew” at GenesisNanoTechnology. ***
 Another thin-film based solar energy company “rides off into the sunset,” finding the current-day economics of the solar industry incompatible with a sustainable business model (based on technologies that are expensive to manufacture and have unsustainably low efficiencies).
We hate to say it … but we told you so. So does this mean our lofty goal (dream) of supplying abundant, cheap, accessible (renewable) energy to the “world” is toast? We think not. As we look into the future, specifically the future of energy and the energy needs for our “blue (green) planet”, we see quite the opposite.
We will in fact, need more energy than can be supplied by current carbon based sources. In fact, to solve most of the BIG problems facing our world in the next ten, twenty, fifty and hundred years (population, hunger, water, food supply, disease, health care) our mission will need to be focused on how to advance renewable technologies and ultimately … make our renewable, clean sources of energy COST LESS.
But how do we do that? What are some of the most promising technologies out there that can not only ‘complete but beat’ fossil (carbon) based energy sources? We believe the answer is, as Dr. Rick Smalley (Smalley Institute; Rice University; Nobel Prize Winner) maintains, “We need to make small things … do big things.” Nanotechnology.
“What If” … what if there were technologies that used non-toxic (green), inexpensive materials to manufacture very inexpensively, an inexhaustible source of highly efficient (24/7 – 365) solar cells? 
Dr. Wade Adams, Associate Dean of the School of Engineering at Rice University, passionately explains what nanotechnology is and why it is fundamental to solving many of the world’s most pressing challenges. Watch this video by Dr. Wade Adams.
As always, we appreciate your comments and your feed back.  BWH/ GNT
See the Article on Nanosolar below.

Time is up for eleven-year-old thin film startup Nanosolar: the company is now selling off its assets.

Following layoffs, a low-valuation financing last year, and other struggles, Nanosolar is selling off its German panel assembly factory to an unnamed Swiss investor, and is bringing in help from Heritage and Maynards to hold an auction to sell off the rest of its technology assets, which will take place on August 13.

Nanosolar didn’t disclose the price of the deal of the German panel factory, nor the name of the Swiss investor, but a spokesperson told me that more information about the acquirer would be disclosed after the deal is closed. During the auction next month Nanosolar will attempt to sell off its solar production and manufacturing equipment and all related capital assets at its factory in San Jose, California.

Nanosolar German plant

The Swiss investor is buying “Nanosolar GmbH,” which a spokesperson tells me is the module manufacturing division of Nanosolar and was created in 2008. The Swiss investor will use the Luckenwalde factory to make something called a “cSi solar panel,” which they wouldn’t disclose much about.

While the Luckenwalde factory was being used for solar panel assembly under Nanosolar, it will now be used to manufacture solar modules, said a spokesperson. Nanosolar GmbH will also still keep the capability to assemble CIGS based panels, said a spokesperson.

As Nanosolar looks to sell off its assets, it also faces at least one lawsuit. According to a filing, the company is being sued by a vendor (Hellmann Worldwide Logistics) for allegedly not paying its bills. This is after reports surfaced that Nanosolar had cut as much as 75 percent of its staff earlier this year and raised $70 million from investors in 2o12, reportedly at a pre-money valuation of $50 million.

According to a release about the upcoming auction this morning, companies can learn more at the Intersolar conference in San Francisco on Wednesday:

Interested bidders are invited to visit the Heritage Global Partners booth #8636 for more information regarding Nanosolar’s assets during the InterSolar North America Conference July 9-11 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

At one point Nanosolar was valued at $2 billion, and the company has taken in at least $450 million in investment since its start in 2002. Nanosolar has been making thin solar panels out of a material called copper-indium-gallium-selenide (CIGS). Nanosolar investors have  included OnPoint Technologies, Mohr Davidow Ventures, Ohana Holdings, Family Offices, AES, the Carlyle Group, French utility EDF and Energy Capital Partners, Lone Pine Capital, the Skoll Foundation, Pierre Omidyar’s fund, GLG Partners, Beck Energy, Grazia Equity, Benchmark Capital, as well as way back in the day, the Google guys, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

At one time in Silicon Valley, CIGS was thought to be the future of solar and startups like Solyndra, Heliovolt, Miasole, and others raised hundreds of millions of dollars to build the next-generation of solar tech. But the price of silicon-based solar dropped dramatically and made the economics of selling more expensive CIGS panels much more difficult. Most of these companies have gone bankrupt, done major layoffs, retrenched or been sold off in fire sales.

Nanosolar is winding itself down as the once-promising thin film solar startup sells off its German assembly factory to an unnamed Swiss investor, and is holding an auction for the rest of its assets in August.


How Ontario Plans to Become the World’s Top Technology Hub

Large Solar panelsCanadians: humble, mild, polite, with a global reputation for being  non-aggressive.

Except, of course, at a hockey game. And, increasingly, in Ontario, where  startups, government, industry, universities, angels, and venture capitalists  are working aggressively to try to create the world’s leading technology  hub.

Inside Waterloo, Ontario's new $160M center for quantum computing.

Inside Waterloo, Ontario’s new $160M center for  quantum computing.

“We want the world’s next biggest tech company to be built in Ontario,” the  most populous Canadian province’s minister of research and innovation, Reza  Moridi, told a small group of journalists recently in Toronto.

That’s aggression — even if spoken in a kinder, gentler way by an urbane,  mild-mannered politician.

It also might strike some as hubris, given that Ontario’s biggest technology  story to date is that of a dying smartphone manufacturer, BlackBerry (formerly  known as Research In Motion).

But it’s not just words, and it’s not just the government that’s behind this  effort.

Ontario’s reverse brain drain

Ontario is home to about 40 percent of Canada’s population and accounts for  48 percent of Canada’s gross domestic product. It’s the fourth-largest  population center in North America, after Mexico City, New York, and Los  Angeles, and it produces more cars than any other region in North America,  including Michigan. Ontario also has the Americas’ second-biggest financial  services sector, after New York.

More to the point, it’s North America’s second-leading cluster for technology  companies, after California, and has the third-largest concentration of life  sciences companies on the continent.

Google bought local startup BufferBox in late 2012

Google bought local startup BufferBox in late  2012

The government has invested $3.6 billion in those sectors, primarily, over  the last decade, with two-thirds going to research and development, and  one-third focused on building the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

That money has had an impact.

For years, countries like Canada and the U.K. have complained about a brain  drain, with the best talent heading stateside for more options and better pay.  Not anymore. In fact, quite the reverse.

“My co-founder left Silicon Valley to come here,” CEO Kateline  McGregor told me.

She’s starting her company at Communitech, a thriving, almost frenetic  community of startups, accelerators, massive technology companies, students, and  coworkers in Waterloo, Ontario. An hour’s drive up the 401 from Toronto,  Waterloo is a city of 98,000 that saw more than 500 startups take root in 2012.  And the massive burst of innovation has not gone unnoticed.

“Something very interesting is happening here,” Google’s top Canadian  employee, Steve Woods, told me. “This area has a very high proportion of  startups to population. Google loves startups … and we love to hire entrepreneurial people.”


Woods himself is a Silicon Valley refugee, returning home to Canada after  building several companies in the Valley. Google recruited him over the course  of several years to lead its Canadian operations.

He points directly to U.S.  immigration policies that pose a critical problem for both startups and  large, wealthy corporations such as Google. Getting into the U.S. to build a  company or join a startup is notoriously difficult and expensive.

Where Woods works: This  Google office has a real fireman’s pole, slide, cattle walkway, and more  (gallery)

Meanwhile, Canada has just recently taken even more steps — such as the Startup  Visa — to make it simpler, quicker, and cheaper to come to Canada.

“Because of visa situations, Canada has received a disproportionate amount of  the talent that is coming into North America,” Woods said.

All of that translates into a significant competitive advantage for Canadian  startups and tech companies.

More education, more startups

Another competitive advantage, particularly in the Waterloo region, is the  constant stream of high-quality students coming out of engineering, math, and  computer science schools. I heard this ad nauseam from government  representatives I met with, and credible sources in the industry confirmed  it.

University of Waterloo students build startups at Velocity Garage, a for-credit accelerator-like program.

University of Waterloo students build startups at  Velocity Garage, a for-credit accelerator-like program.

Waterloo University produces an amazing kind of talent,” Woods told me. “It  gives students a great grounding in computer science, but also by the time they  graduate they’ve passed through four summers of co-op programs, so they’ve  worked at Facebook, at Google, Microsoft, BlackBerry, or other companies.”

Ontario’s 44 universities produce about 30,000 computer science and  engineering graduates each year, a steady flow of new talent for the province’s  startups as well as established IT, life sciences, and aerospace companies.

By contrast, California — a state with about three times the population of  Ontario — produces only 21,000  STEM graduates per year. The results are clear, at least for Woods.

“People that come into Google from the University of Waterloo do  disproportionately well,” Woods says.

One of the meeting rooms at Communitech, a startup mecca in Waterloo, Ontario. Google also has 200 employees here.

One of the meeting rooms at Communitech, a startup  mecca in Waterloo, Ontario. Google also has an office here.

Rob Crowe, executive-in-residence for Waterloo-based Institute for Quantum  Computing, the second-largest quantum computing research center in the world,  agrees.  And he points out another advantage that translates to more  startups coming out of key Canadian universities.

According to Crowe, a key difference between the U.S. and Canada is that many  Canadian universities have followed the European model of education-funded  research and development. Essentially, professors and researchers at the  University of Waterloo own any intellectual property they develop, not the  institution they work and teach for. That’s an incentive for academics to put  their best foot forward while on faculty, and to kickstart companies when their  ideas result in a viable product or company.

“This is the university that throws off more startups than any other  university in the country,” Crowe told me.

Less tax, more benefits, more investment

All of the above regional traits are excellent for students, researchers, and  startups, but there’s also good news for investors. Moridi’s ministry of  research and innovation has helped reduce corporate tax, while also providing  significant tax credits for companies doing innovative work.

“Ontario has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America, at 22  percent,” says John Marshall, president and CEO of the Ontario Capital  Growth Corp., Ontario’s voice in two venture funds totaling about $500 million.  The funds were raised partially by government, which recently announced  intentions to pump in another $50 million, but mostly by venture capitalists and  institutional investors.

Google has invested significantly in Waterloo, Ontario.

Google has invested significantly in Waterloo,  Ontario, hiring 200 engineers for its Canadian engineering  headquarters.

The goal is simple: Invest in potential high-growth venture-stage startups in  Ontario via a fund-of-funds approach that ensures industry participation and  leadership in every specific investment. In other words, Marshall puts money  into funds assembled by local VCs such as Omers, Northleaf Capital Partners, and  Rho Canada. Those VCs in turn drive the actual investments into companies like  Shopify, Desire2Learn (which recently closed an $80 million round), Polar  Mobile, and BlueCat Networks.

“Our overall aim is to build the ecosystem for innovation,” Marshall says. “That includes the demand side, with accelerators and startups, and the supply  side: seed funding, angel investors, and venture capitalists.”

The fund-of-funds strategy appears to be working. Two years ago the average  fund size in Canada was $60 million, compared to $180 million in the U.S., but  now the average Canadian VC fund is $90 million. Other venture entities, such as  Intel Capital and Samsung Venture Investment, are following the money and making  their own investments.

When that money gets into the hands of actual startups, it goes further,  according to the companies I talked to. The reason is Canada’s federal and  provincial research and development credits, which the Ontario government says  are “among the most generous of the OECD countries.”

Ontario had 500 startups in 2012 in Waterloo alone.

Ontario had 500 startups in 2012 in Waterloo  alone.

Taken as a whole, those credits can reduce the after-tax cost of $100 worth  of R&D to just $57 for corporations and just $39 for startups.

Fixmo CEO Rick Segal, an ex-patriate American, says those tax credits are one  of the key reasons he chose Toronto as the location for his latest mobile  security startup. The CEO of online advertising startup Chango, Chris Sukornyk,  told me the same thing.

Marshall says that the credits simply add on to a startup environment that  has long stretched every single dollar as far as it can go.

“Our entrepreneurs have already been so capital efficient by necessity,” he  says, adding that now that Ontario’s entrepreneurs have access to more money,  they’re still using it wisely.

That capital is starting to flow more freely lately, with VC investment up in  Ontario in the past few years. But startups, who benefit most from the R&D  tax credits, also have additional benefits. Almost every startup that graduates  from a major Canadian accelerator such as Hyperdrive and Extreme Startups in  Ontario, FounderFuel in Montréal, and GrowLabs in Vancouver, gets offered a  $500,000 convertible note by the Business Development Bank of Canada.

That’s cheap and none-dilutive money, and provides more runway for startups.  Most of which, realistically, need more than a three-month stint in an  accelerator program to become real companies.

Ambition, meet reality

There’s no doubt that Ontario is taking smart steps with the ultimate goal of  dominating the business of technology. But can it really out-innovate the  innovation capital of the world, Silicon Valley?

Toronto currently ranks eighth on the Startup  Genome’s list of global startup ecosystems, just above another Canadian  technology hub, Vancouver. Tiny Waterloo ranks 16th with its population of just  under 100,000, bringing to mind Tel Aviv, the super-fertile startup ecosystem of  400,000 people that currently holds third place.

Toronto's CN Tower

Toronto’s CN Tower

In addition, Ontario officials quietly let me know that they believe Ottawa  would have won a spot in the top 20 as well, if Startup Genome had analyzed the  data just a bit differently. That would, of course, have given Ontario three  cities in the global top 20.

But even considering the province’s leading contender, there’s still a long  way between eighth and first. And every country in the world, seemingly, wants  to follow the Silicon Valley model to the yellow brick road of employment and  riches.

Few succeed.

VC investment in Canada overall is still just a fraction of that in the U.S., with  about $1.5 billion invested in the entire country over all sectors in 2012,  compared to $8.3 billion invested in the U.S.  in software alone, and  another $6.7 billion just in web-based startups. In Ontario specifically, VC  investment was just $603 million, compared to California’s U.S.-leading $14.1  billion.

And RIM, with revenues of $18 billion in fiscal 2012 dropping to $11.1  billion in fiscal 2013, is still probably the province’s biggest tech  company.

That’s not a good sign.

Turning to BlackBerry for inspiration

Despite the small numbers, startups are increasingly choosing Ontario as  home. Taxation and immigration policies as well as investments from blue-chip  funds like Union Square and Kleiner Perkins are having a massive cumulative  effect.

Even BlackBerry  is feeding the culture of innovation in Ontario, despite being in what are  perhaps its death throes.

Fixmo CEO Segal says BlackBerry has been an amazing influence in Ontario, and  continues to be influential. “There are lots of alumni from RIM, both voluntary  and involuntary,” he says with a wry grin.

Marshall says the growth of BlackBerry from nothing to its heights as the  first key innovator of the smartphone revolution has had its own impact,  regardless of the company’s current situation.

“Now you’ve got kids coming up who saw their parents do it,” he says. “So  they believe they can do it too.”

500 new startups in Waterloo in 2012 alone attest to that fact.

In the against-all-odds world of the startup, belief is the key ingredient of success.


Leadership Secret Three: Two Skills Great Leaders Master

Leaders have the quality of emotional mastery, which gives you the strength and flexibility to tackle any challenge, even when all hell is breaking loose, as we covered in the previous blog post in this series. Now we’ll look at two other core qualities extraordinary leaders possess, RELATIONSHIP MASTERY and TIME MASTERY.


Ultimately the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships. How many times have you heard, “business is relationship?”  It’s one of those clichés that never escapes us. But one reason we hear clichés again and again is because they are true. Ultimately our capacity to connect, not on a surface level, but on a very deep and personal level, is what allows us to break through the limitations that stop ourselves or any individual or group we are looking to lead to a new level.

Relationships are built not just by practicing rapport skills, but by truly understanding and appreciating where people are coming from—wanting to step in their shoes, understanding their point of view and finding a way to help them meet their needs while they meet the needs of the team and the organization. Facebook and Twitter are great tools, but if your idea of friendship is your Facebook or Twitter circles, perhaps it’s time to look deeper.

How well would you rate your own capacity to go deep in relationships, to penetrate beyond the surface of what people tell you to find out what’s really going on so that you can help people and yourself take things to a new level as a leader?





I don’t have to tell you, in the 24/7 LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ mobile world that we live in today that the mastery of time—learning how to extract greater results from the same hours or minutes—is one of the most important skill sets of any great leader. But truly effective leaders learn not only how to get more out of their time, but they teach others to do the same. It’s so easy to get caught up today in activity and mistake movement for achievement. Every great leader I know learns how to cut through the clutter of to-dos to focus on how to get the results that are necessary more rapidly, more efficiently, and more effectively. For most people today, we’re not hurting for information. We’re drowning in information, but we’re starving for wisdom.

On a weekly basis, the average executive receives more than 500 emails, sits in an average of 14 meetings, receives over 200 inbound phone calls, and is out of the office 65% of the time.  That’s not even considering the impact of text messaging and social media. And still they have to figure out how to produce results.

We have more tools than ever before, but very often the tools themselves can become a time thief. The test of leadership is not only getting things done, but often times the greatest reason for failure is good people doing the right thing, at the wrong time. A simple example from our recent economy might be buying a house. It was the right thing to do, but if you did it in 2006 or 2007 it was the wrong time and today you are probably upside down 30-50%. Great leaders are constantly refining their capacity to understand what’s most important to be done and when to get it done to produce the greatest impact.

How would you rate your capacity and your mastery of time, 0 to 10, and what could you do to improve it? This is such an important subject and will be the focus of a future blog.