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Innovation in Canada centers on strategic partnership

Gone are the days of global businesses coding quietly in product development silos, filing their IP in the dark away from potential collaborators. To thrive in this world of disruptive technology, businesses of all sizes need to maintain conversations with tomorrow’s innovators, today’s entrepreneurs, and, of course, the customer.

No one knows this better than Thomson Reuters Labs™ and Communitech, our innovation partner in Waterloo, Canada. While investigating the Partnership Equation for our 2016 Annual Report, we sat down with Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech, and Brian Zubert, director of Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo, to share some insight on how partnerships drive innovation and valuable customer experiences.

Why are innovation centers like Communitech essential for innovation?

Iain KlugmanCommunitech is an organization that was founded 20 years ago by a group of entrepreneurs who came together with a big idea about building a world-class innovation ecosystem right here in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. We are the organization that helps people get out to the edge of the ecosystem and see what’s emerging as far as new technologies but also as far as new disruptive business models. So Communitech is the mechanism by which companies can see a whole new land, a whole new world that they can’t see from downtown Toronto.

Brian Zubert: Thomson Reuters Labs opened in Communitech in October 2015 and in just a year and a half we’ve had tremendous achievements. The model for the labs is the same everywhere in the world: looking for strong academic presence both for access of talent as well as to access to research, strong startup presence which provides us a fresh source of innovation inside the Company and then the most important factor is strong proximity to customers. So the piece that’s a little bit different about how the labs will develop solutions as opposed to the way typical R&D or product development would is that the customer is engaged every step of the way.

Thomson Reuters Lab space where data scientists and subject matter experts push innovation in Canada
A view of the Thomson Reuters Labs space in Communitech.

What do you look for in a successful innovation partnership?

Klugman: We were first introduced to Thomson Reuters about a year and a half ago and really what attracted us to finding a way to work with them is that they are such an iconic Canadian brand that’s got such deep roots in this country and also a commitment to innovation. And so we see a lot of companies going through this place, we see about 15,000 visitors a year and we can quickly identify the ones that are serious about innovation. And Thomson Reuters was serious about innovation.

Zubert: The goal of partnering with Communitech for Thomson Reuters Labs is that it really takes all three pillars that make up a lab location and brings it all together in one spot. So we’ve got that access to customers via our proximity to Toronto. We have access to academia through the University of Waterloo which has been one of the largest math programs in the entire world. Really I think 13,000 students at any given point in time working in these projects. And then access to an extremely strong startup ecosystem with over 1,500 startups locally. And if you put Toronto and Waterloo together that’s over 3,000 startups in just that immediate vicinity.

The Thomson Reuters approach to mutually beneficial startup partnerships.

How does Communitech help incumbent businesses with lean development?

Klugman One of the benefits that we bring to the big companies is the fact that we do have a playbook. We’ve got what’s called the first 15 plays, and it is a structure that allows us to take a new Company and get them on a curve quickly to value. What I mean by that is that we help people know where to start and get them going.

And the second thing we do is that we also connect to people across the different organizations. And with 18 different innovation outposts here at the hub, each one run by a director, we connect all those directors together. We also connect all of the executive sponsors together, all of the CEOs, and then finally we connect all the co-op students who are working with the companies together. So we’ve got these multiple layers of learning that cut across the organization.

Students spur innovation in Canada during WaterlooHacks event
Students participate in code sprints during WaterlooHacks, a hackathon event that connects students, startups and companies to solve real business pain points.

Unlike being in an innovation outpost where you are on your own, here you are really part of a community and you are learning from other people. Whether they are running a bank or they are running LCBO, there’s an opportunity to learn from others.

Zubert: Communitech brings the Thomson Reuters the equivalent of Field of Dreams: build it and they will come. They create the environment that enables creativity, that enables collaboration and then enables corporations to really take a different approach to new product ideas, to new ways of engagement with clients, our customers and even new business models. All the ingredients for innovation are right here.

More on our Waterloo Lab initiatives

We’re constantly reaching out and joining forces to invent, create and grow in Canada. Check out the fruits of our partnership with Canadian startups and universities in our 2016 Annual Report: The Partnership Equation.

Check out our other vibrant innovation centers

Visit Innovation @ to learn more about how we are pairing technology with human expertise at Thomson Reuters Labs™ around the world.

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