This past week, Communitech and the University of Waterloo co-hosted 300 people from around the world at the Waterloo Innovation Summit. This gathering highlights the opportunities that result when leaders from business, academia, and government get together around a common theme. This year, the summit and its 43 speakers focused on the innovation imperative in an age of slow economic growth around the world.

Attendees had a chance to learn a tremendous amount from the world-class speaker list. The summit opened with Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains. He spoke about the importance of the federal government’s upcoming Innovation Agenda to the country’s future performance.

Highlighting the key issues of talent and education, Bains spoke about making it easier to attract the best and the brightest from other parts of the world who look to Canada as a leader.  Finally, he spoke about how it is Canada’s time to shine on the world stage.

Build great companies. Hire amazing talent. Attract capital. Do it here in Canada.

Steve Jobs’ biographer Water Isaacson, and serial entrepreneur Emma Sinclair of the U.K., gave our corporate innovators – the other nimble hippos in the audience – some key take-aways about scaling innovation; about talent and putting the right people in places to succeed; and about telling a great story. People can create movements when the story is inspiring, and we, as corporate Canada, need to tell a more inspiring story around innovation and global opportunities.

Afternoon workshops focused on women in innovation and technical roles, and how we can improve the diversity of talent throughout our most innovative organizations. We heard about managing disruption in industries facing rapid changes at scale, and about how corporate venture capital is an untapped resource in Canada that we need to figure out how to deploy for Canadian startups.

Day 2 was full of inspiring storytellers and messages from those who have been at the front lines of some of our biggest corporate successes.

Branding guru Scott Bedbury talked about his role in building brands like Starbucks and Nike, and how allowing your employees to experiment is key to scaling a brand. John Manley, CEO of the Business Council of Canada and a former deputy prime minister, talked about the role of policy in attracting and retaining talent. Punit Soni, formerly of Google and Motorola, advocated for creativity on the digital front for innovation to be meaningful.

An amazing panel spoke about the growth imperative, and how we can’t just start companies; we need to focus from Day 1 on how to scale them.

Power Corporation Vice-President Paul Desmarais III and Wealthsimple CEO Mike Katchen highlighted the importance of unique partnerships between large corporate disruptees and the startups disrupting them. These partnerships can happen in Canada, and need to.

Finally, the day ended with an inspiring conversation between host Amanda Lang and Chamath Palihapitiya – a University of Waterloo grad and former senior Facebook executive who is now CEO of Social Capital – about how important it is to add a social conscience to the investment strategies of our largest companies and investors.

Palihapitiya is on a mission to fundamentally change the world for good, and few in the audience would bet against him after his talk with Lang wrapped up.

What did the Nimble Hippo learn from all of these workshops, keynote speakers, and fireside chats? Here are some lessons we can apply as innovative corporations:

  • Big corporations need to look inside themselves and mobilize the creative talent within their ranks. Inspire them to challenge status quo and do better, and differently than was previously done.
  • The technology ecosystem is a vital resource to take advantage of, and for Canada, it’s easy to find the right startups to partner with. Start investing, collaborating and being customers of the startups disrupting your own business model.
  • Tell a great story. Storytelling is an undervalued skill in big companies, and the power of a story to inspire can motivate all those untapped resources inside your organization.  Spend some time listening to Walter Isaacson and it’s difficult to come away without a renewed passion.
  • It’s Canada’s time. We are a country built on immigration, and with all the turmoil happening in other parts of the world, we can take advantage of our stability and reputation. We need to look globally for the best talent, but also to take our best companies global to share the amazing technology and people we have created.  Canada’s largest companies can lead that charge.

Look for a number of new Nimble Hippo Radio podcasts over the coming weeks and months, featuring conversations we had with many summit speakers. It’s an exciting time for the innovators in our largest companies, and the Waterloo Innovation Summit showed us a path forward that everyone can get on.

The Nimble Hippo looks at how large organizations can build innovative cultures and disruptive strategies by taking the best lessons from startup ecosystems and applying them in a big-company context.

About The Author

Craig Haney
Director, Corporate Innovation, Communitech

Craig is leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the LeanLab project at Communitech, helping large, non-tech companies become faster and more innovative by engaging with startups. As Director of Corporate Innovation at Communitech, his focus is to grow the ecosystem by exposing small companies to big problems they can solve for some of Canada’s largest players. Craig has an undergraduate degree from the University of Western Ontario and a Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship, and Technonogy (MBET) from the University of Waterloo.