University of Guelph computer science masters student Nick Durish (left) and associate professor Dan Gillis were at Friday’s announcement of a new partnership between their school and Maple Ridge tech company Left. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)

Maple Ridge tech company announces brain gain

Left gets over $2 million in federal funding for research project

Maple Ridge tech company Left celebrated some success on Friday, announcing federal funding for a new $2.13 million research project.

The project is a partnership with the University of Guelph, with a goal to bring online connectivity to Canada’s northern communities.

The five-year research program will provide support for up to 120 graduate student internships from universities across Canada.

“This will result in a perpetual talent stream of some of the most qualified people in the world to investigate and solve some research challenges in the complex field of mesh networking and blockchain technologies,” said John Lyotier, the company co-founder of Left and CEO of subsidiary RightMesh.

“The students we’re talking about are at the top of their field – top of the world,” said Lyotier.

Left has grown to where it now has a global team of 150 employees, including five new hires on Thursday – three being in Maple Ridge. The company is based on Stewart Crescent, in the Maple Meadows industrial park, but also has offices in Bangladesh, Singapore and the United States.

“With today’s announcement, we will be able to continue to collaborate with some of the smartest minds on some of those really big problems,” said Lyotier, who added that he hopes to be able to keep some of those people in his company.

Jason Ernst, the Chief Technical Officer with RightMesh, is a former Guelph student. Lyotier explained that Ernst was working on a robotics company startup when Left tracked him down for having written the Wikipedia entry about mesh networks, and began communicating with him about recruitment. Three years ago, they recruited him.

Lyotier said Ernst is a global leader in his field, and the company hopes to attract more people like him.

“When you start to get the best people, you attract more of the best people,” he said.

Ernst said his focus will be on meshing the companies research objectives with the business objectives.

“We’re tying to focus on doing something people can start using sooner rather than later.”

They want to bring connectivity to the southernmost Inuit community in Canada, Rigolet.

He expects the opportunities Left will offer to interns to be attractive.

“The tech we’re working with is pretty sexy,” he said.

The federal funding flows through Mitacs (formerly Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems), which is a Vancouver-based non-profit national research organization that manages and funds research and training programs for students.

The funding for Left is the largest ever granted in western Canada.

Lyotier read a message of congratulations from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

“In a country as expansive as Canada, it is important to find ways to overcome communication and connectivity challenges. This infrastructure-less technology will provide better quality bandwidth and improved accessibility for remote communities in Canada, such as Rigolet, Nunatsiavut.

“I would like to congratulate all those involved in this exciting research. I wish you all the best, as you work to help bridge Canada’s digital divide.”

MP Dan Ruimy spoke at the announcement, saying the connectivity at Rigolet has repercussions in emergency response, health monitoring and even studying climate change. It is a small, remote community. The population is listed at 310, and is accessible most of the year only by snowmobile or air.

Researchers in the area are studying climate change with ice samples, observing changes in animal behaviour and other studies, but have found the lack of connectivity a barrier.

Left’s research has applications well beyond Canada’s borders. In his address, Lyotier said increasing Internet access in Africa, India, Latin America and Asia to levels in developed countries would result in economic activity generating $2.2 trillion in gross domestic product. It would create more than 140 million new jobs, and 160 million people would be lifted out of extreme poverty.

He spoke about the power of information and quoted George Bernard Shaw: “If you have an apple, and I have an apple, and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea, and I have an idea, and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”

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