The Economic and Cultural Development team is monitoring the impact of COVID-19. Click here to learn more.

Activate!Vaughan Smart City Challenge winners announced

Earlier this year, the City of Vaughan launched the Activate!Vaughan Smart City Challenge in search of groundbreaking smart city solutions. The City, in partnership with the Province of Ontario, York Region, The HUB, Alectra, Mackenzie Health, Mackenzie Innovation Institute (Mi2), ventureLAB and Vaughan Public Libraries, called on startups and scaleups to present innovative business solutions that will advance smart city technologies to enhance the quality of life in Vaughan and beyond.

A total of 24 companies participated in the Smart City cohort of the Activate!Vaughan program. Through the program, each venture received one-on-one support from industry leaders, City staff and business mentors to validate and refine their technology solutions. After two months of training and mentorship, 17 finalists were selected to pitch their solutions to one of the four problem statements.

Following a week of pitch events, the City is pleased to announce that the judges have selected the following ventures as the winners of the Activate!Vaughan Smart City Challenge:

  • Challenge 1 – Electric Mobility Innovation: SWTCH Energy
  • Challenge 2 – Municipal Services Route Optimization: IRIS R&D Group
  • Challenge 3 – Age-friendly Communities (Part 1) – Access to Healthcare: uCareNet
  • Challenge 3 – Age-friendly Communities (Part 2) – Social Isolation: Treasured
  • Challenge 4 – Intelligent Placemaking: EAIGLE

About the winners:

  • SWTCH Energy: end-to-end EV charging and energy management solutions designed specifically for high-density urban centers.
  • IRIS R&D Group: on demand, end-to-end AI-enabled smart city and asset reporting technology that seamlessly collects data from existing city vehicles to maximize the utility of city assets and enable significant cost savings.
  • uCareNet: an e-health solution that automates the delivery of home and community care, including booking of caregivers, care coordination and reporting, notification and collaboration tools and virtual patient monitoring.
  • Treasured: a digital platform that enables the creation of engaging, modern online exhibits for cultural storytellers with an easy-to-use tool for writing and publishing stories through custom, web-based 3D exhibits.
  • EAIGLE: vision-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) software solutions for crowd monitoring and occupancy data analytics, which draws anonymized insights from visitor’s interactions with public places and facilities.

The winners of each challenge will be invited to engage in deeper consultation with the Activate!Vaughan program partners to explore collaboration opportunities and potential projects. Each of the winning ventures will also be invited to receive dedicated support, including specialized workshops, from experienced advisors at ventureLAB to help them bring their solutions to scale. Eligible ventures will also be able to access provincial microgrant funding through the Starter Company Plus program to support their business growth.

The Activate!Vaughan Smart City Challenge marks an important step forward to build on the City’s focused efforts to be a Smart City leader. This challenge brought together City departments, industry partners, startups and scaleups to address the challenges of today and the future. By leveraging data and innovative emerging connected technology, the City and program partners are taking a smart city approach to achieve meaningful outcomes and to enhance the quality of life for all residents.

Announcing the final winner of the Activate!Vaughan Health Innovation Challenge!

The City of Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development department launched the Activate!Vaughan Health Innovation Challenge in August 2020, in partnership with Mackenzie Health, the Mackenzie Innovation Institute (Mi2), SE Health, Sterling Industries, and ventureLAB. These partners presented four “reverse pitches” identifying opportunities for innovation related to telehealth solutions, improved communication technologies, connected healthcare services and new medical devices.

On April 23rd, the 8 winners of the Activate!Vaughan Health Innovation Challenge participated in a Demo Day event where they competed for a final $10,000 prize, presented by Sterling Industries. The City of Vaughan is proud to announce HyIvy Health as the winner of a final $10,000 prize. HyIvy Health creates a pelvic rehabilitation device with trackable data for women who have pelvic cancers and diseases to help alleviate pelvic health symptoms after a devastating diagnosis, treatment or surgery.

Since December, the 8 winners of the Health Innovation Challenge have received one-on-one and group support to refine and commercialize their technologies. Each of the ventures has been participating in tailored ventureLAB programs, such as the Hardware Catalyst Initiative and Tech Undivided. Over the past four months, the participating companies have created nearly 30 new jobs and secured more than $2M in new public and private investment.

The Demo Day event was attended by representatives of key stakeholders in Vaughan’s innovation ecosystem, including the Ontario Centre of Innovation (OCI), the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce, the York Angels, Open People Network, Export Development Canada, BDC, and York University. The final pitches presented at the event were adjudicated by a judging panel comprised of:

  • Amir Soheili, Program Director, Clinical Support Services, Mackenzie Health
  • Kiran Govind, Director of Digital Strategy and Enablement, SE Health
  • David Van Slingerland, CEO, Sterling Industries
  • Jane Gertner, VP Partnerships, ventureLAB

The City of Vaughan is committed to continuing to catalyze innovation by supporting entrepreneurs in becoming leaders in their fields. As the City continues leading a collaboration with York University, Mackenzie Health and ventureLAB to transform the Vaughan Healthcare Centre Precinct into an epicentre of healthcare excellence, Economic and Cultural Development is working with key partners to build local capacity for innovation, job creation and talent development in the City of Vaughan.

Late fees for Vaughan business license renewals waived as of March 10

A new business license relief program recently approved by Vaughan Council waives late fees for business license renewals. The program applies to renewals submitted on or after March 10, 2021. Businesses that are closed due to COVID-19 also have the option to cancel their license until they reopen. 

While Vaughan City Hall remains closed for the time-being, applicants have three options for submitting a new or renewal license application: 

  1. by mail; 
  2. via the drop-boxes located at the entrances of Vaughan City Hall; or
  3. by e-mail. 

Planning to apply for a patio expansion permit?

Local restaurants, banquet halls and other eating establishments that have adapted to the Province’s Red-Control zone guidelines and are exploring ways to expand or create a patio this season, must have their municipal business license in good standing in order to apply for a patio expansion permit.

Become a Vaughan Fav Spot 2021

Until March 14, residents are being asked to share a photo of their favourite places in Vaughan on Instagram for a chance to win some amazing prizing worth up to $475!

But your business can win too: Only a few more days to become a Vaughan Fav Spot 2021!   

The businesses with the most shares in each of the six categories below will get the title of Vaughan Fav Spot 2021 and will win co-marketing opportunities with Tourism Vaughan. Plus you’ll get some neat promo materials to brag about how your business was voted Fav Spot Vaughan 2021.

  1. Attractions
  2. Food & beverage
  3. Accommodations
  4. Museums & galleries
  5. Gardens, parks & trails
  6. Theatres, entertainment & events

If your business falls into one of the six categories, you can take part in the contest by encouraging your customers to share you as their Fav Spot Vaughan with our easy-to-use toolkit for businesses. The toolkit will help you promote your business during the contest and get as many shares as possible. It includes digital assets for your social media, enewsletters and website.

This is the final week as the contest ends March 14. Be sure to promote your business now!

Is your business not in one of these categories?

You can still vote for your #FavSpotVaughan and win one of the 10 Vaughan Travel Packs worth up to $475! Learn how.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Find Opportunities in Crisis Situations

In this final installment of the Vaughan Rising Blog, we’re rising higher, in a sense. We’ve been sharing case studies and practical resources that gave us a boots-on-ground look at adapting to the COVID pandemic. Now we’re wrapping up the series with a change management expert giving us a 40-thousand-foot view.

Chris Carder is the Executive Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at the Schulich School of Business at York University. He helps students and grads build their businesses, and he also advises the Office of the President and other departments on entrepreneurship and innovation.

He’s an advisor now, but his expertise was hard-earned in the trenches. Before joining the university, he was a serial entrepreneur with his share of successes—like building Canada’s largest email marketing platform, ThinData—and some failures too. He has survived and thrived through both the dotcom crash and the 2008 recession, and now teaches others about the opportunity in crisis. Here are 10 insights Chris shared with the City of Vaughan.

Ten Insights from Schulich School of Business at York University

1. Read, research and re-evaluate to find opportunities

Chris’s attitude on crisis started with a book recommendation during the early days of the dotcom collapse. He recalls, “A mentor came to me and gave me a book to read called Matsushita Leadership. It was the story of a Japanese electronics entrepreneur who went into the collapse of the Japanese economy and came out the other end of that experience as the largest electronics company in not only Japan but eventually one of the giants of the world in Panasonic.

“Deep within that book, there was a story that talked about one crucial decision that he made going into the crisis that turned around the whole company. So my mentor brought me this book and he said, ‘I’m coming back next Friday and you’re going to tell me what the book means.’

“When he came back, I said, ‘I think this book means that the dotcom collapse is the biggest opportunity I’m ever going to have in my life.’ From that point, I had an early sense that I should look for opportunity inside the crisis and look at what assets I did have, as opposed to strictly focusing on what was going wrong and the things that were no longer as viable as they were prior to the crisis.”

2. Take a deep breath

Focusing on assets is a great idea in theory, but during a crisis, entrepreneurs can feel overwhelmed. For those who wonder where to start, Chris reassures, “It’s ok to acknowledge that you’re feeling overwhelmed because it is overwhelming; it is a crisis.

“But if you panic and focus on all the negative elements that are unfolding in the middle of the crisis, it will go wrong. It will get worse. You have to take a deep breath, look around and think about the assets you have.

“You have to be doing a couple of key things. We need to acknowledge the areas of the business that are in crisis, yes, how do we change those things, how do we get costs under control – we need to make some tough decisions. But at the same time, we need to be focused on what we do have and look at them like Lego blocks in your mind. Think: these three red blocks over here are attached in my traditional model. What if I took this one piece off and just looked at it by itself? What do I have? What if I take the other piece and look at it? What do I have?”

3. Connect with key customers to find out their needs

A company’s building blocks encompass all of their assets, not just the obvious ones like equipment and property but intangible ones like customer goodwill. Key customers are a great place to start.

“Conversations with your customers, while essential when things are booming, are even more crucial when the world is going wrong,” Chris emphasizes. “Talking to them about what they need, what they’re interested in or problems they are having becomes incredibly important.

“I can think of one technology company, Tulip Retail, that was providing technology to retailers for their sales associates to be able to interact with customers in the store. What business in the technology world was any more under siege than one that was about physical retail?

“But he went out and he had conversations with the customers and very quickly he started to understand that they were looking to find a different way of helping their associates but doing it in an online environment as opposed to the physical store. Although his product had all of the key pieces and components, it had to be rethought. The interface had to be different, but the heart of it was still about helping people with knowledge help [other] people to figure something out.”

4. Source ideas on the ground from the in-place workforce

A company’s own workforce is another asset, one that is a rich source of creative ideas. Chris points to a bakery in his neighbourhood whose pivot was so brilliant he thought consultants came up with the plan – but it was really their young, social media-savvy team.

“This bakery looked at the fact that they have pizza and they also have baked goods. And before they had a ton of different products and their bakery was always filled with street traffic and people coming in. They changed their whole model to one where you can only order in advance – you have to order almost a couple weeks out now. There’s no delivery. You have to go pick it up, outside, and wait in a socially distanced line.

“And then what they created with their product were the biggest slices of pizza in humanity and they made beautifully designed giant triangular boxes with incredible art on them. They also did another line of pizzas that were dessert pizzas. If it was Thanksgiving, they would put whole slices of pumpkin pie on the pizza. If it was the non-dessert pizza, they would put entire grilled cheese sandwiches on the pizza.” The idea was social media gold.

5. Provide genuine value in a creative offering that generates excitement

In the crisis context, Chris explains, “people are looking for a way to engage their kids and families and celebrate with their children that life has still got fun in it, even though we’re in the middle of this pandemic and we can’t do anything. So people were lined up down the street to get access to this bakery. Nobody minds that you have to go pick it up and that you have to order ahead of time, because they created an experience.

“And what they created is also visually incredible. If you get that giant slice of pizza, the first thing you’re going to do is take your picture with it. And everyone in your house is going to want a picture with it. And then they’re all going to put it on their Instagram accounts. And you’re going to tag the local bakery.

“So they could have shut the doors, they could have created a model where they offered delivery via a platform, but they have everybody come to them. They’re lining up there, and they’re not lining up with other pizza options that would be much cheaper, because this bakery designed something that had real value to it and that everybody’s excited about.”

6. Look for valuable opportunities in the business network

Chris also suggests that a business consider its network, even distant connections, as an asset. He learned this lesson at his own company. He shares, “I had a situation where the company that had acquired us told me that if I wasn’t able to come up with another million dollars of business in the next 90 days I was going to have to fire 20 people.

“I definitely didn’t want to do that – I was very close to everybody and I didn’t want to give up. So, I was reading a lot and saw an opportunity where a number of key retailers were starting to close down certain parts of their operation. But when I thought about it, I thought you can’t really close that down; they’re just laying people off because they’re trying to drop body count in the middle of a crisis.” Chris recognized that the retailer could get the same work done for a third of the cost if they outsourced it to his company.

Then he went after his top prospect. “I didn’t know anyone at the company, but I went onto LinkedIn, the networking tool, and I found someone who knew the key person who was in charge of the team that had been let go and they wrote an introductory email for me.

“Within a week, I had a meeting with that key person at the retailer. Within about 45 days I had a million-dollar contract and I saved the 20 jobs. So you’ve got to keep your head up and keep looking around for where the possibilities are.”

7. Investigate opportunities outside the company comfort zone

Chris has also seen successful examples of a more divergent strategy, as demonstrated by a tech company he coaches at Schulich. He tells their story.

“As opposed to having to raise venture capital money for their core technology company, they decided that it was such a huge opportunity to be in the protective gear business that they would go and source from around the world the most creative, organically minded masks produced from [materials] that have antibacterial properties in them and import them into Canada.

“They are now fuelling the investment in their tech company through the sale of masks. So you can even leap sideways into a completely different business. Your entrepreneurial skills are your entrepreneurial skills and you apply them wherever you can.”

8. Maintain an entrepreneurial mindset to move forward

In this global pandemic, all businesses need to rely on their entrepreneurial skills to get through to the other side. But those skills need to be complemented by an entrepreneurial mindset.

Chris has been heavily involved in the Digital Main Street and ShopHERE programs that help main street businesses adopt digital tools, techniques and services. Schulich provided students to support the effort so he had an opportunity to see the results. He discovered that attitude has a big impact.

“Those businesses and entrepreneurs that went into it with an open heart – not just the basic things, but people who actually want to learn how Instagram works or how Facebook advertising happens – really dig into it. What we saw was people of all ages from all different types of categories of businesses that were extremely successful by jumping into it.

“Some of the examples were so profound that the people have said that their businesses are going to be hybrid businesses that are going to include bricks and mortar but are also going to include e-commerce.

“For some businesses, the e-commerce aspect became so impactful that they’ve already told the students they’re not going to reopen their bricks and mortar business, because it’s so much more profitable and they have so much more opportunity now that they understand what e-commerce can do in the global world that they’re selling to.”

The flip side of this opportunity is that those who opt out could face a tough reality. Chris illustrates, “So let’s think just for a moment of all the people who’ve shifted into the online world of ordering groceries or ordering dinner or Christmas shopping online that never did before.

“And we would agree that’s a massive number now under the pandemic. So let’s just say that 10 per cent, 15 per cent, 20 per cent actually like it this way. The businesses who continue on with it and get it right are going to continue to get more market share.”

On the other hand, the businesses who wait for their old customers to show up again might find themselves in trouble. “There will be all kinds of people who do come back. But what if 20 per cent of the customer base doesn’t come back? That’s kind of a big problem isn’t it. Most people cannot afford to lose 20 per cent of their customer base. And I’m picking that number out of the air. It could be 50 per cent.

“So we have to be focused on the shift to digital and not treat this as if it’s a blip in the radar that’s going away and we all just get to go back to normal. There is no normal. There’s a new normal.”

9. Re-evaluate operational norms and expenses

A new normal means that even after the crisis has passed, day-to-day operations and well-established norms for business may fundamentally change. For example, Chris questions, “When we get the vaccine, are we all jumping back on planes again and flying all over everywhere for every meeting we need?

“No, I can tell you 100 per cent that’s not going to happen, because I’ve had conversations with executive after executive in the last months that have told me that’s not happening. One, their corporation is not going to allow them to because they’re going to cut the budget now from a travel perspective.

“Two, they don’t want to. They’ve realized you can actually build a true human connection with someone over video now, because we’ve learned how to gesture with our hands and how to use our eyes and how to connect in a different way and how to laugh together and have it be fun. So that’s a change that’s not going back because of a vaccine.

“Will some people rush back into the office? Will some people want face to face meetings? Yes, but a whole bunch of people won’t. There’s a world of talent and emerging talent that now have an expectation that they don’t need to operate in that fashion.”

10. Embrace the global workplace and worldwide market

“People don’t even realize yet how small the world just got from a business and human resources perspective,” Chris notes.

“So many of our students graduating are getting amazing job opportunities and they’re working in Europe right now. But when I say they’re working in Europe, they’re working in Vaughan, they’re working in Mississauga, they’re working in Scarborough, they’re working in Pickering, they’re working in Toronto. They’re not working in Europe, they’re just working virtually in Europe. That is huge and I think nobody really gets that yet.

“There are whole sectors and industries that are very vibrant and hiring right now without issue.”

Unlocking future opportunities for businesses to rise amid crisis

The COVID pandemic is a crisis, and while there are more tough times ahead that we must navigate with empathy and support for our fellow world citizens, Chris still sees a silver lining and is calling on the business community to rise to the occasion.

“I get a mixed feeling whenever there’s a crisis,” he admits. “There’s the part of me that is thinking about how this is going to hurt people. There’s going to be jobs that are lost, there’s going to be businesses that are hurt and in this case there’s the extra complexity of a health crisis as well so people are losing their lives.

“If you talk to Chris the human being that’s where my mind is, but if you talk to Chris the entrepreneur, then Chris the entrepreneur just sees nothing but a world of possibilities. Change, upheaval, a destabilization of business models or service models is an incredible opportunity for people to create and build new things.

“When we look at five, 10, 20 years from now, we’ll say that there were opportunities that got unlocked and whole industries that shifted to be less insular and more globally minded because of that shift to the online world.

“The loss would be if we don’t collectively realize that that’s not only an opportunity for you as an entrepreneur, it’s an opportunity for at least a dozen other people somewhere else in the world. So we need to realize what doors have opened up and we need to make sure we’re in that new reality and in the new game.”

Thanks to Chris for sharing these important insights, which will inspire businesses in Vaughan and beyond to keep rising and find the tools they need to pivot, innovate and do what it takes to get to the other side.


The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business. The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Social Enterprise 101

Social Enterprise 101

powered by the Centre for Social Innovation

Are you looking to grow your entrepreneurial or intrapreneurial competencies to create positive impact and prepare for a fast-changing business environment?  As the world looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the time for the entrepreneurially-minded to step up to address pressing social and environmental challenges, and to develop the 21st century skills needed to succeed.

Join us for Social Enterprise 101: an 8-week, part-time online program that covers the foundations of social entrepreneurship, from making sure you’ve identified the right problem, to developing a solution, to turning your idea into a sustainable business model. If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, invest in your personal and professional growth, and turn your idea into impact, this is the right course for you.

We are offering a limited number of local innovators the opportunity to participate in this program through Small Business and Entrepreneurship at the City of Vaughan. This program is offered in partnership with York Region, the Richmond Hill Small Business Enterprise Centre and the Markham Small Business Centre. ​All applicants based in Vaughan are eligible to apply through our office.

Applications for Social Enterprise 101 are now closed. For more information, please contact


The details:

All classes will be held on online using Zoom and SLACK workspace:

Mondays, 5:30pm to 8:30pm

Monday, February 22nd, 2021 to Monday, April 19th, 2021

What you’ll learn

Social Enterprise 101 is an 8-week program delivered in two phases:

Phase 1 (Weeks 1-4): Explore your purpose as a social entrepreneur. Discover your problem space.  Map opportunities for impact.

Together, we’ll begin with some of the big questions you may be asking yourself, such as:

  • I see so many urgent problems to solve. Which should I focus on specifically, and why?
  • There are so many things to do to get started. How do I prioritize?
  • What skills, knowledge, connections, and experience can I leverage to make an impact?
  • How do I move from idea to action?

Phase 2 (Weeks 4-8): Discover stakeholders. Build your business and financial models. Identify funding options and enterprise impact.

Questions answered during this phase include:

  • I have developed a clear idea of the impact that I want my enterprise to generate. How do I  design my business to reach this impact?
  • How can I generate sustainable revenue (and profit) from my social enterprise?
  • What resources am I going to need to start my enterprise?
  • What funding models and options should I explore?

By the end of the 8-weeks, you’ll gain experience, confidence, and practice with core competencies  in social entrepreneurship such as critical thinking, systems thinking, active listening, storytelling,  decision-making, and business modelling.

Who you’ll meet

You will connect with a cohort of changemakers from across York Region who are similarly driven and committed to making an impact. SE 101 is open to everyone interested in making the world better through entrepreneurial thinking and approaches.

Social Enterprise 101 was developed in partnership with experienced social entrepreneurs, coaches, facilitators, and educators, and based on the learnings from over 10 years of training social enterprises.

Participants who start a for-profit social enterprise upon completing the program will also be invited to apply for a $5,000 Starter Company Plus grant through our office.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Keep Your Business Fruitful Amid Lockdowns and Restrictions

Fruit of the Land is a Vaughan-based retailer and wholesaler that specializes in farm-fresh foods, kosher gift baskets and holiday gifting. They also produce award-winning foods under a family of brands.

Since the first lockdown in March, Fruit of the Land co-founders Michael and Stacey Kurtz have fought to survive in their mall-based locations at Promenade, Vaughan Mills and Bayview Village. As a food retailer, they were an essential service but couldn’t operate as such because the malls were closed. Immediately, they started developing an arsenal of strategies to survive and reach their customers.

Seven important ways to help your business during the pandemic

Stacey shares seven lessons Fruit of the Land has learned along the way.

1. Education is key

At first, Stacey didn’t know where to start in this new pandemic environment. So she devoured all the information she could find.

“The main thing I found in the first lockdown was education was key,” Stacey says. “I just felt like it’s something that none of us have ever experienced and I have to say I attended maybe two webinars a day.

“From Vaughan Economic and Cultural Development to Canadian Grocer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Gift and Tableware Association and the Specialty Food Association in New York City, I really learned a lot. What I learned I tried to implement quickly. It was sort of a race against time to generate business.”

2. Expand online ordering and delivery capacity

Fruit of the Land’s top priority was to majorly expand their online ordering and delivery capacity.

“I really wanted to partner with Instacart and INABUGGY, but they actually never got back to me. I think they were swamped, and we’re actually really small compared to a lot of the people they work with. I tried Uber Eats, but I found that the 30% that they took didn’t work well with our margins,” shares Stacey.

She kept searching and finally found Cornershop. “Cornershop was very helpful in getting us uploaded onto their site. I did also look at our own website. Thankfully, we were already on Shopify, which I highly recommend to any retailer out there. Shopify is very easy to learn and easy to use and not expensive.”

Stacey had learned a lot from the webinars, which she quickly put into practice. “Watching these New York City grocers, in particular the Greene Grape in Brooklyn who really impacted me. They said, ‘just load up your entire store.’

“Before, we had just our unique products, the Kurtz Orchards or the Beit Yitzhak, but I didn’t have the other products and they emphasized it doesn’t have to be a glamour shot – just take a shot on your phone and load it up to Shopify; just make it available. And so I did that. I loaded up the entire store. And that is what really helped me.”

3. Communicate with customers

Stacey’s next step was to connect with customers to let them know what Fruit of the Land was doing. She wanted to announce their launch on Cornershop, and update everyone that the store’s entire collection of products was now available through the store website.

“I sent out email blasts through Mailchimp to communicate with our mailing list – people that I did have the names of – and I wish I had even more names. I encourage people to get customer names. Through email, we let them know we’re available now on Cornershop or by delivery directly to your door.

“My younger son and I got to know the area very well, driving products to people’s doors for contactless delivery. So you know, you have to do what you have to do.”

4. Marketing incentives help spread the word

The next priority was marketing. In addition to the email list, Fruit of the Land ramped up their social media content and supported it with incentives.

“We had one of our best salespeople post videos on Facebook and I gave the staff, especially her, Bette, a code, BETTE10. Customers, when they ordered online, got 10% off if they used her code and that worked for a while.

“We connected on Instagram, and one of our staff who handles our social media had started something on Instagram called Cooking in Pajamas. People were not able to go out, and they were cooking at home so much more. So these cooking videos were really trending, and I wanted to participate in this, so she used our products and we did some live Instagram events.”

Stacey continues, “And then also Bayview Village, one of our malls, picked up on this and promoted this cooking series on their website, so that was fantastic.”

5. Give consumers what they want

Stacey hasn’t just been watching marketing trends. She’s paying close attention to what consumers are buying during the pandemic and giving them what they want.

“Immune-boosting foods were really trending. Meal kits. Pantry staples. So I tried to very quickly adapt and adjust to remain relevant,” Stacey notes. “I developed our own Fruit of the Land honey during the lockdown, and it’s doing really well so we’ll keep it.

“We increased pantry staples. For example, soup mixes became a real staple for us, and I repurposed some of the gift baskets to become breakfast meal kits – and this is based on the new people being at home and wanting meal kits delivered.”

She notes, “Some baskets had to be developed or just renamed because a lot of people were giving gifts for different reasons, like thinking of you, get well soon, I miss you. It didn’t have to be for a holiday.”

6. Be prepared to pivot your strategy on the fly

As case numbers improved through the spring, in-store shopping was allowed again. Fruit of the Land reopened in June with new safety protocols, no samples and a heavier reliance on grab-and-go gift baskets over custom-built ones. Customers were tentative at first, but things felt nearly back to normal by fall.

Then the second wave arrived and, in November, Toronto and Peel Region were locked down again.

Like many retailers, Fruit of the Land makes most of its annual sales leading up to the holiday season and relies on mall pop-up stands for an extra boost.  They had planned to open two stands, both in the City of Toronto. On the fly, they developed a new pop-up strategy.

“So we pivoted and we opened in Oshawa – in Durham – and in Upper Canada Mall – that’s in York region. So, it’s a red zone but we are open, so we are hoping to make up sales,” says Stacey.

7. Diversify your sales channels to reduce risk

Moving forward, Fruit of the Land is also taking steps to diversify their sales channels.

Stacey explains that Fruit of the Land has a “really big focus on online, and we’re looking at more wholesale to continue to balance out the retail business. We are looking at export markets for our Canadian products.

“We have to continue to tweak our stores to remain relevant, but we also need to create some balance between retail, e-tail, wholesale and exports so that we are not so completely dependent on retail; that was our goal from the beginning of this pandemic.”

She continues, noting Fruit of the Land is now “certified by Ontario Made, which was a phenomenal program that was begun by Canadian manufacturers and exporters.

“We approached The Shopping Channel about picking up our lines, because they sell our lines now online, and very thankfully Sobeys has a phenomenal local program about picking up some of our lines that are local. That really helped us.”

To learn more about exporting, Stacey participated in the Trade Accelerator Program, which quickly yielded results with a large order from the US.

Maintaining Resilience in the Face of Challenges

Fruit of the Land has demonstrated a remarkable amount of resilience. Stacey has this advice for other retailers:

“I can’t stress enough the education aspect. There are some amazing webinars out there. Join the mailing lists of Vaughan Economic and Cultural Development, join the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce. They offer so much material. There’s other trade organizations you can look into joining to see what other people are doing, hear their advice.

“We can’t operate the same way that we’ve done before, so the quicker that we realize that and make some quick changes and see what works for us, the quicker that we can adapt and hopefully we’ll all be okay. And to support one another. I really encourage people to support one another.”

Fruit of the Land’s resilience helps ensure they will continue to rise, ready to pivot and innovate as needed to get to the other side.


The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

The Vaughan Rising Blog

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Engage With Your Audience Digitally – Practical Q and A with Ontario Culture Days

In today’s world, where the vast majority of our connections are online, arts and culture entrepreneurs are searching for the best ways to engage with their audiences digitally.

According to the Government of Canada, “Arts, culture and heritage represent more than $53 billion in the Canadian economy and close to 666,500 jobs in sectors such as film and video, broadcasting, music, publishing, archives, performing arts, heritage institutions, festivals and celebrations.”

What does this mean for arts and culture entrepreneurs who are increasing digital interactions with customers?

As part of a nation-wide network of arts, culture and heritage organizations, Ontario Culture Days is a non-profit organization whose goal is to foster public engagement with a vibrant Ontario arts, culture and heritage sector. Each year, Ontario Culture Days leads a province-wide festival, and supports a wide network of organizers through communications, marketing, outreach and artistic programs. This year, as a result of the pandemic, festival programs largely took place digitally.

To discover how arts and culture entrepreneurs can best connect with customers who crave hands-on interaction or learn in a much more tactile manner, and are tired of endless screen time, the City of Vaughan consulted two experts on digital audience engagement from Ontario Culture Days.

The City has partnered with Ontario Culture Days for the last 11 years and the organization has been instrumental in the growth of Vaughan’s arts and culture sector, providing local creative industry entrepreneurs with support, toolkits and platforms for exposure.


For the 2020 edition of Culture Days, Community members from the Sault Ste Marie Indigenous Friendship Centre (IFC) created traditional Ribbon Shirts and Skirts. The makers modeled their creations at the Art Gallery of Algoma and photos were released alongside an article about the project. Photo courtesy of Kevanna Studios.

The experts

Meaghan Froh Metcalf, Outreach and Programs Manager

Meaghan Froh Metcalf is a museum professional in the Toronto area with 10 years of

experience in arts programming, outreach and administration. She has held positions at a variety of cultural institutions within Alberta and Ontario, including the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Town of Oakville.

Meaghan has been a part of the Ontario Culture Days team since 2017. In that time, she has led outreach and sector-development efforts to a network of over 500 organizers.  She has also produced a series of curatorial programming initiatives, including the 2019 exhibition DO BLUE BUTTERFLIES EAT PARTS OF THE SKY?, the ongoing Culture Days @ Toronto Public Library program and the new Creatives in Residence series.

Amy Wong, Communications and Administration Coordinator

Amy Wong is an arts administration and communications professional based in Toronto and the GTA. She has previously worked with the Markham Theatre and Craft Ontario to produce and promote both artistic and youth programming.

Amy has been working with the Ontario Culture Days team since the summer of 2019. While there, she has developed and implemented festival and year-round communications plans, published editorial content for the “Things to Do” page, and provided support for Ontario Culture Days outreach and program development initiatives.

The consultation

1.   How are artists, cultural organizations and entrepreneurs in the creative industries responding to the new “normal” and pivoting to innovative online platforms to advance their work and creative business?

Quick take

  • Many are trying a hybrid model where people pick up an activity box or art kit then tune in to an online program.
  • Digital presents an opportunity to collaborate with out-of-town artists or organizations you have always wanted to work with.

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: During the recent Ontario Culture Days festival, we saw a number of organizations do a kind of hybrid model where people could pick up an activity box or art kit, and then tune in to an online program via video or livestream. We’re more than half a year into this pandemic, and I think people are wanting something beyond screen time.

Having everyone in the workshop working with the same materials helps people to feel connected with their neighbours and supports fair access to supplies and resources. Plus, getting hands on helps connect with more tactile learners, and encourages people to try something new.


Aurora’s Culture in a Box program created take-home kits for residents. Photo courtesy of Town of Aurora.


One thing that is really exciting about going digital are the opportunities for collaboration. Because we aren’t worried about the cost and time associated with moving people places, you can engage with an artist or organization you have always wanted to work with, even if they are on the other side of the country!

For example, I know the National Arts Centre has been doing some great collabs with theatre companies all across Canada through their Grand Acts of Theatre program. Plus, combining resources and partnering with another group is a great way to share resources, especially if budgets are tight.

2.   What advice can you give to arts & culture entrepreneurs (or even other types of businesses) that’s relevant right now?

Quick take

  • If you have an idea, even if it is off the wall, give it a try, and learn from what worked and what didn’t.
  • It is a great time to look for courses or workshops online as professional development.

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: I think we still have leeway for experimentation, but the window is closing. The public has been really accommodating as we all try and figure out the best course of action during this time. If you have an idea, even if it is off the wall, give it a try, and learn from what worked and what didn’t.

There are still a lot of online programs being produced. I’m predicting that next year we’ll see fewer programs, but with larger production budgets – especially for online experiences. Figure out what works now, and then use it to refocus for next year.

Amy Wong: It is a great time to look for courses or workshops online as professional development. I’m still seeing a lot of free webinars out there, and they are a great opportunity to learn a new way of programming, or how to try a new digital platform. If the webinar allows for discussion, it is also a good way to hear from others about their experiences, insights and the challenges they’re facing.

3.   What are some best practices on running workshops or performances online? Any examples?

Quick take

  • Plan to make programs accessible, and work this into your timeline from the start.
  • The best programs are ones that are planned with a digital platform in mind, rather than taking something that had previously been live, and putting it online.
  • Online programs take just as much time as, if not more time than, in-person ones.

Amy Wong: Plan to make programs accessible, and work this into your timeline from the start. Great additions might include audio or visual aids, take-home kits, recordings etc. In some instances, you can tap in to technology to help you do the heavy lifting.

We used a program called Veed to caption all of our Ontario Culture Days videos this year. Particularly if you have a festival or specific busy season, a monthly subscription is affordable, and a good way to only pay for what you need.

I know YouTube has a pretty good auto-captioning service too. But don’t forget that computers do make mistakes, especially with tricky or hard-to-pronounce words. Make sure to save yourself time to review the captions and edit as needed.

The Food to Palette Watercolor Workshop by Kanika Gupta and Amit Kehar was produced for the 2020 Ontario Culture Days Creative Residency program. It was delivered via Veed.


Meaghan Froh Metcalf: Think about the platform and how you can use it. The best programs are ones that are planned with a digital platform in mind, rather than taking something that had previously been live, and putting it online.

Each year the Art Gallery of Algoma and Sault Ste. Marie Indigenous Friendship Centre put on a fashion show of Anishinaabe Ribbon Shirts and Skirts. Instead of putting a recording of the fashion show online for 2020, we worked with them to produce a photo essay. The program was able to provide an engaging and educational piece that could reach new audiences, and took into account how the material would be presented.

Amy Wong: Online programs take just as much time as, if not more time than, in-person ones. If you’re livestreaming, make sure to do a few tests beforehand, and have all the presenters gather online well before the start of the event to iron out any connectivity issues. And it never hurts to make sure there is a backup agenda or script in case the moderator loses connection.

If you’re sharing recorded content, plan your work-back schedule to include time for editing. Sound in particular is tricky, especially if content has been recorded on a phone. If you can invest in an inexpensive mic, it goes a long way.

4.   What other advice would you give to creatives to maintain sustainability through this challenging time and beyond?

Quick take

  • Before saying yes to a new initiative, think about your brand, mission, message, budget and schedule, and only select what fits.
  • Take a break!

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: I‘m hearing from a lot of people who are saying yes to too many things! Because we don’t have to be mindful of physical space or timing, we take on every proposal that comes our way.

Think about your brand, your mission and your message, and only select what fits. I think we’re all realizing COVID is a marathon, not a sprint, and the best way to keep our engagement and produce quality content is by conserving some energy.

Online takes time and money – sometimes even more than in-person. Try something once, evaluate how much it costs, and then plan a budget and schedule for your future programming. Don’t plan 20 online programs before you’ve tried planning one!

Amy Wong: Take a break. With so many of us working from home it can be hard to disconnect from work at the end of the day. Don’t forget to take time to try a new creative project, book or hobby.

5.   Anything else you’d like to add?

Meaghan Froh Metcalf: Sign up for the Canadian Network for Arts & Learning newsletter. They have an ongoing series of roundtables with arts professionals that allow you to hear how others in the sector are handling the pandemic. Plus, they share other relevant tools and resources to the network.

Amy Wong: The Ontario Nonprofit Network has a great resource page for non-profits. Their professional development webinars are all free this year, too!

Quality digital engagement will keep your business rising

Be sure to use some of Froh Metcalf and Wong’s tips for creating quality digital engagement with your customers, clients or audience as you plan innovative strategies to get you through to the other side.

For more information or assistance in planning your digital strategy, please contact the City of Vaughan’s Economic and Cultural Development team.

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Develop an Innovative Product Quickly

Vaughan scaleup swiftly develops COVID detection device

Like other businesses in Vaughan, Kontrol Energy Corp. was disrupted by government measures to contain the pandemic. Instead of dwelling on how it impacted them, Kontrol considered what this meant for their clients and for the entire global economy.

Kontrol is one of Canada’s top new growth companies with triple-digit revenue growth and 70 employees. They’re a smart building technology company with two verticals: 1) reducing energy cost and consumption and 2) improving air quality and emissions. They work with large commercial real estate clients in Canada and the US, outfitting multi-residential, industrial and institutional buildings with their technologies.

CEO Paul Ghezzi remembers when the pandemic began, “The first thing we noticed really was a lot of our customers started to worry about having service companies like Kontrol on site. And that immediately led to a recalculation of when they could do their capital projects. When could Kontrol come on site? Was it safe?”

“And so around that time,” he continues, “we started to ask the question: if being safe in the space that you’re in is going to be a big challenge for the global economy, what can we do about that? We’re already at industrial facilities managing air quality in real time. Is there a way we could participate in helping solve this global pandemic?”

This problem, combined with their expertise in air quality monitoring, was the seed of a big idea: could they develop a technology that detects the COVID-19 virus in the air, in real time?

Fed by ambition and allies, that seed quickly grew into the Kontrol BioCloud Analyzer. This success story offers a peek inside the R&D process, and how to navigate it as quickly as possible.

Five takeaways from Kontrol to develop an innovative product quickly

1.   Lean into your expertise

They weren’t sure at first, admits Ghezzi. “Essentially we got together as a group and we said here’s what we’re thinking. Is this even feasible or possible? Half of us thought we were crazy. Half of us thought we should proceed.”

The logic behind the decision to proceed was that Kontrol already owned a company that had been measuring air quality on a parts per million basis for the past thirty years. The Kontrol team is very adept, knowledgeable, and sophisticated with air quality monitoring equipment. Their extensive expertise includes air sampling and looking for very specific things in the air that should not be there.

The part they were uncertain about was the chemical process. “COVID is not just a particulate in the air; there’s got to be some kind of chemical reaction in terms of identifying it. That part we didn’t know. So we reached out to a number of labs and started the process to find out what it would take to design a system that could detect COVID in conjunction with our continuous air sampling and monitoring. And that’s where it really started to come together,” notes Ghezzi.

2.   Recruit new partners

During the Research & Development (R&D) process, Kontrol partnered with independent labs. “The ImPaKT Facility actually has a live COVID virus available, so we were quite fortunate to get our independent testing against the dormant virus and then move very quickly to the live virus,” says Ghezzi. “What we’re working on now is setting a lower detection limit, which is a measure of how sensitive the technology is to the virus. Once we establish that, we move into commercialization. We’re looking to have production coming off the line of BioCloud units in November.”

Another important partnership that Ghezzi was sure to mention is the National Research Council of Canada, which has provided $50,000 of funding to Kontrol. “What’s important about the National Research Council is not the amount of funding because we had the funds in place to do the testing. But when they become part of the process, they go through their own independent validation of the work we’re doing. So it’s very helpful to have that. And they’re essentially the government of Canada scientists. From a controls perspective, it’s external validation, which is very helpful.”

3.   Leverage existing relationships

By keeping their initial costs down, Kontrol did not have to raise capital to do the testing. Ghezzi shares, “Our view is we can take the product to production and as customers make purchases, those deposits will help fund some of the production.”

“We’ve got 70 employees,” he adds, “and the approach we’re taking is we’re not building new factories, we’re not building new warehouses. We’ll run the logistics, sales, marketing, and production. All the manufacturing is going to be based in Ontario with third-party manufacturers.”

“What that’s allowed us to do is keep our overheads very low but allowed the manufacturing to happen in Ontario through third parties. We just leveraged our existing relationships to move very quickly. But we’re always looking for new manufacturing partners or third-party contracting manufacturers to talk to,” he says. Heads up then, local manufacturers!

4.   Accept you can’t control everything

With the first testing beginning in August and a goal of production starting in November, Kontrol has been working at breakneck speed. Ghezzi says, “The biggest challenge with a new technology or a new product is there’s parts that you control as an entrepreneur and a business owner and a team, and there’s parts that you don’t.

“When you’re developing a new technology or product, timing is always a challenge, and BioCloud is no different because we’re racing to solve the pandemic. But when you’re working with the government, it’s different, because they’re a much larger organization with more processes and approvals required. So I would say that’s been the most challenging.”

When the things he can’t control get frustrating, Ghezzi confides that he takes a step back. “We look at it from the perspective that in March, BioCloud didn’t exist. In only six or seven months, we’ve created a new technology that we think can really be helpful to get through this global challenge. So that’s the other side of it is that we’re moving mountains in a short period of time.”

5.   Don’t forget to consider long term application

Ghezzi notes, “We’re not alone in this; there are other technologies coming from the US, and other competitors. I think we’re one of the first in Canada so that makes us fairly unique, but viral detection is a new form of technology that’s coming to buildings and spaces.

“Over the next five years, my view is that every building is going to have some form of viral detection, like we do with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide. It’s a different world. Everything changed for everyone. New technologies are going to help us get through this pandemic and who knows what’s coming in the future. What’s the next pandemic three or four years from now?”

“Right now the detection chamber is single use for a single virus,” Ghezzi explains. “Our detection chamber can be modified to track other viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease or H1N1. Right now COVID is the immediate focus. In the future, our hope is to have one detection chamber for multiple viruses. But that’s going to take a bit more R&D and some more time.”

Rising to the challenge of pandemic problems

Thanks to a lot of hard work and sheer drive, Kontrol Energy has come up with a solution to a global problem. Ghezzi explains, “With today’s challenges, people often don’t feel safe in the spaces they’re in. We have nothing in a space that says I’m okay in the space I’m in right now and that’s really the big debate in the economy: how do we move forward without shutting down? I think technologies like BioCloud can play an important role in that.”

The first units will likely go out to their existing customers in Canada, but Kontrol is building a global distribution network to see the units go far and wide. Back in Vaughan, they’re creating new jobs to support the technology, while maintaining their core business too. Kontrol is doing everything it takes to make an innovative pivot which will ensure that more businesses and people make it through the pandemic safely to the other side.


The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.