A platform connecting corporate labs across Canada

The Globe and Mail and its innovation centre, Lab351, partnered with Toronto-based TenThousandCoffees.com to launch a platform that connects corporate labs across Canada to each other and to the startup community.

The site not only aims to facilitate learning and sharing through networking, but to showcase the benefits of working with large organizations by tapping into their talent and technologies.

Early adopters to the Globe Innovation Café include Thomson Reuters, IBM Canada, Infiniti Canada, Aviva Canada, LoyaltyOne, CIBC, Bata Group, Grant Thornton, Tridel, Scotiabank, Telus, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Community members such as Communitech, MaRS Discovery District and Wavefront are also on board.

As co-chair of Lab351, I caught up with serial entrepreneur and TenThousandCoffees.com founder Dave Wilkin for a Q&A on this marketing initiative.

Q: Let’s provide a bit of background. What spurred the concept for TenThousandCoffees.com (10KC)? What was the business problem you wanted to solve?

It all started when we saw the massive disconnect between leaders and the next generation of talent and ideas. We saw that a casual conversation over coffee simplified how leaders from any organization can tap into the talent of the next generation in a scalable and accessible way. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than a coffee chat.

Q: How has that concept evolved into current use?

We quickly saw that simple conversations are the solution to a much bigger problem. It was these conversations, and the act of building diverse relationships, that create more innovative, successful and engaged employees and professionals.

Diverse relationships innately drive innovation and success. The problem is that professionals don’t do this on their own – organizations needed to find a way to help all of their employees actively build relationships.
We work with hundreds of organizations in more than 10 countries with our SaaS platform that brings the power of 10KC to organizations, helping every employee and professional gain equitable access to relationships and networking inside their company or with schools through alumni networks.

Q: When The Globe approached you with the idea to connect corporate labs on your platform, what lead you to believe it was a good fit?

From the first day we launched 10KC, we saw how powerful a simple coffee could be to spark ideas and forge partnerships.
As a tech entrepreneur, I see every day how important strong relationships are with corporate innovators.
The problem comes down to corporates not knowing who and how to work with startups, and vice versa. We’re going to solve this by matching together corporate innovators and curated startups so that they can understand each other, collaborate on projects, and even team up through investment or pilot projects.

We also need to think about what’s happening outside of the classic Toronto bubble. How can we leverage all of the networks that exist in each region across Canada? We can remove the geographic barriers by using the 10KC tech.

Q: How will labs, investors and startups benefit from joining the network?

Those with the best relationships will always win. The labs involved are going to make better, stronger relationships. They’re also going to enable their employees and corporate innovation teams to truly understand startups.

For startups, the right pilot is game changing for any emerging product, and this platform is going to cut down the time and inefficiency of navigating massive corporates to find the right innovators who know how to make things happen and who want to make innovation happen together.

Q: How can corporations effectively assist early stage startups?

Before anything else, corporates need to understand that their employees and those working in innovation that are tasked to work with emerging tech/startups:

1. Do not speak the same language as founders and their teams.

2. Don’t actually understand their world.

We need to help corporates immerse themselves in the startup world and help these two very different audiences speak to each other effectively to drive better outcomes. This is an always-on process that should be happening outside of transactional deal meetings they’re used to scheduling. It’s pro-active, relationship building conversations that will build the ecosystem corporates and startups need to co-create.

Q: What will success look like to you in three, six and 12 months?

Imagine a thousand people standing in an arena trying to find their match. Now imagine how much better this would be if they had online dating technology.

We’re going to do this to help bridge the gap between corporate innovators and the incredible startup and technology entrepreneurs. We’re finally giving them the tools they need to effectively connect.

Sean Stanleigh is managing editor of Globe Content Studio. Follow him @seanstanleigh on Twitter and @sstanleigh on Instagram.

Sean and Dave also recorded a Facebook Live session on this topic on Jan. 11, 2018, which can be viewed below.