At the Blakes Innovation Forum recently held at MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, leading entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, legal experts and business leaders came together to discuss how to bring innovation into the workplace. Here are their suggestions:
1) Adapt to Change
Dean Tseretopoulos, associate vice-president of utility capabilities and digital channels at TD Bank Group, said in order to keep up with our rapidly changing world, companies need to adapt for the short term.
“The solution that’s available to you right now is probably going to be irrelevant in three years,” he said. “Either the problem that you’re trying to solve is not going to be there anymore or the technology is going to be completely obsolete and replaced.” As a result, Tseretopoulos suggested thinking about what is possible for your business to achieve in two to three years from now rather than developing five-year business cases.
Dan Sinai, senior executive of innovation at IBM Canada, said IBM has constantly evolved over the years — IBM will be 100 years old this year — in order to stay relevant.
“The biggest challenge we have ahead of us is moving from a large B2B IT company where all of the Fortune 500 companies are our startups, to this ecosystem where we’re starting to work with the startups and the scale-ups,” he said.
2) Collaborate with Others
Rebecca Yu, head of JLABS @ Toronto at Johnson & Johnson, said the key to innovation is to collaborate with others and put resources at the heart of it. In 2016, JLABS launched its first international site in Toronto to be in the life sciences hub where they are working with startups to help build a larger ecosystem.
“The next step is to be able to find a cure for cancer, or to slow down Alzheimer’s or ultimately have a cure for Alzheimer’s, but as big as we are — and as the largest health-care company in the world — we can’t do it alone and we recognize that,” said Yu. “We need to be able to work with our competitors, collaborate with academic groups, reach outside and put people where innovation is.”
3) Stay Focused
It is important to focus on the end goal, especially in a partnership or collaboration, said Yu, and ignore the noise around you. “Just be solutions-oriented,” she suggested.
Every company can add value in significant ways, said Sinai. “In a lot of cases, [IBM has] been able to change because we’ve been very focused on what value we can add to those startup companies,” he said.
He recommended that companies identify a demand and focus on what they can offer to solve the problem. “Know what your value is and don’t try to be everything to everybody,” he said.
4) Resist the Naysayers
“Don’t ask for permission to be innovative,” said Aron Solomon, co-founder of LegalX, the legal technology cluster at MaRS. “When you ask for permission to be innovative, the answer is generally going to be ‘no.’”
There are many opportunities that you can create for yourselves and your businesses, he added.
5) Look to the Future
Jim Orlando, managing director at OMERS Ventures, advised entrepreneurs to watch for macro trends, referencing home Internet service and the iPhone’s touchscreen keyboard as examples.
“The ideal market for a startup to go after is a market that doesn’t exist today: one that is zero billion dollars, and in five years will be a couple billion dollars. But if it’s not zero today that means someone else is doing it,” he said.
Orlando also told investors to look at the bigger waves and try not to get lost in the smaller details of a deal.