3 Things We Learned From the Waterloo Innovation Summit

“Innovation isn’t an event. It’s a culture.” This was a theme of the 2016 Waterloo Innovation Summit, which we recently attended to hear from today’s top entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, writers, and marketers. After two days of fireside chats and keynote addresses, we’ve made a shortlist of lessons learned.

1. Simplicity is the key to innovation.

Day 1 of #WINS16 kicked off with a keynote address from entrepreneur and tech leader, Emma Sinclair. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s what you need to know about Emma:

  • Since the age of four, she’s been checking the Financial Times
  • At 29, she was the youngest person to IPO a business in the UK
  • She’s been described as the tech leader who will one day run the universe

Emma first entertained the crowd with anecdotes from her university days, including stories about how she traded stock with her student loans, and then dove into the lessons she’s learned along the way. A key takeaway from Emma was around the idea of simplicity and accessibility.

According to Emma:

  • “Success comes from dedication, the willingness to learn and having the right attitude.”
  • “Nothing should be so complex that you can’t get to the bottom of it.”
  • “The world is so utterly accessible. Read a book, do your homework: the answer is out there.”

2. Beauty matters.

Writer and journalist, Walter Isaacson, treated attendees to a lively talk about the intersection of art and science. He believes that imagination is more important than knowledge, and in his address, he explained how soon, “machines will be able to code better than we can. That’s when our imagination can come in handy.”

“When it comes to turning ideas into reality, people need to do more than just think outside of the box: we need to get rid of the box all together.”

As innovators, we cannot be “without collaboration, passion and humility.”

We need to understand that beauty matters. When building a product, or even building on an idea, it’s important to pay attention to the parts that go unseen.

3. You’re in the people business first.

One of the last presentations was an address called Six Ways to Unleash Disruptive Innovation by brand consultant, Scott Bedbury. In just short amount of time, the audience learned about Scott’s time with Starbucks and Nike, and how he grew these brands to be more than just a product or logo. Through intertwining functionality with storytelling and human emotions, Scott ultimately created brands with meaning.

“Take the essence of the brand, present it in the most powerful way possible, and spread it.”

When it comes to the power of brand, it’s all about people. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the shoe business or the coffee business — what matters is how you make a difference in the lives of your customers. For Starbucks, that meant being the Third Place (Home, Work, Starbucks). The company, and each individual who was part of it, focused on serving the emotional and intangible needs of the customer, rather than just a drink. By putting the customer experience first, Starbucks became more than just a product and more than just a name — it became a culture.