Canada's innovators are agents of change

For the CBC Radio series Change Agents, Amanda Lang looked at people and ideas that are forging an innovative path.

A handful of original thinkers in health, agriculture, retail, trade and classical music

Amanda Lang interviews Canada's business innovators for Change Agents. (CBC)

For the CBC Radio series Change Agents, Amanda Lang looked at people and ideas that are forging a new path.

Innovation can take many forms. It might be about bringing the right people together -- to create new products, and bring them to market.

Or it could be about doing things differently -- and not accepting the "way it's always been done." Sometimes it's about taking risks, by expanding into new markets.

Change Agents finds people who are making change, and looks at what drives them:

An innovator in the health field

Donald Stuss, president and scientific director of the Ontario Brain Institute: The Ontario Brain Instutite focuses on a range of neurological diseases from cerebral palsy to dementia to depression and autism.  By bringing together researchers, clinicians, patients, and industry in its virtual research institute, it hopes to spark new ideas in treatment for these conditions. 

“If you think of anything we do at the institute itself, it’s that we make connections between patients and researchers, clinicians and researchers, between institutions, and between diseases, which I think is one of the most innovative things that we do,” Stuss said.

An innovator in agriculture

Kim Keller, co-founder of Farm at Hand: Keller is a farmer herself who’s betting her future on Vancouver tech startup Farm at Hand, which produces technology that helps farmers track and manage their operations digitally.

“Farmers are very quick to adapt technology. We have the best technology when it comes to our equipment, when it comes to all of our inputs, but when it came to the smartphone, it was almost like everyone forgot about [agriculture],” Keller said.

Innovators in classical music

The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has developed an app called Sound-Sync which delivers short bits of information to your smartphone as the concert is happening — something like: "This is the first tuba entrance after 150 bars of rest."

Emoti-Chair, from Ryerson University in Toronto, is a high-tech chair that allows hearing-impaired users to feel music by translating musical vibrations into physical vibrations. And the Hexagon Studio at the National Arts Centre, brings students from all over the world together through broadband technology.

For musicians, innovations range from an Ottawa musician’s self-lighting music stand to a Google Glass that displays sheet music.

Innovators in a technology hub

Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech: Communitech is an organization that supports tech companies in the Waterloo Region. While that technology hub’s highest profile company, BlackBerry, has fallen on hard times, innovation is very much alive in the area.

“This generation of know, they’re very committed to giving back. And so what that’s allowed us to do is create an ecosystem that’s, we think, the best in Canada, and one of the best in North America,” Klugman said.

An innovator in retail

Craig Haney, manager of innovations for Canadian TireAs part of its new digital strategy, the retailer is trying to act like a tech startup, by embedding itself in the Communitech hub in Waterloo, Ont., and working with startups there to develop new ideas for bringing technology to the retail experience. 

“If we want to avoid the disruptions and the surprises, we better be the ones making those surprises. So acting like a startup is a new way of thinking in retail, but a very important way of thinking in retail,” Haney said.

An innovator with an international focus

Jason Stoter, the president of Vivere: Guelph, Ont.-based Vivere is a wholesaler that plans to begin marketing its line of hammocks and outdoor products in Europe, starting in 2015. Stoter weighs the risks and rewards of going global.

“There’s a bunch of new things that come into play, and when you’re exporting you’re talking about multi-currency, dealing with the US dollar, that’s pretty straightforward. But now we’re getting in with the euro,” Stoter said.

“I do think about the business differently, that’s for sure.”