President Hamdullahpur opens #WINS15

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Our third annual Waterloo Innovation Summit is officially underway.

On behalf of the University of Waterloo, our co-host Communitech, and our Summit operations team, welcome to Waterloo — Canada’s innovation capital.

These next two days we have a vital mission: to advance the innovation agenda. Its concept, its practice, and its ability to take root in communities around the world.

Innovation is the future. So we should get really good at it. You’re here because you are.

More specifically, what we need to accomplish in the next two days is develop a deeper understanding of what makes a successful innovation ecosystem.

Call it an ecosystem, call it a community, call it a cluster: what makes it possible and what makes it thrive?

How do we foster the right conditions — in our own ecosystems and around the world?

I suspect we’ve all got a take on that question. We’ll get into the answers as our agenda rolls on.

I look forward to your thoughts on those questions, and to the contributions of our keynotes and panelists.

We don’t need to wait for a panel to tell us one thing, though: we can have all the good ideas in the world, but if we don’t have a strong partnership with our government partners, our vision can never be fully realized.

We have in the room today a public leader who shares our unconventional, innovative mindset… who loves to challenge the status quo…. who shares our progressive vision for a smart, connected, collaborative economy….

We have with us a public leader who truly gets what Waterloo is trying to do, and is a valued friend and partner to our region…

… of course, I’m talking about the Honorable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of the Province of Ontario.

Premier, it means so much to us that you’ve made the time.

This morning Premier Wynne has sketched out some of her government’s innovation agenda. And she’s talked about why innovation and entrepreneurship are so essential to Ontario’s economic and social success.

I’d like to zoom in on those concepts: to the level of university, and community.

Because as I think you know, there’s a reason this Summit takes place here in the Waterloo region.

Innovation is an especially relevant topic in this community, as our own innovation ecosystem continues to rise as a global powerhouse.  

University of Waterloo’s motivation

My institution’s motivation in all this is clear.

The University of Waterloo is Canada’s premier innovation university, and we feel a special responsibility to make sure the concept of innovation is sustained in all its vitality. And that it never loses its meaning.

I know we’re joined in this commitment by our finest peer institutions world-wide: including the leaders of the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of Warwick, whom I’ll share a panel with this later morning.

Together, I believe that Canada’s universities can help chart path forward for Canada’s innovation economy.

In fact, with this university as a key piece of the narrative, the Waterloo region has been writing our story of innovation for centuries.

We have found, and I believe, that industries and companies can change over time: but if an economy is rooted in a true innovation ecosystem, it can adapt and thrive because of challenge and change. Not in spite of them.

Buttons, BlackBerry and beyond

The Waterloo region has given rise to many market leaders over the centuries and decades.

From buttons to leather tanning; from spirits distillery to tire manufacturing.

These industry leadership positions have come and gone, or at least changed; and with every experience, this community grows stronger.

From advanced manufacturing to mobile communications to quantum information science.

As a result, we boast more than 1,000 innovative companies in our region and a critical mass of leading-edge research facilities. They did not happen by accident.

Many have developed through partnership with the University of Waterloo and the community as a whole.

Truly innovative economies are ‘anti-fragile’, in the words of Nassim Taleb.

They don’t just remain resilient in the face of change. They thrive on it. They are made stronger by it.

That’s the kind of innovation economy we have in the Waterloo region.

And that’s the kind of innovation economy we want to support through this summit.

Great innovation universities

Going forward here in Waterloo, our university is applying our capacity for innovation to key frontier disciplines that hold the potential to disrupt and invent whole new industries… from quantum technology to nano-medical devices to population health to water security.

These disciplines will increasingly define the common experience of communities around the world: from healthcare to data security, to information processing, to aging, and the health of our freshwater systems.

However we apply our energies, in the various industry and academic enterprises represented here today, innovation really has to be at the forefront: not just as a thing we do, but a way we think.

Innovation as a habit of the mind.

In the workplace. In civil society. In government. In our universities and classrooms.

I believe that thriving innovation ecosystems have another thing in common: great partnerships.

We’re standing in the Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre right now. It’s a testament to the deep connection between academy and industry in this community, and in all successful ecosystems.

At this institution, our signature innovation is what sets us apart in the global university sector: we deliberately and robustly develop the world’s most precious commodity – human capital – to meet the needs of a changing world. And we effectively mobilize new knowledge.

Through co-op education, research intensity, partnership with industry, and our entrepreneurial culture, we’ve broken down the barriers between economy and academy / to mobilize the talent and knowledge that society is crying out for.

And while we do that, we diligently preserve and respect academic freedom.

Prediction and promise

As a university administrator, let me close with a prediction and a promise.

Here’s the prediction: great innovation universities will be defined by two key characteristics moving forward: the fusion of academic freedom with pro-innovation university policies, and the provision of deliberate human capital development systems.

Here’s the promise: as innovative universities around the world pursue this vision, the University of Waterloo will lead the way, share our model with the world, and champion this vision forever.

It’s our vocation, it’s who we are, and you know what — we’re just getting started.

Thank you.