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Woman of the Week: Peggy Van De Plassche

 

Peggy Van de Plassche is a finance professional by trade, who after a varied career as an investor, bank executive, consultant, and entrepreneur decided to bet on herself and set up her own venture capital firm in July 2018.

Peggy is the Managing Partner of Roar Ventures, whose focus is on early-stage data and AI startups that are targeting the financial services industry. Her beginnings in technology go back almost 15 years, well before FinTech broke through in public awareness.

Aside from running Roar Ventures, Peggy sits on a number of boards including Invest in Canada, is a senior advisor to Portag3 Ventures, guest lecturer at Rotman on AI in financial services and she is also involved in the community via Hackergal and the Wild Animal Sanctuary.

Born in Lille, France, Peggy’s French native accent carries the classic elegance of the language. She left France when she was 26 to relocate in Montreal where she joined CGI and contracted the technology bug.

Following seven happy years in Montreal, she and her husband decided to relocate to Toronto to get closer to the financial services centre. After working at BMO as a Director Strategic investments, Peggy joined a wealthy software entrepreneur with the mandate to seed/launch fintech startups and used the countless experiences she gained to become a freelance consultant working with the likes of Omers VC. Subsequently, she spearheaded innovation initiatives at CIBC as a VP in 2016-17.

This July she started fundraising for Roar Ventures with a target close of $35 million. She focuses her efforts on strategic corporate investors – banks and insurance companies aiming at accelerating their transformation. Her fundraising is global with a significant traction coming out of Switzerland where she will be joining the Canadian delegation to present her fund on the stage of Fintech+.

She is collaborating with a team of professionals that she is proud to call “The most creative, bold and energetic people in the industry”. Peggy admits that like anyone starting something brand-new, she has encountered some challenges along the way. First of all, the act of raising money is a notoriously hard task as “Canadian investors tend to be very conservative and funds are allocated to people who are well known in the industry” she said. In addition to that, “being a female immigrant in a very male-dominated area of work does not really play in my favour” Peggy continued.

On the bright side, she has applied to a government initiative called Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative (VCCI) that supports VC firms financially while also addressing gender imbalance and diversity in VCs. While still waiting for the results, Peggy was happy to mention that this initiative was really the catalyst for her to decide to go on her own.

The companies Roar Ventures focuses on are “gender-diversity friendly” startups, with women in the management team, on a Board or as founders. Empirical research shows that greater gender balance generates superior returns.

The person who inspired her the most is her mother. Peggy describes her as a dedicated and hardworking woman with a strong work ethic and the ability to build good relationships. She taught Peggy a love for learning and always pushed her boundaries. Outside of home, she finds inspiration through reading biographies of people who from humble beginnings, took risks and managed to get through life challenges and turn their life around — Andre Agassi, Serena Williams, Sam Zell, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few. A European immigrant like her, Schwarzenegger has done it all, from champion bodybuilder, to a successful actor, to governor.

Peggy acknowledges that it is a more empowering moment to be a woman in business now than ever before. This is due to a radical transformation that is taking place within individuals as well as the within the community as a whole. This transformation is shifting everyone’s views to a higher level of awareness. As she states, “For many years, we accepted certain behaviours as normal. Now we need to relearn a new model and reject the old one which does not work anymore”. Peggy thinks that the patriarchal model of society takes a toll on men as much as on women. She has known many successful men who suffer from a tremendous pressure to support the whole family and a wealthy lifestyle.

Aside from work, Peggy reads, spends time with friends and family, and enjoys cultivating her spiritual side through meditation, brain, and energy work. She said, “I’m very intuitive, but I am well aware that I only use a small percentage of my brain. I’d like to access more of my brain and increase my capability to be in a state of flow.”

When asked what tips she would give to women who want to embark on similar ventures, recalling her own path, she recommended, “Prepare, take action, and network.” She warns that fear of not being ready may delay action. “Women tend to be more cautious in business, due to lifelong social conditioning. But you need to believe in yourself, avoid anyone who is negative especially when you start a business because you’re at your most vulnerable” Peggy continued.

Last, she added that networking is more about building relationships with people over the years than having ten-minute conversations at conferences. “You must allocate time to meet people who matter to you. It has to be a deliberate choice. You need to build that precious time in your schedule.”

A whole new digital money world for Barbados

A new digital currency pilot project may just be the thing to stop the potential standoff between Bitt -a financial technology (fintech) company in Barbados and some of the commercial banks, while allowing Barbados to move further onto the world’s digital money stage.

For years tension has run deeply between the commercial banks and newer fintech company,  Bitt, where banks have faced the ongoing dilemma of whether to collaborate with this company, or to develop their own in house, money transfer systems.

As pointed out by Bitt CEO Senator Rawdon Adams, the company has had to deal with  commercial banks in Barbados being ‘obstructive and anticompetitive’ while conversely they were developing more partnerships in the rest of the Eastern Caribbean than in Barbados -the country that ‘arguably needs fintech the most’.

At this year’s Bitt  annual blockchain conference, held at the Hilton Resort, Adams, spoke about the reluctance of some of the local commercial banks to embrace Bitt’s proposal to partner with them in introducing blockchain and distributed ledger technology to facilitate secure peer-to-peer transactions in moving money between clients.

In a call for Barbados to not be “stuck” in time, Barbados’ first female Prime Minster, Mia Amor Mottley, has stepped into the fray and announced her plans to launch a mMoney pilot programme. This pilot will be between Bitt, the Central Bank of Barbados and the Financial Service Commission (FSC) that facilitates electronic and digital payments for those on the island.

Mottley spoke at the annual conference which was held under the theme Central Bank Meets Blockchain: From the Ground Up, saying there was  a need for Barbados and Barbadians to bring an end to ‘this unfortunate debate and tension between those who want to hold onto a status quo and those who want to move forward’.

“Our people want digital money and …want the ease and security of electronic payments, and as a result, what must happen is face to face discussions with urgency…such that we can launch the Barbados mMoney Pilot,” she told those who had gathered for the conference.

Mottley also soothed the concerns of the commercial bankers about the new programme, after one of the bankers referred to the mMoney wallet as a ‘potential danger to the financial system’ claiming that she would be leading the program herself and that the legitimate concerns of this new payment method from all sides would be addressed as they were not going to launch this pilot project recklessly.

Mottley explained that Barbados would not be held to their old ways of banking due to the fear of the unknown, rather they would be looking to improve development because Barbados would not be left behind as the wider world continued to evolve.

News on when the planned mobile wallet pilot project would be  officially launched has yet to be presented, however Mottley assured that Barbados would remain in agreement with anti-money laundering laws and customer fairness guidelines.

Woman of the Week: Kathryn Hayashi

By Katherine DeClerq

Kathryn Hayashi  is the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, a commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s particle accelerator centre, dedicated to linking science and technology to business opportunities. The company provides physics-based projects with connections in industry partnerships, licensing, and business development.

Hayashi has a background in accounting and finance. Prior to joining TRIUMF she served as founding Chief Financial Officer for the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD). She holds the position of Director and Audit Committee Chair of the Center for Commercialization and Cancer Immunotherapy at the Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont and serves on a number of CDRD spinoff companies.  and has served on the boards of several CDRD spinoff companies.

Hayashi spoke with Women’s Post about her role at TRIUMF Innovations and her vision for the future.

Where did you develop your love of numbers from?

Answer: I think numbers are logical and they solve problems; that’s what I love the most about them. As a child, I quite enjoyed the satisfaction or the sense of accomplishment I felt after solving mathematical problems.

Your resume includes a number of non-profits and private companies within the health, science, and technology field? Why not become a traditional accountant with your degree?

In the early days of my career, I did work as an accountant in an auditing firm. With time, I became more inclined towards innovative projects that can help make the world a better place. That’s when I decided to venture into the world of innovation.

Working as the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations and formerly as the CFO , I have had the opportunity to work with the brightest talents who are continuously working towards building new technologies and drugs that help people in need. The feeling of being part of a group that is bringing real and positive changes in peoples’ lives, is very satisfying.

What drew you to TRIUMF Innovations specifically?

TRIUMF Innovations is the commercial arm of TRIUMF, Canada’s national particle accelerator centre. TRIUMF truly enables and puts Canada on the world map. It symbolizes a scientific excellence that is admirable.

Innovative technological solutions that have the potential to help people, but are only available as research are no good. Commercialization of those technologies is vital and that’s exactly what we do at TRIUMF Innovations. Today, there are many research projects in Canada that fail to progress beyond the planning stage due to lack of funding. Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to help these researchers who are working on possible future cures for hard-to-treat diseases or clean technology that can revolutionize the mining industry advance towards commercialization.

You have been CEO of TRIUMF Innovations for about a year now, what have you learned?

It’s been a very exciting year for me. I have learned more in this past year than in my entire career. I met many talented people, especially researchers and scientists from around the world. It is fascinating to hear their stories, their research and potential future technologies. The world is changing for the better; technologies and cures that didn’t exist earlier are available today and there is something new being created every day in the world of science.

Being part of TRIUMF Innovations gives me the opportunity to be a part of that amazing journey, work with these fascinating people and look into the possibilities of the future. It also makes one realize how little we have done and there is so much more that can be done.

I heard TRUMF has helped five spin off companies get off the market – any our readers may recognize?

A few years ago, as part of a plan to reduce its reliance on nuclear power, Canada announced it was decommissioning the nuclear power reactor in Chalk River, which used to produce 30 percent of the world’s medical diagnostic isotopes. This created a new problem: Where would Canada get its annual doses of technetium-99m, the most commonly used medical isotope for cardiac patient scans that was a by-product of the nuclear reactor operations?

That’s when TRIUMF collaborated with its partners, the British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA), The Centre for Probe Development, and the Lawson Health Research Institute to develop a new cleaner, greener technology to produce technetium-99. As a result of this collaboration, ARTMS Products was created, to fund and develop this technology. ARTMS has been providing cleaner, greener isotopes to hospitals and patients around the world.

Where would you like to see the company in another year – or even five?

As the CEO of TRIUMF Innovations, my goal is to continue connecting science and innovation with society by identifying research that can offer new and innovative treatment to patients around the world with diseases that are currently deemed incurable, help secure funding for these technologies and ultimately launch them as commercial products. I would like to continue building new partnerships with research institutes, universities and investors around the world. So far, we have launched five spin-off companies and would like to launch many more.

What do you do to help other women?

I spend a lot of time mentoring on formal and informal platforms. In association with the UBC Sauder School of Business, I mentor female students and help them make better-informed career choices.

I also like helping women who are trying to build their career in STEM through career advice, networking and helping them identify their skills to build a solid future in the industry.

What advice would you give to women in finance looking to branch out?

Networking is the key. Once you have identified where you want to be, it’s important to develop an extensive and strong network to find the right opportunities in any sector. 

What are you reading right now?

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis.

 

Ladies, do you need specialized Doritos?

Apparently, women are embarrassed by crunching and finger-licking. This is such a problem, that Indra Nooyi, the CEO of the Doritos parent company, PepsiCo, said they are looking into low-crunch chips that will come in special packs designed to fit in a purse.

“You watch a lot of the young guys eat the chips, they love their Doritos, and they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth, because they don’t want to lose that taste of the flavour, and the broken chips in the bottom,” Nooyi told Freakonomics Radio.

“Women would love to do the same, but they don’t. They don’t like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don’t lick their fingers.”

I love the sound of a good, crunchy potato chip, and I think many women do too. Because really, what’s the point of a chip if you can’t crunch it? Do I feel embarrassed when I have to lick my fingers? Not really — honestly, I use a napkin if one is around, but I’m not picky. While the idea of a purse-friendly chip pack is appealing, I’m pretty sure Doritos can simply label them as “travel-friendly” to hit all gender demographics.

“It’s not a male and female as much as “are there snacks for women that can be designed and packaged differently?” Nooyi asks. “And yes, we are looking at it, and we’re getting ready to launch a bunch of them soon. For women,  low-crunch, the full taste profile, not have so much of the flavour stick on the fingers, and how can you put it in a purse?”

As much as Nooyi says it is not a “male and female” issue, it absolutely is. Gender marketing and gendered products have circulated stores for decades, and apparently the #MeToo and TimesUp movement isn’t doing anything to change how people, even female CEOs, see women. Women are dainty. They nibble on their salads and carrot sticks while waiting for their husbands to return home from work. During the Superbowl, women aren’t the ones to gobble up nachos or get messy with a pound of chicken wings. They drink fruit smoothies, right?!

Come on. Innovation and inclusivity is great, but can Doritos agree that making crunch-less chips in purse-size packaging specifically for women is a bit sexist? Men have briefcases — wouldn’t they like a smaller-sized bag of Doritos? Sure, low-crunch chips are intriguing, but can you not market them as perfect for sneaking a bite in the boardroom instead of the perfect snack for easily-embarrassed women? Why does everything have to target a specific gender? The product is chips…shouldn’t the target demographic be “people who like junk food.” Trust me, that category is universal. You really don’t have to derail it.

There is no information about the specific product — so who knows? Maybe this is just the beginning of PepsiCos brainstorming on the matter and tomorrow, they will announce Nooyi was mistaken. Or, they could really go for it and make the Doritos pink!

Toronto to get a high-tech waterfront neighbourhood

Toronto has grown so much over the last 10 years. All it takes is a quick scan of the city skyline to see the massive influx of construction across the downtown core. The city is definitely still under development and because of this there is an increased cost of living and looming growth challenges.

Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, announced the development of an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. The announcement was made on Tuesday at Corus Quay to a crowd that included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

There will be 800 acres of land available for revitalization in the eastern waterfront area. This hub will be the first high-tech neighbourhood in the city, and a model of a city that reflects the future.

Quayside will be a neighbourhood that combines people, culture, environment, and technology to help people thrive. Sidewalk Labs, since their launch in 2015, expressed their desire to create a modern community hub in an international city. The aim is to use technology as a tool to address urban living challenges, resulting in a more comfortable space for residents in the city. The ‘smart’ neighbourhood will have an impact on the future of Toronto as it will generate global interest and improve economic growth and development.

“We looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring this vision to life, and we found it here in Toronto.” Said Dan Doctoroff, the CEO of  Sidewalk Labs to a packed audience.

One of the most important aspects that Quayside will provide is an increase in jobs, as well as an increase in tech talent. Creative and innovative minds will have an opportunity to work and even live in a community that matches their skills. In getting this project underway, Sidewalk Labs also reached out to many residents across the GTA to get input and feedback on the community development idea. Now that Quayside will be a reality, starting Nov. 1 , Sidewalk Labs will spend approximately $50 million to have a yearlong discussion, consisting of public meetings, with residents, universities, and the government on how the project should unfold.

 

Sidewalk Labs also says they hope to have a blueprint on what the proposed neighbourhood would look like by the end of the year. Google Canada will also shift its headquarters to this waterfront neighbourhood. This kind of high- tech community will attract innovation and design concepts that should set Toronto apart from other cities in the world.

The Quayside is expected to be a community focused on the overall goal of people thriving. A place to feel comfortable  and grow. While all the specifics of the development remain unclear at this time, Sidewalk Labs gave a few examples of what people can expect, such as smart robots that clean the streets or self- driving transit, which is already being tested in other parts of the world.

How excited are you to see this unfold in our city? Comment below

 

Minister Murray resigns as Minister of Environment

On July 31, the Honourable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, has announced his resignation. Chris Ballard, former Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, will replace him in the cabinet.

Peter Milczyn, MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, will be given the position of Minister of Housing.

Murray has dedicated most of his life to public service. His extensive political career began in Winnipeg, where he acted as city councillor before becoming Mayor in 1998. After moving to Toronto in 2010, he was elected into the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Since then, he has held the position of Minister of Research and Innovation, Minister of Training, Colleges, and Universities, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Infrastructure, and finally Minister of the Environment and Climate Change.

Unlike some politicians, Murray is genuinely passionate about the environment, working tirelessly to ensure the policies enacted by the provincial government followed sustainable practices. He is most known for his instrumental role in the creation and adoption of the cap-and-trade regulations that passed through the legislature in mid-May as well as Ontario’s Climate Chance Action Plan.

Murray announced his resignation Monday morning, saying that he will step down from cabinet immediately, but will remain an MPP until Sept 1.

“As part of the Ontario Liberal Government, I have had the opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter. “I have always tried to bring a fresh and creative approach to public policy and government, making decisions that keep those that matter the most in mind.”

“I ultimately have made the difficult decision, with the support of my partner Rick, to transition from this chapter on to the next chapter of tirelessly working to mobilize to fight climate change at the national level.”

On Sept. 5, Murray will join the Pembina Institute as Executive Director. The Pembina Institute is a 30-year-old Canadian think tank that advocates for clean energy solutions and the overall reduction of fossil fuels.

“Glen is a renowned thought leader on social and environmental issues, with an impressive track record of policy leadership throughout his tenure in elected office,” said David Runnalls, president of the Pembina Institute. “On behalf of the board of directors, I am thrilled that Glen is joining our talented team and know he will propel the Pembina Institute to new heights as we work to solve today’s greatest energy challenges.”

It is unclear at this moment if this change will result in new priorities for the Liberal government, and if Ontario’s climate change plan will still be considered among them.

Toronto top 10 city for female entrepreneurs

Toronto has been listed as one of the top 10 cities for women entrepreneurs!

The Dell Women Entrepreneur Network Summit released days on the h2017 Women Entrepreneur cities earlier this week, ranking 50 cities around the world based on how they support female entrepreneurs. This is the eight year Dell has hosted such a summit.

Toronto is listed as number nine on the top 10 cities list, with Vancouver making it on the list for the first time at number 26 in the rankings.

Dell teamed up with IHS Markit, an analytics firm that helped the company gather data on various cities, to see which cities qualified to be listed. One key factor of determination was based on a city’s ability to attract as well as support women entrepreneurs. Their research does not include data from previous years — each study is conducted fresh each time and the company also changes and adds factors.

Karen Quinto, the executive VP and chief customer officer at Dell, remarked the number of women entrepreneurs is growing globally at a rate of more than 10 per cent each year. “Women are likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” he said. “However, financial, cultural, and political barriers can limit the success of these businesses.”

Factors of determination were based on city characteristics such as capital, technology, talent, culture, and markets. Other factors include local policy, national laws, and customs. There were categories that were broken down even more, for instance culture was determined based on areas things like role models, mentors , networks and attitudes towards women entrepreneurs. In this instance, Toronto ranked third and Vancouver ranked 17th.

Vancouver has made the list thanks to their paid maternity leave for women which is a plus to their businesses. It is also easy to start a business there as the city ranks 26th in terms of access to capital.

Dell continues to be committed to empowering women in business especially in the sue of technology. The company believes that this venture can lead to an increase in global economic growth and development. Dell believes that women especially understand the connection that is necessary with your customers in business.

Twenty-five cities was added to the list for 2017. Here are the top 10 in the list:

1. New York

2. San Francisco

3. London

4. Boston

5. Stockholm

6. Los Angeles

7. Washington, D.C.

8. Singapore

9. Toronto

10. Seattle

For the full list of countries, check out this link to get the full executive summary index.

Will replacing the OMB cause more problems?

The Ontario government is looking to replace the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) with something called the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal.

The OMB is an independent adjudicative tribunal that conducts hearings and makes planning decisions on zoning bylaws, development proposals, subdivision plans, and ward boundaries. It has been around for over 100 years and has been criticized by some for its lengthy and costly process.

Despite these criticisms, the OMB is considered a positive third party officiate between developers and municipalities. The fear is that the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal may not have the same reputation.

One of the biggest challenges with the new tribunal is the elimination of the “de novo” hearings, which allows the OMB to consider municipal land use planning decisions as though no previous decision had been made. This is frustrating for city councils that may have already made a ruling on a development and it lengthens the hearings because all evidence has to be presented anew. It also gives the perception the OMB favours developers, despite this not being the case.

The Local Planning Appeal Tribunal is supposed to be independent and at an arms’ length from the government — but removing the “de novo” hearings will ensure the decisions of city councillors and/or provincial representatives are taken into consideration during appeals, effectively giving them more power than before.

Another example is the new appeal process. The tribunal will only be able to overturn a municipal decision if it does not follow provincial policies or municipal plans, unlike the OMB, which has power to overturn a decision if it isn’t considered the best planning decision. Instead of repealing the decision, the tribunal will then give the municipality 90 days to take new action based on that information. The tribunal will have a final say only if on a second appeal the plan still falls short of provincial policies. The idea is to give communities more control in land use planning.

The new legislation will also exempt a range of major land use planning decisions from appeal, including Official Plans to support transit areas like Go Train and subway stations or Official Plans (and their updates) that have been approved by the province, as well as minister’s zoning orders.

All of these changes to the appeal system are meant to try and reduce hearing times and encourage mediation. Since length and cost are the two biggest complaints about the OMB, this makes sense. However, the new tribunal also makes it difficult for developers to get their projects past councillors who may not approve of their blueprints despite it being the best planning option. It also limits hearings to policy rather than encourage innovation and creative thinking.

While the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal does include a number of interesting new policies that would encourage resident and community engagement, it is unclear how it will function as a third-party appeal agency.

The legislation in question, also known as Bill 139, “Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act “, has already passed the first reading in the Legislative Assembly.

What do you think of Bill 139? Will it help or hinder the system? Let us know in the comments below! 

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

Sarah_Hall_york0_d200
“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”

The world of tomorrow, today

A former professional life brought me to New York City every couple of weeks. Routinely flying into LaGaurdia Airport in Queens, (no, this article is not about the horrendous state of the terminal Air Canada is located in) I was afforded a wonderful view of the New York World’s Fair location as we approached the runway. The skeleton globe, the monolithic structures, and the tree-lined paths remain an iconic reminder of a time when the world would gather with pilgrimage fashion to be awe-struck by the grand possibilities of the future.

During its heyday, the fair held a sense of wonder and aspiration for its visitors. In 1889, the Eiffel Tower was built in Paris, in 1893 the world was introduced to the Ferris Wheel in Chicago, and in 1939, broadcast television was inaugurated in New York. Expo ’67 held in Montreal left the city with iconic architecture and, for a time, a Major League Baseball team named after it. Themes such as “The World of Tomorrow”, “Dawn of a New Day”, and “Peace Through Understanding” captivated the world with the promise of unimaginable spectacle. But today, with the proliferation of the Internet, there is less need for the Expo. Our present inundation of information about new technologies, new designs, theories, advances, and plans for the future are readily available in an endless stream of images, articles, tweets, websites, and data.

Today our pilgrimage has been reduced to a drooling stare into an LCD screen. And so, I wonder whether there is still value for cities to host the World’s Fair?

Held every five years, the World’s Fair (or World’s Expo as it’s also known) is a six-month long showcase of trade, innovation, and products from around the world. The Expo was held in Milan last year and the next one will be hosted by Dubai in 2020. Lately, and most likely in part because of the success of the Pan-Am Games, there have been rumblings about Toronto bidding on the 2025 World Expo. It is a chance to once again showcase our city on the world stage while continuing to push our mandate as a place rich in innovation, financial stability, and livability.

But still, is it worth the cost? Toronto Mayor John Tory, while not opposed to the idea, has intelligently taken a cautious approach; there are many unanswered questions related to cost and effort – questions that must be ironed out before any sort of decision is made.

Now, cost and effort aside, the other question that must considered revolves around theme. What grand proposition will be used to inspire the world to once again care about the World’s Fair? How are we going to put our stamp on an event that’s become largely irrelevant? How can we harken back to a time when the world of tomorrow was not so easily available through a few clicks? And most importantly, how do we balance the need for commercial capital without an overly branded marketing experience for the companies that foot the bill?

Here are a few areas of inspiration that may help:

  • Apple and Tesla Product Launch Format: the ability to keep new product designs and details under wraps from the media, while driving excitement and anticipation, is the fuel that powers both company’s marketing-driven sales. If the Expo could showcase things that were truly ground-breaking with a hotly-anticipated reveal, it would certainly help drive buzz.
  • Influencer Participation: gathering the best of the best in all fields to not just showcase their ideas, products, and plans, but to buy-in to the World’s Fair concept will help spread the word by association. If the most influential people in their fields participate, the rest will follow.
  • Integrated Projects: gather experts and leaders from a variety of industries to create conceptual works that fit into their unique visions of the future. Don’t worry about feasibility, worry only about inspiring people’s imaginations.
  • What Happens After: when the Expo is complete, what will be left? What types of architecture will remain permanently that future generations will look at with awe and wonder. Let’s build something that lasts.

Regardless of whether or not we bid on the Expo, the process of discussion should provide a valuable template for how we aim to push Toronto into the future as it relates to innovation. The notion of the world of tomorrow is still very much alive today.