Kitchener-Waterloo tech leaders have teamed up to found Waterloo Inc, a new platform to facilitate local community-building and discussions regarding the innovation economy.
Developed in partnership with the Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX), and Catalyst Commons, Waterloo Inc. (WINC) marks the first chapter of the Innovator Network of Canada (INC), a brand that the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI) has rolled out in response to demand from its members.
WINC, which hosted around 150 people at its launch event last night at MIX—including the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo, aims to fill a gap in the region that Intellijoint Surgical co-founder and CEO Armen Bakirtzian said has existed since COVID-19. “We saw an opportunity in terms of that local piece that’s missing,” Bakirtzian told BetaKit in an interview.
“In this region in particular, local collaboration has been our secret sauce.”– Armen Bakirtzian, Intellijoint
Bakirtzian, who is also the co-founder of MIX, has helped spearhead the creation of WINC alongside Miovision co-founder and CEO Kurtis McBride. Bakirtzian noted that like many places across Canada and the world, the Waterloo Region has seen a lot of change during the pandemic, adding that remote work and the decline of in-person events have left many in the local tech sector feeling less connected with their peers and surrounding community.
Simultaneously, “how we do business has changed [and] how we win in the innovation economy has changed,” said Bakirtzian. “In this region in particular, local collaboration has been our secret sauce. The purpose of Waterloo Inc. is to bring like-minded CEOs and founders together to focus on the economic prosperity of the region because that’s what matters to us.”
“We want to put the focus back on Waterloo Region,” Bakirtzian said during his remarks at WINC’s launch.
In an interview with BetaKit, CCI president Ben Bergen noted that WINC offers a platform for Kitchener-Waterloo tech entrepreneurs who are passionate about their communities to connect with one another, give back, and help steer their local economy by connecting with other local leaders through a unified platform. “We’re a country politically that responds to constituencies,” he added.
Bergen said that CCI has been hearing from innovation leaders in Kitchener-Waterloo and that their sense of local community “atrophied” during COVID-19, and for many, virtual gatherings haven’t filled that void. “Waterloo is not in isolation,” said Bergen, who noted that CCI has seen a “real appetite” among the broader community for new ways to connect and have conversations about economic prosperity as it relates to tech.
For CCI, which plays at the federal and provincial levels, the hope is that INC will eventually branch out across the country where local alignment exists, and grow into a national network of local tech community groups. “This is the maiden voyage,” said Bergen.
WINC is not a formal organization and has no dedicated physical space or employees. To start, the grassroots initiative is leaning on the infrastructure provided by MIX and Catalyst. For now, WINC’s focus will be on hosting more events that bring local tech leaders and the broader community together, and the organization has no plans to offer any startup programming of its own beyond this.
Some attendees BetaKit spoke with on background indicated that longstanding Kitchener-Waterloo tech hub Communitech going more national was just one of the many factors that informed the launch of WINC. When asked about this directly, Bakirtzian downplayed its role.
For his part, Communitech CEO Chris Albinson, who attended the launch event, told BetaKit that he believes that the more platforms like WINC that exist, the better for the Kitchener-Waterloo Region overall.
Feature image courtesy Armen Bakirtzian via LinkedIn.