Bright Ideas

Waterloo’s Innovation Ecosystem

While the “Ten with Ken” team was at the University of Waterloo to profile the Velocity incubator, we sat down with President & Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur to discuss the overall innovation ecosystem at what has been ranked Canada’s #1 most innovative university for the past 25 years.

UWaterloo started off in the 1950s as a revolutionary idea – an Engineering-focused university created by local industrialists. From the beginning it focused on co-operative work-integrated learning, and to this day co-op experiences prepare UW students and faculty to think more innovatively. The institution has been building momentum for decades, attracting more and more innovative faculty and students.

Dr Hamdullahpur emphasizes the importance of outward connections with the world — international, applied research, industry connections, co-op, research commercialization, and entrepreneurship. Innovation doesn’t come from turning inward, retreating into the library or the lab, but from interacting with the world outside the university.

Some of UW’s advantage has sprung from its creator-owned intellectual property policies. UW could benefit in the short term by taking a percentage of new discoveries and startup companies, but Dr Hamdullahpur believes UW, and the country, benefit more from allowing creators to retain complete ownership of their ideas.

Many colleges and universities want to know how to nurture a more innovative or entrepreneurial culture. Dr Hamdullahpur admits that it is a huge advantage for an institution to have been born that way, but suggests that it is possible to grow later. It cannot be partway, however: it must penetrate all aspects of operations. He also firmly believes that if institutions do NOT embrace innovation, they will become “insignificant” in another 15-20 years.

Dr Hamdullahpur is very proud of Waterloo’s reputation and track record, which only makes him more determined to ensure the institution continues striving to stay on top.

Check out our site visit to the University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator to learn more, and hear from some of the student entrepreneurs who have recently founded startup companies on the strength of their co-op experiences.

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