2017 Tech Year in Review

In fields centred around innovation, market trends and consumer preferences are continuously evolving. In particular, recent advancements in the technology industry have brought about substantial developments in the healthcare, electronics, Cleantech, software, and advanced manufacturing sectors.

To better understand how these areas have been impacted by the technological developments in the last year, we have spoken to Andrew Yoshioka the President of Sanbonki, Xerxes Wania of Sidense Corportation, Lyle Clark, a director of CHAR Technologies, John Hayes the President of ENGINEERING.com, and Ben Hope of Festo Canada.

What was your prediction at the beginning of the year for a leading technology/company to excel in your industry?

Ben Hope: I thought that 2017 would really start to see the practical possibilities of data driven manufacturing. Many different vendors offering ways to get data from our automation devices to the cloud or enterprise for predicative maintenance, energy utilization and process information.

Xerxes Wania: A lot of startups will be spawned due to a low barrier to entry. I call them micro-startups (i.e. they will be one or two product companies that will find it tough to reach revenues of $5M+).

Lyle Clark: Of course, as a Director and investor in CHAR Technologies, I expected big things out of CHAR for 2017.

John Hayes: I work in the media industry. One of the biggest technology challenges every media company faces is in matching the right stories to every person who visits their web sites. Amazon and Netflix have conquered this problem – every user sees high-quality recommendations every time they open the application. In 2017, I expected to see rapid advances in machine learning platforms that would allow media companies to make much better recommendations to their readers, and in turn, make visiting your favourite sites a far better experience.

Andrew Yoshioka: Starting 2017, Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX-T) share price was near $21/share in November 2016 after plummeting from an all-time high of over $300/share in mid-2015 on revenues of $2.7 billion.  Their new CEO had been in place for 6 months, and was implementing a turnaround plan to divest assets to service massive M&A debts. In January 2017, they sold off a skin care line to L’Oréal for $2 billion, and divested a pharma unit for $819 million. It seemed to me that their plan was starting to work….

Was your prediction right or wrong?

BH: I think the data side of manufacturing is now possible and feasible, but manufacturers now have to implement it.

JH: My prediction, it seems, was a bit optimistic. Machine learning made great strides in 2017, particularly with Amazon making machine learning generally available to developers. However, media companies have yet to see a reasonably-priced technology that leverages machine learning to make outstanding recommendations.

LC: Yes, CHAR definitely delivered.  After going public via the Cleantech Capital merger, CHAR made a succession of positive announcements.  It started with an agreement with a Colorado-based producer to manufacture SulfaCHAR under contract, and a joint development agreement to market SulfaCHAR in Chile.  CHAR also announced the construction of its commercial-scale production equipment, and an agreement with Stormfisher Environmental to house and operate the new production capacity.  Finally, in November, CHAR announced its intention to purchase the Altech Group, which will provide CHAR with the in-house engineering, ongoing revenue and back office supports it needs to accelerate its commercialization efforts.

Equally significant, with the assistance of GreenCentre Canada, CHAR developed a new product called CleanFyre, a carbon neutral alternative to coal that can be deployed by steel producers and others without significant plant alterations or capital investments – a $250 million market opportunity in Canada alone.

$600,000 was raised as part of the Cleantech Capital merger, $750,000 was approved by STDC in cooperation with the Canadian Gas Association, and OCE has announced $1,000,000 to support installation of the new production capacity at Stormfisher.  At time of writing, CHAR’s private offering of up to $1,000,000 concurrent to the Altech acquisition will likely be closed off earlier than expected.

No need to worry if you missed out.  Being public, CHAR shares can be acquired at any time on the TSX Venture exchange under the symbol YES.

AY: Valeant’s business model had grown on buying specialty drug assets, updating manufacturing, and increasing the price per tablet. Health insurance payers launched investigations into this pricing, and one of the major shareholders sold off their entire Valeant holdings in March 2017, at a loss of $3 billion. In early November 2017, Valeant returned the commercial rights for a female libido pill that they paid $1 billion for in 2015, so the original owners would drop their lawsuit about Valeant’s marketing launch. The stock is now rated underperform by some analysts but starting to respond.

XW: Time will tell. Not sure

What was the biggest surprise over the last year?

LC: The federal government’s expanded engagement in the Cleantech sector was very positive, but not a surprise.  Probably the biggest surprise was how little political developments south of the border impacted Canada’s outlook for Cleantech.  I think it is safe to say that Ontario’s entry into the California/Quebec carbon trading system exceeded everyone’s expectations and buoyed the entire sector.  While I personally would have preferred a carbon pricing approach that was revenue neutral and relied on the tax system rather than cap-and-trade, there is no question that the spring auction provided a much needed boost to the sector when the United States’ retreat from Paris was creating a great deal of uncertainty.

AY: Market expectations said that nimble biotech companies like Gilead’s Kite division had first-mover advantage, but big pharma Novartis surprised us with the first CAR-T, cell-based gene therapy approved by FDA in 2017 a few months ahead of Kite’s.  The patient’s T-cells (lymphocytes) are altered (in a lab) to include a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) and the CAR-T cells are then infused back into the patient. This instructs the modified T-cells to kill leukemia/lymphoma cells found with a marker antigen on the surface. It’s good to see technology innovation for cancer patients, and Toronto’s CCRM is a global hub of regenerative medicine commercialization and product development.

BH: Industry 4.0 has become the expectation in technology. It’s not something that we are thinking about for the future. It’s something that we expect today.

XW: I am kind of surprised at the rate at which the number of software startups that have been spawned due to the (probable) legalization of marijuana. They have a healthy high-tech element to it including software, lighting, automation, sensors etc.

JH: The biggest surprise in the industry in 2017 was the rise of fake news within social media and the power it has to change public opinion. This lead to Facebook and others to finally take some responsibility for what happens on their platforms. This acknowledgement of editorial responsibility is a big step for Facebook, and one that may lead to further changes in our industry.

What do you predict will be the most dramatic impact in 2018?

BH: If we’re taking data from our automation devices then it is likely that we will want to gain some insight from that data; it’s also likely that we will want to take some sort of action on that data on the factory floor. To realize that, we need smarter, more adaptive machines. I think that the idea of the cyber physical system (machines that interact in the physical world, but have inherent intelligence and communication abilities) are the next step to Industry 4.0, opening the door for batch sizes of one, real time system configurations, process optimizations, etc. We have the data; now we need to realize the power of digitalization with hardware that is flexible and reconfigurable.

LC: I hesitate to pick only one. Ontario is moving on its “circular economy” strategy, which will generate new economic opportunity for the sector over the next five years and beyond.  Recycling may not be the sexiest segment of the Cleantech sector, but the opportunities will be real and immediate.  Less certain but more impactful is the near universal commitment to some form of carbon pricing.  Whether Ontario continues its cap-and-trade approach or signs on to a revenue neutral carbon tax in cooperation with the federal government, I expect there will be strong demand in Canada for new technologies that will enable companies around the world to reduce their consumption of carbon.  I am hopeful that 2018 will see the entry of industrial (clean) technology into the mainstream.

AY: In 2018, I expect we’re going to see more traditional segments of the healthcare space react to Amazon acquiring state pharmacy wholesaler licenses. Amazon has not stated their plans in the healthcare segment but drugstore chains, distributors, and pharmacy-benefits management organizations that cover 80% of Americans face disruption of their business model.

XW: Environmental and social policy changes in the US due to the Trump presidency will have a dramatic impact on the rest of the countries. Personally, I hope Canada and other countries stick to the scientific reasoning and not bow to the non-scientific and “money in my pocket” US policies on climate change and the environment.

JH: As for next year, I predict that 2018 will be the year of the paywall. As the rise of fake news strikes more people, ever increasing numbers will be willing to pay for news that they can believe. This opportunity will be seized by publishers who will introduce paywalls in ever-increasing numbers. I further predict that these publishers will use the additional revenue to fund more sophisticated and independent journalism along with technology to help them identify which stories will best match the audiences they seek to attract.


In accordance, it is no surprise that recent technological advancements have allowed for businesses in the healthcare, electronics, Cleantech, software, and advanced manufacturing sectors to flourish.

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