Author Archive: Kevin Browne

Founder of Software Hamilton.

Interview with Electronics meetup leader Marc Hickling


Check out the interview below with Marc Hickling (@marchickling) who is leading up the new Hamilton Electronics meetup group!

The first Hamilton Electronics meetup will take place at CoMotion on King (115 King Street East, Hamilton) on Wednesday April 19th at 7:00pm – sign-up to attend today!

Side note: Marc is looking for developers who may be interested in working with him on an open source Python project – “PCB is an open source package for semiautomated and manual PCB reverse engineering”.


Tell me about yourself.

I’ve been doing electronics since I was 10 years old when I wanted to electrify a project for a school science fair. My grandad (who was a Radio Engineer during the war) had some spare parts lying around his house which he passed on to me and taught me to solder, taught me ohms law and got me started on my first radio project. Since then I studied electronics at school and graduated university with a Bachelors in Electronic Engineering. Outside of work I love to make projects for in around the house, problem is I have so many that I never seem to get around to finishing them!


Why are you starting the Electronics meetup?

The electronics meetup came about after realizing the serious shortage of people passionate about electronics in the Hamilton + Niagara region. My boss has interviewed hundreds of applicants for jobs and there are so few people that applied who have a love for electronics. Many just see a job as a way to make some money – I see it as a passion and going to work is a pleasure.


Who will be speaking at the first meetup?

Our first speaker at the Electronics Hamilton Meetup will be Pierre Demers who is the Technical Manager for Marsh Instrumentation in Burlington. (The largest 3rd party instrumentation service company in Southern Ontario). He’s going to present on Electronic Reverse Engineering which is a little known about topic. He’ll be bringing some previous work and showing why and how reverse engineering works.



Why do people reverse engineer electronics? How does that work?

Reverse Engineering is the process of disassembling + analyzing a circuit for the purpose of generating documentation and/or re-manufacture as well as determining how it was designed and how it operates. Often the documentation even allows a customer to improve their product to surpass competitors. A big part of the process is knowing when and when it’s not allowed to do this – for instance one of the key attributes for copying/cloning PCB’s is that the product is obsolete and unsupported by the OEM.


What is the state of the electronics industry in Hamilton, and Ontario more broadly speaking?

In Hamilton there are a handful of electronics companies and particularly companies working in industrial/commercial space. To my knowledge the company I work for ENA Electronics is one of the only electronics companies in the city with most of the other electronics companies working in the consumer market. In Ontario there’s obviously the Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge area who are a hot bed for innovation in electronics however with the decline of stocks at Blackberry the once power house of the region is faltering and we need to innovate!



Do you see room for growth? If so, why?

There is plenty of room for growth in the Electronics space in Hamilton, there’s a ever growing software scene but very few electronics companies. The advantage of growth in the area is synergies between companies allowing for shared resources and collaboration.


If someone is “technical” in terms of knowing how to code, are there any good ways you can suggest for them to dive into the hardware and electronics side of technology?

Electronics these days need not be all about discrete components (although knowing basic electronics principles is a huge advantage), but embedded electronics bridges the software hardware gap with firmware development being critical in many electronic products. Aside from the obvious programming of Arduino + Raspberry Pi, a great way to really learn electronics is to get them connected to the real world – adding sensors, timers and output devices allows the interface of software to the physical world.


Do you see any possible collaborations between electronics professionals and others in the technology community – health tech, gaming, etc.?

Absolutely – there are so many possibilities, take health for example, how do you monitor a heartbeat without electronics? Just the software alone is one thing but the complete product is at the intersection of electronics hardware and software. Its often very easy to come up with some electronics for a project but the real skill is when an electronics professional gets involved and turn a hobby project into a proper product with noise suppression and protection, its only then that a project should be turned into a product for market.



What about a young person that’s interested in electronics, how would you recommend they get started?

One of the best ways to get involved in electronics is to join us at the electronics meetup! – shameless plug ( not only here will you find experience but you’ll be able to learn with people from the same starting point. Outside of the meetup I’d recommend making some kind of project – theory makes no sense without a project! One of the best circuits I know for starting electronics is the good old 555 timer circuit, it gives a real flavor of how electronics works it’s how I started learning electronics and love that integrated circuit to this day!


What are you hoping to accomplish with the meetup group going forward?’

When I was growing up and even through my degree I struggled with finding people that had a practical view of electronics with a passion for wielding a soldering iron and getting down to the board level. I’m hoping that by starting Electronics Hamilton that we can forge a community of electronic hobbyists in the Hamilton, Niagara and Burlington region with a passion for electronics, from this I hope that networking and collaboration occurs at all levels of the market place, from startups to established companies.


Jim had everybody’s back

I’m very sorry to say that Jim Rudnick passed away last week.

Jim was an important community builder in Hamilton’s startup community. Back in 2010-11 when institutions like Innovation Factory were first getting off the ground, Jim was the number one networker and community cheerleader in this area. They gave him the first DiFizen award for making a difference in the community. Jim had everybody’s back, and people loved him for it.

Some of us will be getting together this Friday March 10th from 5pm-7pm at SERVE Ping Pong bar to have a pint in honour of Jim and tell some of our favourite stories.

Corrected update: this article was briefly updated to mention that Jim’s memorial service had been made public. This was a miscommunication. That memorial service will need to remain private for his family, due to space restrictions it may not be able to accommodate everyone. The Friday drinks will go on as planned though.


I’m not sure it’s my place, I’m not so good at these things, but I’ll tell a quick story.

DemoCampHamilton1 was the first big community event I had ever planned. Until then my life was a more like a typical computer science grad student… sitting behind a desk, working away on math problems that had nothing to do with people.

I was way out of my element at the time doing something social and business oriented, and to be honest totally scared out of mind. I was worried sick things would go off the rails. The day of that first DemoCamp I actually hadn’t slept a wink for the prior two nights.

But this guy Jim Rudnick who had been e-mailing me since announcing the event really wanted to go out to lunch the day of the DemoCamp. He listened, gave advice, shared his own experiences, and put me at ease. You kinda had to know him, but he had a way of delivering advice that was fine-tuned to his listener in a way that let them know what they needed to know without causing them to put their guard up. I think it’s because you got the sense he really wanted you to succeed.

When we were done our lunch he made a small gesture that I’ll never forget. As we were about to leave the restaurant he turned to me and said, “I’m behind you” and patted me on the back, and then let me walk ahead of him. I know it’s such a little thing, but it meant a lot.


I think that’s what Jim did for a lot of people too – he had their backs. There was a bunch of us that were young and/or new to Hamilton. Maybe not as secure in themselves or their abilities just yet, let alone secure in their careers, or startup, or family life. And at the same time all these people were “trying really hard to make it in life”. They were stressed out from running the rat race, working long hours, and dealing with competition. And though a lot of these people were learners and hard workers with goals they wanted to achieve, due to their stage of life and career, they were understandably tense, anxious and unsure.

Where as Jim was our Obi-Wan Kenobi. He had the wisdom of seeing it before, and coming at things from the end of his career, he could be more relaxed and detached than the rest of us. He modelled a lot of behaviours that the rest of us followed… like the importance of “opening up the rolodex”, supporting people, leadership, sharing good ideas even if it meant others would implement them instead of you, and seeing the best in others (I’ve never met anyone better than him at that in particular).


Over the years Jim kinda became an informal mentor for me. We would meetup for lunch and beers every so often and talk about business, life and family. He retired not very long ago and wrote a lot of SciFi books, which was great to see him get to do something he loved. He had the best sense of humour, and always expressed love for his family and friends.

I’ll miss you buddy.


deltaHacks continues to impress


deltaHacks (@deltahacks) took place for the 3rd year running at McMaster University this past weekend! The hackathon again did not fail to impress, with hundreds of students and 19 teams spending 2 days working on “building real world applications that create positive change”.

This “hack for change” aspect of the competition really sets it apart from many other hackathons and similar events. The quality of the work accomplished in what essentially amounts to 24 hours is always mind blowing (check out Holo Body below). Perhaps equally important, volunteers tell me that teams of first year students will show up not knowing how to program on Saturday morning and leave on Sunday with a working Android application and an ability to use GitHub!


Here are the six finalists that demo’d at the closing ceremonies…


Holo Body – an edtech solution that allows students to view 3D augmented reality holographs of the human anatomy using their smartphones.




Lifeline – a hardware solution to detect when a driver is falling asleep and alert them in order to prevent an accident.





Voice of Reason – a mobile application that allows users to check if purchases will keep them within their budget (i.e. is it affordable), meant to prevent poor impulse purchase decisions.




VATS – stands for Very Awesome Tipping Solution, a hardware solution to detect whether an elderly person has fallen over.





Phonetic English – a Google Chrome extension that translates webpage text into an encoding that makes words easier to pronounce for those learning English (the mismatch between spelling and pronunciation can be a barrier to learning).




Cardio Protect – a hardware solution to detect cardiac arrest and report it to allow for earlier treatment.




The final winners were: 3rd place – VATS, 2nd place – Lifeline, and 1st place – HoloBody.

The event is basically a recruiter’s dream. So it’s no surprise the competition was well sponsored and supported from private sector and public sector partners alike, with a ton of give-aways and special category prizes.

It’s wonderful to see what this event has blossomed into, and it’ll be exciting to see where it goes next.

CHCH covered the event in a report on Saturday.



SURGE Tech Startup Bootcamp


I’m on the team for the SURGE program (@mohawksurge) at Mohawk College. The program has been stirring the entrepreneurism pot on campus with educational events for the startup-curious and free mentorship for students actively working on new businesses. One of the objectives is to act as a funnel into the wider ecosystem.

This winter at SURGE we’re trying a new series of events we’ve called Tech Startup Bootcamp. It’s three workshops on market validation, minimum viable products, and sales & marketing. The speakers and content of the workshops, as well as the marketing of the workshops, has been done in a way that’s been oriented and branded towards technical students. Terms familiar to a technical audience were used when possible, for example.

We actually sold out the first workshop due to the fire code limits for the room! The students seemed pretty engaged, and the vast majority of them were technical-subject students, many of whom hadn’t been to a campus entrepreneurism event before. Many indicated they were interested in going further than attending the workshops, and we’ve encouraged them to perform market validation of their ideas as a starting point. I’m hopeful we’ll see some students turn the enthusiasm into action – I know I’d love to see it happen!


Mariner Endosurgery receives funding


HAMILTON, ON–(Marketwired – January 12, 2017) – Mariner Endosurgery, an innovative Canadian medical device company announced today the recent completion of an investment round led by several prominent medical device investors and leading laparoscopic surgeons from the Toronto – Hamilton area. Terms of the financing were not disclosed.

“We are very pleased with the strategic investors now on board with Mariner Endosurgery,” said Mitch Wilson, President & COO of Mariner Endosurgery. “Surgeons are excited about our innovative product pipeline, and today’s funding represents a significant step towards commercialization of our LaparoGuard technology. Mariner’s computer-assisted platform provides augmented visualization for surgeons during minimally invasive general, gynecological and urological surgical procedures.”

About Mariner Endosurgery Inc.

Founded in 2016, Mariner Endosurgery Inc. develops and commercializes innovative computer assisted medical devices for future-facing laparoscopic surgeries. Their platform LaparoGuard is a novel soft-tissue surgical navigation platform that augments visualization during laparoscopic surgeries, enhancing the safety profile of laparoscopic surgery to assist surgeons in delivering a superior quality of care to their patients.

Mitch Wilson


Editor’s note: The Forge is hosting a “startup story” talk by Mariner Endosurgery COO Mitch Wilson on Thurs. Jan. 26th.


deltaHacks returns for third edition

Using a Myo armband


If you haven’t heard of it before, deltaHacks is an amazing 500-person hackathon that takes place at McMaster University each year. The next deltaHacks will be taking place this January 28th-29th on McMaster University campus.

What makes deltaHacks special is the focus: “We hope to inspire students to hack for positive changes that align with their passions – whether it’s environment, health, inequality, education, etc. And hence the name “delta” – as “Δ” stands for change.”

Compared to some other hackathons where you might see the 500th “order a beer from your smartphone app” (which is admittedly kinda neat in its own right), at deltaHacks you see people working on projects to help people by solving real-world problems. On top of that, the technical depth of the solutions tends to be a little better than most hackathons too.

So for example the winner of last year’s deltaHacks was a team that built an app that uses x-ray images to diagnose femoroacetabular impingement (FAI). That project got turned into Deltanostix, a company now being incubated in The Forge.



First-place winners (FAI diagnosis app); photo by Jin Lee


In addition to attendees, this year’s deltaHacks is looking for 1) volunteers to help them run the event, 2) mentors to help teams workthrough challenges and provide advice, 3) sponsors. If you’re a tech company in Hamilton looking to get early access at an amazing pool of young, up-and-coming, motivated talent, this is a great event to get involved with in some capacity!

deltaHacks is organized by student group PhaseOne (formally know as HackItMac), easily the most engaged student group I’ve ever seen (and having been on school campuses my entire adult life, I’ve seen a lot). You’ve gotta love their mission statement:

“We are a vast team of students who share a similar dream: to make McMaster and the Hamilton area one of the biggest tech communities in Canada. We want to foster an environment that is constantly generating great ideas, startups or just talent. We want to help companies realize their full potential by providing the creative & technical talent and resources they need. We are PhaseOne of something bigger than all of us.”



Bigger and better: 2016 year in review

This year was unquestionably the biggest in the history of the (admittedly young) Hamilton tech sector.

First off, big exits, in fact what were likely the two biggest exists ever in Hamilton. First in January Mabel’s Labels was acquired for $12 million, followed by VIZIYA being acquired at $21 million in October!

Mabel’s Labels is a storied Hamilton success story… what started out as 4 moms selling identification labels out of a basement grew into a company with a few dozen employees over a 13 year period. And VIZIYA grew like topsy over the last 5 years… they were featured on the Deloitte list of the 50 fastest growing tech companies by revenue for 3 years in a row and became the city’s largest tech company by number of employees.



It wasn’t just these two companies either, health tech startup CareKit was also acquired in a deal worth $2 million in February! These exits are important because they show that “it can be done in Hamilton”, and they pave the way for others to follow by demonstrating how it can be done. Rumour has it that we’ll be seeing a couple more acquisitions in Hamilton next year too! Hopefully these acquisitions add to the pool of experienced entrepreneurs that are able to fund and mentor the next generation.

And on that note… big funding! Data centre technology startup Cinnos was able to raise $2.3 million this year. That’s an incredible achievement that again paves the way for others to follow.



Next up, Big Blue, aka IBM, announced they were moving into town in a partnership with Hamilton Health Sciences to work on health technology! To me this is probably the single biggest piece of news ever for the Hamilton tech sector. IBM’s done great things for communities by opening up satellite offices in recent years (e.g. 500 jobs in Halifax).

IBM does work with McMaster researchers already, and the company is one of the more sought after landing spots by McMaster computer science and software engineering grads in particular. We’ll have to see what this grows in to, but I’m hopeful this could be excellent in terms of retention of Mac students after graduation, creating higher-end technology jobs in the city (i.e. research and development level work), and giving Hamilton’s tech sector more heft to people outside our community (everyone has heard of IBM).


There’s so many more great stories too! Just a few…

Design agencies in town continued to kick ass and take names, with clientele increasingly coming from outside the city.

Hamilton Code Clubs had over 500 students in 20 schools learn computer programming in weekly learn to code clubs, and with future fund dollars the program will continue to scale next year.

A regular gamut of meetup groups and conferences continued to catalyze the community – everything from a bigger Embrace UX, to regular features like AppsForHealth, to new events like HamOnt.js, Hacking Health Hackathon, VR Meetup, and Internet of Things meetup! Each one of these community building initiatives reaches out to a different and new segment of people that fills a different “gap in the marketplace”.

The Forge incubator continued to fill-up, and companies in the space continue to scale and win early funding. The Forge on McMaster campus and SURGE at Mohawk College are stirring the entrepreneurial pot on campus to keep this growth going strong.



There was some sad news with ThinkHaus closing shop, but they helped foster a maker culture in the city that’s still going in new forms like the Mini Make Faire and new artist/maker spaces.


I’ll cut it off here, but suffice to say this past 12 months has been amazing for our community. There’s a very, very long road ahead to get where Hamilton could be, something more akin to Waterloo’s scale in terms of revenue/jobs/funding/exits, but fit to our own strengths. After a year of big exits, big funding, Big Blue moving into town, and bigger than ever community building and startup support activities… we’ve got more reason than ever before to believe that we’ll get there.


Students showcase code club creations


Hamilton Code Clubs (@hamontcodeclub) has been running showcase sessions in all of its code clubs over the past week!

Hamilton Code Clubs revolves around lunch hour and after school “learn to code” clubs where students are introduced to early computer programming skills using fun and free tools like Scratch, Hopscotch and Khan Academy. Students are introduced to these tools over several weeks via presentations from a mentor and working through walkthroughs. They learn the basic building blocks of programming like conditional statements and loops, mostly focused around drawing and animating since it’s most engaging that way.

The students are also given some weeks to build whatever they want to make. And I have to say it’s really, really cool watching the enthusiasm and engagement go into overdrive when they do. There’s something empowering for them about realizing that they can make the idea inside their head a reality on the screen in front of them, thanks to their new skill set. Instead of playing games, they’re making their own.

It’s cool because I suspect it will have enough of an impact for these kids that they will really remember it, and that for some it may even influence them enough to get into the industry one day.

After the students have built their creations, during the final week they show them off to their peers, mentor, teacher and in some cases parents too! It’s basically a DemoCamp for the kids in each of the 18 code clubs, and just as awesome!

Hamilton Code Clubs will be back next year, and expanding into more schools with our new funding too. Check out these photos from some the code clubs showcase events!


Parents watch kids at Queensdale (@Queensdale342) demo their creations!


A student presents his “Quest” game!


Another student presents his “Boat Race” game!


A student at St. Agnes shows off her music video animation!


Students at St. David demo what they’ve made for their parents!


A student demos his “Space Run” game!


Tech North report aims to foster regional tech supercluster

A roundtable of regional tech startup heavyweights (including founders, ecosystem supporters, school deans, etc.) helped to put together an excellent report entitled Tech North: Building Canada’s first technology supercluster.

“Canada’s nascent technology supercluster in the Toronto-Waterloo region has the potential to become one of the world’s top innovation ecosystems. This report examines how this can be achieved and what could move Toronto-Waterloo to global technology supercluster status.

You can find the report here. Obviously for branding reasons there’s a logic in calling it the Toronto-Waterloo corridor… Waterloo’s brand in tech is first-class and Toronto is a major centre in North America – but it’s nice to see Hamilton, other urban centres, and their assets are included in the report and vision for the region as well.



Thoughts on hiring – request the transcripts



Previous “Thoughts on hiring” articles


Grades are a data point with strong predictive value for future success.

People don’t like hearing that statement, and I don’t blame them one bit. Many students with low grades go on to great success. Many A students end up working for C students. Grades don’t matter at all in comparison to enough good real-world experience.

But it doesn’t change the fact that the statement is still true: grades are a data point with strong predictive value for future success. And they’re not just predictive in terms of ability to obtain high grades in subsequent study, they’re predictive of success in the real-world.

That’s why I find it mind boggling how few companies will ask for transcripts when hiring co-ops, interns and new graduates. These people have just spent 2-4 years working for a credential, and they’ve been meticulously and carefully scored by subject matter experts about their relative progress.

A lot of hard, careful work gets put into generating those data points. The best part is firms can benefit from using those data points without even having to pay for them directly, since the taxpayer and the students have paid the cost.

In terms of evaluating grades beyond looking at how high they are, I suggest the following.

Be forgiving of low grades early in a program, an upward trend is something to look for. Maybe limit yourself to looking at the last year or two years.

Check their grades in difficult but important courses. Every good program of study has them. Students, faculty and likely career office staff can tell you which ones. There are are courses that even strong students can’t help cringing at when you mention the course name (just mention real-time programming to a Waterloo CS grad if you don’t believe me). Find those difficult but important courses and give those data points 10x the weight as their overall average.

And the obvious… forgive low grades if there are overriding factors. What those factors are exactly varies. I know a guy at Microsoft Research. He failed a midterm because he was too busy developing new algorithms in his spare time to care about it. That’s an extreme case.

Looking to hire a co-op, intern or fresh graduate? Request the transcripts, analyze and filter accordingly.