Tuesday, April 29, 2008

  • UW helps support 'the best in tech'
  • Prof eyes 'eco-industry' economics
  • Team aims for entrepreneurial award
  • Editor:
  • Chris Redmond
  • Communications and Public Affairs
  • bulletin@uwaterloo.ca

UW helps support 'the best in tech'

UW is listed as a “presenting sponsor” for a major one-day conference this week about high-tech business in Waterloo Region. The “tech leadership conference”, sponsored by the Communitech alliance of businesses, is being held at Bingemans Conference Centre on Thursday under the title “The (Long) Tail of Waterloo Region”. UW’s sponsorship means the university is providing a cheque to help support the event, and a number of people from such UW departments as external relations, co-op education and career services and the Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology will be there. More than 450 technical professionals are expected at the event “to gain insight, network and earn critical skills to measure up against the best in tech”, organizers say. Keynote speakers are Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine; Chris Sacca, blogger and former Google executive; and Jeff Taylor, founder of Monster.com. Students from UW’s systems design engineering department will be among the participants in a “tech expo” that’s also part of the day’s events, and Paul Doherty, director of CBET, will give the introduction and thank-you for one of the keynote speeches.

The School of Pharmacy will be conducting its annual applicant interview process this weekend. Applications were up by 48 per cent this year from a year ago, the first time UW recruited a pharmacy class, and it’s a complicated process, according to Ken Potvin, the school’s director of admissions, noting that “Selection criteria focus as much on interpersonal skills, leadership abilities, and a passion for the profession as on academic excellence. Applicants are required to complete an on-line application, submit a Pharmacy Admission Profile, and provide a letter of reference from a Pharmacist. Candidates are screened based on these academic and non-academic criteria and a select group is then invited to attend a personal interview. . . . Final selection is based on performance in the interview combined with a reading comprehension and writing test. The interviews are conducted by panels of pharmacists who volunteer their time to assist in the process.In 2008, 33 pharmacists will be participating. On Thursday evening there is a training session, followed by two full days of interviews, and a half-day on Sunday. On Saturday evening the panelists will be treated to dinner, with David Johnston as the keynote speaker. Approximately 200 interviews will be conducted to select a class of 120.”

News from the retail services department: "All books at the BookStore are now available for purchase online. Using BookLook at the bookstore web site, you can search for a book by title, author, or ISBN, or run a Course Search for textbooks. Simply add the books you want to your shopping cart. A selection of UW apparel and gifts (some under $10) are also available online. All online purchases will be shipped to your doorstep within days (subject to availability). American Express, Visa or MasterCard are accepted for credit card payment."

A team of high schoolers from St. Catharines, Ontario, that triumphed at the “FIRST Robotics” competition held at UW in mid-March now has even more to boast about. The team from Governor Simcoe Secondary School went on to take first place at the world championships, held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. "Simbotics", as it’s dubbed, went undefeated in its matches in Atlanta and placed first among 344 high school teams. Some 1,500 FIRST Robotics teams from eight countries competed this year for the right to attend the championships. The Simbotics team is sponsored by General Motors of Canada and has been participating in FIRST Robotics competitions since 2003. In FIRST Robotics competitions, high school students are given six weeks to design, build and test a 130-pound (59-kg) robot within size, weight, cost and design guidelines using a common set of parts. Three UW students — Kyle Willick (math), Todd Willick (mechanical) and Geoff Allen (math) — helped to coach the young team to its world title.

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Prof eyes 'eco-industry' economics

by Angela Roorda, from the Arts Research Update newsletter

With concerns over climate change on the rise, governments have intensified their efforts to develop and implement policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions and combating other pollutions. As a consequence, a whole new industry has emerged. The “eco-industry” —firms delivering environmental goods and services — plays a vital role in ensuring the success of any environmental policy. According to UW economist Alain-Désiré Nimubona, however, our understanding of this burgeoning industry is very limited: “Despite all the press it’s receiving of late, few industries are as poorly understood as the eco-industry. There is a pressing need for research.”

The eco-industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade, says Nimubona, who is one of economics’s newest faculty members. “It is clear that this new industry has arisen as a consequence of the new markets created by government emission — reduction targets, environmental taxes, green energy subsidies, and the like. What is not so clear, however, is the precise relationship between environmental policy and industry behaviour. This is what we need to look at if we want to ensure that policies created today will actually result in pollution reduction tomorrow.”

[Nimubona]Nimubona (right) is a strong believer in the important role played by government policy in efforts to promote a healthier and more sustainable environment. As a Trudeau Scholar during his doctoral years, he participated in a series of public policy roundtables on topics such as nuclear waste management, sustainable development governance, and global citizenship. More recently, he has consulted as a policy analyst for the Canadian Policy Research Networks. As an economist, however, Nimubona recognizes how fraught with potential loopholes policy —including, and perhaps particularly, environmental policy — can be.

Nimubona cites national-level carbon taxes as an example. It would seem reasonable to assume that there is a simple inverse relationship between taxes and emissions: the higher the taxes, the lower the emissions. Not necessarily so, says Nimubona. Since there is very little historical data to work with, he has developed sophisticated models to predict just how such a taxation policy might play out. What he has discovered is that such taxes might very well have the desired effect (polluting firms make more abatement efforts, the eco-industry experiences growth and competition, prices of environmental goods and services drop, and environmental products become more cost-effective).

However, there are some potential scenarios in which either the polluting or the eco-industry firms might behave in unexpected ways, thus thwarting this “virtuous cycle.” Nimubona’s papers describe these scenarios, which are complex and involve tax levels, market power, and industry globalization. The upshot: environmental policymakers need to plan carefully and make use of whatever research is available (and solicit new research when required) when designing eco-taxes and other environmental policies. With a new industry, new economic rules might apply.

Nimubona is also keenly interested in how environmental economics play out at the international level. Originally from Burundi, he knows first hand both the environmental and economic challenges faced by developing countries (and there, too, has contributed to policy discussions as a consultant to the Institute for Economic Development in Burundi). Nimubona is currently looking at recent calls for a relaxing of international trade tariffs on environmental goods, an initiative aimed at providing developing countries with easier access to environmental goods and services. As in the tax example, however, the economics involved are complex, and industry behaviour is hard to predict. If implemented without appropriate attention to the particularities of the eco-industry, says Nimubona, such a policy risks enriching developed, exporter, countries without providing any economic relief or environmental benefit to the developing countries it seeks to aid.

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Team aims for entrepreneurial award

“Months of hard work and determination are about to come to a head,” says a news release, “as some of Canada's brightest young entrepreneurs prepare to gather in Ottawa for a battle-of-the-bands-style competition to decide the winner of the national Wes Nicol Entrepreneurial Award.”

Among them is a team of students from UW’s Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology that have already taken their proposal, SparkMedia, to other competitions. In March the team — Christopher Chiu, Athena D'Amato, Timothy Li, John Ling, Steven Pulver, and Jasmine Wong — were finalists in the IBK Capital-Ivey Business Plan Competition at the University of Western Ontario. As Wong explains it, SparkMedia “will allow telecommunication companies to deliver lucrative IPTV services to an unlimited number of television sets and mobile devices without compromising video quality — eliminating bandwidth constraints and lowering capital costs.”

Now comes the Nicol championship, in which the UW quintet will face teams from Acadia, Carleton, Guelph, Ottawa, and Wilfrid Laurier. They’re hoping for a repeat: last year’s Nicol event was won by UW student Jasmin Hofer and her fledgling company, Energrow.

This year’s competition kicked off in the fall with entries from 14 universities. Six teams now advance to the finals and a chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of business experts at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel on May 6. Says the organizers’ news release: “Few other business award programs offer participants an experience that is so true-to-life, mirroring the real-world pressures and conditions that an entrepreneur faces in attracting financial backing and support.”

"The Nicol Award competition gives you the experience and confidence you need to launch a business," says Hofer, last year's national winner. While pursuing a degree in German at UW, she captured the 2007 award for her business idea: a small-scale vegetable oil production system that enables farmers to supply their own feed meal and renewable biofuel. Her company plans to launch the product officially in mid-May.

"Without the Nicol Awards, I probably wouldn't have come as far I have," she says. Looking back, she says that the experience of competing played an important role in the evolution of her business. "I think what helped the most was the confidence I gained from having to get up in front of people who might not know anything about farming and present my business plan. I also developed a lot of great contacts during the competition process."

Born in Switzerland and raised on her family's farm in Newton, Ontario, Hofer got the idea after visiting Europe and learning how farmers there were producing their own feed meal and renewable biofuel from oilseed crops. She initially considered importing European-built cold-press expellers into Canada, but realized they would require extensive modifications to suit the needs of Canadian farmers. Energrow subsequently designed its own vegetable-oil production system, which is scheduled to go on sale this spring. The company also provides conversion kits that allow diesel-powered tractors and generators to run on vegetable oil, enabling farmers to lower their energy costs.

“A competitor by nature,” says another news release from the Nicol sponsors, “Hofer is president of the University of Waterloo Cycling Club and races in provincial mountain bike events across the province. She also pursues yoga, strength training, running, hiking, snowshoeing and ‘almost any outdoor activity’.” She’ll be graduating this spring.

“I have a lot of energy, and cycling is a huge part of my life,” Hofer says. But whether the subject is sport or business, her philosophy is the same. “Everyone has a fair shot, but the people who consistently work the hardest and the smartest are the ones who deserve to win.”


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Link of the day

International Dance Day

When and where

Fire drills on main campus today: 8:30 to 10:15 at HS, Optometry, PAC, BMH, Tatham, SCH, PAS HH, ML and NH; 10:15 to 11:45 at CEIT, Physics, ESC, B1, B2, C2, GSC, Commissary, ECH and Davis; 1:30 to 2:00 at E2 and E3.

‘Financing and Purchasing a Vehicle’ seminar sponsored by Education Credit Union, speaker Tony Verbeek, 12:15 p.m., Davis Centre room 1302.

UW Alternative Fuels Team “Ride Green, Drive Clean” demonstration Wednesday 9:00 to 6:00, Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place, Toronto, keynote speakers 11:00, opportunity to drive AFT vehicle on a test track, details online. (Team was featured on Record's front page yesterday.)

Fiscal year end for 2007-08 is Wednesday, April 30. Deadline for accounting transactions to be submitted to finance office, East Campus Hall, is May 12.

UW bookstore, UW Shop, TechWorx and Campus TechShop closed for inventory Wednesday.

Internet outage: interruption in external network connections to UW, Wednesday 7:00 to 8:00 a.m., to install new border router.

Waterloo Institute for Health Informatics Research presents David Koff, Hamilton Health Science Centre, “Managing the Medical Image Tsunami”, Wednesday 3:00, Davis Centre room 1302, webcast available, register online.

‘Flexibility and Injury Prevention’ lunch-and-learn session Wednesday 5:30 p.m., boardroom at TechTown, 340 Hagey Boulevard.

Fee payment deadline for the spring term is May 1 (by bank payment or international wire transfer; other forms of payment already overdue), details online.

‘Cinema and Social Change in Germany and Austria’ conference hosted by Germanic and Slavic studies department, May 1-3, details online; “Kinofest: New Films from Germany and Austria” festival begins April 30 at Princess Cinema.

Military History Colloquium hosted by UW department of history, May 1-3, including public lecture by Michael Neiberg, University of Southern Mississippi, “The Second Battle of the Marne: Turning Point of 1918”, full schedule online.

International spouses group: “Travels in Canada” (bring photos or stories of where you have travelled in Canada, or where you would like to go) Thursday 12:45 p.m., Columbia Lake Village community centre, information e-mail lighthousenm@gmail.com.

Open house at English Language Institute, Renison College, Thursday, May 1, 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.

Niagara Falls engineering alumni reception Thursday, May 1, 5:30 to 7:00, Fallsview Casino, information online.

‘Reaching for Nothing: Water’s Thirst’ interdisciplinary work by composer Peter Hatch, visual artist Dereck Revington (UW school of architecture) and dance choreographer David Earle, May 1 and 2, 8:00 p.m., Perimeter Institute, tickets $29 (students $19), 519-883-4480.

Spring term classes begin Monday, May 5.

Welcome reception for new students Monday, May 5, 4:30 p.m., Student Life Centre multipurpose room, with information about UW services and a chance to meet other new students, information ext. 35643.

Graduate Student Association reception for graduate students to meet new GSA executive, Monday, May 5, 6:30 to 8:00 p.m., Graduate House.

President David Johnston Run for Health (3rd annual), Wednesday, May 7, 4:30 p.m., 5-km run or 2.5-km walk around ring road, relay teams welcome, registration free, details online.

Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics lecture: Gerard ’t Hooft, Utrecht University, Netherlands, “Science Fiction and Reality”, Wednesday, May 7, 7:00 p.m., Waterloo Collegiate Institute, ticket information 519-883-4480.

Spring Gardening ‘tips and tales’ with David Hobson, local garden columnist, presented by Employee Assistance Program, Thursday, May 15, 12:00 noon, Davis Centre room 1302.

One click away

UW's 1966 school song is on YouTube
Report on Business profile of Mike Lazaridis • BlackBerry vs. iPhone (New York Times)
Saturday night fires in student neighbourhood (Record)
Graduating student: 'It finally hit me'
Grad student directs new K-W Youth Theatre
New report: Graduate Education and the Public Good
New name: University of the Fraser Valley
Francophones in the Canadian Association of University Teachers
'The reinvention of liberal learning in America'
Council of Ontario 'Highlights' newsletter for April
'Engaging Higher Education in Societal Challenges'
'Brave new dorm' furnishings catalogue from Target
New campus rec manager at Western is UW grad student
U of T president wishes for fewer undergrads downtown
Queen's appoints short-term principal

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