Your guide to True North

True North conference and festival

After years of the tech sector moving fast and breaking things, it’s time to slow down and fix them. That’s the thinking behind Communitech’s True North conference and festival, which aims to consider the ethics of tech — what it does well, what needs to change, and how to ensure tech is ultimately a force for societal good.

Just a few weeks away, the three-day festival in Waterloo Region has attracted big names like Pando’s Sarah Lacy, and Uber chief brand officer Bozoma Saint John. BetaKit has you covered with everything you need to know to have the best True North experience — with a 20 percent True North conference ticket discount for BetaKit readers.

Grappling with subjects like openness, compassion, and diversity in the tech sector, and topical issues like artificial intelligence, robotics, and fake news, True North promises to offer unique takeaways for tech leaders, investors, and policymakers.

“I think what’s great about the True North conference is that it’s so rich,” said Waterloo Mayor Dave Jaworsky. “We’re going to talk about fake news, gender equity, the opportunities with artificial intelligence. We have to use tech for good.”

Here’s what different attendees can expect to get out of the conference.


A company’s mission and internal culture are just as important to its brand and future as the tech it’s building. Leaders attending True North will learn how a diverse group of employees and a commitment to doing good will help to create a stronger, longer-lasting and more creative business.

Explaining why he’s attending True North, Joseph Fung, the CEO of Waterloo-based startup Kiite Inc., said that “more than half of our company are women, and over a third are immigrants. Trying to make sure that we think about growing technology ecosystems in a way that’s inclusive and doesn’t leave anyone behind is extremely important.”


“This conference demonstrates that they are staying current with the times and that we [the federal government] will continue to be part of the solution.”
– Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism

Companies thinking short-term, or with toxic bro cultures, have gotten media attention as their stock has quickly fallen. Investors can attend sessions that will help them identify companies that can give them a better return on investment: those with respectful corporate cultures, and products that will help create a better future for everyone.

“What I would recommend to those people building events and teams is, make sure you’re not missing out on pockets of potentially underrepresented groups,” said Liam Horne, the co-founder of L4, a decentralized web that encourages users to get involved with cryptocurrency. “Doesn’t matter their background, the best people are the best people.”


Canada’s tech scene isn’t limited to companies and their investors; government and civil society play a role in shaping the rules and limits for the sector. Policymakers can learn from True North speakers about how to keep up with the leading edge of tech, and work with tech leaders in the Tech for Good Declaration sessions to develop values that organizations should adopt as they work toward Tech for Good.

“Communitech celebrated 20 years last year, and this conference demonstrates that they are staying current with the times and that we [the federal government] will continue to be part of the solution,” said the Hon. Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo and Canada’s Minister of Small Business and Tourism.

True North Schedule

True North Day 1 (May 29th)

Shopify Waterloo
Shopify’s Waterloo office.

Kick off the conference with the first of the #TNDTK festival events, the Why Waterloo Tour. The tour is a choose-your-own-adventure of Waterloo Region’s tech, science, music, art, food, and drink that starts at 5 p.m. Attendees can board True North buses at one of the True North Bus Stations or one of the six venues below, and hop off where they please.


Where: 8 Queen St. N #1, Kitchener
What: Join Vidyard, a Kitchener tech company with a video platform to help businesses improve communications and revenue through online video, for music, appetizers and a kombucha sampling bar from Kitchener’s Good Vibes Juice Company. House of Friendship and Lutherwood are co-hosting.

Catalyst 137

Where: 137 Glasgow St., Kitchener
What: Join Stryve, BorgWarner, and Miovision at Kitchener-Waterloo’s new IoT campus, Catalyst, for food, drinks, and the cutest pups the National Service dogs have to offer.

Canadian Clay & Glass Museum

Where: 25 Caroline St. N, Waterloo
What: See clay come to life in front of you with a live wheel-throwing demonstration at the only Canadian art gallery dedicated to ceramic, glass, enamel, and stained glass art.

Kitchener Public Library

Where: 85 Queen St. N, Kitchener
What: The library’s historical courtyard will offer beer, group ukulele lessons, a jam session, and a green screen for taking some seriously impressive selfies.

Perimeter Institute

Where: 31 Caroline St. N, Waterloo
What: Explore Perimeter’s 2,400-square-foot Power of Ideas exhibit full of hands-on experiences that share the process of science, tour Perimeter’s award-winning architecture, and watch a video on why today’s theoretical physics drives the talent and technologies of tomorrow.


Where: 57 Erb St. W, Waterloo
What: One of Canada’s most prominent tech companies celebrates local entrepreneurs and businesses with food, drinks, and live music. Shopify will pay homage to its office’s origins as the former Seagram’s Distillery with a structured whisky tasting, along with locally sourced ice cream and organic cold-pressed juices.

True North Day 2 (May 30)

Lot 42 True North
Lot 42.

On Day Two, True North moves to Lot 42 for conference sessions on three separate stages. Check out sessions on the Tech for Good theme on Stage A; Digital Red Tape on Stage B, and True North’s much-hyped Tech For Good two-part workshop on Stage C. After the work day is done, head over to the #TNDTK festival and check out the free outdoor concert with The Beaches at Carl Zehr Square starting at 7 p.m.

Detoxing the Bro Economy

Where: Stage A
When: 2:00pm to 3:00pm
Award-winning investigative journalist Sarah Lacy explains three cultural headwinds that created the “unicorn bro era” of the tech sector, which has become more toxic, more unethical and more unapologetic about both. Lacy, a self-described sunlight and shade-thrower, will also propose three ways to ensure the next generation of startups do better without sacrificing their returns.

The Golden Age of Media Manipulation

Where: Stage B
When: 2:20pm to 2:50pm

Director Spike Jonze, producer Charlie Brooker, and robot ethicist Kate Darling are among the speakers True North.

From Russian trolls trying to create division in democracy, to marketers attempting to get the best product reviews or criminals using self-publishing platforms to launder money, our media environment has never been more ripe for manipulation. BuzzFeed’s media editor Craig Silverman will explain how this manipulation takes place, and makes a case for why entrepreneurs and technologists should plan for how their products could be abused.

Ed Catmull
Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Walt Disney.
What Makes Creative People Tick?

Where: Stage A
When: 10:00am to 11:00am
Pixar Animation Studios President and co-founder Ed Catmull takes the stage to talk about techniques and ideas for leading consistently creative organizations. He’ll outline the hidden barriers to creativity, the importance of hiring well to build a great team, and establishing processes and communication practices in the workplace to allow good people to do great work. This session is a must-attend for tech leaders.

Emotional AI—What is it and Why it Matters

Where: Stage A
When: 3:30pm to 4:30pm
As more advanced artificial intelligence systems and robots begin to interact with humans, they’ll need social and emotional intelligence as well as computing power. Dr. Rana el Kaliouby, co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, will demonstrate the company’s Emotion Recognition technology and the massive data sets and core technology that enable facial expression recognition. She’ll outline the uses for this tech, from advertising research to mental health and education, and its moral and ethical implications.

Tech For Good Workshop

Where: Stage C
When: 11:30am to 1:15pm, and 1:45pm to 3:30pm
It’s time to stop talking about what tech has gotten wrong and start talking about how to get it right. This session is a two-part, hands-on workshop to get participants thinking about what Tech For Good really means, and developing key attributes organizations should follow to employ that mindset in their workplaces. This is an essential session for investors, policymakers, and academics.

Note: Interested participants must pre-register for the workshop. Visit for details.

The Beaches True North
The Beaches.
#TNDTK Concert: The Beaches

Where: Carl Zehr Square
When: 7:00pm to 11:00pm
After a day of sessions, cut loose at the free outdoor concert in downtown Kitchener and sample the best of the city’s food trucks. The show kicks off at 7:00pm with an opening performance from the amazing students of School of Rock Kitchener-Waterloo, who will be covering hits by artists like The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Queen, Pink Floyd and more. The Beaches, a Toronto-based band that is a little bit glam rock and a little bit garage, will headline the event.

True North Day 3 (May 31)

Attendees have a good variety of sessions to choose from on Day Three, but two themes will take centre stage: diversity and inclusion, and using tech to make a positive impact on society. In the evening, a film screening at the Apollo and a night at THEMUSEUM close out the festival.

Bozoma Saint John

Where: Stage A
When: 9:30am to 10:30am
Bozoma Saint John has become one of the industry’s brightest stars, with successful stints at PepsiCo, Beats, Apple, and, currently, as Chief Brand Officer at Uber, where she’s bringing her unique backstory and bold personality to one of Silicon Valley’s most storied companies. Bozoma has developed a reputation as a “badass” executive for her breakthrough marketing campaigns, and has earned several awards and honours. She’s also become an outspoken proponent of inclusion and diversity in tech.

Bozoma Saint John True North
Bozoma Saint John
Stranger than Fiction: The Future of Entertainment & Tech

Where: Stage A
When: 2:30pm to 3:30pm
From cell phones to satellite communications, electronic newspapers to robots, much of the tech we use today was fiction before it became fact. Writers and filmmakers have typically imagined this future as being either utopian or dystopian, and now our real-world tech is cause for increasing concern about privacy, democracy and, most dramatically, human survival.

Mark Sakamoto, Think Research’s Executive Vice-President, will lead a discussion with director Spike Jonze, writer and producer Charlie Brooker, and robot ethicist Kate Darling about the connection between the entertainment industry’s portrayal of the future of tech and society’s current anxieties about it.

Building an Equitable Tech Sector: Lessons from Silicon Valley

Where: Stage A
When: 11:30am to 12:00pm
Tech companies can have a huge impact on the economies of the communities in which they’re based, for both good and ill. Nowhere is that disparity more evident than Silicon Valley.

Catherine Bracy, co-founder of TechEquity, will discuss how the tech sector is creating, or failing to create, broad-based opportunity for more local residents, and what other cities can learn from the mistakes made in the Bay Area.

Abundance for All: When and How?

Where: Stage B
When: 11:15am to 11:45am
Tech has an impact on every aspect of society, including including our most important logistical issues, from food security, access to energy, healthcare, and water. SingularityU’s Krista Pawley will moderate a discussion between blockchain consultant Anne Connelly and Dr. Sonny Kohli, physician and founder of medtech innovator Cloud DX, about how technology can address those challenges and create “abundance for all” in the future. This is an essential session for policymakers.

#TNDTK: ‘Dream, Girl’ Screening & Panel

Where: Apollo Cinema
When: 4:30pm to 7:00pm
From first-year startups to million-dollar companies, the documentary Dream, Girl tells the story of five powerful women entrepreneurs and the dreams that propelled their business forward. Join Communitech for a screening of the documentary at the Apollo Cinema in Kitchener, followed by a panel discussion with Fierce Founders alumni.


When: 7:00pm to 11:00pm
Close out True North with an incredible night of technology, sound, and electronics at THEMUSEUM in Kitchener with an exclusive preview of the museum’s new exhibits and sound installations. A collaboration between True North, THEMUSEUM and Quartetfest, the event will include an 8:00pm performance from two of Canada’s hottest contemporary ensembles, Penderecki String Quartet and TorQ Percussion Quartet called “Hard Wired.”

Interested in attending True North? Register at this link to get an additional 20 percent off ticket prices.

Kelsey Rolfe

Kelsey Rolfe

Kelsey Rolfe is an award-winning freelance journalist who covers tech, mining, work, and finance.

0 replies on “Your guide to True North”