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Waterloo’s new leaders on revitalizing our tech ecosystem

The new leaders at Communitech and the Accelerator Centre share their perspectives on Waterloo's tech ecosystem.

The best ecosystems are those that embrace change. It is understood that change is more opportunity than threat and that the best way to adapt is to seek new voices, expertise and perspectives.

Waterloo has a history of change. An industrial community for 150 years, our business ecosystem is as well-known for tech innovation as it is manufacturing these days. To become Canada’s most dynamic tech ecosystem, Waterloo embraced new leaders and ideas. In 2021, the community welcomed new leaders at two of our most important tech institutions.

Chris Albinson, the CEO & President of Communitech, and Jay Krishnan, the CEO of the Accelerator Centre, are bringing fresh perspectives and their unique experiences to Waterloo.

In an event hosted by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, Tony LaMantia, President & CEO of Waterloo EDC, moderated a discussion between Albinson and Krishnan about their new leadership positions and strategic plans for Waterloo’s tech ecosystem.

If you missed the discussion, we’ve got you covered. Here is a summarized version of the conversation that took place between LaMantia, Albinson and Krishnan:

Initial perceptions of Waterloo

For Albinson, coming to Waterloo felt like coming home, thanks to our “amazingly welcoming community.” He noted that our ecosystem is conducive to growth and change. Over the last ten years, there has been an explosion of “energy and ethos” on the Waterloo scene, thanks to innovators at Shopify, ApplyBoard and Miovision – just to name a few.

Since accepting his leadership position at Communitech, Albinson told LaMantia that the growth of Waterloo’s tech business ecosystem surprised him. “We’re experiencing exponential growth,” he said. “[Waterloo] just crossed [the benchmark] of 26,000 tech workers four weeks ago and as of this week, our companies have raised $2.2 billion in the last 11 months.”

In Krishnan’s opinion, three things need to come together for an ecosystem to succeed: momentum, diversity and density. He explained that in his initial perception of Waterloo, he noticed that our community has everything lined up – top rated universities, global talent and a collaborative ecosystem – to continue to drive innovation and growth. “We’re on the cusp of an exponential trajectory,” he said, “and if we can all play a collective role as ecosystem stakeholders, we can really add to those three dimensions.”

A new agenda at each organization

“I think the beauty of where we are today is thanks to the spectacular work of our predecessors. The foundation they created is easy to build on,” said Krishnan, who recently introduced VISION 2025, the Accelerator Centre’s new strategic vision.

Krishnan explained that his agenda “places Waterloo at the epicentre” and will allow the organization to act as a catalyst for growth in the community. Another element of Krishan’s change agenda focuses on making the Accelerator Centre a “full stack hub with programming at its core” to drive startups and scale-ups onto the global scene.

Albinson, who recently released Communitech’s True North Strategy, shared, “we asked ourselves: how do we find Canadian founders that have the probability of success, not the possibility of success? And then we wanted to find out what was getting in their way.” Albinson said that talent is the major challenge founders are currently facing. The new strategy aims to tackle that issue by increasing Waterloo’s brand visibility and sharing Waterloo’s biggest success stories in communities across the globe.

Collaboration is key in Waterloo

In Krishnan’s opinion, the anchors in our tech ecosystem are all looking to drive the best founders in the world to Canada and Waterloo. The Accelerator Centre plays a large role with its strategic and flexible programming.

“I think [the Accelerator Centre] can be the vehicle that hands off the best companies to Communitech, which has the resources to scale these organizations,” said Krishnan.

He emphasized the importance of deeper, more meaningful conversations with other ecosystem players and community stakeholders to accelerate momentum, diversity and density in Waterloo. “The good news is, [all the ecosystem anchors] intend to make this happen.”

The biggest opportunities for Waterloo tech

“I think the biggest opportunity in front of us is clean tech,” said Krishnan. “Down the road, [we could be known as] the epicentre of climate action, as the community that kickstarted clean tech through innovation, political change and capital.”

To kickstart climate action in a community, there needs to be a convergence of ecosystem collaboration, storage technology, quantum technology, scientific R&D and engineering talent – all areas in which Waterloo excels.

Albinson believes that “[we need to consider] what sets us apart.”

“How do we compete on a global scale? And I think the answer is trust. If Canada has a brand, it’s trust. We can be the place where trust is built right into technology.”

Albinson shared that he’s excited about a future in which Canada is revered as the place where trusted technology is built. Thanks to our innovation in ethical applied artificial intelligence, “we can be the place where innovation comes together, a place with trust at its core.”

You can watch the whole discussion here:

Interested in learning more?

Waterloo’s has a rich technology ecosystem filled with cutting edge innovation.