Problem Lab aims to change culture at Waterloo
By Claire Mastrangelo.
A new program at the University of Waterloo is changing how entrepreneurial students think about business.
Helmed by economics professor Larry Smith, the Problem Lab is dedicated to the identification and analysis of important problems — those that, when solved, can lead to revolutionary advances in industry.
With $300,000 in seed funding from Mike Lazaridis and Doug Fregin, the principals of Quantum Valley Investments® and founders of BlackBerry, the Problem Lab supports students in the critical first stage of entrepreneurial development.
“Everyone tells students they need to solve a customer problem,” says Smith. “We say, ‘No you don’t. You need to solve an important problem.’ ”
Smith first conceived of the Lab in 2013, when he co-authored a report on existing programs for entrepreneurial students. Because he had decades of experience helping students launch their enterprises, the University had asked him to lead the research project.
“It was the one thing that seduced me out of the classroom,” says Smith. “We looked at what was going on in the world and discovered very interesting things.”
When he and his team examined the programs at Canadian and international institutions, they consistently found that something was missing.
“All of these services try to help students launch their enterprise, with almost no help figuring out what problem they’re trying to solve — which of course is the heart of the matter,” Smith says.
He explains that entrepreneurs who don’t spend enough time on problem identification run a greater risk of failure. Either they solve a problem that customers don’t care enough about, or they misunderstand the problem entirely. As a result, their venture never takes off — or worse, the entrepreneur struggles for years to keep their business alive before finally giving up. It’s a painful experience, and one that Smith wants to prevent as much as possible.
“The Problem Lab wants to create a culture on campus in which thoughtful problem definition becomes the norm,” he says. He sees it as a first step that will lead students to the programs that can help them launch their venture.
One part of this process is the Quantum Valley Investments Problem Pitch Competition, which is funded by the gift from Lazaridis and Fregin. Designed to complement the Velocity Pitch Competition, the Problem Pitch invites students to present an important industry problem and explore its history, scope, and impact. The winners receive funding to move into R&D and start working on a solution.
“We believe that the Problem Lab and the Quantum Valley Investments Problem Pitch Competition will encourage students to focus on fully understanding a problem before venturing to solve it, and will lead to better ideas and strategies for new businesses,” says Lazaridis. “We expect the program to grow over time and play an important role in the University’s, the region’s, and Canada’s innovation ecosystem.”
In addition to hosting the competitions, the Problem Lab will collaborate with some of the University’s corporate partners and Waterloo’s co-op program to address pressing industry challenges.
“Philosophers insist that you get the question right; otherwise you’re doomed never to figure out the answer,” says Smith. “This is not some minor innovation Waterloo’s trying to create. This is both radical and audacious.”
For details on the Problem Lab and the Quantum Valley Investments Problem Pitch Competition, visit uwaterloo.ca/problem-lab.
Heather Moyse competing in fourth Olympic games
by Dan Ackerman. A version of this article appeared on Waterloo Stories.
Inspiring, courageous, and quite possible one of the strongest and most passionate Warriors ever to have donned the black and gold, Heather Moyse is making her return to the Winter Olympics, her fourth games.
On September 11, 2017, Heather Moyse announced on her Facebook page that she was making a return to the sport of bobsleigh and pushing towards a third Olympic gold medal. That's correct, Moyse has won two gold medals on the biggest stage, one in Sochi in 2014 and her first in 2010 on home soil in Vancouver.
Fast-forward four months to January 24, 2018, after an incredibly rigorous and determined training regimen, Moyse announced she was returning to the Olympic Games to represent Canada for the fourth time. The comeback was complete. Moyse will head to Peyongchang as the brakeman for Alysia Rissling.
In between all of her training to reach Peyongchang? Just a casual launch of her book 'Redefining Realistic' that went on shelves in December of 2017.
The book in her own words is about "human potential and about helping you achieve the goals that are important to you, whether they are in sport, life, or business."
If you have ever had the privilege of hearing Moyse speak you can hear it in her voice and see it in the room, she truly believes we all have the potential to reach our goals one way or another. Just ask those who have attended the annual President's Golf Tournament and listened to her speak. You can hear a pin drop when she delivers her message and everyone leaves the room inspired to be better.
That is why Moyse is making her fourth trip to the Olympics Games. She is always pushing her limits to reach her goals.
"As a former Warrior, Heather is an inspiration to our present and future student-athletes," said director of athletics and recreation Roly Webster. "Being able to represent Canada on the world stage is no small feat, and to do so four times at the Olympic Games is a testament to her hard work and an incredible accomplishment. We wish Heather all the best in South Korea."
Moyse had hip surgery before and after the Sochi games and had to modify the way she trained but persevered and met her goal.
In her Warriors varsity career, she definitely proved that she had the potential to be a world-class athlete; winning OUA silver and U SPORTS bronze medals in rugby, 10 OUA medals and two U SPORTS bronze medals in track, and was named a two time All-Canadian in rugby.
Moyse is the most decorated Warriors alumni and ready to add to her gold medal tally as competition gets underway next week in South Korea.
She will certainly give it all she has and as perfectly summarized in her book will be living by her own words, "take a step toward the seemingly impossible and you may start to see how possible it really is."
The women's bobsleigh heats begin on Saturday, February 17.
A week for random acts of kindness
A message from Occupational Health.
February 11 to 17 is Random Act of Kindness (RAK) week. It is all too easy to be caught up in your daily routine, especially in the workplace where stress can take a toll on your wellbeing. This week, do something kind for your co-worker, your family, your friend, or a stranger! It can be as simple as sending someone an encouraging email, or texting to tell them that you appreciate them. On February 14, send a Treat-a-Gram to a co-worker to show them that you appreciate them! All proceeds support student wellness initiatives.
Some other ideas for acts of kindness you can do include: compliment someone; send a postcard; leave a generous tip; pay for someone else at the drive-thru; or donate used clothes. The Random Acts of Kindness Week website has even more ideas to inspire you to be kind this week.