Photo courtesy of Anthony Reinhart, Communitech

Earlier this year, Antoine van Agtmael, author of The Smartest Places on Earth spoke with Communitech's Anthony Reinhart about why Kitchener-Waterloo made his list of emerging hotspots for global innovation.

The former financier turned best-selling author decades ago famously coined the term "emerging markets" decades ago. But while Agtmael still believes consumers from emerging markets will drive global demand, he espouses a different idea about where the future centres of manufacturing will take root. Within his book, Agtmael describes a trend in which rust belts, regions characterized by declining industry, aging factories, and a falling population, are reinventing themselves as leading centres for smart manufacturing and technology. He believes that by surviving tumultuous times, established firms in these areas have learned to appreciate the need for regional collaboration.

Kitchener-Waterloo example of rust belt to brain belt transformation

A brain belt is more than a collection of entities co-located in an appealing region, and according to Agtmael, Ontario cities like Kitchener-Waterloo stand out as examples of the phenomena. "This is a place that is quite strong at revitalizing itself," Agtmael tells Reinhart of Kitchener-Waterloo. "A brain belt requires a university-centric atmosphere, a strong collaborative environment, a conscious effort to create and retain top talent and a place where entrepreneurs can be nurtured…The leading edge companies like Google, they are scouting here, they have operations here and they have figured out that this is a terrific talent pool." Agtmael goes on to call the region's robust coop program "an enormous selling point."

Listen to Communitech's interview with Antoine von Agtmael


Disclaimer: this audio links to a third party source. This audio is not hosted by the Government of Ontario and there may not be a French version or transcripts available.

Communitech instilling vision, connecting innovators

"The lone innovator is an outdated concept," explains Agtmael. "Taking on complex, expensive problems requires expertise in multiple disciplines and cannot be solved by one individual player or organization." He believes threat of disruption not only creates an impetus to innovate, but also instills regional pride while helping to foster relationships that create the energy responsible for building the ecosystem.

Such tightly woven collaborative ecosystems are typically composed of research universities, local government authorities, established businesses with a thriving research function and start-ups. These innovation hotspots, like that of Kitchener-Waterloo, are often driven by what Agtmael refers to as "connectors," groups or individuals responsible for instilling the vision – and that is where Communitech comes in.

Communitech – a lynchpin of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs – is a 50,000 square foot, industry-led innovation centre that supports, fosters and celebrates a community of nearly 1,000 tech companies from large global players to rapidly growing mid-sized companies and start-ups. It's a hub for government agencies, academic institutions, tech incubators and accelerators and is supported by a host of other players including venture capitalists, lawyers, design firms and others.

Discover why multinational corporations are coming to Kitchener-Waterloo to learn how to act like lean start-ups

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