The True North conference in Waterloo.
Kitchener Waterloo is known as the hub of innovation in Canada. Recently the region held their renowned True North conference. This year’s theme, “Bridges, not Walls” brought together 2,800 people from across Canada, and around the world, to hear some of the brightest and most interesting minds in business, technology, journalism, and the public sector provide stories and examples of both bridges and walls.
As someone who has attended both True North events, and many of the Tech Leadership Conferences (which predated True North), I thought I would share some of my experiences and lessons from this tremendously important conference.
True North is held at Lot 42 in Kitchener. It is an old manufacturing facility that has been transformed into a world class event space. It easily accommodated the 2,800 people, food trucks, coffee stations, and startup space. The venue is truly inspiring and is one of the reasons True North has been able to grow to where is it today. The organizers spent a lot of time and energy to find ways to shuttle people without having to park. Logistics at big conferences can be challenging for attendees, but True North has done a good job of moving people from the core of the city to the venue.
True North had 56 speakers. It was an impressive list. But my experiences at conferences I’ve attended, organized or spoken at is that great speaker line-ups help drive attendance, but aren’t always responsible for the largest take-aways. It’s the people, the side conversations, the vendors that people often remember most, with some obvious exceptions. This year at True North had some amazing speakers, but it won’t be the content that I remember.
Thomas Friedman, author and journalist, kicked off the conference with an inspiring ‘build bridges’ talk that highlighted the opportunities that random connections can create. He spoke passionately about an Ethiopian parking attendant who he trained to become a journalist in exchange for insight into his story. Build bridges, not walls.
Kara Swisher, the always dynamic and provocative journalist, editor at large at Recode, and previously The Wall St Journal’s San Francisco bureau chief, who has written and spoken extensively on tech’s (negative) impact on the world was a presenter. Kara is much more powerful as an interviewer than as a presenter, as she is often able to get her guests to say things they don’t want to say.
There was also a host of speakers from the Canadian tech community who spoke brilliantly about their projects, their insights and their challenges. Both the main stage and the ‘B’ stage were packed on a regular basis throughout the two days. It was great to see young entrepreneurs and leaders able to share their stories with those in attendance.
The most valuable resource at conferences is the network. When almost 3,000 people are in the same place, thinking about the same challenges, and opportunities, the chance to grow, solidify, and enhance networks is tremendous. It’s more important to collect thoughts, ideas, emotions, and trends than it is to collect business cards. But most importantly, it’s a great conference to collect inspiration. The most powerful bridges to build are to other people, and conferences like True North are the best way to that.
If you are at all interested in how technology will impact the world moving forward, and how the non-technical aspects of the tech ecosystem can influence that direction, attending True North is a must. The details of True North 2020 have not been announced but, live always, it will be the place where important conversations will happen, ideas will be created and networks will be strengthened.
Learn more at truenorthwaterloo.com
Craig Haney holds a Masters degree from University of Waterloo in Entrepreneurship and has been leading the charge for corporate innovation in Canada for almost 10 years. His work with Canadian Tire Innovations helped launch the corporate innovation program at Communitech. Currently Craig is the Vice President of Europro, a large real estate developer in Ontario.