The midpoint of September is Innovation Week, a time for tech centres to gather, think, question and dream. From Tectoria and TechFest Vancouver to the Waterloo Innovation Summit and Elevate Toronto, the country was buzzing with ideas. Here's some of what we heard:
1. Survivor: It’s the Story of Every Entrepreneur
Vinod Khosla, the billionaire co-founder of Sun Microsystems, said those who want to build successful companies have to stick it out at all costs. It’s not about getting lucky; it’s about survival. “You only control three of the top ten things that determine if you’ll be successful as an entrepreneur,” he said. “For many entrepreneurs, what’s important is to stay alive long enough to get lucky.”
2. Preparing Society for the AI Revolution
Artificial intelligence may be one of the most disruptive economic forces we’ll see in our lifetimes, and the social dislocation will impact every business. Few economists see evidence of mass job loss because of AI — now or in the foreseeable future. But they agree it is about to profoundly change the nature of work, and therefore the value of work. Rather than unemployment, a key economic statistic to watch will be income disparity. Integrate.AI founder Steve Irvine said he’s not a believer in the AI Armageddon, but every employer and entrepreneur needs to understand the social impacts: “The people will rise up before the robots do.”
3. Focus on Talent, the Machines Can Take Care of Themselves
Work is three things: problem-solving, performing tasks, and using your skills. Gary Bolles, a San Francisco consultant and founder of SocialCapitalMarkets.net, believes AI will replace more tasks than jobs — and so the onus is on us to continue to change the nature of our jobs and continue to learn through our careers. Self-Inventory 101 is the number one class necessary for elementary schools kids to succeed in the future, Bolles said. Self-inventory enables youth to identify skills they have and those they need, promoting life-long learning and enabling career mobility in a fast-changing labour market.
4. When Disruption Goes to School
Elevate Toronto speakers Ananya Chadha, 15, and Gaurav Dogra, 14, have resumes most college graduates would be envious of. Chadha is already working on a team at Toronto’s SickKids hospital that edited the gene for muscular dystrophy out of mice. Dogra has founded two companies and is working on tough questions in virtual reality. But neither of them can find the courses in high school or university to satisfy their curiosity. “If we’re learning in school what you were learning in school, we have a problem,” Dogra said.
5. Will Cryptocurrency Be the Next Big Thing?
Ted Livingston has built one of Canada’s most successful tech companies on the back of social chat, the biggest platform of the past decade. He thinks the next frontier is cryptocurrency, and has launched Kin, his attempt to connect the world financially. He’s already raised more than $100 million from 17,000 people in 139 countries, yet Canada isn’t one of them. Despite our strong financial institutions and world-respected regulators, we’re too cautious when it comes to crypto, Livingston said. His proposal for Kin was rejected by the Ontario Securities Commission, one of the only regulators in the world to do so, he said.. “This is a problem for Canada: When someone starts to innovate, we say, “Ooo, there’s risk, shut it down.”
6. Cyber-Risk: An Existential Threat (and Opportunity) to Every Business
Hacking and data loss are a risk to every enterprise, not just the big names that make headlines. Melissa Hathaway, who was Barack Obama’s cyber adviser, says we’re on the brink of a new, and far more dangerous, age. At the Waterloo Innovation Summit, she recalled how the U.S. privatized its Global Positioning System in 2000, not appreciating how the mobile and cloud revolutions were about to open the floodgates to online attackers. She worries the coming Internet of Things revolution — think connected clothing — will take hacking to a frightening new place, and worries the world is not even talking about it. Hathaway thinks the best hope may lie with entrepreneurs trying to foil the dark hats. “We need to be talking about how the next generation of innovators can help us.”
7. How Canada Can Focus on Winning, Not Whining
Investor and entrepreneur Anthony Lacavera said Canada need to protect its interests and stop leaking economic value to foreign powers. That means investing in innovators, from better support for startups at the growth stage to building Canada’s brand as a leading country for innovation. Canadian modesty is our worst trap: we need to embrace competition, double down on winners, move up the value chain, spend to foster and retain talent, and commercialize our R&D. Entrepreneur Dan Debow said if we can build 10 AI companies the size of Shopify within 10 years, we’ll know we’ve won.
8. Diversity Becomes Canada’s Killer App
Canada’s open doors and open minds are such a rarity in today’s world that they’ve become a strategic asset. Razor Suleman, who returned to Toronto from Silicon Valley after selling his start-up, said Canada’s diversity and inclusion sets us apart at a time when America and parts of Europe seem headed in the opposite direction. AI pioneer Yoshua Bengio cited Canada’s open arms as a key selling point when he tries to lure the world’s best and brightest to Montreal. Jordan Jacobs, founder and CEO of AI startup Layer 6, said his company’s first 11 hires were born in different countries — an unintentional diversity marker that came from hiring the best people for the job.
9. A Sea-Change on Sexism
Actress Amanda Crew is known for her role as one of the handful of women on HBO’s male-dominated tech startup satire “Silicon Valley.” She says that her role on the show woke her up to the challenges of female founders and investors, and she’s now put her own money beyond women working in the Valley. A series of high-profile scandals, along with the broad reach of social media, have brought attention to the need for men and women to step up and call out sexism where they see it. There’s hope, she said: “This younger generation is growing up with this conversation so loud that they’re aware of it from the beginning.”
10. Innovation Without Purpose Is Not Innovation
J.B. Straubel, the co-founder and technical brains of Tesla, concluded the Waterloo Innovation Summit with a simple message to entrepreneurs: if you’re not passionate about what you’re building, drop it. At Tesla, he and Elon Musk are not out to build a car company. They’re out to save the planet. “Follow your passions and carefully choose what projects you want to pursue,” he said. Julie Hanna, the CEO of micro-lending sensation Kiva, gave a similar message to the Elevate crowd. Through a global digital network, Kiva has created $1 billion (US) in loans to help 2.5 million entrepreneurs — 83% of whom are women. “Technology is the most democratizing force in the history of human kind.”
As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. He is the author of three books and has a fourth underway.
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