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Amazon Echo Hackathon Showcases Canada's Silicon Valley Mindset

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Canada has been responsible for some of the greatest technological innovations in the world. Over the past 150 years inventions like the Canadarm, the telephone and pacemakers have dramatically impacted our culture and how we function in society, with 2016 being no exception.

Toronto-based technology company Connected Lab, is continuing this trend by bringing Canada's tech scene to the forefront by building connected software experiences for the world's most ambitious brands.

One such brand is Amazon, and this weekend, Connected Lab is hosting Amazon Echo's first-ever Canadian Hackathon from Friday, March 11, 2016 to Sunday, March 13, 2016 at Connected Lab's headquarters.

I had the opportunity to chat with Connected Lab Co-Founder and CEO Mike Stern to talk about this weekend's event. As he put it, "this being Amazon Echo's first hackathon in Canada is signalling that innovation is back... Canadians are world-class and they can stay in Canada and innovate."

Can you tell me a little bit about Connected Lab?
Connected Lab is the leading and fastest-growing connected software practice in North America. We are helping large brands across media, financial services, automotive and consumer electronics build better connected software experiences. We also work with some of the largest tech companies in the Valley and help them directly build some of their products and services. This all happens out of our Toronto office, which today (after 18 months) is already at 55 people.

Why is technological innovation and this event important to you?
We think that there's such an opportunity for Canadians to grow technology companies inside of Canada. If you look to companies like Shopify, they've proven it can be done here. Emerging companies like Connected Lab are on track to grow and succeed here as well and this is one of the ways we can do that.

How did the idea for "Amazon Echo's first ever Canadian hackathon" come into fruition?
This whole thing happened because I'm connected to the head of Amazon's hardware team and the head of Amazon Echo's business development team. Both of them are Canadians, one from Waterloo, and the other an executive I've worked with during the Blackberry days.

Today, the Amazon Echo doesn't work in Canada and we started to talk to them on ways we can make that happen. As soon as I found out they were going to be doing a few hackathons in the States, I got on a plane and convinced the team to do one in Toronto. I said that despite the Echo not currently servicing Canada, there'd be a ton of interest from Canadian developers to build on it.

Just two weeks later, we had the event up. In three days it sold out. It's funny how the story around Canadians participating in this innovation is also a story of Canadians banding together and supporting each other. We want to bring that Silicon Valley style of thinking to Toronto, and we found it already exists. It's just a matter of organizations like Connected Lab to inspire people to create.

What do you hope to gain from this partnership and the hackathon in general?
If we can inspire some of these teams to start companies in Canada -- in the connected software space -- then this is a successful event for me. If we can also inspire other large American technology companies to partner on the ground with Toronto talent and Canadian talent, then that's success for me. Beyond that, I think we're going to see a ton of amazing and creative new skills being developed, and I am excited to see what we produce.

What types of ideas are you hoping hackathon participants will bring to this event?
I've helped run or participated in over two-dozen hackathons over the last five years. I've never not been surprised by some of the outcomes after intensive, creative weekends like these. I'm not going to comment on what I hope to see, but I don't doubt we'll see some amazing things come out of this weekend.

Is this to be the first of many hackathons with Connected Lab and the Amazon Echo team?
Hopefully yes. I can say that we have a line up of hackathons coming this year [with other companies] and we'll be promoting them under the hashtag #CLHacks and we can't wait to share some of the events coming in the spring.

Any final comments for the community?
I would say if you're a smart and hungry software developer/designer that's a team player and wants to be part of a company that is helping show the world that Canadian talent is world-class and we can innovate -- then email us, because we're hiring. We're looking to double our headcount this year to 110 people and we want smart Canadians that share our vision of building great connected software experiences to work with us.

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