In a world experiencing rapid technological advancement and frenzied shifts in the economic landscape, it’s imperative that creatives, innovators and industry leaders come together and address the pressing issues Canada and our world faces.

Elevate Festival 2023, an annual conference organized by Elevate, a Canadian non-profit organization, brought together entrepreneurs, visionaries, politicians, innovators and creatives at the crossroads of technology and the arts. The University of Waterloo had a notable presence at the conference with multiple alum sharing their expertise. Additionally, prominent members of the Waterloo entrepreneurial ecosystem, including Communitech and ApplyBoard, were also in attendance, showcasing the vibrant and collaborative spirit of the region's innovation community.

Held from September 26 to 28 in Toronto, Elevate provided a platform for experts to exchange ideas, explore emerging trends and envision a future where technology plays a pivotal role in addressing humanities most pressing challenges.

Ideas and themes

The conference revolved around several prominent themes, exemplifying the pressing issues and transformative trends shaping our societal future.

Alien heart AI

An AI powered 3D alien heart has a conversation with the speakers

1. AI and technology advancements: AI took centre stage at the conference, highlighting its pivotal role in shaping industries, from healthcare to finance and beyond. Attendees had the opportunity to delve deep into AI's capabilities, applications and ethical considerations — sparking important discussions on AI governance and legislation.

Tabatha Bull at Elevate

Tabatha Bull (BSc ’00) discusses the future of women in tech

2. Equity, diversity and inclusion: The conference emphasized the need for diverse perspectives in technology and innovation. Discussions explored strategies for fostering inclusivity in the tech sector and how diverse teams drive innovation. Elevate also announced their partnership with the Canadian Women’s Foundation, unveiling the Feminist Creator Prize aimed at supporting diverse feminist creators who initiate vital discussions on gender justice, equality, safety and freedom from harm, with the noteworthy involvement of Waterloo alum Kyne as one of the panel judges.

Laura Zizzo prestents

Laura Zizzo (BES ’04) talks about her startup, Manifest Climate

3. Climate change and sustainability: Elevate didn't shy away from addressing one of the most pressing challenges of our time — climate change. Speakers engaged in discussions with much optimism about how technology, including AI, can help develop rapid sustainable solutions and measure and mitigate environmental impact.

"Climate risk is a business risk that directly affects your bottom line. We developed software that helps customers understand, manage and communicate their climate risks and opportunities, no matter where they're in their climate journey," said Laura Zizzo, co-founder and CEO of Manifest Climate.

Helen Huang

Helen Huang (BSc ’17) gave a talk on breaking into product development

4. Entrepreneurship: Elevate emphasized entrepreneurship, providing a platform for innovators, entrepreneurs and aspiring founders to exchange ideas and insights on building and scaling successful businesses. Through engaging speaker sessions, pitch competitions and workshops, Elevate fostered an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging attendees to explore new ventures and innovative approaches to business growth.

Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield (DSc ’14) talks about how much the world has changed since the industrial revolution

5. Adaptability and resilience: In a rapidly changing world, adaptability and resilience are crucial. Speakers encouraged participants to embrace change, navigate challenges and build resilience in the face of uncertainty. The importance of leadership commitment in setting the organizational tone, effective communication for clarity and transparency, training and development programs, mental health support and fostering innovation to encourage adaptability and creativity was also highlighted across multiple presentations.

"Tech innovation is critical for us to sustainably support the 10 billion people who will inhabit the Earth in the years to come, ensuring not only the production of enough clean energy but also the provision of a high standard of living," stated Chris Hadfield, underlining the multifaceted challenges technology must address for a prosperous global future.

Amr Abdelgawad and Dr. Stephen Scherer

Amr Abdelgawad (BEng ’16, MBET ’17) and Dr. Stephen Scherer (BSc ’87, DSc ’17) discuss technology and innovation in healthcare

6. Tech for good: Multiple speakers and startups showcased initiatives that are using technology as a force for good. Beyond profits, technology can be a powerful catalyst for positive societal change. It can address issues such as access to healthcare, education, clean water and more while also helping with sustainability and fostering connection and collaboration.

"Healthcare equity is at the core of our company's mission," said Amr Abdelgawad, COO, of FluidAI Medical. "We are driven by our immigrant founders' experiences and the recognition that technology can play a pivotal role in ensuring everyone receives equitable healthcare, leveraging data to understand and address disparities in patient recovery based on factors like demographics and income."

Alum in attendance

  • Alroy Almeida (BASc ’13), director, Deep Tech, Velocity
    Talk: The importance of leveraging your ecosystem
  • Amr Abdelgawad (BEng ’16, MBET ’17), COO, FluidAI Medical
    Stephen Scherer (BSc ’87, DSc ’17), Chief of Research, SickKids
    Talk: Healing the future: How hospitals and startups can unite for innovation
  • Balinder Ahluwalia (MBET ’09), senior vice-president market development Canada, Mastercard
    Kate Karn (MA ’09), director, public policy, Mastercard Canada
    Talk: Community partnership as a force for good
  • Ali Asaria (BASc ’05), founder and CEO, Tulip
    Talk: 4-day work week for gender equality, true inclusion, and wellbeing
  • Tabatha Bull (BSc ’00), president and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business
    Talk: The future of women in tech
  • Chris Hadfield (DSc ’14), Elevate co-chair, Canadian retired astronaut, engineer, fighter pilot, musician, and writer
    Talk: Chris Hadfield at the speed of light
  • Kathy Hay (BA ’98), CEO, Kids Help Phone
    Talk: The future of Canada with Kids Help Phone, Elevate & MaRS
  • Helen Huang (BSc ’17), co-founder, Co.Lab
    Talk: Breaking into product
  • Kurtis McBride (BASc ’04, MASc ’07), CEO, Miovision
    Talk: Build, buy or partner? Strategies for smart scaling
  • Laura Zizzo (BES ’04), co-founder and CEO, Manifest Climate
    Talk: Sustainable strategies for climate transformation
  • Brandon Zhao (BASc ’09), partner, Two Small Fish Ventures
    Talk: Is it too late to ride the AI wave, or are there still untapped opportunities for savvy investors and enterprises?

One of the conference's takeaways was the role of human social connection and getting involved in innovation ecosystems in the journey of building ideas, scaling businesses and navigating the complexities of success and failure. Elevate provided an atmosphere for attendees to make meaningful connections, exchange ideas and explore opportunities for collaboration

Ontario and Canada's tech ecosystem stepped into the spotlight, demonstrating unwavering support for founders, innovators and individual contributors. These ecosystems provide an environment where startups can thrive, and established companies can innovate and adapt.

Elevate is a catalyst for ongoing innovation and progress. The conference inspired attendees to look beyond the horizon, embrace change and build a future that is driven by technology and fueled by creativity. The festival is a gateway to Canada's innovation frontier, and it has reaffirmed its commitment to driving progress, fostering inclusivity and pushing the boundaries of what's possible.