Apps Abound as Local Tech Sector Grows

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Urbanite/Natasha Marar

Windsor’s tech community continues to grow with the recent launch of several new mobile apps, but one developer says funding and recruitment of tech talent continues to pose challenges.

WindsorEssex Economic Development Corporation estimates there are over 250 tech firms in the area. Tech jobs, which includes graphic designers, web designers and app developers, is part of a larger cultural industry expected to grow over the next few years.

Census data from Statistics Canada shows that Windsor boasts only 161.8 workers per 10,000 people in the IT and computer sectors, but that there was an 123 per cent increase between 1996 and 2006 which many in the local tech industry and economic development sector find encouraging.

Jacob Duhaime, a St. Clair College animation and University of Windsor visual arts and computer science graduate, started iDream Interactive in 2006. He began his career developing games for the Ontario Ministry of Education but moved on to Facebook games and mobile app production.

“There are games that you make and are hope are a huge success, those games are fun and we consider them indie style type games. And then we have the other games like our new one, Superstar Slots, there’s a business case behind it. We know that the market is successful … just based on some simple research. We sell the game before we even create it to see if there’s a following.”

“We’ll look at what’s popular and stick our own game theme and twist on it,” he added. “Analytics and understanding you payer is super important.”

Duhaime said low startup cost and changing technologies have made it easier for other young entrepreneurs to come into app development. New Windsor-made apps that have launched recently include Explore Windsor-Essex from Parallel 42 Systems and Cave Escape from Olympus Development.

Red Piston has made a name for itself producing apps for local and international clients. They’ve released over a dozen games and commercial apps for musicians, corporations and sports brands. The developer is gearing up to launch, which will allow home cooks to share their food.

Daedas, an energy awareness and conservation company, is another up-and-coming local app company. It just released a web app beta last week for their first commercial app, Balloo, which will be launched for iOS later this year.

“We want to help people build better habits … people are not interested in looking at charts and figures to conserve on their energy, so the best way about it is to give them tasks on a daily basis and reward them for those tasks, which are trees planted in their community,” said Naiel Samaan, Daedas co-founder and director of research and development.

When people complete socially conscious tasks, such as riding a bike to work or using a reusable mug for your coffee, they will collect points through Balloo towards having a tree planted locally. The tree planting is sponsored through Essex Region Conservation Authority.

“… the app community, there is a lot of help [in Windsor]. It’s one of the reasons why we stayed here; we were being pulled by Communitech (in Waterloo) and Mars out of Toronto,” said Samaan.

“The (Downtown Windsor Business) Accelerator has been phenomenal. They helped us out from the start giving us mentorship,” said Samaan. “We have a pretty good connection with the University of Windsor … I feel people have been approaching us.”

Both Samaan and Duhaime agree assistance exists for local app developers. Samaan thinks Windsor’s tech industry will grow and the tight knit support has allowed his company to receive more exposure than in larger cities.

“I think the biggest misconception is that there isn’t support here. I would like more students to start looking at the area. It’s an app company, you don’t really need to move it elsewhere. You can build it in Windsor-Essex, have the support and you’re not a number in a major metropolitan area.”

For Duhaime, it’s a race to see how quickly some games can be developed to stay ahead of an ever changing global app marketplace. Though his company has seen millions of users for its games, he believes local developers can work together to bring draw investments and talent.

“We’d be better off working together than working against each other in terms of competing because the global market is huge. The money and dollars being spent across the border is different than it is here. People are willing to drop a couple million dollars on a game, whereas here we have to look for government funding,” said Duhaime. “For us, to find an investor in the States is much easier than here.”

Duhaime said creative companies need more funding, mentors and workforce to draw upon.

“We sharing employees but not training new talent. We need to come together and facilitate these creative people, bring them into the company so there’s room to train them and grow them up through the company,” he said. “We need to take the talent from the university so they don’t go to Toronto.”

“I think Windsor, if you try to start a creative company here or a tech company you’re working against the grain; outside the city.”