in Ontario

VeloCity – Incubator 2.0 or something completely new?

velocity.pngWe have a bit of a thesis here at StartupNorth, and part of that thesis is that the biggest problem with the startup environment here in Canada isn’t that VC’s aren’t investing as much as we might like these days, or that American VCs are scooping up all the good deals (sure, those are all problems too), but we think that the biggest issue is that there is no push that gets an early stage idea from the notepad to the web.

18-30 year olds just aren’t starting and following through (to failure even) with those great ideas. This in turn kills the number of startups created later on once that group grows up, and with no mass of startups to move things forward, we end up with many of the problems we have today.

This has nothing to do with not having a Silicon Valley equivalent, and there is no simple solution like “start a Y-Combinator Canada”, instead we are going to need to do a lot of trial-and-error experiments before we start to get an idea of how to really get to the heart of the issue. So, any time I see someone stepping up to try their hand at it, I get excited.

This coming fall The University of Waterloo will be The Minota Hagey residence in to a “Mobile + Media” incubator that will house 70 UW students who are “UW?s most ambitious, entrepreneurial and tech-savvy” and “will not only live together, but they?ll also work in teams to develop ideas with commercial potential, either as part of their regular coursework or as an extra-curricular initiative.”

125548590_1c9b44d817_m.jpgThe common areas of the residence will be renovated over the summer to create a large common/presentation space, a boardroom/meeting room and a project room/mobile device lab. The residence will receive technological upgrades to support the work of the students and to enhance the living environment (ie wifi, increased bandwidth, large project screen, audioconferencing, plasma/LCD screens, workstations, high-end programmable lighting…foosball!)

While I am pretty sure that Plasma TVs and programmable lighting (prime prank-hacking territory!) aren’t exactly critical to getting startups off the ground, this is all starting to sound pretty cool. It is definitely new and cutting edge for Canada.

So, the idea is to pile 70 keen and smart students in a dorm and to see what sort of partnerships and startups might spring up. Sounds awesome so far. VeloCity is a great concept, and I can’t wait to start hearing about some of the startups that come out of it.

For every bit of excitement, I do feel an equal amount of trepidation. This is the kind of thing that is easy to get wrong. All you need is for the culture of the place to go off the rails just a little bit and all of a sudden you just have an expensive dorm with a fancy coat of paint. While I am sure that there are a slate of mentors lined up and a full calendar of events, you need people there almost every day to influence the direction of the students.

This pretty much makes Waterloo the go-to university for students serious about doing a startup (excepting those who just don’t go do university at all). In an ideal world this would available to everyone, but it is only for Waterloo students. If you are a Waterloo student, you can apply here.

Someone call PizzaPizza and negotiate a special deal, it’s going to be a big year for late night delivery at Minota Hagey.

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  • http://www.bandwidthcamp.com Duane Brown

    This seems like a great idea and something with potential.. if execution is in hand. The only bad part are UW students complaining about lack of REZ on campus for upper year stduents on the schools newspaper website.

    RIM will be involved with this, I assume, in some way. It’s to close to home for them not to get involved. This could spawn their next competitor or a company they’ll buy for future potential. I would apply for this in a heart beat if I went to UW.

  • http://www.bandwidthcamp.com Duane Brown

    This seems like a great idea and something with potential.. if execution is in hand. The only bad part are UW students complaining about lack of REZ on campus for upper year stduents on the schools newspaper website.

    RIM will be involved with this, I assume, in some way. It’s to close to home for them not to get involved. This could spawn their next competitor or a company they’ll buy for future potential. I would apply for this in a heart beat if I went to UW.

  • http://www.klondikeconsulting.com/blog Ian Graham

    Jevon, the concept sounds interesting. A number of Universities have tried similar incubators in the past. While Universities are generally acknowledged as well versed in terms of innovation, they tend to lack commercialization expertise.

    My theory is that to effectively commercialize any product or service you need to have the active and engaged participation of private enterprise. Successful commercialization occurs in the private sector, NOT public sector and Universities are essentially public sector organizations. If Velocity has some links (as Duane suggests)to companies in the area that want to commercialize the technology that would be a big plus and improve the probability of success.

    The Y-Combinator model is a great one.

    With respect to funding issue, this is right at the top of the list for getting notepad to web. Building a start-up takes cash and a healthy ecosystem. Consider that of the 125 LSIF in Canada, Ontario had 67 and this accounted for at least 50% of the funding in the province in 2004. The cancellation of the LSIF program (August 2004) by the Ontario Government took $1.5B out of the early stage funding. This was replaced by essentially two programs IAF ($29M over several years) and IDF ($165M if it actually comes to fruition). So in reality $1.5B was replaced by $29M and $165M at some future date, maybe. When you reduce funding by a ratio of 50:1 there will be problems.

  • http://www.klondikeconsulting.com/blog Ian Graham

    Jevon, the concept sounds interesting. A number of Universities have tried similar incubators in the past. While Universities are generally acknowledged as well versed in terms of innovation, they tend to lack commercialization expertise.

    My theory is that to effectively commercialize any product or service you need to have the active and engaged participation of private enterprise. Successful commercialization occurs in the private sector, NOT public sector and Universities are essentially public sector organizations. If Velocity has some links (as Duane suggests)to companies in the area that want to commercialize the technology that would be a big plus and improve the probability of success.

    The Y-Combinator model is a great one.

    With respect to funding issue, this is right at the top of the list for getting notepad to web. Building a start-up takes cash and a healthy ecosystem. Consider that of the 125 LSIF in Canada, Ontario had 67 and this accounted for at least 50% of the funding in the province in 2004. The cancellation of the LSIF program (August 2004) by the Ontario Government took $1.5B out of the early stage funding. This was replaced by essentially two programs IAF ($29M over several years) and IDF ($165M if it actually comes to fruition). So in reality $1.5B was replaced by $29M and $165M at some future date, maybe. When you reduce funding by a ratio of 50:1 there will be problems.

  • http://socialwrite.com Jevon MacDonald

    Ian: I agree re: commercialization. I will go a step further and say that Universities in Canada are basically hopeless. Although I am aware of a few solid projects spinning out of some universities now, but those have taken some time.

    I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. Any of the students who expect or want much help beyond the great atmosphere are in for a rude awakening.

    However, my experience with Waterloo students tells me that there will be lots of highly motivated and very excited entrepreneurs at VeloCity who will put in the required work. The key for them is going to learn not to waste time and to just produce product and then test it in the market.

    A fear would be that there will be all sorts of “business plan” seminars and sidetracks which will distract from execution focused activity.

  • http://socialwrite.com Jevon MacDonald

    Ian: I agree re: commercialization. I will go a step further and say that Universities in Canada are basically hopeless. Although I am aware of a few solid projects spinning out of some universities now, but those have taken some time.

    I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. Any of the students who expect or want much help beyond the great atmosphere are in for a rude awakening.

    However, my experience with Waterloo students tells me that there will be lots of highly motivated and very excited entrepreneurs at VeloCity who will put in the required work. The key for them is going to learn not to waste time and to just produce product and then test it in the market.

    A fear would be that there will be all sorts of “business plan” seminars and sidetracks which will distract from execution focused activity.

  • http://compsci.ca/blog Tony

    A couple of Waterloo students were talking about putting together a group interested in startups. I’m not sure if they are behind this or not, but there’s certainly student level grassroot interest in this.

    It’s a great idea, but it’s prone to problems. I think the biggest would be determining who gets into this residence — there needs to be just the right mix of creative/technical/business people to foster a startup environment, but I can see a lot of students applying to get in just for foosball.

  • http://compsci.ca/blog Tony

    A couple of Waterloo students were talking about putting together a group interested in startups. I’m not sure if they are behind this or not, but there’s certainly student level grassroot interest in this.

    It’s a great idea, but it’s prone to problems. I think the biggest would be determining who gets into this residence — there needs to be just the right mix of creative/technical/business people to foster a startup environment, but I can see a lot of students applying to get in just for foosball.

  • http://www.thusenth.ca Thusenth

    I’d like to see what sort of products are produced through VeloCity. The University of Waterloo has a lot of strong programs, and it would be interesting to see what sort of ‘Majors’ are mixed into this incubator. One thing that lacks at the UW are business students, where most of their students take business programs from Wilfrid Laurier University (full disclosure, I’m a business student there). I’d like to see if they solely focus on short term ‘web-related’ activities. With ‘Mobile’ and ‘Media’ in the phrase – I doubt there will be much in the way of innovation if they’re already given such a narrow focus.

    With an endorsement from Apple, for a program in RIM’s hometown – the students are going to be torn between the two mobile platforms, or just develop for both.

  • http://www.thusenth.ca Thusenth

    I’d like to see what sort of products are produced through VeloCity. The University of Waterloo has a lot of strong programs, and it would be interesting to see what sort of ‘Majors’ are mixed into this incubator. One thing that lacks at the UW are business students, where most of their students take business programs from Wilfrid Laurier University (full disclosure, I’m a business student there). I’d like to see if they solely focus on short term ‘web-related’ activities. With ‘Mobile’ and ‘Media’ in the phrase – I doubt there will be much in the way of innovation if they’re already given such a narrow focus.

    With an endorsement from Apple, for a program in RIM’s hometown – the students are going to be torn between the two mobile platforms, or just develop for both.

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  • http://socialwrite.com Jevon MacDonald

    Thusenth: The “endorsement” from Apple comes from a National Education Sales Manager. Getting an endorsement from a salesperson is about as hard as getting McDonalds to sell you a Big Mac. It may as well have been left off the site.

  • http://socialwrite.com Jevon MacDonald

    Thusenth: The “endorsement” from Apple comes from a National Education Sales Manager. Getting an endorsement from a salesperson is about as hard as getting McDonalds to sell you a Big Mac. It may as well have been left off the site.

  • http://www.thusenth.ca Thusenth

    Jevon: Fair enough, it isn’t a sponsorship.

    They’ve yet to announce their corporate partners. Their access to talent and ideas brings up some concerns. Who will ultimately own the products produced?

    “Some of the biggest players in mobile communications, web and new media will be partners in VeloCity.

    Through their partnership activities, they’ll lend their expertise and technology and in return, they’ll have access to the talent and ideas developed in the incubator.”

  • http://www.thusenth.ca Thusenth

    Jevon: Fair enough, it isn’t a sponsorship.

    They’ve yet to announce their corporate partners. Their access to talent and ideas brings up some concerns. Who will ultimately own the products produced?

    “Some of the biggest players in mobile communications, web and new media will be partners in VeloCity.

    Through their partnership activities, they’ll lend their expertise and technology and in return, they’ll have access to the talent and ideas developed in the incubator.”

  • http://montrealtechwatch.com Heri

    great initiative

    i think you are spot on with:

    “All you need is for the culture of the place to go off the rails just a little bit and all of a sudden you just have an expensive dorm with a fancy coat of paint. While I am sure that there are a slate of mentors lined up and a full calendar of events, you need people there almost every day to influence the direction of the students.”

  • http://montrealtechwatch.com Heri

    great initiative

    i think you are spot on with:

    “All you need is for the culture of the place to go off the rails just a little bit and all of a sudden you just have an expensive dorm with a fancy coat of paint. While I am sure that there are a slate of mentors lined up and a full calendar of events, you need people there almost every day to influence the direction of the students.”

  • http://www.hive.com Kan

    It’s about time. The biggest problem we have is not scarcity in the talent pool; we have it in droves. What we’ve never had until very recently is that grassroots led groundswell at the university level or a cohesive collective of like-minded and spirited individuals who all share the same passion for new venture creation.

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university.

    It’s nice to see the University step in and take a shot at it with VeloCity but while the premise is nice, there are a lot of vagaries surrounding the entire implementation and execution with such a project which have already been touched on above. (lack of laser focus, large student body size, ownership/IP issues IP, funding complexity, commercialization support or lack thereof, project imperative drivers, team provisioning/bonding problems etc)

    To that end, I think a better model is something which is more akin to what Ian has loosely alluded to in his above comments; bring together a much smaller band of tech savvy entrepreneurial junkies who are not just interested in learning the mechanics and theoretical aspects of starting up, but want to jumpstart building the next Google, Facebook, RIM or Microsoft from their dorm with others just as passionate as they are, coupled with a) the support of mentors who’ve been there and done that and b) access to early rounds of capital, if need be. Having said that, this latest piece by Jevon is rather serendipitous in that it largely falls on the heels of a project we’ve been formulating and getting ready to debut (at the fantastic StartupCamp event being organized in Waterloo on February 26th) and push out in the Waterloo area at the start of the September 2008 school term dubbed the ‘Hive’, a free live-in technology incubator housed in a sweet pad minutes from the UW campus for a select group of a half-dozen or so Waterloo students who want to hit the ground running and work on commercializing the ventures that either they are working on, or that are the product of the close-knit group of students who they would live with throughout the school year during their stay at the Hive.

    My view has always been that Waterloo ranks as the top ecosystem in North America (besting Boston/Cambridge, Stanford/Mountain View, San Francisco, Seattle, among others, which have much more active university level student led entrepreneurship) in terms of the latent potential of its student base in commercializing the next generation of world-class web and mobile applications. Someone just needs to create the right culture and light the spark and there’s no reason why Waterloo can’t be producing the equivalent of a RIM every few years rather than once in a blue-moon.

  • http://www.hive.com Kan

    It’s about time. The biggest problem we have is not scarcity in the talent pool; we have it in droves. What we’ve never had until very recently is that grassroots led groundswell at the university level or a cohesive collective of like-minded and spirited individuals who all share the same passion for new venture creation.

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university.

    It’s nice to see the University step in and take a shot at it with VeloCity but while the premise is nice, there are a lot of vagaries surrounding the entire implementation and execution with such a project which have already been touched on above. (lack of laser focus, large student body size, ownership/IP issues IP, funding complexity, commercialization support or lack thereof, project imperative drivers, team provisioning/bonding problems etc)

    To that end, I think a better model is something which is more akin to what Ian has loosely alluded to in his above comments; bring together a much smaller band of tech savvy entrepreneurial junkies who are not just interested in learning the mechanics and theoretical aspects of starting up, but want to jumpstart building the next Google, Facebook, RIM or Microsoft from their dorm with others just as passionate as they are, coupled with a) the support of mentors who’ve been there and done that and b) access to early rounds of capital, if need be. Having said that, this latest piece by Jevon is rather serendipitous in that it largely falls on the heels of a project we’ve been formulating and getting ready to debut (at the fantastic StartupCamp event being organized in Waterloo on February 26th) and push out in the Waterloo area at the start of the September 2008 school term dubbed the ‘Hive’, a free live-in technology incubator housed in a sweet pad minutes from the UW campus for a select group of a half-dozen or so Waterloo students who want to hit the ground running and work on commercializing the ventures that either they are working on, or that are the product of the close-knit group of students who they would live with throughout the school year during their stay at the Hive.

    My view has always been that Waterloo ranks as the top ecosystem in North America (besting Boston/Cambridge, Stanford/Mountain View, San Francisco, Seattle, among others, which have much more active university level student led entrepreneurship) in terms of the latent potential of its student base in commercializing the next generation of world-class web and mobile applications. Someone just needs to create the right culture and light the spark and there’s no reason why Waterloo can’t be producing the equivalent of a RIM every few years rather than once in a blue-moon.

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  • http://www.hive.com Ryan Milnes

    Hive will be not only be amazing, it’ll be Amazazing :)

  • http://www.hive.com Ryan Milnes

    Hive will be not only be amazing, it’ll be Amazazing :)

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    Good post about velocity thanks for sharing.

  • http://pdfoxy.com PDFoxy

    It’s a great idea and I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help.

  • http://pdfoxy.com PDFoxy

    It's a great idea and I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help.

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    Looks like this idea would get much acclaim from all. I think you have paid attention to the most smallest things but these aare the things matter the most.

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    Looks like this idea would get much acclaim from all. I think you have paid attention to the most smallest things but these aare the things matter the most.

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    you told only velocity,but where is the acceleration?,plz tell me now,otherwise you are going in a garbage category!

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    you told only velocity,but where is the acceleration?,plz tell me now,otherwise you are going in a garbage category!

  • http://www.review-ninja.com Computer Howto

    However, my experience with Waterloo students tells me that there will be lots of highly motivated and very excited entrepreneurs at VeloCity who will put in the required work. The key for them is going to learn not to waste time and to just produce product and then test it in the market.I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. Any of the students who expect or want much help beyond the great atmosphere are in for a rude awakening.

  • http://www.review-ninja.com Computer Howto

    However, my experience with Waterloo students tells me that there will be lots of highly motivated and very excited entrepreneurs at VeloCity who will put in the required work. The key for them is going to learn not to waste time and to just produce product and then test it in the market.I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. Any of the students who expect or want much help beyond the great atmosphere are in for a rude awakening.

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    It's a great post with a lot of information.
    I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated . I Believe effectively commercialize any product or service you need to have the active and engaged participation of private enterprise. Everyone has to just step in and Contribute to the sucess.

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    It's a great idea and I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated to work hard.

  • mdea

    I remember speaking to someone in this program and they seemed to think it was good. Obviously it is perhaps useful to have a backup to a business startup, with potential solid digital media and mobile technologies, as companies like RIM and countless other wireless and mobile providers really are bridging the post Laptop era of computer – obviously cybernetics and biotec as the emerging cyberpunk future of technology corporate employment and business.
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  • mdea

    I remember speaking to someone in this program and they seemed to think it was good. Obviously it is perhaps useful to have a backup to a business startup, with potential solid digital media and mobile technologies, as companies like RIM and countless other wireless and mobile providers really are bridging the post Laptop era of computer – obviously cybernetics and biotec as the emerging cyberpunk future of technology corporate employment and business.
    masini de inchiriat

  • alexandrabucuresti

    It's a great idea and I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help.
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    I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. cheers

  • http://www.theaffordablehome.com/ vessel sink

    I think in the case of the VeloCity residence, the students have to be self motivated and should not assume that they will get much material outside help. cheers

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  • http://www.auto-rent.ro Rent a Car

    It’s nice to see the University step in and take a shot at it with VeloCity but while the premise is nice, there are a lot of vagaries surrounding the entire implementation and execution with such a project which have already been touched on above. (lack of laser focus, large student body size, ownership/IP issues IP, funding complexity, commercialization support or lack thereof, project imperative drivers, team provisioning/bonding problems etc)

  • http://www.auto-rent.ro Rent a Car

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university

  • http://www.auto-rent.ro Rent a Car

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university

  • http://www.auto-rent.ro Rent a Car

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university

  • http://www.auto-rent.ro Rent a Car

    I look at Waterloo and I see immense opportunity. It’s always troubled me somewhat that in all these years, the only real point of pride we keep harking back on from the tricities area is RIM. Is that all Waterloo can churn out in 15 years? For the most part, the brightest and best graduates get swallowed whole by Google, Microsoft, RIM because they know an Engineering/CompSci/Math degree at UW is a free ticket to stability for the life cycle of their careers. Either that or they get into academia or sojourn down south or back to Asia/Europe to complete their masters/doctorate programs and go on to find success elsewhere. They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university

  • http://www.inchirieri-masini-bucuresti.ro Inchirieri Masini

    They’ve never deviated from this path because no one has ever fostered that community and everything it entails (mentoring, kinship, experience, hands-on operational approach) while students are still at university

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    This has nothing to do with not having a Silicon Valley equivalent, and there is no simple solution like “start a Y-Combinator Canada”, instead we are going to need to do a lot of trial-and-error experiments before we start to get an idea of how to really get to the heart of the issue. So, any time I see someone stepping up to try their hand at it, I get excited.

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