January 2023: Local Tech Stories That Caught My Eye

3 min read
January 26, 2023

Each month, I share my favourite local stories that showcase the incredible work being done by members of our B.C. tech and innovation community. The objective of these posts is to shine a brighter light on the innovation that’s taking place across this province.

Here are the stories from January that caught my eye.

Innovate BC and NRC IRAP invest in British Columbia businesses through BC Fast Pilot program >>> 

New Government of Canada Funding Initiative Offers Intellectual Property Support for Canadian Startups >>>


Variational AI Generates a Big Discovery

What Happened: The Vancouver-based medtech company filed for two provisional patents for potential COVID-19 drugs created by generative AI.

Why We Should Care: These patent filings mark a milestone not just for Variational AI, but for generative AI as a whole. Currently, most people have seen or interacted with generative AI through the creation of novel text (ChatGPT), images (DALL-E), and music (Jukebox). But applications in drug discovery are still in its early stages, which is why Variational AI’s patent filings represent a potential transformative breakthrough.

Some of the key benefits of using generative AI in healthcare include: creating personalized treatment plans, improving medical imaging, and generating faster and more streamlined drug discovery processes. Variational AI uses Enki -- their generative AI drug discovery platform -- to create new molecules the world has never seen before and turn them into potentially life-saving medicines. Per the news release, the company is focusing on training Enki to discover and create new drugs in oncology and is making rapid progress in this area.

For a company that was founded less than four years ago, it’s incredible to see how quickly Variational AI has been able to transform the healthcare industry. This is certainly a company to watch and yet another example of B.C.’s thriving life science sector.

More on this:

  • From 2020: AbCellera’s Rapid Pandemic Response Platform Contributes to the World’s First COVID-19 Clinical Trial for a Potential Monoclonal Antibody Treatment
  • From 2021: Handol Kim, Variational AI, Generative AI for small molecule drug design (VIDEO)


Ready For Takeoff

What Happened: Two B.C. companies are making trips to the airport safer, healthier, and more delicious.

Why We Should Care: Fusion Genomics, a Vancouver-based molecular diagnostics company, deployed a first-of-its-kind, fully automated infectious-disease surveillance facility at Pearson International Airport. The pilot facility will be able to detect SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory pathogens stemming from airplane wastewater. Wastewater testing became more prevalent during the pandemic as it proved to be an effective way to monitor transmission trends and identify potential disease threats.

Trendi, a Burnaby-based startup that’s rescuing and upcycling food waste, set up three of their smoothie machines at YVR. The smoothies are made from rescued fruits and vegetables and will provide a unique opportunity for Trendi to get their brand and products in the hands of international consumers. For YVR, this partnership helps them work towards their carbon reduction goals while offering a greener and healthier beverage option for travelers.

Establishing pilots and partnerships with the two busiest airports in the country is a massive win for both companies and further validates them as ones to watch for 2023.

More on this:

  • From 2022: Curtis Wong And Trendi Want You To Stop Wasting So Much Food
  • From 2020: Fusion Genomics Receives $1 Million from CQDM


Canada’s Ready for a Quantum Leap

What Happened: The federal innovation ministry announced a $360M national quantum strategy.

Why We Should Care: The seven-year plan includes funding for commercialization programs, government procurement, and Canadian startups -- with the latter being distributed through the country’s regional development agencies. This strategy was first announced in the April 2021 budget and aims to build off the country’s early success in the sector. Quantum technology’s ability to analyze large swaths of data at rapid speed will have impacts across numerous sectors, including cybersecurity, healthcare, and finance. The emerging tech also has the potential to play a key role in our global fight against climate change.

There’s a significant B.C. connection to this announcement. Dr. Stephanie Simmons, Chief Quantum Officer at B.C.-based Photonic and current SFU Professor, is the co-chair of Canada’s new Quantum Advisory Council that will be responsible for leading the newly launched quantum strategy. Part of the strategy also includes funding for industry and academic partnerships, which will make it easier and faster for B.C.-based research to move its way into industry.

This is a significant investment by the federal government and B.C. companies and researchers stand to play a big role in the rollout of this national quantum strategy.

More on this:

  • From 2022: New Study Reveals Growing Commercial Activity and Investment in Quantum Computing
  • From 2022: B.C. Teachers Get Professional Development Course In Quantum Computing


Have a great February.

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