All posts by Patrick Graham

HealthSpace Data Systems: Governments in need of contact tracing to cope with COVID-19 turn to a trusted name

Public health departments have for decades been running contact tracing programs to reduce the spread of communicable diseases and other threats, stepping in to mitigate the impact of everything from unsafe restaurant food to unprotected sex to tainted tattoo needles.

But amid the widespread and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, contact tracing has taken on a new sense of urgency. In the US, the novel coronavirus has spread to all 50 states, and deaths climbed above 125,000 in late June 2020. Meanwhile, the introduction of an effective vaccine is still some way down the road.

As a result, overwhelmed state and local health officials across the US are turning to private companies such as HealthSpace Data Systems (CSE:HS) to help devise solutions.

HealthSpace, an established Software as a Service (SaaS) company currently serving more than 500 public health departments across North America, responded to the challenge by extending its HSCloud Suite and My Health Department products to create a fully automated digital contact tracing platform for COVID-19.

Several US public health departments have deployed the British Columbia–based company’s platform, including the State of Hawaii and several counties in Washington State, Illinois, Michigan and North Carolina. The automated platform can be up and running within 48 hours, although most departments usually complete their initial setup over the course of two weeks.

“Our platform not only has the ability to be deployed rapidly, it fits perfectly with the normal course of work public health departments are already doing,” explains Chief Executive Officer Silas Garrison. “We believe that as numerous people begin to be employed to bolster contact tracing efforts, our platform will be a proven benefit to accentuate the human effort with an automated solution.”

Over the years, health departments have typically had in-house staffers or contractors retrace the steps of people who tested positive for diseases and record anyone who had contact with them. The trackers then embarked on the painstaking process of cold-calling each contact to ask a series of questions and determine if they had experienced symptoms, while also encouraging them to avoid infecting others.

However, ramping up operations to handle the scope and breadth of COVID-19 tracing is a daunting task for most cash-strapped state and local governments. It means hiring hundreds, if not thousands, of tracers to work in large call centres. It also means training the contact tracers through online programs or sometimes weeks of in-person instruction.

Even with the best training, there’s a huge hurdle to overcome, as contact tracing is only effective if the contactee is willing to pick up the telephone and converse with the caller. The pick-up rate for unfamiliar or unidentified numbers in today’s society is very low. And the people who do answer are often guarded and uncooperative, if not downright abusive.

The logistics of launching a contact tracing program, hiring and training tracers, renting office space, and maintaining it for months can be costly, and far beyond the reach for some jurisdictions facing plummeting tax revenues as a result of the pandemic.

For HealthSpace, given the company’s years of work providing hundreds of state and local governments with its powerful self-serve enterprise cloud and mobile platform to manage their operations, stepping up to help both clients and non-clients in need during an unprecedented public health crisis seemed like a natural fit.

Garrison says it was during an initial general outreach to its customers about COVID-19 that HealthSpace first learned of the growing need at public health departments to find ways for a rapid scaling up of existing contact tracing operations, assuming the departments even had such operations to begin with.

He says HealthSpace’s automated contact tracing platform is simply a “modified version” of its foodborne-illness-tracking service, which has been in use for years. That is why the company was able to deploy the platform quickly, with minimal need for additional capital or other resources.

“It took very little technical effort to get this up. And immediately we turned it on and we started to spread the word out to our customers,” says Garrison. “We had several early adopters, literally within 24 hours, and it didn’t take too long for the word to spread.”

The platform, which was rolled out in April, connects with individuals daily by sending a unique and secure link via text message or e-mail. The link leads to a questionnaire that the recipient fills out by entering symptoms, temperature, places visited and people they have been in direct contact with.

These latter people are sent questionnaires each day, too. If anyone exhibits symptoms, health officials know immediately, issue quarantine directives and arrange for testing or treatment.

Information is securely stored inside the company’s cloud-based platform. Public health departments can access the encrypted data – which they own – for detailed real-time reporting and analysis. In addition, the data can be securely sent to healthcare providers, a service the company has always provided to its customers as part of its My Health Department product.

Garrison notes that HealthSpace’s automated platform isn’t meant to supplant human tracers. “They still need teams of people to manage this information, because you might have all the information oriented digitally. It still takes more specialized knowledge and skill to look over that information and determine who they need to make a more proactive outreach to.”

In order to get established clients, as well as new ones, to adopt the contact tracing platform, the company is providing a version for free, for 90 days in most cases. Also, waiving upfront fees acknowledges that many local and state governments don’t have the funds to purchase the platform right now.

“They are getting the benefit of the platform today for a situation that is dire and are able utilize it while they’re waiting on getting their funds in place,” Garrison explains.

“What this has done has actually worked to our benefit. They are now references and have been spokespersons for us in several key areas that will translate to sales. So, it actually works as a very powerful, tip-of-the-spear sales tool, because they are able to get it for free, get it into people’s hands and appreciate its power and value. And now they’re talking to other potential customers about it, which could directly translate into exponential sales growth for us.”

Organizations deciding to use the platform for the long term will pay $200 to $300 per month for each user – a nurse or epidemiologist, for example. A client requiring 10 user accounts could thus generate up to $36,000 in annual revenue.

The approach appears to be working, as HealthSpace announced its first contract incorporating contact tracing for COVID-19 in mid-June. The agreement will see Mecklenburg County Health Department in North Carolina use HSCloud Suite for contact tracing and managing its Onsite Program for five years. The work with Mecklenburg County will generate revenue of US$157,800 for HealthSpace.

The company shared news that same month that counties in Ohio, Arizona and Illinois have started using the platform as well, with HealthSpace providing it on a gratis basis for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2020 and beyond, Garrison says public health departments can pivot the automated tracing platform to tackle other epidemiological outbreaks once the COVID-19 crisis is under control. For example, the company is in talks about using it to track people living with HIV.

“The platform is so flexible and powerful that it extends well beyond the COVID-19 situation,” Garrison says. “This is a sustainable path forward for a new business model within our existing platform.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about HealthSpace Data Systems
at https://web.healthspace.com/.

Talisker Resources: Shorter timelines to discovery are the goal with prime BC projects

Terry Harbort, Chief Executive Officer of Talisker Resources Ltd. (CSE:TSK), is convinced that he and his team have found the perfect gold project to catapult their junior resource company into the big leagues.

This past December, the Toronto-based explorer purchased 100 percent of the Bralorne Gold Project in south-central British Columbia from Avino Silver & Gold Mines in a multimillion-dollar cash and stock deal.

Consisting of three main mines, Bralorne was one of the longest producing high-grade gold deposits in British Columbia, operating from 1929 to 1971. Though some 4.2 million ounces were pulled from the earth at a recovered grade of 17.7 grams per ton, the mining operation was eventually shut down due to depressed gold prices.

When mining in the area came to a halt, gold was at $200 per ounce, adjusted for modern inflation. With gold now selling for nearly $1,600 USD per ounce, Harbort says Talisker is eager to get at “that $200 rock still left in the ground” at Bralorne.

“We looked all throughout that region of south-central BC and we came across the Bralorne project, which initially was something that was probably bigger than what we were searching for,” explains Harbort, a veteran geologist who’s worked for major miners such as AngloGold Ashanti. “But we were able to do what became a transformational transaction for the company.”

For Talisker, which Harbort formed alongside some close industry colleagues, greenfield exploration was the plan when trading commenced on the Canadian Securities Exchange in spring of 2019. However, the acquisition of Bralorne advances the company into the next stage in one fell swoop.

Bolstered by $25 million in financing and royalty sales, the company kicked off 2020 by firing up the first drill rig at Bralorne in early February.

Harbort says Talisker will drill 3,000 metres along strike extensions of existing veins with plans of further drilling 6,000 to 7,000 metres in April, with results expected around the middle of the year.

The company has 45,000 samples from Bralorne and plenty of other data that, according to Harbort, is enough to give the company confidence that significant gold deposits remain in the ground.

“We can actually see where the samples intersected veins, and we can wireframe these into vein models and calculate what an approximate potential grade would be,” he says.

“We know, historically from the production, that the continuity was very high. So, it means as we go to depth and along strike we’ve got a pretty good chance of the veins continuing at a very high grade. We believe that’s what we’ll be targeting, as opposed to drilling and hoping we hit veins. We’re drilling the way we already know where the veins are. That really reduces our risk.”

Looking ahead to the rest of 2020, Harbort says Talisker is “working toward defining what the footprint is and how many millions of ounces are potentially there” as part of a crucial resource statement expected for release in early 2021.

In addition to Bralorne, Talisker also holds 85 percent of the gold belt at Spences Bridge, another exciting gold project in British Columbia. The claim stands as one of the largest land stakes in the province’s history.

At Spences Bridge, Talisker has formed a strategic alliance with Westhaven Ventures, which owns the Shovelnose high-grade epithermal discovery contiguous to Talisker’s claims.

“Initially, the Spences Bridge gold belt was what was called a frontier gold belt where people see indications of a certain style of mineralization but deposits there have never been discovered,” he explains.

But in September 2018, that all changed when Westhaven discovered a high-grade vein deposit, promoting the project from frontier status to emerging. Subsequently, “the whole belt could host a number of discoveries.”

Harbort says Talisker “aggressively” explored Spences Bridge in the last field season, when it was just starting up as a new company. During that time, Talisker had 23 geologists at the site who collected more than 3,000 stream sediment samples and defined eight drill targets. For 2020, the company has budgeted $3.5 million for 20 geologists working on five projects.

While Bralorne and Spences Bridge are Talisker’s most important projects in British Columbia, the company has several more in its portfolio, ranging from early stage projects to advanced ones. All told, Talisker’s properties comprise 270,605 hectares over 288 claims, three leases and 154 crown grant claims, making the company a dominant exploration player in south-central British Columbia.

Harbort says Talisker was attracted to the region in the first place not only because of the geology and celebrated mining history, but also the abundance of scientific theory.

“We believe that there are a number of belts in that part of British Columbia that haven’t been well explored simply because there’s not a large number of low sulphidation epithermal gold deposits or mines,” he explains. “What we noticed very quickly was that there was a knowledge gap in the exploration techniques for these types of deposits, and the textural and alteration interpretation, to tell where a deposit’s stratigraphy was.”

However, gold mining isn’t only about geology, science, or the data. Logistics, Mother Nature, and minding the bottom line for investors also play a crucial role as well. That’s why Harbort loves “the latitude and the weather” in south-central BC, not to mention a developed infrastructure, unlike some colder, more inaccessible regions of the province.

“The field stage is very short and access can be problematic in other parts of BC. You often have to fly in with helicopters and fly them to a base. You’ve got to build camps. It becomes very expensive,” he says.

“The areas that we’re exploring are just a couple of hours drive from Vancouver. We don’t have to build camps; our geologists can stay in hotels in local towns. We don’t have cooks and kitchens. We don’t have any helicopter support.”

As a result, Talisker is much freer to capitalize on positive outcomes and to channel the savings back into the project. This makes it possible for them to work longer during the year, and shorten exploration timeframes.

“That means we can do a lot more with our investors’ money and hopefully give them a short discovery timeline so they can get a return a lot quicker than on projects in more northern areas,” Harbort explains.

When it comes to investors, current or prospective, Harbort points out that most of the company’s financing comes from deep-pocketed institutional investors who embraced Talisker in its early period. So, retail investors might want to take notice.

“They know they’re not backing us because of luck. They are backing us because of the management team, because of the assets that we have and our ability to get access to capital and then to successfully execute the plan.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about Talisker Resources Ltd. at https://taliskerresources.com/.

AMPD Ventures: Meeting the need for digital speed when every millisecond counts

AMPD Ventures (CSE:AMPD) Chief Executive Officer Anthony Brown has declared war on computing latency.

For the digital layman, latency is deterioration in the speed (measured in milliseconds) at which a signal arrives, gets processed and is sent back to the requesting computer. The lower the latency, the faster the processing time.

Latency is a big deal with online gamers. Any lag, jitter or other performance issue with a video game can ruin the player experience. For professional gamers, latency is a livelihood issue because money is at stake – a lag or glitch means rival players are able to move and react faster to score more points.

“Those milliseconds can add up,” Brown says. “The more interactive an application is – like any esport where they’re continually pressing buttons and moving and doing things, and you’re in communication between the client and the server – the more it counts. Even though you’re dealing with milliseconds, the resulting impact on the application can be quite noticeable.”

Brown has been confronting the latency problem since his days two decades ago when he co-founded the Seven Group, providing high-performance computing for banks and engineering firms and then working with the likes of Disney Interactive on video games. Brown’s passion eventually morphed into AMPD Technologies, which he co-founded in 2015.

Besides video games and esports, AMPD helps other companies bring their dreams to life through data visualization, video rendering, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, and high-level academic research.

Brown and his management team listed AMPD Technologies’ AMPD Ventures unit on the Canadian Securities Exchange in October, to both raise capital and increase AMPD’s profile. The move secured the company $3 million in new funding.

To minimize latency in our increasingly connected digital world, AMPD develops and employs a method called edge computing, which entails placing nodes, which is where the data and content resides, as close as possible to the end-user.

Brown says edge computing represents the fourth stage of the digital revolution, which started with cable television and then the Internet, followed by the cloud.

“It’s the next generation of digital infrastructure. It’s the next Internet, if you like,” he explains.

The cloud is the matrix of “virtual” machines spread out across the globe that Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others maintain to store vast sums of data and perform distributed computing. It might be the heart and soul of e-commerce and video streaming, but the cloud is also seriously flawed.

Remember, it’s partly about distance. For one, sending and requesting data from the cloud adds to the latency lag. Because of this, the cloud and its distributed computing architecture servers can’t adequately handle the emerging data-heavy technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality that need high-performing computing to function properly.

“What we do is hardware-switched, hardware-firewalled, array-based storage. That means that the storage is separate from the servers and all the servers can access it directly at superfast speeds. And then we put that at the edge, in the urban centre where the data is being used. So that last-mile latency is mitigated as well,” explains Brown.

The company recently opened its first data centre in Vancouver, not far from its headquarters. Besides offering clients high-performance computing solutions, the centre is designed to capture the heat generated by the servers and distribute it to the building, and produce clean drinking water via the condensing systems in the air conditioners.

AMPD is currently onboarding clients and expects to max out the data centre’s capacity before too long. Halfway through November, the company announced its first client, Bardel Entertainment, which works on the popular cartoon series Rick and Morty.

In a deal expected to generate more than $1.2 million in revenue over three years, Bardel will utilize the AMPD Remote Render Service that enables studios to access thousands of cores of processing power without having to build their own costly data centres. When rendering for animated content, two-dimensional or three-dimensional images are generated for the screen from a computer, using huge amounts of processing power.

Importantly, the render service is not hooked up to the Internet but rather connected via direct fibre access to AMPD’s servers in the company’s data centre. That means minimal latency issues by avoiding the cloud.

AMPD has also started a partnership with Myesports Ventures, which runs the online gaming stadiums where players compete in esport tournaments with live audiences. Myesports currently has one live stadium and three more planned in 2020, and has tapped AMPD to supply the computing infrastructure for players and onsite gaming hosting.

In addition to supplying the backbone for players at the stadium, AMPD will be able to let players access the platform from home, giving people in the local area an ability to play an esport with the same low latency experience as esports athletes competing in the stadium itself.

AMPD also is involved with the Digital Technology Supercluster Learning Factory project, a consortium financed by the Canadian government to provide digital solutions for the manufacturing industry. The project will leverage AMPD’s high-performance computing platform to create digital twins of production lines for advanced aircraft parts. The project goes live in December for both simulation and virtual reality visualization.

“Eventually we’ll hit critical mass where we just need to proliferate and get ahead of the curve to be able to build out as many data centres and as many high-performance computing nodes as we can,” Brown concludes. “To be able to handle the load of all those super cool applications coming down the pipe that people can’t even use yet is what we are gearing up for.”

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about AMPD Ventures at https://www.ampd.tech/.

ICEsoft Technologies Canada: Modern elements key to engineering broader acceptance of life-saving community alerts

When a small-cap company launches a new product line, having an established legacy business in the background is a dream scenario. Count ICEsoft Technologies Canada (CSE:ISFT) amongst those lucky few. The company is already a leading global provider of critical enterprise software solutions for desktop and mobile enterprise, its rich Internet application products being used by more than 20,000 enterprises and 150,000 developers, with a subscriber base spanning more than 400 corporations.

Eager to do more with its mobile technology expertise, the company, which went public on the Canadian Securities Exchange in June, developed an affordable smart communication platform called Voyent Alert!.

Designed specifically for local and regional governments to alert and communicate with the public during both emergencies and non-critical events, Voyent Alert! is a great example of technology being used to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives…perhaps even saving them.

Public Entrepreneur spoke with ICEsoft President and Chief Executive Officer Brian McKinney recently about the Voyent Alert! platform and the company’s plans going forward.

Voyent Alert! sounds like something quite different for ICEsoft. What compelled you to develop a multi-purpose, mass-notification system? 

Our legacy business is profitable and it’s a very interesting business, but it’s also hyper-technical and certainly a maturing market. About 18 to 20 months ago we were tapped on the shoulder by some of our west coast clients and asked if we could repurpose some of our mobile technologies into a new kind of community-alerting system. That’s kind of the genesis of the pivot we undertook. It really represented the kind of next-generation platform that we wanted to go after.

What makes Voyent Alert! different from other mass-notification systems like the Emergency Alert System or AMBER alerts?  

Conventionally speaking, information tends to be issued in a very text-centric format. The text looks like a bunch of words kind of jumbled together. And one of the things we felt strongly about was that a lot of people won’t process that information, or they’ll read the first two lines of a bunch of text and then they’ll move on.

We felt that if we could make it more visual and provide a lot more context to the user, the alert would be far more valuable to them. It would allow them to process things faster and make better, more informed decisions more quickly. It’s one thing to know that there’s a fire on 6th and Main. It’s another to get a picture on your phone that shows you on a map here’s the fire, here’s your mother’s house, and it’s 500 metres south of the fire so she’s subject to an evacuation order. That’s very specific to you and very visual. And it’s our contention that that kind of alert would drive a higher level of community engagement.

Day-to-day communications with citizens are also leveraged through the service. It’s not just for emergencies. Our community clients can advise about snow removal plans, targeting specific communities and advising “you have to get your cars off the street, or they will be subject to tow.” Waste recycling pickup schedules have changed. Here are the city council meeting minutes. That sort of thing. If people learn to trust it at a municipal level, they’ll pay attention to it when it’s a real emergency.

Who is the target market for Voyent Alert!?

There are a number of players in the market right now, but the vast majority of them are focusing on large urban deployments. They’re looking to the Bostons, the New Yorks and Torontos to develop solutions for. And they tend to be larger more complex systems, heavy on the back end to accommodate system infrastructure integration.

Fifty percent of North Americans, for example, live in communities of less than 50,000 people. And conventional wisdom alone tells you that a solution that works for New York generally isn’t going to work for a community with a population of 50,000. As a result, a lot of these smaller communities weren’t being serviced very effectively or efficiently by the solutions that were available.

We decided we wanted to move forward with rich, personalized messaging and really focus on targeting smaller communities and more rural regional districts. Strategically, we want to dominate the smaller communities, as our peers basically target large urban deployments. We want to carve out for ourselves that dominant position in the small to medium-sized communities.

Our product is engineered for that service. It’s simpler and easier to use at a lower cost. It’s not like it’s a trivial market. We are focusing exclusively on building up a subscription base. This is a software-as-a-service play with a large recurring revenue stream. One of the advantages of these smaller markets is that they’re very sticky. You know when you get a client, you’re likely to have that client for six or seven years.

That’s a sticky client base indeed. How would you describe the typical entity that subscribes for Voyent Alert!? 

We basically sell to governments – cities, towns, regional districts, and counties. Those organizations purchase it on behalf of their citizens and then the citizens can download the mobile app and register for the service for free. We’re providing coverage to about 55 different communities in Canada that we’ve onboarded in the last 14 months. Since we launched, the number of communities that we’re servicing has been doubling quarter over quarter. We’re anticipating a launch into the US by the end of this year.

There are several competitors in the mass-notification alert sector. Who is your biggest rival and how does ICEsoft stack up against the competition? 

Roughly speaking, about 30-40% of the communities with less than 50,000 population have no solution whatsoever. The rest might have an older kind of solution that might be an e-mail alert system or something that’s a little bit more dated. Our primary competition comes from the market leader, which is a company called Everbridge out of the US east coast. One of the things we find gratifying is that probably the last seven or eight deals where we’ve been up against other competitors, Everbridge primarily, we’ve been winning those deals. It’s been well over a year since we’ve lost a deal to Everbridge. That says that something we’re doing is resonating with the client.

To wrap up, what’s the strategy for Voyent Alert! for the balance of 2019 and into next year?

We are looking very aggressively at other vertical opportunities that face similar challenges to the ones we are solving for our municipal clients. The residential home construction market is one of those opportunities. Residential builders and trades have a big problem keeping track of their people and ensuring their safety status as well as that of the worksite. There is a significant and clear value proposition here that makes the opportunity very attractive.

In addition to expanding into new market verticals we are also looking to broaden the market footprint for Voyent Alert!. This activity sees us focusing on expanding our presence across Canada between now and the end-of-year timeframe. We will then use that presence as a launching pad into the US market.

We’ll be selective about the markets we want to target in the US. We want to make sure they are the ones that would resonate with the value proposition we’re offering. It’s unlikely we’d go out and target eastern seaboard, high-density urban centers. The Midwest and the western states are the more likely candidates that we’re going to launch into. They are more rural and are faced with the kinds of challenges where we can make the biggest difference.

This story was featured in the Public Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn more about ICEsoft Technologies Canada at https://www.icesoft.com/.