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Tech firms from Newfoundland collect $3 million from Canada's Ocean Supercluster

Adam Keating, CEO and co-founder of CoLab Solutions.
Adam Keating, CEO and co-founder of CoLab Solutions. - Joe Gibbons

Collaborative software, marine rescue simulation and ice research projects get federal funding

Growing up in Mount Pearl, 12-year-old Adam Keating had dreams of being an NBA star.

He laughs at that memory now.

“I think that dream kind of died after I went to an out of province tournament. I realized then that (NBA stardom) wasn’t going to happen,” he chuckled.

On Friday, Keating’s business was one of three to receive funding from the Ocean Supercluster’s Accelerated Ocean Solutions Program (AOSP).

Keating is CEO and co-founder of CoLab Software, a company he founded with Jeremy Andrews.

Funding of $1.1-million, along with another $1.6-million from other investors, will help CoLab fine-tune and upgrade a software program that will provide engineers and manufacturers with a better way to collaborate and assess designs.

“I always knew I wanted to do something related to technology,” he said of the career path that got him here.

With the self-realization that he would never make a basketball star, Keating ended up studying engineering at Memorial University.

There, as a member of the MUN paradigm hyperloop team along with Andrews, he ended up at SpaceX 2017, and meeting billionaire tech guru Elon Musk.

Keating decided along the way to focus on ‘big picture’ solutions for engineers, rather than designing mechanical parts himself. He realized there was a problem that needed a solution in the engineering world.

Virtual collaboration among engineers was problematic, if not impossible. There were too many different software programs available and none specific to the engineering field.

“Nothing was all in one spot, so file-sharing was cumbersome and time-consuming,” he said.

Keating and Andrews, who both did an internship with an engineering firm in California, decided to build the software solution.

In 2019, CoLab Software got a major boost with $2.7-million in financing after participating in Silicon Valley’s prestigious Y Combinator accelerator.

With the funding announced this week from the Ocean Supercluster, their software platform will get an upgrade.

Partners in the project include local tech heavyweights – Genoa Design, Kraken Robotics and Petroleum Research Newfoundland and Labrador.

David Shea, senior vice president of engineering with Kraken Robotics, noted the company has been working closely with CoLab for about two years, evaluating CoLab's software platforms and helping streamline Kraken’s engineering design review and communication processes.

“As Kraken continues to expand our operations domestically and internationally, it is important that we engage with technology companies that provide us with innovative tools to help us collaborate between offices, across oceans, and with customers,” said Shea in a press release.

With this funding, and the work involved in upgrading the software program, Keating said the company will also be hiring seven more people — five with a technical background and two to help with sales and marketing side.

Keating added that while COVID-19 has presented challenges for many businesses, it’s driven the demand for his company’s software.

He said with more people working from home, the demand for a software solution to bring engineering and manufacturing teams together on-line is higher than usual.

And he’s happy to prove that the solution doesn’t always have to come from the Silicon Valley.

Search and Rescue Innovation

The CoLab project was one of the three, collectively worth about $6-million, announced Friday morning by Canada’s Ocean Supercluster.

All three projects are based in Newfoundland and Labrador. One of them will help better prepare Search and Rescue (SAR) technicians for marine rescues in extreme weather and sea conditions.

The Marine SAR Helicopter Mission Simulation Project is led by Bluedrop Training and Simulation, partnering with Cougar Helicopters and the Marine Institute of Memorial University.

The Sikorski S92 Mission Training Simulator will be set up at the Cougar Helicopters hangar at St. John’s Airport.

Derrick Rowe, CEO of Bluedrop Training and Simulation - Joe Gibbons
Derrick Rowe, CEO of Bluedrop Training and Simulation - Joe Gibbons

 

Derrick Rowe, CEO of Bluedrop Training and Simulation, said the program at St. John’s will welcome Marine SAR technicians from around the world to put their skills to the test in a first-of-its-kind simulation.

According to the company, nearly 70 percent of search and rescue operations occur in marine environments.

“This represents the first training device to provide a realistic simulation of performing a hoist over oceans, various support vessels and offshore platforms, using state-of-the-art virtual simulation that uses data analytics and Artificial Intelligence to provide best in class, real-time feedback and adaptive learning for ocean rescue activity,” said Rowe in a press release.

“The project will enable Bluedrop to offer a new Sikorski S92 Hoist Mission Training Simulator (HMTS) for all SAR operators requiring specialization in arctic, offshore and marine operations,” said Rowe.

Hank Williams, Chief Operating Officer for Cougar, added that company’s operational experts will help define new qualifications and safety standards for the training program.

Graduate students from Memorial University will also contribute to the project, said Dr. Heather Carnaham of the MI School of Maritime Studies, adding, “A diversity of students are actively being recruited including qualified female, aboriginal and ethnically diverse candidates.”

Increasing Inuit involvement

In Nain, Labrador, a project lead by SmartICE will provide training to enable Inuit citizens to participate more fully in the ocean economy.

The $1.7 million ecosystem building project, with about $1.1-million provided by the Ocean Supercluster, will help Inuit participants across Inuit Nugangat develop technical skills training. The balance of the funding will come from project partners.

Those partners include Pinnguaq Association, Nunavut Fisheries Association, Ilitaqsiniq Literacy Council, and Social Research and Demonstration Corporation.

Dr. Trevor Bell of the SmartICE project was at the Ocean Supercluster announcement on Friday. - Joe Gibbons
Dr. Trevor Bell of the SmartICE project was at the Ocean Supercluster announcement on Friday. - Joe Gibbons

 

SmartICE is an internationally recognized work integration social enterprise (WISE) that empowers indigenous communities to adapt to increasingly unpredictable ice conditions.

Technology and traditional knowledge play a shared role in the SmartICE project.

SmartICE, which is an acronym for ‘Sea-ice Monitoring and Real-Time Information for Coastal Environments,’ is a sea ice information service operated by communities for communities.

In a press release, Dr. Trevor Bell of the SmartICE project, said, “Building on the land skills of Inuit, and creating a training curriculum that is grounded in Inuit ways of knowing and learning, SmartICE and its partners will bridge many of the training barriers facing Inuit in remote northern communities, and promote their inclusion and participation in the ocean economy.”

According to the press release from Ocean Supercluster, the project will create 14 direct jobs, as well as “dozens of indirect jobs.”

Kendra MacDonald, CEO of Canada’s Ocean Supercluster also noted at Friday’s press conference there will be another major announcement coming next week in Halifax.

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