IRIS: Winning LiONS LAIR and Beyond

Emil Sylvester Ramos (centre) poses with LiONS Stuart Wheldon (left) and Karen Grant (right) at the 9th Annual LiONS LAIR Awards Gala.

When Emil Sylvester Ramos immigrated to Canada two years ago, he thought potholes and poorly maintained roads would be a thing of the past.  “I had this image in my mind that the roads in Canada would be so clean and smooth,” said Ramos. “Can you imagine my surprise when I arrived?” 

Ramos’ former job took him up-and-down the roads of Hamilton and other cities.  It gave him plenty first-hand experience with the road conditions and inspired him to find a better way to maintain them.  Along with co-founder David Keaney, Ramos formed IRIS R&D Group, a privacy-centric smart cities company focused on finding innovative solutions.

“Privacy has always been our key focus as a smart cities solution company,” says David Keaney. “In all our vision-based machine learning models, a privacy-centric approach is our modus operandi.”

The iPort, a dash cam integrated with artificial intelligence and deep learning to detect road deficiencies, is one of IRIS’ innovative solutions .  The iPort can be mounted on existing city assets such as buses or trucks, allowing it to collect data that help cities prioritize work and cutting down manual maintenance patrolling costs by two-thirds.  For cities in Canada alone, IRIS estimates a savings of over $100 million; in the whole of North America, that estimate is over $1 billion.

The potential application of IRIS’ iPort technology has people excited, and when IRIS took home the grand prize of $35,000 at the 2019 LiONS LAIR competition, it came as no surprise.

“When we were deciding who would take home this year’s prizes, we analyzed some specific considerations,” said Karen Grant, Executive Director of the Angel One Investors Network – A founding Member of Equation Angels. “We were looking for something that was really innovative, and also considered which teams were building a sustainable business.  Top marks were given to companies that had a good understanding of their market, their customers and had obviously done their research.”  

In the end, IRIS checked all of those boxes.

Winning LiONS LAIR is just the beginning for this hardworking team as they see the immediate positive impact from the competition on their business.  “The validation of winning LiONS LAIR has really shown us that what we’re trying to accomplish at IRIS is important to Hamilton and Canada,” says Ramos.  With their goal of creating safer and smarter cities for all Canadians, IRIS looks to become the go-to partner for cities in data collection down the road.  For now, however, they’re mostly focused on the day-to-day, making sure they remain customer-centric, ready to address issues, and to build small successes into big wins.  “We have a long journey ahead of us and we’re looking to Innovation Factory and CITM for their continued support.”

When asked what advice he could share for budding entrepreneurs, Ramos had a good laugh. “I heard someone say that the word ‘entrepreneur’ is just a better word for ‘crazy’.  But right now is the right time for exponential change. If you have an idea, start doing something today. Get out there and change the world.” 

Written by: Kim Zarzuela

IRIS R&D Group is the grand prize winner of the 2019 LiONS LAIR competition.  Since working with Innovation Factory and CITM, IRIS has added four people to their team and are continuing to expand.  IRIS enables safer, smarter and more resilient cities through artificial intelligence and deep learning innovation. Learn more about IRIS at

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