The global pandemic is accelerating the pace of social and technological change, a dynamic that is serving as a “great equalizer” for innovators and entrepreneurs.

Among many of the technological disruptions advanced by the outbreak, working and conducting business remotely is knocking down traditional barriers, leaders from the worlds of entrepreneurship and academia say.

Randall Lane, Forbes CCO and editor, facilitated the panel discussion on how talent and innovation collide in the race to reset today's workforce and rebuild economies.

Companies can hire from a pool of talent as large as the world, gain access to capital and audiences across regional borders, and connect more directly with customers.

Speaking to an audience of business and government leaders at a Waterloo summit exploring innovation and entrepreneurship in the face of a pandemic, Eric Migicovsky, founder of smartwatch pioneer Pebble, said the expedited move to digital working environments will eliminate the geographic constraints that investors once faced.

“It’s much more about the idea, the founders, and the traction that they have.”

Migicovsky, a University of Waterloo graduate and partner at the Y-Combinator accelerator in High View, California, said he has invested in about 70 companies in the last three months, and doesn’t know where a lot of them are based.

“This moment is somewhat of a great equalizer,” he said. “Everyone is the same when they’re in a tiny box on the screen.”

Harleen Kaur, co-founder and chief executive of media startup Ground News, said her company is better able to build diversity by hiring around the world. Talent that might have otherwise been employed by companies in Bangladesh or Saudi Arabia are now casting wider nets.

“That is a great opportunity to be able to level the playing field,” said Kaur, a former NASA engineer and the first female vice-president at Rolls-Royce.

Kaur said even the uncertainty caused by the pandemic puts big and small companies on equal footing. With the outbreak of COVID-19 causing anxiety over the direction and health of the global economy, bigger companies are now in the same boat as startups and scaleups. “If anything, we are capable of adapting and moving faster than big companies are.”

The pandemic has also inspired a wave of entrepreneurs coming from more varied backgrounds and fields of study. Adrien Côté, executive director of Velocity, the University of Waterloo’s signature incubator, said he is seeing a greater degree of participation from students coming from fields beyond the more typical spaces of engineering and science.

“Everyone is affected by the pandemic, so we are seeing more people coming to our incubator with different kinds of experience and expertise trying to improve the quality of life around the world,” Côté said. “The desire to make an impact is really strong right now.”

The most recent Waterloo Innovation Summit was the second in a two-part virtual summit series bringing together provocative thought-leaders and successful entrepreneurs to spark debate and ignite ideas on what it will take to thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Charmaine Dean, Vice-President of Research and International at the University of Waterloo, said it’s important for industry, academia and government to seize this moment, and to support the innovators and entrepreneurs who will drive positive change.

“As a Canadian innovation leader and partner driving economic innovation and prosperity, we tackle together with our partners the challenges facing our world.”