Spin Master Offers $50,000 to Innovative Startups

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It started with a game called Earth Buddy, a sawdust-filled pair of pantyhose packed with grass seeds that grew when watered. It turned into a $700-million-a-year company with over 600 employees worldwide. Now, Spin Master is giving back to young entrepreneurs. By partnering with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF), the company has established a $50,000 Spin Master Innovation Fund. If you’re ages 18-34 with a killer business idea (and solid business plans to prove your potential profitability), you could be eligible for a slice of the $50,000 pie. Check out this link for more details.

Toronto-based Spin Master is no stranger to the trials and tribulations young entrepreneurs face. The company began in 1994 by three University friends named Ronnen Harary, Anton Rabie and Ben Varadi who only had $10,000 to their names. Their story of entrepreneurship and reaching a tremendous achievement is inspiring. Spin Master’s first product was called the Earth Buddy and its immediate success gave them the leverage needed to pursue their next great idea. In 1996, Spin Master teamed up with two British inventors to launch the Air Hogs Sky Shark which catapulted the company into international success. Featured on The Today Show, Live with Regis and Kathy Lee, as well as Time Magazine and Popular Science, Spin Master lived up to its goal of always creating and designing its own innovative products. To this day, the company prides itself on creating toys that have never been done before.

The company hit turbulent times in 2007 when Aqua Dots was recalled due to health and safety hazards. Aqua Dots was a craft kit with multicoloured beads that fused together when sprayed with water. The coating on the beads contained a chemical that if, swallowed by children, resulted in comatose, respiratory depression and seizures. Spin Master reacted accordingly and eventually bounced back from the incident. That same year saw the company signed its first worldwide master toy licenses for Storm Hawks and Yo Gabba Gabba.

In the last few years, Spin Master has really branched out beyond toys to become a full-out entertainment company. It is now working on producing its own television shows and creating online content. Its aim is to diversify now more than ever. Even with all the changes of the company (success included), it has always stayed true to its core values: having fun while creating innovative products for young minds.

Now, to give back to young entrepreneurs whose aim is to reach such great heights of success, Spin Master is proud to team up with CYBF. They’ll provide funding and support to young business minds that also strive for success through innovation.

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Say “hi” to the Royals in High Definition on FaceTime

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Is there anything Apple can’t do?

Apple invented software called FaceTime. I know it’s nothing new, just new to me. It’s remarkable and fun. FaceTime is built into the version 4 operating system that Apple is now calling iOS 4, which is compatible with iPad 2, iPhone 4, iPod touch and now a Mac.

FaceTime allows you to video chat and live stream with callers who also have an Apple device. With picture-in-picture view, you can see how you look to the person you’re calling. The best part is callers can see each other in high definition; 720p clarity. The second best part is there is no set up required; all you need is an Apple ID and an email address.

This will absolutely come in handy for those that are in Canada, hoping to see live footage of Prince William and his new wife, Miss Catherine Middleton of Bucklebury wed.

How you ask. By having your iPhone friends over in Westminster Abbey, central London broadcast the event, live, while it’s in action.

FaceTime is a great tool to capture the Buckingham Palace balcony kiss. Rumour has it that there is not one, but two kisses, scheduled for 11am. Even if your iPhone friend(s) situated in the heart of the happy chaos can’t really catch a glimpse of the royal couple, it would be amazing just to capture the British energy of one million people that are estimated to line the streets, cramming into Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park. The roars and cheers of well wishers, the blanket of red white and blue will be quite smashing to witness.

As the patrons gather in London to watch the Duke and Duchess tie the knot with glee, spectators from around the world can be tickled pink by savouring the joyous occasion via modern technology, one of them being FaceTime.

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It’s a Brand New World

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If you don’t know who you are no one else will. It is safe to say that your personal brand is more important than your resume. The question of ‘what you are’ matters. Appearance matters. Protecting your image matters.

A strong brand is invaluable to your company, as it has become extremely important as social networks and other online tools make it easier for people to make quick judgments about us. It is essential to create brand awareness because it promotes communication, which allows people to engage with your business.

Ultimately, you are trying to create a story with your business, a brand with help sweeten that story.

How Do You Define Your Brand?

Here are some resources to help you.

How To Define Your Brand

The Brand Called You

Can You Define Your Brand?

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Have Group Buying Sites reached their Saturation Point?

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Over the Easter long weekend I indulged in a very relaxing spa session which included a manicure & pedicure, an eighty minute hot stone massage, access to a hot tub and steam room and unlimited teas. I paid $39 for package valued at over $160. Not bad right?

And honestly, I have no complaints; service was great, place was clean, I would go there again.

Two weeks ago, I finally had the chance of trying out a sushi restaurant I had bought a voucher for, two months earlier. When I entered the restaurant and presented my voucher, I was given an alternative menu which I was to order from- a.k.a the more expensive menu. I was immediately unimpressed. Plus, the quality of the dishes was mediocre. This is the opposite of a good marketing tactic. In fact, I am never going there again and will never recommend this place to any of my friends and I have lots of hungry friends.

Welcome to the world of group buying. Where Internet based companies offer sizeable discounts, to the public, on various goods and services. With so many choices, we are unable to make a choice of which site to be loyal to. In Canada, there are now over 120 group buying sites, all competing for our love.

With all the hype around group buying sites, more and more startups, as well as established companies are incorporating discounts into their business/marketing strategy. For example, Microsoft’s Bing is now offering Daily Deal aggregators, Facebook is now beginning to test social buying programs, . Yellowpages has formed alliances with to dole out deals of the day and Sears Canada launched it’s own daily deals plug-in.

The successes of both Groupon and Living Social have paved the way for new entrepreneurs to launch their own online companies. Groupon is estimated to be worth 25 billion dollars. LivingSocial is hitting one billion. On the outside, it looks as if it’s not that difficult to start your own online daily deal business, but we don’t see what really happened behind the scenes.

With the influx of so many group buying sites, the risk of over saturation can be a challenge.

When will group buying sites reach their saturation point? Or have they already?

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Beyond Green Energy

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While everyone is out celebrating Easter this weekend it would be nice to make it an eco-friendly celebration, as today marks Earth Day. In honour of Earth Day – a powerful catalyst for change, it’s only fitting to write a piece that combines supporting a healthy environment and bright ideas.

This is was not an easy task. Until, I stumbled upon an article in Popular Science that talked about the French and their latest idea that contribute to the environmental movement. The French are known to be snooty but should add brilliant to that list.

In Paris, French innovators are developing an experimental heating system being installed in a public housing project. Where does the warmth come from?

Human bodies.

That’s right, the system will use the heat emitted from millions of people funneled through an underground corridor to push warm air through building pipes.

And where can you find a 4.5 million people brushing arms with one another, everyday, from the hours of 7am to 6pm, creating copious amounts of hot energy? The Paris’s Metro Transit system. It’s one of the world busiest metro systems.

Geo thermal heating has always been a principal source of renewalable energy, with its greatest appeal being that it’s natural; taking advantage of the earth’s energy as opposed to using fossil fueled power. But until now, no one has thought about how to take advantage of the people who populate the earth, who are an excellent source of hot energy.

It’s not a revolutionary idea but it certainly is an innovative, green one.

For more please click here.

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Contest: The Great Digital Easter Egg Hunt

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Easter is soon upon us. The upcoming weekend is synonymous with chocolate, bunnies, eggs and a big ol’ family dinner with all the fixings. With so much to prepare, digital media really comes in handy to help those that are eager to celebrate the festivities. From apps to games to e-books, digital media can ease the stress of all the Easter cooking. Have a look at some handy apps that can make this Easter weekend even more efficient and epic:

Egg Dyeing 101 from Martha Stewart Living:
This app from Martha Stewart gives the basics on egg dyeing, but also provides 20 intricate techniques for adding swirls, speckles and spots to really spruce up your decorated Easter eggs.

Color Me Easter Free:
Virtual egg dyeing without any mess.

Doodle Jump: Hop The Movie:
In correlation with the movie, this game lets you control E.B. (the Easter Bunny’s son) by tilting and turning your iPhone as he hops and jumps to gather Easter eggs.

Angry Birds Seasons:
Version 1.4.0 brings the Easter edition of Angry Birds. The birds are still angry, but with the addition of chocolate eggs and pigs wearing bunny ears.

Epicurious Recipes:
For the chefs looking to try out new recipes for the grand Easter meal. Check out the recipes for Glazed Ham with Pineapple Mustard Sauce and Baked Smoked Ham with Mango.

While these apps will help you create your physical Easter eggs, it’s worth noting the virtual egg movement. In the spirit of Easter egg hunts, occasionally companies implant digital eggs within their website, computer program, game or movie. These virtual Easter eggs are deliberate messages or jokes, and a variety of major companies have participated in the phenomenon. In the early years, Facebook had implanted several messages at the bottom of the Social Timeline that began with, “I’ll find something to put down here” and then changed to, “I don’t even know what a quail looks like.” Google Maps also contains virtual Easter eggs. When users search ‘driving directions from Japan to China’, for example, they are instructed to either jet-ski, kayak or swim across the Pacific Ocean.

Sometimes these virtual Easter eggs hold a meaning and purpose, and other times do not. In celebration of the chocolate-y festivities this weekend, the Digital Media Zone has implanted a virtual Easter egg within the website. While the random textual quote hidden somewhere in the depths of the DMZ website may not have direct meaning to you personally, it can potentially impact the first person to identify it. The first individual to email in the location and the text of the virtual Easter egg to will win a deluxe Easter chocolate prize pack!

Deadline is by 6pm Today!

Winner will be announced on Monday, April 25th by noon.

So hop to it and happy sleuthing!

….And the Winner of the Great Digital Easter Egg Hunt goes to Greg Leaver!

In case you were wondering the correct answer was a quote from Homer Simpson:
Location: Categories
Text: Donuts. Is there anything they can’t do?

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Two of the four ORION Awards winners went to Ryerson Students

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The Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) celebrate those that are leveraging cutting-edge technologies to support research and education in Ontario. “This year’s award recipients illustrate the power of being connected to ORION, Ontario’s backbone for research and innovation,” says Dr. Darin Graham, President and CEO of ORION. “Ontario is rich in research and leadership talent and the ORION Awards are our way of celebrating those key individuals and projects that are helping put Ontario on the map in fields such as technology, scientific discovery, teaching and learning.”

Two of the winners included Ryerson students. One of the two happened to be our Zone’s very own Flybits research team led by Hossein Rahnama.

Global Campus Network: Led by Professor Richard Grunberg, Ryerson University’s School of Radio and Television Arts is in the works of developing CNN-style network for universities around the world, using high-definition video streaming technology broadcasting over IP networks. The network would allow sharing feeds, current affairs and entertainment programming accessible to 4,100 universities around the world.

Context-Aware Computing Solutions in Intelligent Transport Systems: Ryerson University’s Ubiquitous Computing Group; Flybits has utilized context awareness to build intelligent mobility solutions in airports, train stations and field security settings. Using this technology, an airport passenger can receive updated flight information and location of points of interest when entering an unfamiliar airport. A blind passenger can find the location of nearby elevators and escalators using voice commands. This project has been successfully launched in Europe as part of the EU MUSIC project for the Paris Metro and is planned to launch soon with local transit systems and airport authorities in Ontario.

You can learn more about it here

April has continued to be month of winners for the Digital Media Zone.

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International Social Networks 101

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For many students in North America, classes are just about wrapping up and exam time is quickly approaching. After surviving the necessary evils that are final exams, some fortunate students will be ditching the school backpack for the travel backpack. The month of May is a popular time for young twenty-somethings to venture around the world in a quest for cultural and self-enlightenment. In the spirit of personal growth, it’s likely that new friendships and bonds will be made amidst the travels. With the omniscient presence of Facebook and Twitter, it’s even more likely that connections will want to be made via social networking sites.

But wait. Just Facebook and Twitter? What about Orkut, Qzone or VKontakte? Not all countries have fallen under the spell of North America’s most popular social networking sites. Depending on where the young traveler journeys to, there are several social networking sites around the world that are just as popular as “poking” and “tweeting” used here in North America. While Facebook is pretty dominant in Europe and Australia as well, many sites in Asia and South America are just as relevant to today’s young social traveler. Below is a brief overview of some of the world’s most popular social networking sites beyond Facebook and Twitter:

Orkut: Brazil and India
Owned and operated by Google Inc., Orkut was extremely popular in both India and Brazil. With Facebook having recently grown in popularity in India, it now mainly serves Brazil. Orkut has over 120 million users worldwide and is designed for maintaining and creating relationships. Users can organize a “Crush List” and rate their friends as “Trustworthy,” “Cool” or “Sexy” on a scale of 1 to 3. Integrated with Google Chat and video functions, the site encourages users to forge business and romantic connections.

Qzone: China
With 480 million members as of March 2011, Qzone is China’s most popular social networking site. Created by Tencent Holdings Limited, the company behind China’s popular instant messaging program called QQ, the site integrates blogs, diaries, photos and music at a cost to the user. With about 150 million users updating their accounts each month, Qzone is one of the world’s most active communities and is only growing in popularity.

VKontakte: Russia
With a distinct visual and functional similarity to Facebook, VKontakte (or VK) is Russia’s most popular social network. While it allows users to maintain public or private profiles, create groups and events, share and tag images and play games, VK distinguishes itself from Facebook by permitting users to share large torrent files with each other. Over 135 million members use VK and with a steady rise in popularity, the site now operates its registration by invitation only.

This is only a taste of the countless social networking sites that young travelers may encounter as they trek around the world. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, many sites tend to serve smaller markets, but dominate and maintain a stranglehold over their particular markets. Whatever the case may be, travelers looking to connect with their newfound friends should be aware that not everyone in the world speaks the same language of Facebook and Twitter.

Depending on where one ventures abroad, these popular sites are also worth looking into:

-Mixi (Japan)
-Habbo (aimed at teenagers worldwide)
-Bebo (worldwide)
-Badoo (Latin America, Spain and Italy)
-Sina Weibo (China)
-Hyves (the Netherlands)
-StudiVZ (Germany)
-iWiW (Hungary)
-Tuenti (Spain)
-Hi5 (Central and South America)

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Year-end Computer Science student showcase their high tech pursuits

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Twas a night of showcasing some brilliant talent from the 3rd and 4th year Computer Science students who spent a solid month designing and implementing original digital projects and advertising them as part of the course CPS630. The goal was to teach students about the evolution of the “Internet of Things”.

Ryerson’s Cloud Computing Competition (formerly Web 2.0 Competition) is an initiative started in 2006 to help set the university as an entrepreneurial one among some of Canada’s’ greats. At the same time, this event was a excellent opportunity to get noticed and recruited by industry professional that were specifically looking for programming and software engineering talent.

Students used their skills to form companies with likeminded peers in their class, build ingenious Internet based projects and share its importance through demo videos and presentations for all to see. This year the student’s built their prototypes around the following categories: Pervasive and Democratic Internet Ambient Intelligence and Context Aware Computing, Cloud Computing, Social Media and Computer Mediated Social Networks and lastly, Multimedia.

On April 13th, 6-9pm Ryerson’s Department of Computer Science and the Digital Media Zone hosted the competition in the Atrium of the George Vari Computing and Engineering Center. About one hundred attendees mingled with students to learn more about the creative process behind their commercializeable products. Among them were judges handpicked by the class TA’s, whose responsibly was to stroll around the room (with their shiny pens and clip boards) study the various projects and hear the best, possible pitch by the creators of the projects. Twelve teams participated in the event. Projects can be seen on this Wiki.

Although no winner was formally announced as per yet, course professor, Dr. Hossein Rahnama says there will eventually be a winner; teams have till the end of the month to improve the features in accordance to the feedback given to them during the showcasing event. The winner will then be announced in May.

Who will reign supreme? That will be disclosed in all due time.

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A Fourth Company Graduates from the Zone

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24 startup teams. 4 graduates. 12 months. Not bad for the Digital Media Zone’s first year of operations.

Right before the DMZ celebrated its one year anniversary this month, one team in particular had another reason to celebrate: LeanIn spread its wings and officially graduated from the Zone. Joining TeamSave, Burstn and 121 Live Agent, LeanIn utilized the Zone since May of last year to develop its business and become a fully functioning company that’s currently on the rise.

LeanIn is led by CEO Hecham Ghazal and President Luke Davies. Their product invites audiences to not just watch video content, but rather “lean in” to engage and interact with the content through the means of social networking and gaming. Their creation is an interactive toolbar that essentially allows audiences to comment, share, chat about and bookmark video content. Since partnering with The Platform and BrightCove, LeanIn has launched its technology along with Video. At the moment, another large partnering with a Canadian broadcaster is in the works. Through a connection made during an industry tour at the DMZ where Ghazal and Davies met an executive from the broadcasting company, LeanIn is currently reaping the benefits from the elite networking opportunities that arise at the Zone.

LeanIn essentially aims to make video watching and sharing easier and more searchable. Check out Davies’ recent blog post on “the frustration range” of videos and his plea to Google, both illustrating his desire for scene-based search functions to ultimately save tons of time. Imagine being able to search for a particular quote from a particular movie without having to actually watch the entire movie. That’s what LeanIn seeks to fulfill. And from the looks of it, with one major client already utilizing LeanIn’s technology and another in the works, the company is on the precipice of major success

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