Blog

Where Taproot stands, and the work ahead

Black Lives Matter. The deaths of George Floyd and too many others at the hands of police make it necessary to say out loud what we believe but have not been sufficiently vocal about.

As two white co-founders, we have a responsibility to use our privilege to contribute to a more just society. As a media organization, here are some actions we have taken or will take:

  1. We’ve made a donation to the Canadian Association of Black Journalists. We were prompted to do so by a thread compiled by Indiegraf Media, which is building a network of indie news entrepreneurs.
  2. We will actively encourage journalists who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour to answer the call for contributors that we’ll be issuing in July. Taproot pays for commissioned work, and we know we will do a better job of paying attention to our community with more diversity among our contributors.
  3. We will work towards answering the seven calls to action issued by the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and Canadian Journalists of Colour. We are as yet too small to do some of these things, but the place where we can start is to create mentorship opportunities for aspiring journalists of colour.

We share this simply to be accountable for backing up our words with action, knowing that we still have more work to do.

We know we have missed opportunities in the past to take similar action in response to racism against Indigenous people in our city. We must at least live up to the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation’s calls for the media to include more Indigenous people and be more aware of Indigenous history. And that too is a very small beginning.

Kindness is the key on Giving Tuesday Now

We invite you to join us in marking Giving Tuesday Now, a global day of giving and unity on May 5.

You may be used to hearing about this as part of the cavalcade of “days” surrounding American Thanksgiving, from Black Friday to Cyber Monday to Giving Tuesday. This year, the movement has designated another day as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, and May 5 is it.

Chalk messages of kindness and hope
Messages of love and hope from the sidewalks in Karen’s neighbourhood.

If you have money to give, there are a number of local charities that could use your support. Here are some suggestions from members of our crew:

You can find lots more on Canada Helps, where you can also donate to a special Edmonton Fund that helps 159 local charities. You may also draw inspiration from these good deeds.

If you don’t have money to give right now, the Local Goodness Project offers a number of ways to contribute, and Giving Tuesday Now has suggestions, too.

There’s also a movement afoot to turn May 5 into Giving News Day. The economic disruption surrounding COVID-19 has taken its toll on local journalism at a moment when we need reliable and responsible information more than ever.

Canada doesn’t have the same kind of philanthropic support for journalism that the U.S. has, but you can still make a contribution. If, for example, you wanted to support Taproot, here are a few ways:

  1. Spread the word about Taproot. You could start by sharing this post!
  2. Become a Taproot Member.
  3. Become a Taproot sponsor.

Thanks for your interest. We’ll get through this together.

Meet our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

We’d like to introduce you to Hiba Kamal-Choufi, who started curating the Health Innovation Roundup a few weeks ago.

Hiba has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on in the health innovation space. As you can imagine, the past month has been quite a unique time to take over this particular roundup! Hiba has done a great job of curating the latest COVID-19-related news as well as other updates from the sector.

Hiba Kamal-Choufi, our new Health Innovation Roundup curator

Hiba started her career as a news editor in Beirut, covering stories that involved a range of topics, including the Arab uprisings in 2010 and 2011. After moving to Edmonton, she joined Shaw TV and has since held a number of communications positions. She has a master’s degree in communications and technology (MACT) from the University of Alberta and holds an M.A. in international relations and B.A. in journalism from Beirut, Lebanon. Hiba is currently the Director of Jobline and Email Marketing at IABC Edmonton.

The Health Innovation Roundup launched in the fall of 2018 with Catherine Griwkowsky as curator. We’re grateful to Catherine for all the work she did to keep readers informed and to help grow the roundup, and wish her all the best.

We’re thrilled to have Hiba on our roster of roundup curators who pay attention to what’s going on and distill it to its essence to make sure you are informed. Here’s the whole crew:

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.

If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.

Answers to local questions about the COVID-19 pandemic

We have launched a COVID-19 microsite containing curated answers to questions about Edmonton’s response to and experience of the pandemic. Our objective is to help the local community understand this complex and quickly evolving topic better.

How the microsite came about

In the latest edition of our newsletter, sent on March 17, Karen wrote:

"In light of COVID-19 and the efforts to control its spread, we’re thinking about what more we can do to inform our community without contributing to the noise and information overload."

Our curators were already (and still are) collecting relevant news for our roundups, but we felt there might be an opportunity to do more. We invited readers to submit questions related to the pandemic. It wasn’t long before the first few questions came in and we’ve since received dozens more. That validated the need for Taproot to offer something more on this topic.

We discussed a number of different approaches for answering those questions. Given our resources, our expertise in curation, and our experience building microsites in the past, we felt that a microsite was the best approach for us.

What the microsite is for

The microsite contains questions posed by our community and answered by Taproot editors, based on primary documents and reliable published sources.

There’s no shortage of important information being shared about COVID-19 right now, but it is difficult to find answers to specific questions. Often the nugget of information you need is buried in the middle of an article or government document. You might also have to look at a large number of sources to get the complete answer.

Those are the problems the microsite aims to solve. You’ll find answers to specific questions, all in one place. Each answer contains links to sources and other information if you want dig deeper.

We don’t intend to publish the news of the day nor are we trying to be the destination for breaking news. The mainstream newsrooms in our city have that covered, and we are grateful to those journalists for their hard work, much of which we are pointing to in our answers and in our roundups. Our contribution is to simply and succinctly deliver what our readers say they want to know.

As Lauren Harris wrote at Columbia Journalism Review:

"In times of crisis, newsrooms ought not stop producing the news. But they can slow down, ask themselves what matters most, and be a calm guide for readers. Signal, not noise."

We strive to be that calm guide here in Edmonton.

What’s next

We have published a handful of entries thus far, and we’re working on many more. Keep your questions coming in, and we’ll keep the site updated with new curated answers. We’ll also update existing answers as new information arises.

As the pandemic evolves, so will the microsite. Send us your suggestions and feedback at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

A note about Speaking Artistically

At the request of Bottom Line Productions, we have taken down Episode 13 of Speaking Artistically, our podcast about arts in Edmonton.  

Removing published work is a drastic step, so we feel we owe you an explanation.  

We launched Speaking Artistically last November, a few months after launching our Arts Roundup. It was hosted and produced by Bottom Line Productions, and published by Taproot.  

It’s not typical for us to work with companies in this way. Usually, we pay contributors to produce things for us. This was an exchange of value — Bottom Line would produce the podcast, on which it would promote our Arts Roundup, and we would publish the podcast on our platform and draw attention to it on Taproot’s channels.  

We understood the hosts would sometimes talk about shows that Bottom Line was promoting, but not exclusively. The show was meant to be a conversation among people who are immersed in local arts, talking about what’s on or coming up, and that’s what it was.  

Bottom Line has run into a situation where something said on the podcast has landed it in trouble with a client. And so they have asked us to take the episode down. “The intentions of our comments could have been misconstrued and for that we apologize,” writes Darka Tarnawsky, President of Bottom Line Productions. 

We have reluctantly agreed to do so. This demonstrates, however, that the unusual arrangement we made with Bottom Line is not going to work. Our first allegiance has to be to the listener.  

Speaking Artistically will be on hiatus until we decide whether to find new hosts or cease publishing it altogether. We do thank Bottom Line Productions for the opportunity to experiment, and we wish them well.

Meet our Regional Roundup curator

Before this year comes to an end, we’d like to introduce you to Stephen Cook, who has been doing a great job of curating our relatively new Regional Roundup

Since taking the roundup over from Taproot co-founder Mack Male in October, Stephen has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on, economically and otherwise, in the 15 municipalities that make up the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.  

Stephen Cook, our Regional Roundup curator.

It’s a lot to keep track of, but Stephen uses his journalism chops to pull it off every week. A recent graduate of the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University, he has written for the Edmonton Journal, The Canadian Press, and The Globe and Mail, covering such topics as municipal affairs, provincial politics, crime, court, and international human rights. He currently works at CBC Edmonton.  

We launched the Regional Roundup in August with a title sponsorship from Edmonton Global. Every Wednesday, it brings together the headlines and happenings in Beaumont, Bon Accord, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County, with a view to informing the region about itself so the players can more easily work together. 

We’re thrilled to have Stephen on our roster of roundup curators who pay attention to what’s going on and distill it to its essence to make sure you are informed. Here’s the whole crew: 

  • Arts — Fawnda Mithrush 
  • Business — Paul Cashman 
  • City Council — Mack Male 
  • Food — Sharon Yeo 
  • Health Innovation — Catherine Griwkowsky 
  • Media — Linda Hoang 
  • Music — Emily Rendell-Watson 
  • Regional — Stephen Cook 
  • Tech — Mack Male 

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.  

If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.

How sponsorship at Taproot works

In the spirit of doing a better job of telling our own story, here’s an update on how part of our business has evolved since we started.

From the very beginning of Taproot, we’ve worked to avoid being dependent an advertising-supported business model. We started with membership as our first revenue stream. Membership is an effective way to align incentives – the better we serve members, the more of them we should be able to attract!

When we introduced our Roundups last year, we added sponsorship as our second revenue stream. We were inspired by popular newsletters from around the world that offer organizations an opportunity to display their brand inside each edition, to help make the newsletters sustainable. Sponsorship offers us another way to align incentives – the better we serve the community that sponsors care about, the more of them we should be able to attract!

The sponsors you see in our Roundups are supporters of the work we do and their financial contributions help to make our publications sustainable. The benefit they receive, in addition to ongoing brand awareness, is to be associated with something that (hopefully) is making a positive impact in the community they care about.

We have three types of sponsors. Title sponsors make the largest financial contribution and so receive the largest benefit, with their logo in the top and bottom of each edition, on our website, and special mention on social media. Our Cultivators are the square logos you see inside each edition. And on occasion we will promote relevant events through ad hoc sponsorship.

To be clear, none of our sponsors get any say over the content of the roundup. Our curators and editors determine what the lead story is and which headlines and events are included in each edition. We maintain editorial independence, which benefits readers of course, but also sponsors. It’s in their best interests to have a publication that the community trusts.

Our first allegiance is and always will be to the reader. If readers can’t trust us, we’ll fail at our mission to help the community understand itself better. In order to serve readers though, we need to have money coming in. We hope that we’ve struck the right balance with sponsorship.

If you have questions about this or if you’d like to learn more about sponsorship, send us an email at hello@taprootedmonton.ca.

Alberta budget a setback for diversification, says tech entrepreneur

Broad tax cut instead of targeted incentives reflects ’old way of doing things’ 

A prominent Edmonton tech entrepreneur says the inaugural budget of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government is short-shrifting startups and scaleups with its “nearsighted” focus on established businesses.

James Keirstead, president and CEO of Levven Electronics, criticized the UCP government for its plan to cancel targeted tax incentives like the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, choosing instead to reduce corporate income taxes.

 “This is going back to the old way of doing things as opposed to targeted programs that can drive diversification,” Keirstead said “A broad-based tax decrease doesn’t help drive the economy. It’s really nearsighted.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I kind of agreed more with the way the NDP were doing things … and I’m a staunch Conservative,” he added.

James Keirstead, CEO of Levven Electronics. (Photo by Start Alberta)

The investor tax credit was among a handful of measures introduced by the NDP that will be “eliminated ahead of schedule,” according to budget documents. Other ousted tax credits impact scientific research, experimental development and interactive digital media, such as video game development.

Keirstead said tech companies use money from these programs to hire talent and reinvest in their own and other businesses.

The government also plans to cut budgets for economic development, trade and tourism and Alberta Innovates. Many Alberta universities and colleges will lose funding, which Keirstead said will have a “knock-on effect” to businesses in the form of fewer talented graduates to hire.

Keirstead predicts the discussion over whether Alberta should have done more for diversification will continue to rear its head with every oil-and-gas bust.

“The stop-start of investment … is a sure-fire way to make sure we don’t become globally competitive,” he said.

‘Bright future’ seen for AI

Alberta’s artificial intelligence and machine learning sector will get $40.5 million over four years, a sharp drop from the $100 million over five years that had been promised by the former NDP government.

Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir, said the ministry will fund $34 million and Alberta Innovates will fund the rest.

The NDP’s pre-election commitment was an “unbudgeted promise,” said Brattinga, pointing to stable funding of $2 million a year for the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute as an example of the UCP’s commitment to the sector.

“The fact that we are still funding artificial intelligence in Alberta shows that we do take AI and machine learning seriously,” said Brattinga.

“We had to make a lot of difficult decisions as part of our budget. Artificial intelligence … is a good sector and we do see a bright future for it.”

Tax credit, tax cut, what’s the diff?

Brattinga said the budget’s goal was to create optimum conditions for economic growth and investment in Alberta. Measures like the corporate tax cut will benefit more than 100,000 companies in all sectors, he said.

According to University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe, the UCP and NDP agree on the goals but use different approaches to achieve them.

“Lowering the statutory rate or introducing investor tax credits or allowing for accelerated write-offs — these are all ways of lowering the tax on new investment,” which in turn should spur further investment, he said.

The main differences between the targeted and blanket approaches are in who benefits, when, and at what cost to government, Tombe said.

The UCP’s corporate tax reduction is a calculated risk balancing the loss of tax revenue against the value of potential investment, he said. Budget documents show a reduced corporate tax rate will have a net cost to the government of $2.4 billion.

“Investment will rise but government revenue will fall — and will fall by more than with some alternative approaches that would also have lessened the tax on investment,” Tombe said.

On the plus side, Tombe said, lowering a tax rate is simple. “(With) the investor tax credits, you need to apply, and they need to be administered, for example, whereas just changing the statutory rate, it’s the simplest possible thing you could do.”

Horrible message, but…

Cory Janssen, co-founder and CEO of AltaML, said the Alberta Investor Tax Credit was a great idea but noted the program wasn’t perfect. He is willing to give the new government a chance on tech, saying he has had conversations that give him confidence in future replacements to the cancelled programs.

Cory Janssen, CEO of AltaML. (Photo by Mack Male)

“I do think perhaps it was underestimated what the backlash would be and the message it sends to the market,” Janssen said about the cuts and lost tax credits.

“This is clearly a horrible message to send to technology … but we shouldn’t view this government as anti-tech.”

More Information

Big ideas garner awards for Edmonton entrepreneurs

Start Alberta honours tech startups making an impact

When Anthea Sargeaunt co-founded her water monitoring company, 2S Water, she wanted to fix a problem: the lack of real-time monitoring at water treatment facilities.

Two years later, as Sargeaunt is getting ready to take the Edmonton company’s unique water quality sensor technology to market, she is being honoured by peers from across the province as the most promising startup entrepreneur of the year.

Sargeaunt is thrilled that the company’s “under the radar” research and development work is being acknowledged.

“We are on a mission to protect the world’s water, and we do that through monitoring and providing the data that people need to protect their water,” says Sargeaunt.

“We want to change the world.”

The Start Alberta Tech Awards recognize individuals and organizations that are making a significant impact in the province’s tech and innovation sector. Awards in nine categories were presented at an Oct. 23 ceremony at the Timms Centre for the Arts in Edmonton.

2S Water co-founder Anthea Sargeaunt
2S Water co-founder Anthea Sargeaunt. (Supplied)

Instant water analysis

Both Sargeaunt and her business partner, Anthony Nelson, have been involved with other ventures before, but she believes 2S Water is the one that will be an Alberta success story.

2S Water is developing a sensor suite that will instantly analyze water for more than 100 different contaminants, making sure a community’s drinking water is clean before it goes to the tap. It also makes sensors for industrial applications.

Sargeaunt and Nelson are aiming to scale it into a “unicorn,” one of those rare startups valued at more than $1 billion. She says the recognition from Start Alberta will be a big boost to the company’s growth.

“I’m very inspired about what we can do in this field,” Sargeaunt says.

Celebration and validation

Ryan Tucker is equally optimistic about the future of G2V Optics, which won a Start Alberta Fast Growth award for highest annual revenue growth in the under $5 million category.

“I feel like things are going crazy for us right now … so it’s a celebration,” says Tucker, CEO of the Edmonton-based business. “It’s also validating to know that our solution and our way of approaching things really is special.”

G2V Optics makes smart lights for researching sunlight applications, including solar cells, solar fuel and water splitting. Its high-tech lights are also used to help plants grow under natural conditions by simulating how geography changes sunlight.  

Tucker attributes the company’s rapid growth to an increasing demand for the technology, as well as the successes experienced by customers, including renewable energy researchers and horticulture companies growing cannabis or rare produce.

Michael Taschuk, Founder & CTO and Ryan Tucker, CEO, G2V Optics, supplied
Founder and CTO Michael Taschuk and CEO Ryan Tucker of G2V Optics. (Supplied)

High-tech lights, bright future

By combining agriculture and artificial intelligence, Tucker believes the Alberta company is perfectly located to grow even bigger.

“Over the next 12 to 24 months, we’ll be deploying more intelligent lighting solutions to grow things to a level that’s never been done before,” Tucker says.

This is the second year for the awards. Start Alberta is an online community for Alberta’s tech companies, offering a place to showcase technology, stories and successes. Its members include tech companies, investors and venture capital firms.

Other Edmonton winners are:

  • Fast Growth over $5 million: Jobber, which makes software for home services businesses
  • Most Significant Cross-Community Collaboration of the Year: Artificial Intelligence-Supercomputing Hub at the University of Alberta
  • Rod Charko Service Award: Ray Muzyka, Bioware co-founder and entrepreneur mentor through ThresholdImpact

Find the full list on the Start Alberta website.

Mover acquired by Microsoft

Local tech startup Mover has been acquired by Microsoft for an undisclosed amount.

“Together with Mover, we’ll continue to provide customers with fast and reliable migrations to the cloud, with best practices and security and more connectors to more source systems, ultimately making the move into Microsoft 365 as seamless and cost effective as possible,” wrote Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Office, SharePoint, and OneDrive at Microsoft.

Mover co-founders Eric Warnke and Mark Fossen

“We have been partnered with Microsoft for years, so it just makes sense, we can achieve more together,” Mover co-founder Eric Warnke told Taproot. “Out of all the potential acquirers, Microsoft was the top of the list, they’ve treated us well since Day 1, we like the people and the culture.”

“We’re fans of the new Microsoft,” he added.

Warnke and co-founder Mark Fossen took advantage of a Startup Hackathon in January 2012 to build what was originally called Backup Box. The two demoed the utility at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 in March of that year. They participated in Vancouver’s GrowLab accelerator later that year and rebranded as Mover before being featured at Launch Party 3 in November 2012. Mover also participated in the Los Angeles-based Amplify accelerator the following year.

The company raised over $1 million in seed funding in the summer of 2013 from investors including Double M Partners, Yaletown Venture Partners, Amplify, Barracuda Networks, and angel investors Jarl Mohn, Rick Barry, and Dennis Phelps.

After the seed round was announced, Warnke addressed questions about moving the company. “A lot of people ask us if we’re going to move, but there are good incentives to stay here,” he said in 2013.

While the Microsoft acquisition will mean more frequent trips to Redmond, the company is staying put for now.

Mover’s website has long displayed a message in the footer acknowledging Edmonton as its home. Asked about building a startup here, Warnke said “it was hard in Edmonton, we didn’t raise a cent here.” He cited the introductions made at GrowLab and Amplify as critical for the company’s growth. They struggled to attract funding from local investors.

Still, Mover’s experience suggests that entrepreneurs can find success from Edmonton. “Edmontonians need tenacity,” Warnke said. His advice is to never give up.

Warnke was unable to talk about future plans for the product, but after the announcement was made it appears Mover is now free. More information about the integration of Mover into the Microsoft 365 offering is expected at Ignite 2019, taking place next month in Orlando, Fla.

According to the ticker on Mover’s site, the company has transferred more than 115 billion files.

“It has been a fantastic journey these last eight years,” wrote Warnke on Mover’s blog. “We have met thousands of wonderful customers and moved more data than I ever imagined. It has been an honor to be trusted by you and your fellow customers.”