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Change Maker

BIZ Magazine looks at six local firms impacting theregion and beyond
Ted McIntyre


Shedding light in dark corners

People rarely think of Hamilton or Burlington when the issue of human trafficking is raised. But the problem exists much closer to home than is generally realized. And it's not just the sex trade where it rears its ugly head, as last month's conviction of Hamilton's Forenc Domotor revealed. The leader of what is believed to be the largest human smuggling ring in Canadian history was sentenced to nine years in prison after pleading guilty to conspiracy to traffic in human beings and coercing victims to mislead immigration authorities. The CBC reported that as many as 19 Hungarian men were brought to Canada against their will, forced to work from dawn to dusk, held in basements and fed scraps of food.

"The problem of human trafficking is in our backyards," says Shae Invidiata, founder of Oakville- and Toronto-based [free-them]. "Many people think of human trafficking as something that only happens in Thailand, Nepal, India—places that are far away. It's hard to believe that it is happening in Canada. The Golden Horseshoe is notorious. Southwestern Ontario accounts for 75% of all human trafficking cases that go to court in Canada: Niagara, Stoney Creek, Grimsby, Ancaster and Hamilton are major hot spots. With the U.S. border close by, the Niagara Casino, strips clubs and agriculture/ farms make this area an attraction to traffickers. The reality is that there are more people in slavery today than ever before in history."

In 2003, Invidiata moved from Oakville to Honolulu to pursue her university education. She found a home in Waikiki on Kuhio Avenue, which she soon discovered was also known as Candy Lane. Daily she encountered prostitutes at her front door, but instead of rejecting them, she began to engage them. It didn't take long before Invidiata learned that the word "prostitute," which we often equate with "choice," should be replaced with "prostituted."

Over the years, Invidiata has lived in Vancouver and Sydney, Australia, raising awareness and fighting the injustice of the modern slave trade. Moving back to Oakville, she founded [free-them], an initiative to partner with people, organizations and businesses to fight human trafficking.

The agency focuses on four elements: prevention, awareness and education; the rescue and rehabilitation of victims; government lobbying; and assisting law enforcement in identifying human trafficking and bringing those guilty to justice.


A window to success

Of its 35 reviews on Homestars. com, a centralized home improvement site where consumers share personal service and appliance experiences, the average rating for Pollard Windows and Doors is over 8.0, and more than half of those ratings are perfect 10s.

Reginald Pollard is used to the accolades. Named the city's 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year by the Burlington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC), Pollard Windows' CEO has seen his family business grow into a leader in new and replacement window manufacturing. Operating out of a state-of-the-art 300,000 square foot manufacturing plant, the Burlington-based company's head offi ce features expansive showrooms with multiple examples of its fi nished products, which both add character to a home's exterior and comfort inside thanks to their energy-reducing properties.

Pollard's father, Norman, arrived in Canada 64 years ago , ready to embrace a new life for himself and his family. As a skilled carpenter, he taught his wife and children everything he knew about woodworking, and a year later Pollard Windows was born. The company still employs a simple formula for success: work hard, reinvest in new technology and give customers more for their money.

"I am very honoured to be named the 2012 Burlington Entrepreneur of the Year," says Pollard, who will receive his award at the BEDC's Annual Signature Event on Thursday, June 7 at the Burlington Convention Centre. "I guess we would be considered entrepreneurs in the truest sense as we started with $250 and have grown Pollard Windows to the size it is today. I believe we were wise to make Burlington our home base when we immigrated here in 1947. The town has grown from a mere 4,700 people back then to a city with over 173,000 people today, and we have grown right along with them. We feel very fortunate that the community gave us a chance when we were starting out and has continued to support us."


Making kindness a strategy

According to a recent blog about customer service in the Harvard Business Review, conventional business wisdom is that customers spread bad news five times faster than good news. But, following a service blunder, kindness may actually sway repurchase intent to a higher level than if the problem had never happened.

Many of the world's largest companies, including GE and American Express, use the Net Promoter Index (NPI) to gauge customer loyalty via likelihood of recommendation. Out of 100, 40+ is considered good, 50+ is excellent and 70+ is world-class. Nurse Next Door Home Care Service, a growing home care company, boasts an average NPI score of 70, which speaks rather well of a field that depends heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations for its busness.

"We credit our 'Making Lives Better' philosophy to our successful expansion," explains Nurse Next Door's Jaclyn Krucik, whose company's locations include an Oakville franchise owned by Christopher and Lori Paton (pictured).

"One of our caring initiatives is a $100 caller-chosen charity donation for all calls not responded to within 30 minutes," Krucik notes. "Another, called 'Humble Pie,' is the delivery of a fresh-baked pie and a note apologizing if service stumbles. About $1,500 is spent on pies per year, but we estimate $100,000 is saved from business going elsewhere. We've found that making kindness the basis of operating strategies works, and have seen 20% growth to date."


Cashing in on a viral video

By now, you've heard the story. A video featuring five people playing one acoustic guitar, made on a shoestring budget of $100 by Burlington band Walk off the Earth goes viral. The video—where these five indie musicians sing a cover of Goyte's "Somebody That I Used to Know"— had a modest goal of 10,000 views for day one. Instead, within 24 hours, the view-counter froze somewhere close to two million.

Celebrities including Russell Crowe, Alyssa Milano and Jason Alexander tweeted about the band. Walk off the Earth played Ellen. Then, major labels came calling, with these not-so-indie musicians eventually signing a multi-album deal with Columbia Records in the U.S.

While the marketing success of the video (which has eclipsed 100 million views) has been priceless, the actual monetizing of the video has been more modest than you'd think. First, let's look at the stats. Every second, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube and the videosharing site attracts more than 800 million users each month. Unlike many websites, the Google-owned social platform can be a lucrative revenue stream. It's estimated that YouTube will generate more than $1 billion in revenues this year alone. But indie musicians such as Walk off the Earth are not sharing much of this pot of gold.

Contrary to public opinion—and to what some articles and blogs floating on the internet have speculated— according to one of the band members, if you take actual revenue from YouTube, the Goyte cover video made about enough for them to make five more videos using the same budget.

"We've been doing videos on YouTube for about two years," says Marshall, who plays guitar/bass/ harmonica and sings in the local group. "We never looked at it [You Tube] as a form of revenue, but more as an avenue to get Walk off the Earth noticed by more people. Obviously, when you get noticed by more people, there are options to make revenue in other ways."

Marshall explains that the channels making money feature all original content, whereas many of Walk off the Earth's YouTube performances are covers of other bands' songs. When it's not original material, the revenue is monetized by the one who owns the copyright. YouTube pays owners and producers of original content through their revenue-sharing YouTube Partners Program, which mainly uses Google AdSense to monetize videos and determine how income is split. The other key that Marshall reveals is that you only get AdSense revenue if the views are seen directly on YouTube—that is, you get no dough if that video is watched on your mobile or via another social media network such as Facebook or Twitter. So, how much does Marshall estimate each band member made then? "Maybe a couple hundred bucks each," he reveals.

Although that's not much, the economic payout as a result of the YouTube success has been huge— the aforementioned major-label deal, a steep increase in the band's iTunes sales and new fans around the world that continue to discover the Burlingtonians' music.

"While we don't have much direct revenue from our YouTube channel," Marshall explains, "it's created hundreds of opportunities for us to generate revenue in many other ways. By David McPherson


Cell mate

Dr. Mick Bhatia can't get blood from a stone, but he can get it from your skin. A senior scientist and director of McMaster University's Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, Dr. Bhatia and his team published a groundbreaking report 18 months ago identifying how to make human blood from adult human skin. The discovery, published in the prestigious science journal Nature, could mean that in the near future, people needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment of other blood conditions like anemia will be able to have blood created from a patch of their own skin to provide transfusions. That would mean eliminating the need for bone-marrow registries, which painstakingly attempt to match cancer patients with donors. Instead, patients would become their own donors. The work is also important in that it suggests that skin cells can be converted into other types of cells, such as muscle or pancreatic cells.

Boasting an Honours degree in Molecular Biology at McMaster, as well as a PhD in Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph, Bhatia's resumé is, not surprisingly, impressive. Among his many affiliations are the Association for International Cancer Research, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. He's also received a long list of honours, among them McMaster's 2011 Innovator of the Year, the 2010 Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) 10th Anniversary Highlights and the 2009 Canadian Society for Biochemistry, Molecular and Cellular Biology Award.

Operating out of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, Bhatia has been called the Wayne Gretzky of McMaster's Faculty of Health Sciences. He oversees a program that seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that govern somatic (adult) and pluripotent (having the ability to give rise to all of the various cell types of the body) human stem cell development. The program continues to focus on two central areas: Developing abundant sources of human hematopoietic progenitors, and using human stem cells to develop treatments to eliminate tumor reoccurrence.

Apart from the potential human health ramifications of his research in one of science's fastest-growing fields, there are increasing business applications as well, Bhatia notes. "We've developed a lot of partnerships in in the area of screening stem cells, including pharmaceutical companies, both at the chemical and gene level in terms of how those cells respond to those chemicals."


Straight out of Star Trek

They boldly go looking for the latest technology around the globe, then provide their systems and technology to help implement that science in the real world. In short, they help bring ideas to life. Or at least lifelike.

Located just east of Burloak Drive in Oakville, Javelin Technologies provides numerous services, including reselling the highly acclaimed SolidWorks 3D CAD Software, which includes built-in simulation, routing and image/animation creation tools.

And Javelin knows all about simulation. The company's 3D theatre room is nicknamed the Holodeck, borrowed from Star Trek: The Next Generation's simulated reality facilities. The reallife theatre allows engineers and designers working on large-scale projects to feature their designs in a single space, where they and others around the world can simultaneously "virtually" walk through an architectural project. "It combines video games with engineering, which we see as the next frontier of how products will be designed," says Javelin owner Ted Lee, who founded the company in 1997 along with partner John Carlan.

Next door in the prototype room, the science reaches another level. Taking a manufacturing process that used to require weeks and months and reducing it to a matter of days, a 3D printer churns out models of various sizes based upon digital computer models. From the flexible soles of Nike and adidas shoes to rigid movie props, objects are created before your eyes as the company's Objet30 3D printer spits out micro-thin layers of plastic in high-resolution detail.

How accurate is it? The room contains a human heart cutaway, the image of which was created from Hospital for Sick Kids MRI data. "Surgeons used it to review procedures before an operation," notes Lee. "They can explain to parents or other surgeons what they're going to do, or use it for developing special tools they'll use during the operation."

Lee is also sharing Javelin's expertise with local learning institutions, from electric-powered car designs at Sheridan College to robotics at Oakville Trafalgar High School.