Interview with Roderick Szarka


Rod is an industry professional with a successful track record in research and development, sales team management, business development and corporate marketing. His first 16 years of his career were in Research & Development developing pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices with ChemBioMed, Cytovax Technologies and Alberta Research Council respectively. Rod is an inventor on 2 medical device patents and author on 13 peer-reviewed scientific papers.  Following his successful tenure at the bench, the next 15 years, Rod took on increasing roles of Business Development at Global IQ, a CRO conducting human clinical trials, QSV, a GMP manufacturer for biologics and as VP of Business Development for Exciton Technologies, a medical device company developing silver wound bandages.  At Keystone Labs, he was grown the cannabis business through regulated testing services and development of KEY-BOX across Canada and leads the company’s corporate marketing initiatives.

Rod holds a BSc degree (Specialization in Biochemistry) from the University of Alberta.


1. You are the Vice President of Keystone Labs. Can you tell us more about Keystone Labs and what you do?

Keystone Labs Inc. is a Health Canada accredited laboratory focused on providing quality third-party microbiological and analytical testing located in Edmonton, Alberta.  Established in 2005 with a Health Canada Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Drug Establishment License (DEL), Keystone’s initial focus was to meet the requirements for regulated testing for the Pharmaceutical, Biotechnology, and Nutraceutical industries.  Our regulated testing and validation meets the requirements of regulatory boards in Canada (Health Canada), the EU, Japan and the United States (FDA).  In August 2015, Keystone Labs acquired a Health Canada Controlled Substance License to conduct cannabis testing for authorized and regulated cannabis sources.  The unique combination of a Health Canada Controlled Substance License combined with a Health Canada DEL, is formal validation that Keystone has built a reputation for providing reliable, trustworthy data on the quality of cannabis products which are sold to consumers.  At this time, there are very few testing facilities across Canada with the same accreditations as Keystones Labs to address the highly-regulated testing requirements for cannabis, especially for exportation of cannabis products to EuropeOur goal is to meet the regulated testing needs of both producers and consumers by offering all users the knowledge, confidence and insurance that their cannabis and cannabis products are safe.

As VP, Business Development and Marketing, the primary responsibility in this role is to seek and establish opportunities to facilitate business growth, with the new expanding Canadian regulated cannabis industry and exportation of cannabis products to EuropeThis growth will focus and continue with Health Canada continuing to move forward with approval of Micro-Production cannabis facilities and the legalization of topicals, edibles and concentrates by October 2019.

2. Keystone developed a real-time test for medical cannabis. How does it work and what benefits does it provide? What are the different challenges that you meet in developing it?

To meet the untapped market of personal growers, in September 2016, Keystone Labs commercialized the KEY-BOX test kits to meet the demand for Cannabinoid testing of dry flower and extracted oils.  Through marketing efforts, national and local distribution agreements, KEY-BOX sales have grown each year.  The kit contains all the supplies needed to conduct a simple chemical procedure to isolate the cannabinoids from the dry flower into a sample liquid.  The client returns the sample to Keystone Labs.  Once received, the sample is analysed and the results are sent back to the client by e-mail.  The KEY-BOX test kit now offers the terpene analysis along with the cannabinoid profile for each sample.  These two tests analysis the complete profile for each cannabis sample and provide the information needed to specify unique strains and profiles especially for medical patients requiring specific components for their treatment.

We continued to get requests from our clients for a Real-Time cannabis test kit to provide the same quality of results with no turn-around time.  The Real-Time technology platform is based on “Lab-on-a-Chip” technology which will allow cannabis production facilities, personal growers and users the ability to measure the cannabis potency within minutes.  The device will use state-of-the-art microfluidic solid-state technology for detection.  These microchips will be incorporated into a cassette and onboard microfluidics technology will allow interaction of the client’s sample with the microchip technology.  The cassette will be inserted into a hand-held amplification device which will detect and quantitate the cannabinoids.  The information will be sent to a smartphone interactive App via Bluetooth for analysis and data display results.  The product launch is scheduled for September 2020.

3. How do you see the Canada-wide legalization of cannabis impacting your business?

The legalization of Cannabis in Canada has greatly impacted Keystone Labs in a very positive way.  Before legalization on October 17, 2018, Keystone Labs acquired a Health Canada Controlled Substance License to test legal medical Cannabis. There was a need for regulated testing facilities to analysis the cannabis for contaminates before release to medical cannabis patients.  At that time, there were approximately 10-12 approved Licensed Producers (LP), currently there are 141 LPs across Canada.  After legalization, all cannabis products, dry flower and oils, require extensive analysis for contaminates and potency before release for sale.  For Keystone Labs, there are three key market segments – Domestic Licensed Production, Health Canada’s expanded licensing program and export to the World-wide market.  We continue to develop the domestic LP market.  Health Canada’s Expanded Licensing program includes new categories: Standard and Micro Processing, Micro Production and next year will also include edibles, topicals and concentrates.  With the combination of a Health Canada GMP DEL and Controlled Substance Licenses, Keystone Labs’ testing services are sought after to meet the high-level requirements for exporting cannabis products to Europe.  Canada is the first G7 country in the world to legalize cannabis, exporting will be critical to grow the cannabis industry globally.  Each of these new categories represent a new opportunity for business at Keystone Labs.

4. In contrast to the Canadian situation, only medical cannabis is legal in Germany. You are currently working together with the German company Mildendo GmbH. How do different legal frameworks influence international partnerships?   

The different cannabis legal frameworks in the two different countries will not be an issue.  The focus is to develop the microfluidics and chip development with Mildendo.  All the product development with cannabis testing will be conducted in Canada in the licensed Keystone Labs facility.  Once the product is commercialized, there will be no restrictions on the product for global sales as it is a personal test kit with no illegal materials.

5. How do you see the future of the cannabis industry and related markets evolving? What technological developments do you expect, or hope, to see in the near future?

As stated earlier, Canada is the first G7 country to legalize Cannabis and the world is watching.  This gives Canada an incredible opportunity to be a leader in this new industry in all aspects of cannabis.  This would include development of new technologies, products and development of clinical studies to produce key data for the medical community.  Germany may be the next G7 country to legalize cannabis.  This may be a great opportunity for the two countries to collaborate and become co-leaders in all aspects of this new industry.

2018 GCCIR Matchmaking Mission to Europe

graphic mission 2018

“Everyone was skeptical at first as the itinerary was tightly packed, but we managed to pull it off and had five very promising matchmaking symposia in Barcelona, Prague, Munich, Aachen and Cambridge.” – Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director of the GCCIR

With the inception of the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund in April 2018, this year’s Matchmaking Mission aimed at covering a larger amount of European countries than ever before. This meant that planning of the mission started early in the spring. It took a lot of work deciding on the destinations and locations for this year’s Matchmaking Symposia, as well as looking for new matchmaking partners to organize the events in locations that all except for one (Munich) we had never visited with a delegation before. The new Matchmakers – Innoget, CzechInvest and Cambridge Network – that we found were amazing  to work with, and our existing partners – Zenit GmbH and TUMTech GmbH – did an exceptional job as they had done in previous years for our Matchmaking Missions to Germany.

At the five symposia, the 13 Albertan companies that joined this year’s Matchmaking Mission to Europe, had the opportunity to meet with approximately 300 representatives from companies and research organisations predominantly, but also federal and provincial governments and agencies. The symposium in Aachen, for which the GCCIR also worked with the IraSME Network, was a bigger partnering event in that it offered a large pool of  participating companies also from other European countries, such as Belgium, Austria, Croatia and Greece.

Further highlights of the mission included research visits to one of the Eurecat Technology Centres just outside of Barcelona, the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics, and Cybernetics in Prague, as well as cultural visits of the Christmas Market in Aachen and the Ayinger Brewery near Munich.

The feedback we have received so far from the Alberta participants was exceedingly positive and we are very optimistic that the mission will result in several high-quality funding applications.

Germany is the most innovative

Image source:

No other country in the world is as innovative as Germany. This is the result of a new study completed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). As the Foundation states in their latest Global Competitiveness Report, Germany ranks first as the world’s most innovative economy with 87.5 points, outperforming the United States with 86.5 points in second, and Japan with 79.2 points in third place. Decisive factors were for instance the number of patents filed, the number of scientific research papers published and consumer satisfaction.

What makes innovation so important for countries, is it’s potential for economic growth. “[T]hose countries which can go from idea generation to the successful commercialization of a product the most quickly, within a fertile ‘innovation ecosystem’ of various factors, will have the greatest productivity” (Whiting).

In addition to the five sub-pillars commercialization, interaction and diversity, administrative requirements, research and development, and entrepreneurial culture that measure the innovation ecosystem according to the World Economic Forum, a country’s ability to innovate is also determined by other factors, such as ICT adoption, quality of education and intensity of competition.

Innovation capacity is one of the twelve pillars according to which the World Economic Forum ranks a country’s competitiveness. The other pillars include for instance a country’s financial system’s strength, infrastructure, education system and health care system. Taking all twelve pillars into account Germany ranks third, after the United States and Singapore. Still not too bad after all.

The report stresses however, that competitiveness is not a zero-sum game between countries; it is not a competition. “All countries can become more productive at the same time. Improving education standards in Country A does not lower standards in Country B; tackling corruption in Country A does not make Country B more corrupt. Hence, the pursuit of national competitiveness does not undermine global cooperation – indeed, openness contributes to competitiveness” (Schwab 5).

To read the full Global Competitiveness Report 2018 click here.


“Deutschland Ist Am Innovativsten.”, 17 Oct. 2018,

Dpa. “Deutschland Ist Spitze Bei Innovationen.” Frankfurter Rundschau, 17 Oct. 2018,

Schwab, Klaus. The Global Competitiveness Report 2018. World Economic Forum, 2018.

Whiting, Kate. “Germany Is the World’s Most Innovative Economy.” World Economic Forum, 18 Oct. 2018,

Career Booster Germany

On November 5th the GCCIR had the opportunity, together with numerous other organizations, to promote Germany and the German language to Junior High and High School students in Edmonton.

It was the second iteration of the Career Booster Germany event in Edmonton, organized by the Goethe-Institut Toronto and hosted by IISLE (Institute for Innovation in Second Language Education) and ZfA (Central Agency for Schools Abroad).

Special guests included the new Consul General of Germany for Western Canada, Dr. Klaus Otto Schmidt, and Honorary Consuls of Germany Mr. Harald Kuckertz for Edmonton and Mr. Hubertus Liebrecht for Calgary.

Panelists Dr. Carrie Smith-Prei (Professor of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies, University of Alberta), Katelyn Petersen (Executive Director, GCCIR), Zuzana Schmidtova Ritzer (Senior International Officer, Concordia University of Edmonton, and Moderator Christine Korte (Goethe-Institut Toronto)    © photo by GCCIR

Working with companies in Alberta to foster innovative technological research and development collaboration projects with Germany, the GCCIR was invited to share with students how a working knowledge of German can be good for business and their future career paths. Katelyn Petersen, Executive Director of the GCCIR, also had the opportunity to share her experiences with the German language during a panel discussion on German/Multilingualism as Global Fluency, which discussed how  knowledge of German and international experience can also have professional benefits in a new global context.

Stanley Walter (Project Coordinator, GCCIR)    © photo by GCCIR

GCCIR Project Coordinator, Stanley Walter, shared some of his experiences working internationally and interculturally and pointed out some of the advantages to learning German, as well as sharing some of the language’s more creative turns of phrase.

For the GCCIR, it was exciting to see how many students joined the event from Edmonton’s public schools and how many were either interested in learning German or already taking German classes at their schools.

We look forward to promoting Germany to students again at the next Career Booster Germany.


Interview with Raša Karapandža


2 Rasa

Raša Karapandža (born January 4, 1978) is a professor of finance at EBS Universität in Wiesbaden. He serves as an academic director of Master in Finance program and head of chair of finance. He received a PhD degree in economics and finance from Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, University Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. He has been a visiting research scholar at NYU and at UC Berkeley, and also serves as a visiting professor at New York University Abu Dhabi. The general focus of Karapandža’s research and teaching activities is investments, empirical asset pricing, and portfolio management. In his recent papers, he studies return predictability of equities, new methods to test return predictability, the role of information on return predictability, and the use of big data to generate robustly predictable portfolio alphas.

1. Can you give us a definition of FinTech, tell us when this term was first established, and describe how the field is evolving?

Fintech is an abbreviation of the phrase “financial technology.” As it is currently used, FinTech represents the application of technology in order to improve financial services. It is believed that the word FinTech was used for the first time in the 1980’s by Peter Knight, the editor of a business newsletter in the Sunday Times, but in a very different context. He used it to describe a bot that altered his mailbox.

The widespread use of the term had to wait until after the financial crisis of 2008. It was only after that financial crisis that angel investors, venture capitalists, and private equity funds started massively investing in FinTech companies, which, in turn, started changing the world of financial services on a large scale.

2. You are a professor of finance at EBS Oestrich-Winkel in Germany, and you also teach at the New York University. What are the biggest differences between teaching finance in Germany and the United States, and is the importance of FinTech steadily increasing for education in both countries?

I do teach a FinTech course at EBS in Germany, and I also teach a FinTech course at NYU. However, I actually teach it at the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi. In my typical FinTech class in Germany, I would have students from all continents. Similarly, in the classroom at NYU, on any of their campuses – regardless of whether it is the NYU campus in New York, Shanghai, or Abu Dhabi – the student population is incredibly diverse. This tells an important story – education is global and it makes no sense framing it into a national perspective. This is especially true when it comes to FinTech courses. In my FinTech course we start with Euclid’s theorems and move to Euler’s theorems to be able to understand the cryptographic theory necessary for understanding how Blockchain works, for example. Similarly, the Machine Learning techniques that we cover are not nationally specific. National aspects do play a role – but only to understand the cultural differences that lead to the different directions in which FinTech has developed across the planet.

3. You serve on the board of directors of RS2, a company offering secure payment services, payment software, and managed services. They are responsible for over 62 million transactions per hour. How do companies like this one ensure that their data is secure and what are the biggest risks they face?

Cyber Security is one of the most important challenges in the contemporary world. There is no universal recipe for keeping cyber villains away. Investment into people and their education is the only thing that keeps the modern world safe from cyber villains. A cyber villain wakes up each morning thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the weakest cyber security team.” A cyber security team wakes up thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the fastest cyber villain.” Unfortunately, it is a difficult and never-ending race. And the importance of that race grows every day as more and more of our world becomes digitalized.

4. What are the key elements for companies and especially Start-Ups to be successful in the FinTech sector?

I believe that FinTech startups are not that special in this respect, so general Start-Up rules of success apply. In my view, besides having the right team that is able to execute, probably the most important factor is that one is doing the right thing at the right time. Fifty years ago, one could add location (or the place of business) into this equation. But internet and cloud services have almost removed location from this equation.

5. How do you see the future of FinTech and do you think that we will still be using cash in 50 years?

We live in times where the speed of change has accelerated. To give you an example –  when Facebook asks me about my relationship, I think of my wife and add her in that category. If you ask the same question to young people entering university, for them, the Facebook relationship may refer to a different category. They will have real life relationships and Facebook relationships, and these are two distinct categories. My (never tested) theory is that this comes from the fact that they started having Facebook relationships before they started having real life relationships. Societal categories like marriage, or monogamous relationships, are longstanding fixtures in communities around the world. And here, we have a completely novel societal category – Facebook relationship – created on a time scale of a decade. Thus, given this increased speed of change, I believe that cash will go extinct in much less than 50 years. And, at least to some extent, I have to say unfortunately. And I say that since cash is an important privacy tool that protects citizens from non-benevolent state actors.



International Symposium on Applications of Artificial Intelligence

AI Symposium_program cover2.jpg

On September 27 and 28, the GCCIR hosted a two day symposium at the University of Alberta and invited international speakers, academic researchers, policy makers, company representatives and students to discuss the applications of Artificial Intelligence to a variety of different sectors and fields.

The symposium was organized in cooperation with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science and Future Energy Systems Initiative, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the Consulate General of France in Canada, the Consulate General of the Czech Republic in Toronto, CzechInvest and the German-Center for Research and Innovation – New York, and included panel discussions on the relevance of artificial intelligence in the areas of Precision Health, Human and Machine Interaction, Policy, Precision Agriculture/AgriFoods, Transport, Future Energy Systems, and Humanities and Social Sciences.

Panel discussion on AI & Precision Health with panelists (left to right) Dr. Russ Greiner (Professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta and Amii Researcher), Dr. Edwin Wang (Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary), and Dr. Jan Platoš (VŠB-Technical University of Ostrava). Not seen in the picture are the fourth panelist Dr. Radim Burget (Assoc. Professor  at the Brno University of Technology) and moderator Dr. Daniel C. Baumgart (Professor and Director, Division of Gastroenterology at the University of Alberta). © photo by GCCIR

Each of the panels included a short presentation delivered by the moderator to introduce the applications of artificial intelligence to their field and spark discussion among the panelists. As the content of the presentations and the individual questions were left to the discretion of the moderator, each presentation and ensuing discussion was quite different in nature. While most presentations highlighted the benefits of artificial intelligence to a given field, a few also reminded the audience members to critically reflect on the rapid technology advancements in the field of artificial intelligence and the risks these can entail if not governed effectively.

Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer giving his Keynote Address at the International Symposium on Applications of Artificial Intelligence. © photo by GCCIR

Each day also included a keynote address. On Thursday, the audience was reminded by Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer that artificial intelligence research and development has been around for many years now, and that the University of Alberta has been a key institution in the field for decades. Formerly, the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta, Dr. Schaeffer gave a brief introduction into the history of artificial intelligence and shared his experiences with the projects and successes that he was involved in. Among them is a program called Chinook, a computational proof to solve the game of checkers that took Dr. Schaeffer and his team “18 years to complete and is one of the longest running computations in history” (Mullins).

Dr. Michal Pěchouček provides an overview of the artificial intelligence landscape in the Czech Republic. © photo by GCCIR

Friday’s keynote address by Dr. Michal Pěchouček provided an excellent overview of the artificial intelligence landscape in the Czech Republic. Also focusing on the advancements that artificial intelligence developers from the Czech Republic are significantly contributing to in the games and entertainment industries, Dr. Pěchouček introduced the main research centres for artificial intelligence in the Czech Republic, their fundamental and applied research in artificial intelligence, as well as the AI Startup culture that was able to rise in the Czech Republic as a result of the ongoing research.

Panel discussion on AI & Future Energy Systems with panelists (left to right) Darren McCrank (EPCOR), Dr. Omid Ardakanian (Asst. Professor of Computing Science at the University of Alberta), Dr. Pavel Juruš (The Czech Academy of Sciences), Henning Wilms (E.ON Energy Research Center at RWTH Aachen University), and Joshua Wong (CEO of Opus One Solutions). The panel was moderated by Dr. Petr Musilek (Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alberta). © photo by GCCIR

Further international speakers included Rodolphe Gelin from France, Dr. Jan Alexandersson and Henning Wilms from Germany, Sana Khareghani from the United Kingdom, as well as Dr. Jan Platoš, Dr. Ondřej Bojar, Dr. Pavel Juruš and Dr. Radim Burget from the Czech Republic, who through their presentations, moderation of three of the conference’s eight panels, and sharing of their experiences and knowledge in AI during the panel discussions added an invaluable international facet to the discussions.

It was no doubt a well-rounded conference and we, the GCCIR, could not have hoped for livelier discussions or a better audience and speakers.



Mullins, Justin. “Checkers ‘Solved’ after Years of Number Crunching.” New Scientist, New Scientist, 19 July 2007,

Interview with Matthew Lowe



Matt is a lifelong tech hacker and founder/CEO of ZeroKey, an AR/VR company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, virtual reality and software development. After getting frustrated with decades old input hardware, he founded ZeroKey in 2015 and set out to revolutionize the world of computing with a completely new type of human-machine interface that features high accuracy hand, finger and body tracking.


1. You are the CEO of ZeroKey Inc. Can you tell us more about your company and what you do?

You bet, that’s the fun part of my job!

ZeroKey is a company that set out to revolutionize the way people interact with technology. If you think about it, today we still use the same primitive technology that we did 40 years ago. We still mash keys on a keyboard that are laid out in a rather arbitrary flat grid. At ZeroKey we set out to find a better way, which is exactly where our name comes from; ZeroKey – as in zero keys.

Imagine if the computer knew in real-time the precise 3D location of your hands, fingers, arms, et cetera. Armed with this information the interaction between human and machine becomes very natural, very intuitive, and responsive to user intent. Suddenly we have this capability to provide intelligent AR/VR solutions and natural interfaces to make the connection between people and technology seamless. This means shorter learning curves, increased productivity, and new solutions that simply were not possible before.

It sounds a bit like science fiction, but this technology is already being deployed around the world today!

2. How is the virtual reality (VR) scene doing in Alberta compared to Canada, and where do you see the potential of this technology?

Alberta is surprisingly strong in AR/VR technology. It would seem like a strange sector to come out of oil & gas country, but as it turns out, the type of architectural and industrial challenges that AR/VR is great at solving are also common in the oil & gas industry. Many Alberta AR/VR companies have built great industrial solutions that are now being broadly applied to AR/VR as a whole.

In Calgary, Alberta, where ZeroKey is headquartered, we have a very strong and world renown academic community in the field of geomatics, which includes technologies related to positioning, like GPS. Industry leaders in that field including NovaTel, TopCon, and TDK-InvenSense, all have a major presence in Calgary. This expertise is the whole reason ZeroKey exists today; without that background in positioning technologies we could have never developed the technology that we have.

3. You developed a VR glove together with the design studio BeBop. What is new and innovative about this glove, and what are fields of its application?

Our VR glove started as a proof-of-concept to show off the capabilities of our ultra-high accuracy positioning system. It provides a very natural method of interacting with digital environments and as a result, requires no prior training. This leads to a host of applications covering almost every aspect of computing. Some of the more exciting applications include remote surgery, robotic control and of course immersive video games. Once you digitize the position and orientation of the hand and fingers you can drive amazing solutions that will make our current-day keyboards seem like the dial-up modem of yesteryear.

4. ZeroKey Inc. won the Samsung Developer Conference Pitch Competition 2017. At the conference you mentioned that VR is not accessible to mainstream consumers. Do you see reasons for why that could be and is ZeroKey Inc. planning to change this development?

For mainstream consumers in the AR/VR market I think there’s a real problem with having your cake and eating it too. Consumers either have to choose between low-cost solutions that offer poor experiences or shell out megabucks for high-end systems.

We’re working to bring down the total cost of ownership of AR/VR by deploying our 6-Degrees-of-Freedom tracking technology in low-cost headsets. This pairing of technology will bring affordable high-quality AR/VR to mainstream markets at a fraction of the cost of current products in market.

5. In which fields do you see VR having the biggest impact and how do you think VR will impact future technology development in those areas?

We’ve already seen VR transform the gaming industry, however if we look further down the road it’s hard to think of an activity that AR won’t improve in some way. From repairing your bicycle to cooking dinner, AR can improve all of these day-to-day tasks in a seamless and unobtrusive way. Much like the PC, the internet, smartphones, and now AR, these technologies transform how people live their lives. At ZeroKey we hope to be a small part of that.


6. VR has been around for a couple of years now, and has been attracting more and more attention as the technology keeps improving. This resulted in a certain hype of the technology similar to artificial intelligence in the last few years. While the advantages and applications of the technology are manifold, do you also see risks or problems that its use may entail?

When it comes to any transformative technology there is always the potential for misuse. However, from a risk perspective I think AR/VR is rather benign compared to other new technologies. If you look at use-cases like remote surgery and training for dangerous tasks, it’s easy to see that AR/VR will have a very quantifiable and positive impact on humanity.