"It's challenging out there": Gender, Innovation, and Ecosystems

Things got WEiRED on June 15th and 16th. At the invitation of the WEiRED (Women Entrepreneurs, Innovators, and Regional Ecosystem Development) research group, over 50 women representing an international consortium of researchers, government and industry representatives, start-up founders, and students met at Communitech to share the latest research on and discussion new areas of research that will advance women’s entrepreneurship and innovation. The research was supported by a SSHRC Connections grant entitled “From Exception to Rule: Advancing the Role of Women Innovators and Entrepreneurs in Regional Innovation Ecosystems”, as well as Wilfrid Laurier, AGE-WELL, the Lazaridis School, and Communitech.

The goal of the project was to understand how women entrepreneurs impact and are impacted by regional innovation ecosystems.

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Dr. Josephine McMurray, DRiVE co-PI, welcomes attendees to symposium

Day one started with an inspiring welcome by the incoming president and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, Dr. Deborah MacLatchy. The morning theme “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: An international perspective” included international researchers to set the tone and spur discussion for a lively group activity (pictured below).

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Samiyyah Somji, WEiRED student volunteer leads her small group’s discussion on insights and research questions

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Dr. Heather McNeil, Post Doctoral Fellow with the DRiVE team, leads a group brainstorming activity

Building on the morning’s learnings, the afternoon theme, “Women entrepreneurs & innovators: A regional perspective” highlighted the importance of ecosystems for collaboration and growth in local clusters. Day one of the symposium ended with an opportunity for an exercise that allowed the group to come to consensus on which issues were most important.

After lively discussions over dinner with new friends, day two opened with an address from Catherine Fife, Member of Provincial Parliament for the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. The theme for Day 2, “Women and Entrepreneurship from a sectoral perspective: health and agetech” generated some fervent discussion. Most participants were in agreement around the need for innovation in the health and aging sectors. They hear from experts in aging, practitioners running women’s entrepreneurship programs in incubators, and professional schools that encourage women and workers in gendered professions such as nursing.

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Katherina Kuschel, Visiting Research Fellow, discusses topics from the morning’s session with AGE-WELL researcher Judith Sixsmith

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

Dr. Heidi Sviestrup, DRiVE co-PI, leads group consensus building activity

The organizing team is working on next steps, including future collaborations on grants and partnerships. DRiVE is grateful for all the support from partners as well as the student volunteers who worked to pull this amazing event together.

WEiRED

Check out #weiredproject #weired2017 #kwinnovation on Twitter for participants’ perspectives throughout the symposium.

 

 

Aging innovation in Boston: “A 1,000 piece puzzle”

There is a lot of talk about innovation in the health and aging sector. With population aging and fiscally restrained government budgets, it seems like everywhere you turn someone is talking about the importance of innovating in this area. But, which communities are actually diving in and doing the work?

Over the past year, our DRiVE has been actively seeking a range of communities at different stages in the development of their Regional Health Innovation Ecosystem (RHIE). It was a tough decision, but we selected four locations and have visited each over the past 18 months to learn from and better understand their journeys.

Our latest exploration took us to the internationally recognized and mature RHIE in Boston, MA. From April 17th to 21st 2017, two of our DRiVE researchers, Drs. Kuschel and McNeil travelled to the Boston area to explore the ecosystem and conduct key informant interviews..

As many of you reading this blog will know, Boston IS health. Everyone we spoke to described health and health care as central to the region of Boston, with one key informant sharing, “health is just what we do here”.

What may be less well known by those of you reading this, is that innovation specific to the aging process and focused on the improvement of quality of life across the life course is emerging within this RHIE in a substantial way. What we were told is that understanding Boston is like “putting together a 1, 000 piece puzzle”. Translated…this is WAAAY more complex that you think.

When trying to describe the key players in the ecosystem, and the work that is going on to connect institutions, governments, industry, non-profit groups and individuals within the RHIE, many key informants used the word “complex”.  Ironically they consider that complexity both a potential challenge, but also a key component of the success of the RHIE in aging innovation.

The challenge comes because of the sheer volume of players in the space. Imagine the work of bringing diverse players and resources to work together … one person said that brokering the relationships amongst those who need to be engaged to make the ecosystem work, can feel like “drinking from a fire hose”.

On the flipside complexity is also key to the success of the aging innovation space within the Boston RHIE. One benefit of complexity is the diversity of the innovation occurring in the ecosystem for aging. To bring this complexity alive, and to showcase some of the incredibly exciting work that’s happening in and around the Boston region, here are a few examples that really struck us as being blog-worthy!

Pulse @MassChallenge

As an engine for the innovation community in Boston, Pulse@MassChallenge bring organizations together to focus on “wicked” problems – this year it’s aging. Their program supports local start-ups in Digital Health such as Cake and CareAcademy. Check out the links – these new startups are doing important work and have young, dynamic leaders who are facing health challenges health on.

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Northeastern School of Nursing’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship initiative is an innovative approach to encouraging leadership in nurses. We were grateful to meet with program director, Rebecca Love who is spearheading the events, programs, and new educational pathways that are making innovation, entrepreneurship and business central to the training nurses receive. Programs like these will effect real change in the health and aging space by helping to unleash the creativity of thousands of nurses who are experts in working around healthcare systems designed in the 19th century.

The Village of Beacon Hill

Socially, Boston has been innovating in aging at a community level since the 1990’s with the establishment of a grass roots movement driven by older adults supporting each other to age in their communities. Some of you may be familiar with the Village to Village project (we even had a chance to speak with the original village in Beacon Hill, Boston!).

Another key piece of the Boston RHIE puzzle for aging innovation, is leadership. We saw this at multiple levels, from the city through their Age Friendly Boston Report highlighting the diversity of the older adult population, to the state which is actively providing support for issues related to aging. Right before our visit to Boston, the Governor, Charlie Baker, announced a council to support aging through policy and innovation. We were also delighted to meet, Secretary Alice Bonner of Elder Affairs whose vibrant leadership in this area was noted by many of the people we spoke to in the ecosystem.

Exploring the aging and health innovation ecosystem in Boston energized us. We are looking forward to analyzing the wealth of information we came home with and staying connected to those who are doing this important work putting the 1,000 piece puzzle together.

 

 

The Cambridge [Health Innovation] Phenomenon

Regional innovation ecosystems...

encompass a set of interdependent factors working together that allow innovation (and its corollary entrepreneurial activity) to occur in a sustained way in a region. These ecosystems, much the same as their ecological equivalents, follow a lifecycle model of development. This week DRiVE team members Josephine McMurray and Katherina Kuschel are in Cambridge, in the UK, gathering data in preparation for a global survey that will attempt to build a model to explain innovation ecosystem development in the health and ageing sectors. 

A narrow street in Cambridge

A narrow street in Cambridge

Cambridge, situated in the eastern region of the United Kingdom in Cambridgeshire, was considered something of a rural backwater in the 50’s but grew a manufacturing base as firms left the increasingly congested London in search of a cheaper and non-unionised labour base. In 2017, it is known as one of Europe’s fasting growing entrepreneurial ecosystems. You can’t help but notice, as you drive into the city, the horizon is dotted with construction cranes. With what is reported to be some of the fastest rising real estate prices in the UK, many note high demand for residential property but also waiting lists for commercial real estate, science parks and incubators. And despite having one of the highest rates of cycling in the country, road congestion and lack of parking now slows movement around the city.  Cambridge’s success in attracting industry and driving start-ups and small business growth, is now challenging the very geography that has contributed to its success.

So other than its location, what other ‘push’ factors have driven the innovation agenda? One needn’t look far beyond the ubiquitous presence of the renowned Cambridge University which ranks in the top three universities in the world for Nobel Laureates. Established in 1208, the university has been the research engine behind what is known as the Cambridge Phenomenon that refers to the large and growing number of high technology firms that have been established in and around the town since the early 1980’s. Our data gathering is offering a rare look inside a mature innovation ecosystem that has a rich, and lengthy history of novel research and award-winning discoveries in technology, the biologic, life and health sciences.

Babraham Research Campus   

Babraham Research Campus

 

Our visit to the famed Babraham Institute and Research Park and meetings with both Derek Jones and Michael Wakelam reflects Cambridge University’s approach of allowing ‘100 flowers to blossom’. There the federation of colleges supports independence of thought for the faculties as well as their faculty members. A virtuous cycle of hiring the best, allowing them to succeed, then using their reputation to hire quality faculty, students and post docs, has driven the innovation agenda.

Now we turn our attention to questions such as, what spillovers from this world-class research and innovative discoveries have on the local population with respect to health and ageing? If the reason for investing millions of public and private funding into research in this region is the improvement of the health and quality of life of its residents, how is that working out? And if not yet, how long does it take for these outcomes to be achieved? We’ll keep you posted.