Steve Blank
Photo: Steve Blank by Anthony Reinhart.

Steve Blank’s bold challenge

Does Waterloo Region want to be a global magnet for top tech entrepreneurs, or a farm team for Silicon Valley? Of the many questions raised during the Waterloo Innovation Summit Sept. 16-18, that one held particular resonance for local attendees. It was posed by Steve Blank – the serial entrepreneur, professor and Silicon Valley ‘godfather’ behind the Lean Startup movement – who was nonetheless impressed with the Waterloo ecosystem during his visit during the summit. Blank also toured the Communitech Hub and Velocity Garage, gave an interview to the CBC’s Amanda Lang and judged pitches at the Communitech Rev Centre Stage event, which marked the graduation of the sales accelerator’s first cohort of startups. In a one-on-one interview with Communitech News, Blank elaborated on his impressions and zeroed in on the need to bring more risk capital to this region.

Waterloo Innovation Summit

Of course, the summit wasn’t just about Steve Blank. The sold-out event, which drew 250 to the University of Waterloo and Communitech, served up a series of rich discussions around what drives great innovation ecosystems, which countries around the world are working hard to build. From the importance of making big bets on science, to what top investors look for in tech companies, to tips for emerging ecosystems, to the role of government in building them, the summit left attendees with much to think about.

BlackBerry

The summit also featured an at-times-entertaining fireside chat with John Chen, the spirited BlackBerry CEO who continues to work to turn the smartphone pioneer’s fortunes around. Chen pointed to the company’s deep patent portfolio as key to these efforts.

As if to underscore the challenge facing the Waterloo company, reports of further significant job cuts over the summer surfaced in September, along with an earnings report that fell short of expectations. BlackBerry also confirmed the impending release of a new slider handset, called Priv, to run on the Android operating system.

Earlier in the month, BlackBerry announced it had acquired Good Technology, a mobile device management company, for $425 million in cash, thus doubling down on BlackBerry’s core strength – serving security-conscious enterprise customers.

Shopify

In an illustration of how difficult it can be to keep good news under wraps, Reuters Canada spilled the beans that Ottawa-based e-retail powerhouse Shopify will significantly expand its Waterloo Region operations, with a focus on its enterprise offering, Shopify Plus. The company, whose market cap has more than doubled, to $2.8 billion, since its IPO in May, confirmed its plans to expand and occupy the former Seagram Museum/CIGI building, when CEO Tobi Lütke visited the region Oct. 1. We’ll have more on Shopify’s plan for Waterloo Region in our October roundup.

Venture capital

As Steve Blank told Rick Spence of the Financial Post last month, “Entrepreneurship without financing is like one hand clapping.” With that in mind, the C100, Communitech, OneEleven, MaRS and the Ontario government co-hosted Venture North, a two-day conference that coincided with the Toronto International Film Festival, where 25 VCs were introduced to Canadian companies.

Hack the North

All great tech companies start with problems that need solving, and people with the skills, creativity and chutzpah to take them on. Enter Hack the North, Canada’s largest student hackathon, which held its second annual event at the University of Waterloo. With 1,000 hackers chosen from among 4,600 applicants, the event again drew participants from around the world, along with an impressive roster of judges, sponsors and mentors, including Pebble CEO and Waterloo alum Eric Migicovsky. Among the participants were 13-year-old Soroush Ghodsi of Waterloo, profiled in this piece on The Next Web.

Corporate innovation

Few things whet a developer’s appetite more than vast stores of interesting data. That’s exactly what Thomson Reuters, the Canadian-founded multinational media and information firm, will bring to its new data innovation space in the Communitech Hub when it opens in mid-October.

Thomson Reuters is the latest major corporation to dock with the Waterloo Region startup ecosystem, as companies seek ways to think more iteratively, move more nimbly and derive fresh value from their assets. TD Bank Group, another Communitech innovation partner, is among an array of Canadian financial institutions investing in these efforts, the Globe and Mail’s David Berman reports. TD is also expanding its innovation-focused Waterloo operations with a new 120-employee office.

In other news 

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About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy
Google+

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.