MONCTON – It was a small trip that left a big impression.
Last Monday a group of executives from Medavie Blue Cross, TSI, National Bank, Deloitte, T4G, Propel ICT, Venn Centre and 3+ Corporation went on a one-day trip to Canada’s startup capital, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.
“Albeit a quick trip, we got to see how it works when a region decides to combine its efforts and assets to create an environment where small, medium, and large organizations work together with post secondary education and focused support from the public sector,” said Roddy Awad, with TSI, who helped organize the trip.
The day started with a tour of the Communitech Hub (a +50,000 square feet reclaimed factory building in downtown Kitchener) and its programs. They then focused on corporate innovation and the innovation labs within Communitech, meeting with the Lab Leads for TD, Manulife, Deloitte and Canon.
For Awad, the best part of the trip was seeing the impact of business people from across different sectors working together.
“The highlight for me was to share with the rest of the group what it looks like when everyone works together to achieve value for their region,” he said. “You can tell when you walk into the building, there’s something different about Communitech, where they blend innovation, technology, art and people into this bustling ecosystem.”
Big companies have realized that they need to move with the agility of startups to find or develop new technology and approaches. That can mean identifying startups to partner with, or creating new solutions in-house.
Corporate innovation can also help with recruiting good talent. Having a focus on innovation makes larger companies much more appealing to top talent.
“Two years ago, no one would be excited to come out of school and work for Canadian Tire,” Awad said. “Now, with the opportunities that are taking place in their lab where they get to work on projects from a consumer/outside-in perspective, students are sending resumes by the hundreds now.”
Corporate innovation also helps with employee culture and engagement as well as rapid prototyping of products or services.
“We heard very cool stories where these labs have taken a business problem and come up with a customer focused solution within four to 12 weeks,” Awad said.
Doug Robertson, president and CEO of Moncton’s Venn Centre was also on the trip. Venn has a long standing relationship with Communitech spanning seven years. Venn is the New Brunswick hub in the Canadian Digital Media Network (CDMN), a national centres of excellence program run by Communitech.
Following Communitech’s lead , Venn recently launched Atlantic Canada’s first corporate innovation program called V-Lab.
“This trip was an excellent opportunity to introduce a number of innovation and industry leaders to the concept of a corporate innovation program and see firsthand a successful model being delivered by Communitech,” Robertson said.
He said he was pleased how delegates on the trip were receptive to the model.
“The highlight was the way the group absorbed the whole thing, from our discussions with Craig Haney and Peter Gould who manage the corporate innovation program, to our meetings with the corporate team leads with several of the companies in the program,” Robertson said. “Lots of great questions and discussion, and appreciation for the value of this approach to corporate innovation and the need to champion and promote it back home.“
Bummed you couldn’t have been on this trip? You’re in luck. Awad said they’re planning the second trip in the near future. This time they will Las Vegas and San Francisco to visit companies like Zappos, Facebook, Singularity University and possibly Apple. If you’re interested, give him a shout.