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Three lessons from TD Bank Group’s innovation lab in Waterloo

TD Bank established a corporate innovation lab in Waterloo in 2014. Here are three things they learned from the experience.

When Canada’s second-largest bank set about becoming a “bank of the future,” it began to integrate innovative thinking across its entire operation. In 2014, when TD Bank Group launched the TD Lab at Communitech, Waterloo became a vital part of that transformation.

Four years later the concept of a “corporate innovation lab” is well-regarded and TD – an experienced player in this space – has learned some things about the power of harnessing technological disruption to meet the evolving needs of their consumers.

Here are three key lessons from TD Lab’s first four years:

1. You need to join the right ecosystem to innovate

Developing new products and new ways of thinking depends on business practices and environment. That’s why the decision to join Waterloo’s renowned collaborative ecosystem was an important first step for TD Lab.

“There is a real spirit of business partnerships and camaraderie here, even between larger companies and startups, so it allows you to tap into all kinds of creative thinking,” says Tim Hogarth, VP of Innovation Framework and Strategies for TD Bank Group. “It’s a wonderful ‘campus’ feel, with companies going to events and hackathons, and you feel a real enthusiasm in Waterloo for exploring new concepts.”

With the world’s highest density of corporate innovation labs, the highest density of startups outside of Silicon Valley and a vast peer-to-peer network, Waterloo makes collaboration easier than anywhere else.

2. The flexibility to try new things is what makes corporate innovation work

Part of the attraction of founding an innovation lab is the opportunity to try new ideas in a low-risk environment.

“Not all ideas will work out, but that’s what innovation is about – exploring new ideas and trying new things,” says Hogarth. “It’s really important we try to imagine how different technologies and systems can be used to improve customer experience, so we can stay ahead of customer expectations.”

In less than four years, TD Lab produced more than 200 prototypes, including augmented reality banking experience, banking literacy application for children, and more. This lab is now a strong model for  driving innovation in large corporations.

3. Access to talent – especially students with fresh ideas – makes a difference

Coming up with new ideas requires fresh perspectives, which is why Waterloo’s unique talent pipeline was integral to TD Lab’s success. Each school semester, TD Lab employs a dozen co-operative education students from local post-secondary institutions.

“These students come from different disciplines like engineering or business, and we’ll pair them up with a professional engineer or architect or analyst and they’ll work on different problems together,” says Hogarth.

These students come from the University of Waterloo, home to the world’s largest co-operative education program, Wilfrid Laurier University, home to Canada’s largest business co-operative education program, and Conestoga College, one of Ontario’s top polytechnic institutes. Altogether, Waterloo institutions have more than 20,000 students in these programs at any one time, and most graduate with more than two years of on-the-job experience.

Inventing the Future

Waterloo has the capacity to make innovation hubs of all types and sizes work. If you’re interested in manufacturing innovation, incorporating new approaches to technology or simply tapping into our unique research environment, Waterloo EDC can help make the connections that will help you take the next step.