The National Business and Technology Conference 2012

It’s been almost a year since my first “official” exposure to the startup community at last year’s Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference (where I met a good portion of the Nspire team). Since then, I’ve taken the liberty of taking the dive into exploring the startup community in Toronto. That is how I first got into my role with Nspire, and why I was volunteering at their latest conference.

The NBTC was remarkable this year because of the variety it offers: Where else could you hear Eric Gales personally share his perspective of the future with Microsoft Lync, or Jordan Banks sharing thoughts about his journey with Facebook?

Where else would you get the chance to hear Michael Serbinis (proudly) describe how the Kobo team fought hand-to-hand with the Amazon Kindle? (My words, not his.)

There are a few highlights of NBTC I’d particularly like to mention:

1. Sarah Prevette on the Future

Sarah Prevette is the founder of Sprouter and the editor-in-chief of Betakit.

Prevette introduced her topic with the advice of looking for problems and turning them into opportunities, which isn’t too uncommon a piece of advice. She then highlighted some examples, referring to Soccket, 3D printing, Kno, Uber, Getaround, Airbnb, Highlight, and Localmind.

The speech really took off as she started unpacking her own thoughts on shifts that were happening in the world, the most significant of which were skill-sharing and the personalization of everything, rising up along with smart, geo-aware mobile devices and passive participation.

Takeaways: “What if?” “Solve big problems. Reinvent industries. Affect billions.”

2. Idris Mootee on Innovation

Idris Mootee is the mind behind Idea Couture and M/I/S/C/ Magazine.

Mootee’s main point started off with asking the question why larger corporations often fail to innovate. He cites Schumpeter (who came to the conclusion that large corporations were better positioned for disruption because of their large scale potential and resources) and challenged the notion that larger corporations could innovate disruptively. The problem that all corporations face is that as they grow, fewer and fewer people really know how the entire machine works.

He suggested never trying to emulate big players and keeping an eye out for dogma, and developing perspectives about the future of your own industry.

Takeaways: “There’s no shortage of ideas…ideas are cheap.” “Few have the conviction and discipline to act on it.”

3. Peter Aceto’s on Authenticity in Leadership

Peter Aceto is the President and CEO of ING Direct Canada. He delivered a keynote at NBTC 2012.

Aceto’s most resonating point was the suggestion to “start with why” (as Simon Sinek made famous). In this increasingly transparent world, authenticity and reality will be bigger than ever before. He also refers to advice he took to heart: “No one will follow you if they think you’re perfect. Be authentic. Leaders are fallible…It is liberating and you can be yourself, and you can ask more real questions and have a real conversation.”

Takeaways: “Success comes with a price; the price of greatness is responsibility.” “Revisit your personal why on a regular basis.”

Many other extremely awesome things happened at the NBTC. I’m not doing them justice with this brief mention (or lack thereof), but I’d certainly love to collaborate with them later to share more ideas (give me a holler if you’re reading this):

  • Shopify’s Brennan Loh and Harley Finkelstein made the case that being in school is the best time to explore entrepreneurship and starting your own business, given the easy access to the student market and what this means for feedback, market research, and evangelism. As students, we are also used to lack of sleep, stress, and are risk-tolerant. The best things are being broke, young, and hungry. “There is no Plan B; take it and make it a better Plan A.
  • Kiip’s Brian Wong married emotion and gamification in one of the most succinct presentations at the NBTC. “Find where happiness is already, and be there. Surprise and delight.” He also brought some inception into his advice: “Help people build the idea themselves; how can people be fascinated? Let them come up with the idea.”
  • Heard nothing but great things about the presentations that I didn’t get to personally sit in, such as the ones held by Fabian Pfortmüller and Tom Rand.
  • Not to take a backseat to the presentations, the extremely exciting entrepreneurship competition saw social record label Tunezy emerge victorious. The team at Tunezy revealed to us their plans to help budding artists by offering support through the rallying of their communities. (They explain it better.)

One of the more intangible benefits of attending the NBTC would be connecting with so many different kinds of people, and feeling so many diverging ideas cross-pollinate. The excitement and curiosity in each presentation was contagious.

I’m honoured to be able to use part of this post to salute the NBTC 2012 team (your dedication resulted in an awesome event), Nspire campus ambassadors (proud to be in your ranks), and Nspire executive team (thanks for the leadership and advice) from this year.

If you like what you see, and want to be part of Nspire and NBTC for next year, you can join now: applications can be found online. Whether you’re a student looking to really explore the startup world, an experienced entrepreneur looking to pay it forward, or a corporation looking to get involved with the entrepreneurial community, organizations like the Nspire Innovation Network, the Canadian Undergraduate Technology Conference, Socialight, or the Impact Entrepreneurship Group offer great platforms to get started with.

Take the dive: Solve big problems. Never emulate big players. Be your best self.

Full disclosure: I used to volunteer as a campus ambassador for the Nspire Innovation Network. My term drew to a close after the National Business and Technology Conference 2012. That said, my views are still my own, and not at all affiliated with the Nspire Innovation Network. Photos by P. Shah, Linda Teng, and Allen S.