Disrupted — The Digital Shift

Tech Manitoba
Tech Manitoba Insights
6 min readMar 26, 2021


Attending Disrupted in 2021. By guest contributor, Amanda Emms

Last year’s Disrupted marked our shift toward a post COVID-19 world — even if we didn’t know it yet. As we roll into Tech Manitoba’s sixth year of leading conferences we’ve adjusted to connecting virtually. It’s not the same, but if anyone can deliver an online event to unite and inspire our tech community — it’s the Tech Manitoba team.

To align with the times, Tech Manitoba went digital and split Disrupted 2021 into a three-part series. Powered by RBC, this year’s first session took Thursday, February 25 and focused on Resiliency + Recovery. With the future so undetermined, it was an exciting opportunity to listen to industry professionals who’ve come out of the last year with nuggets of wisdom and good decisions.

Perks of the digital era

The virtual platform Remo helped make this year’s Disrupted immersive. Tech Manitoba has a great community and it’s always a highlight to connect with an old colleague or talk to that industry professional you wanted to meet. Time was made before and after the program so you could move freely on the platform and chat with other attendees via video.

Tech Manitoba paired with SkipTheDishes to surprise attendees with promo codes for a free breakfast the morning of the conference. Ordering potato pancakes through an app and tweeting with the #Disrupted was a nice way to ease into virtual event mode.

Hosts Anthony Sannie and Julia Lafreniere brought warmth and grounded Disrupted’s first 2021 session. Standing on their socially distanced markers, they encouraged attendees to look away from their phones, stop checking emails, and just be present.

Attuning to weak signals and making it count

Keynote speaker Rita McGrath shared compelling solutions for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Rita is known as a premier expert on leading innovation and growth during times of uncertainty. She is also a best-selling author and long-time professor at Columbia Business School.

Rita says the pandemic has lowered entry barriers making it actually a terrific time to be in business. She urged attendees to tune into blind spots and look for social indicators as sources of opportunity.

A couple of takeaways from Rita McGrath’s keynote address:

  • The old success recipes can create blind spots. If you are a start-up that’s where your opportunities are.
  • Sitting in your corporate quarters is not going to reveal much about your customer. Pay attention to people going about their daily business. Who are the influencers and what do these networks look like? Draw inspiration from the virtual communities around you.

Coffee with Strangers

Tech Manitoba turned the crowd pleaser Coffee with Strangers virtual so attendees could still engage in thoughtful conversations. There were two opportunities to join the online roundtable discussions and over 20 topics to pick from. Themes included skills for the future, workplace culture, and economic recovery.

RBC Future Launch: Pathways to success for diverse and BIPOC youth into tech careers

Noah Aiken-Klar represented RBC and moderated two breakout sessions. He told his first group “We want to bring down the historic barriers and be a more resilient sustainable company.”

  • RBC hosts a 100-person hack-a-thon every year for young women in grades 8–12.
  • Is high school is too late to start taking tech classes? The first breakout group discussed education timelines and the impacts on students.
  • Supporting Indigenous programming and access to technology for youth in remote communities were amongst issues important to participants.

ourCIO: IT Risk and Cybersecurity

Kent Smith, from ourCIO led the cybersecurity sessions. Regarding demand, Kent told his second group “Security is baked into every component of the workforce. So, there is a huge gap and lots of jobs.”

  • Hackers often start with social engineering tactics to get access to organizations’ systems.
  • Risks and vulnerabilities are ever-increasing, regardless of size and market. Plan for the inevitable.
  • Best corporate practices include good organizational hygiene, adopting a zero-trust model, and never blankly click on a URL email. Education and training are key to prevention.

Tech Recovery in Canada: Start Canada Podcast LIVE

Start Canada Podcast Margaux Miller zoned in on recovery with tech leaders Mai Mavinkurve, Peter Hutchinson, and Katherine Regnier. The entrepreneurs drew on their collective experience and talked about how they lead their businesses through the pandemic. The panel doubled as a live taping for the prairie-focused tech podcast.

Mai Mavinkurve
Mai started in applied AI and now helps companies leverage data assets in a meaningful way as the COO and Co-Founder of Sightline Innovation.

Apply this: Mai says risk aversion and a fear of being outside your comfort zone have slowed the move to digital transformation. Covid-19 has slammed the adoption cycle.

“The tech product we offer is about enabling the use of data. Customers, enterprises, etc. they need to know how to adapt their data around their business and leverage their data assets to quantify and create evidence-based solutions.In the past, we’ve seen pivoting as a failure. But what we’re seeing is pivoting as being so integral to success. It’s almost as if you can’t be in technology if you oppose change.”

Peter Hutchinson
In 2020, Peter became founder and CEO of Kaput Inc. He made roadside assistance less stressful by developing an app that streamlines services and charges drivers when they need it — not when they don’t. With less drivers on the road in 2020, Peter was faced with pivoting his business.

“Pivoting for us is just putting aside our personal feelings and ego”, says Peter “Customers are our focal point and I think that’s expanded to the employees as well. Making sure they are satisfied.”

On working virtually: The transition to working online with employees has made things easier for Peter. He says people are more comfortable and he can help them get in a good place.

Katherine Regnier
Katherine used a $5,000 loan to pursue her dream of modernizing how banks and credit unions engage. In 2018, she raised $4.9M and expanded her team to over 50 people as the CEO and Founder of Coconut Software.

Navigating the pandemic:

  • Focus on call volume and managing customer experience.
  • Look at internal and public values and make sure they were aligned.
  • During layoffs, one of Katherine’s mentors told her to focus just as much on the people who were staying.

“The best leader steps aside and helps remove obstacles for their team,” says Katherine “The secret sauce on being able to pivot is clear communication and why are we doing this.”

Closing: Resiliency Reflections with Jessica Dumas

Jessica Dumas specializes in professional speaking, coaching, and Indigenous awareness training. She asked attendees to share their Disrupted experience through live polls and there was a common thread of positivity and renewal. As a final note, Jessica looked through our screens and said, “Now more than ever is a good time to take risks.”

Disrupted 2021’s part two and three series take place May 20th and October 21st. Tech Manitoba will focus on the themes Cybersecurity and Equity + Inclusivity. You can enjoy both series at a bundled rate or purchase single tickets here.

Written by guest contributor, Amanda Emms