Sandro Torrieri is all about solutions. In his role as the founder and president of Interdynamix (IDX) he and his team set the goals and vision of the company and its subsidiary, IDX Labs. He entered the field of IT when it was in its infancy in the 80s, and with each new company he envisioned, brought to life, raised and sold, he dives deeper into exploring how humanity’s connection to innovation and technology can be the next evolution. Today the companies hold multiple patents across North America and Europe, but Torrieri looks to Edmonton as a city with unlimited potential as a technology hub. That is, if Edmonton is ready to embrace the title.
“In my opinion, Edmonton is a smaller Silicon Valley,” says Torrieri, “and we have some amazing educational institutions in Alberta, like the University of Alberta, NAIT, SAIT and the University of Calgary. Right here in Edmonton we have AMII (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute), which is one of the top research groups of its kind in the world. Companies like Google have moved some of their AI capabilities to Edmonton. Local professors like Dr. Sutherland and others have also invented some ground-breaking AI techniques. We have world class scientists living here.”
Torrieri himself was born and raised in Edmonton, as was his wife. “There is no place other than Edmonton for us,” he says proudly.
Yet, despite his love of his city and his investment in it, Torrieri is frustrated.
“I’ve been working with the mayor’s office and provincial government,” he explains, “but it’s hard to convince our leaders that we need a new economic structure in Alberta beyond being energy focused. We have an incredible amount of intellect in Alberta and Edmonton that we could be harnessing. Some of that required effort is government programs, but some of that needs to go into industry and local investors. We need local entrepreneurs, scientists and governments to strategically come together to create a new economic reality. This means more venture capital, more risk capital and access to places to bring those forums together.”
He shakes his head, noting, “We have some of the world’s leading scientists creating some of the world’s leading technology, but we fall short and need to improve ways to capitalize on this and keep those investments here. To me that is disheartening. Even more so is the fact that that our provincial and federal governments are bound by bureaucracies and institutional ways of thinking. They are placing too many bets on too many leads, minimizing the effects of their investments. Sometimes it seems like they just don’t know what to do.”
For Torrieri, the solution is clear: invest in technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning and not only will the economy rebound, but Alberta will attract new business too.
“The quality of job matters. For every person employed in a knowledge-based company, abundance follows with five more people having work in the broader supply chain supporting them via restaurants, dry cleaners, suppliers, etc.,” he emphasises. “Each of these jobs support these corporations. If we focus beyond the energy sector, seek some of that capital and focus it into technology, we may be able to build corporations here that are world class winners.
“We need to think about taking our scientists and students and engaging them in meaningful ways. Currently, most go to Silicon Valley or other high-tech hubs because there are few local opportunities to work here with companies that are movers and shakers. That’s why we lose people. It’s not entirely the government’s responsibility to build the technology infrastructure or pick winners and losers. However, it is their responsibility to create policies, the ecosystem and opportunities to incentivize deal flow from local and outside investors; and through that, provide the reasons for those people to stay and build.”
Torrieri’s fears are not groundless. “The Alberta Centre for Advanced Microsystems and Nanotechnology Products (ACAMP) was founded in 2007. At that time Alberta was highly ranked in the world of nanotechnology. Initially we were in the top five, but now we rank in the 30s. Today we have AI. Initially, Alberta ranked high as an AI hub (top three), but we are already slipping down in the ranks. Alberta will go the way of the dodo bird if we don’t start recognizing and capitalizing on the right opportunities.”
He should know. Torrieri is a man that actively seeks out and creates opportunities wherever he goes. His natural curiosity and zest for technology and innovation started at an early age – as a toddler, he shocked his mother by completely disassembling and reassembling his tricycle. However, he didn’t start his career path in technology engineering. One of his earliest jobs was working for Bill Hoffmann at NBI Inc.
“That man that changed my life,” Torrieri admits. “Bill was a training manager for Xerox prior to coming to NBI. He taught me everything I know about marketing. Those skills are what I have used to develop myself further as a salesperson and as an entrepreneur. He’s my mentor to this day.”
Although he didn’t necessarily enjoy working for someone else – Torrieri wanted to be an entrepreneur since his teens – he always valued the experiences he gained as an employee and was grateful to his employers. It was through his employment that he found the world he works in today – the world of computer technology engineering.
“My wife was in the computer industry in the early 80s and through her I was introduced to the field.” He laughs, “That was the beginning of it! I blame her for everything!” Soon after entering the field, Torrieri branched out on his own. He and his wife launched their first company in 1992 and have worked together on every new company and venture since.
“You are only as good as your team and your partners, be that in marriage or other aspects of life,” he smiles. “Success can be determined in a few ways: monetary and things that you have. But success can also be measured by the people around you. Over the years you amass quality people, partners and staff – and for me, that is where the real wealth is.”
Torrieri’s current company, Interdynamix (IDX), launched in 1995. “IDX is an integrator,” he explains. “There is an incredible amount of R&D and thinking outside of the box. Our subsidiary, IDX Labs, is where we do our future thinking, prototype new products and incubate new ideas.
“When a company has a technical problem and they have looked everywhere for a solution, that is our customer – that is our best customer. We are not the lowest priced offering, nor do we want to be. I believe we provide incredible value with our intellect in the marketplace.
“Our technical capacity is truly remarkable. We never leave our customers until we have solved their problems. We don’t do much marketing. We kind of fly under the radar. Our growth has all been word of mouth. When we bring a new customer on board they are always surprised by the collective team and how good they are.”
When IDX started the only employees were Torrieri and his wife. Today, the company has two partners and a staff of over 50. “Devin Vandenberg and Dave Feraco run the daily operations of IDX. I couldn’t ask for more wonderful partners in the business. They allow me to go off and look at other opportunities that we as an organization can invest in and look at for the future. If it wasn’t for them, IDX wouldn’t be the same company.”
IDX is incredibly multifaceted, but what it all boils down to is this: the company uses technology to solve problems that exist, in part, because of the rapid advancement of technology; and they are very, very good at it.
In 1998 IDX founded Invidi, which later in 2017 won a Technology & Engineering Emmy Award for developing a system that executed targeted household advertising in linear television. Essentially, the team had pioneered technology that had not existed before.
“When we won the Emmy, I felt like I won the lottery!” Torrieri smiles. “That award has far more value than money or anything else for me. It’s a recognition of many years of hard work by the team, technological breakthroughs and advancement. “When we started the advertising platform, we had no idea if we could actually build it. Being able to build it is a testament to the engineers, developers, managers, investors (that included heavy hitters like Google) and scientists that worked so hard to build this product.
“When you win an Emmy, it’s not because you have a good product, it’s because you have really good product. You broke a barrier that was thought to be unbreakable. You are developing intellectual capital that wasn’t known at that time.”
To the serial entrepreneur, the Emmy win is proof that Edmonton has the people and resources to become a world class technology hub.
“There are kids in their basements and garages developing tech that will one day perhaps rival Google or Microsoft. Not everything comes out of Silicon Valley. I used to spend 35 weeks a year in the Valley, so when I make the generalization about Edmonton being a smaller Silicon Valley, I’m saying something that I really, deeply believe.”
He also believes in giving back.
“IDX helps other entrepreneurs with their dreams. I personally spend a lot of time mentoring and investing in entrepreneurs.”
His mentorship is part of his desire to see Edmonton maximize its potential and its people.
“Trying to develop a technical solution in the Alberta and Edmonton markets is incredibly difficult,” he sighs. “Few understand tech from an investment or business perspective. When products emerge in the market and become world leaders, they amass incredible value.” He cites the example of WhatsApp, a free-to-the-user smartphone app that sold to Facebook for billions.
Frustrations about the slow pace of Edmonton moving into the tech landscape aside, Torrieri finds plenty of inspiration in the Capital City, and in every aspect of his life.
“If someone says something can’t be done, I’m curious to figure out how it can,” he smiles. “Patents are important to me. I believe in them. Innovation is important. Breaking new ground is very important. Barriers believed to be unbreakable drive me. What is also truly rewarding for me is people. When you work with very smart minds and have the opportunity to mentor them and then watch them as they grow and mature into the individuals you hoped they would become, that is very rewarding.”
Torrieri muses, “Life, and business is all about calculated changes, calculated risks, and hard work. It can’t be done alone. You need to share. You must bring people on board and make an environment of trust and openness.”
Despite years in the business, several successful companies, and an Emmy in the trophy case, Torrieri still sees problems that are begging for solutions, and he’s ready to explore them.
“We are at the final stages of releasing a ubiquitous new financial AI product called iDeal,” he says with growing excitement. “It’s for the housing market, the automotive market, the furniture market, and beyond. It’s a really cool concept. It took some very bright people to develop it. It is a very complex product that leverages the AI intellectual resources founded right here in Edmonton. It is very exciting.”
For Torrieri, the technological landscape in Edmonton and Alberta is akin to the early wild west days of finding oil.
“Back in the early days of looking for oil you had guys with divining rods. They were risking a lot of money putting holes in the ground, hoping to find oil,” he says. “We are doing the same thing with technology right now. Prototypes cost several million dollars. You are risking millions and years of your team’s life. You hope you have the right concept that the marketplace wants. If you do, great! If you don’t, you lose the money and that time of your life. You can’t get time back. That’s the reason why the software industry is the way it is. Not every product will generate a single penny in revenue,” he pauses to give his signature grin and impart his always-present optimism, “but If you hit it right, it can be very successful.”
Sandro concludes, “Edmonton deserves many wonderous new companies. Think about that when you have an opportunity to be an early stage friend or family investor. Those kids in the garages and basements can be the next greatest technology innovators the world is looking for.”