My Take on TakeOver Innovation Conference and Toronto

view-from-CN-Tower
This picture I took from the CN Tower makes me wonder if the picture on my blog’s template header is from Toronto.

 

Last month I attended the TakeOver Innovation Conference. Lately I have been mostly attending conferences as a Speaker, but this time it felt great to be on the attendee end. The conference took place in Toronto, Canada, and it was my first time being there. This is my personal take on my experience.

The conference program consisted of various talks in multiple industries. We learned more about how they are using emerging technologies such as block-chain, AR/VR and more in various sectors. Topics covered issues in Retail, Finance (such as VC), Media, Healthcare, Women in Tech and more.

What is TakeOver Innovation Conference?

According to the conference website, “TakeOver is TribalScale’s inaugural Innovation Conference”. The conference consisted of three tracks, human innovation, industry innovation and economic innovation. In specific, it had a focus on emerging technologies in tech and how they can or already foster innovation.

TribalScale is a digital firm specializing in the design and development of world class digital products.

One day when I came across TakeOver’s Conference and after taking a note of all the details I noticed they had a diversity scholarship to attend. On the 25th of September I got a congratulatory email that I had been selected to attend the conference. I was elated, but then I realized the conference is on the 2nd of October and there wasn’t much time left to plan, so this was the most impromptu travel I have ever had! The plan was to travel from Athens, Greece to Toronto, Canada. There was a lot of preparation to be done, packing, planning my budget and more. Luckily, TribalScale employees assisted me to book my flights and book accommodation for the duration of the conference giving me a couple of extra days to settle (thanks Ruth & Samantha for the assistance!)

Getting to Canada

This was my first time to travel to Canada. It was a long journey and being on the plane without company for so many hours is boring and uncomfortable. I realized that my flight had no TV screen to pass time in the plane, that was a bummer! I was very tired with all the planning so luckily I spent most of the time semi-sleeping during the Greek morning hours and I believe that is what helped me adapt faster to the Canadian Timezone.

Once I landed in Canada, some awesome family friends drove me to my hotel after first taking me to place to get some food. That helped a lot, as it made it easier for me. The transport system in Toronto works differently from the one in Athens but the train to get you from Pearson Airport to Downtown Toronto seemed pretty straightforward and not too complicated. Toronto is also very multicultural which I liked a lot.

The next morning I walked around in town, went to Eaton mall, and found some good breakfast.

holding an express patties pattyI tried some scrumptious food around downtown Toronto. There are a few foodie spots that if I travel to Toronto again I will surely step my foot there and have a bite! One of them is Express Patties, I highly recommend them! It was reasonably priced in comparison to other stores around (at least up-to-date) and they have vegetarian (it might be vegan too, who knows), chicken and beef as filling options with varying levels of heat intensity! You can see me holding a warm patty and after having a few bites I had to capture the moment! I also tried some other things that were very good but let’s leave the foodie aspect for another time.

 

Sometime during that day I got a VIP ticket in my email inviting me for a dinner. Initially I thought this as a mistake because did not remember purchasing a VIP ticket. I decided to go there and inquire about it. I walked about 30 minutes till the venue (travel hack: walking to places that are around 30 minutes away or more if you can handle it, by foot is a great way to see more of the city you are living in.)

At the venue which was listed on the ticket I met a few TribalScale’s employees that welcomed me and informed me that they invited me for the dinner/networking. I did my best to talk to people I did not know, and then I walked back to my hotel. Toronto feels safe at night. I got into my quiet room, which I loved, and prepared for the conference day.

The Conference Day

The interesting stats (I got this from an email the organizers sent to all attendees)…

The conference was a one day conference but it was a packed schedule. It took place at Arcadian Court and Loft. I remember the conference starting with the CEO of TribalScale, Sheetal Jaitly telling us about the importance of having a strong network. From the top of my head I remember him saying something along the lines of, “Your network is your net worth.” and how important it is to speak to people you do not know. I later on found out that this quote is a title of a book written by Porter Gale.

” Your network is your net worth.”

I personally knew no one so everyone I attempted to speak to was someone I did not know, but I understand that it is way more comfortable to speak with people you already know. However, I believe that what he was saying is significant because if you think of it, this conference took 3 months of planning, and based on my experience on speaking with a few conference organizers, this type of conferences take at least 6 months of planning. The fact that it was planned and executed in 3 months, having successfully found sponsors, getting 800+ attendees, and a lot of them personally knowing Sheetal speaks loads about how strong his relationship is with many people. Also it is important to see the statistics of the conference. They had a little over 50% of female speakers. Currently, you don’t get to see such a thing as easily at large tech conferences except if it is one that is targeted to women in tech. They were able to do that, because they worked hard to promote diversity for their conference.

After the general introduction, they did something like a stand up meeting. Everyone stood up and we went through some of the most recent news around the world. They later on had an open mic moment for anyone who had any important announcements to make. Once that was done there were various sessions that were broken down into 3 tracks. I’ll paraphrase what they were about as per their conference website.

Industry innovation: It is focused on how companies are using technology to transform industries, connect with customers and create the best products available on the market.

Human innovation: It is focused on the way technology has changed humans, our experiences and interactions.

Economic innovation: This track covered topics on Initial Coin Offerings, new stock market models, Bitcoin, InsureTech, corporate giving and more.

This conference was very focused on topics around emerging technologies and innovation.

From each track I selected some sessions to attend, and I will list those in a minute. I found the talks to be beginner friendly for beginners in tech especially those that can understand some basic technical terms, people in the business industry trying to learn more about tech, and people who want to learn about emerging technologies. I didn’t see code or very complicated technical discussions in any of the sessions that I went to so those looking for something advance in relation to engineering topics might have not got that but some of the talks were gearing towards intermediate to advanced, meaning that people with more technical depth would have enjoyed them a lot.

Aside of the talks they had Augmented Reality (AR) Demo’s from Microsoft. They were showing the hololens. I wanted to try it but it was always a busy stand so I eventually didn’t but I think that was a cool thing to have. They were some other stands as well but I didn’t really checked them out.

I also paid close attention to other details such as the venue, it was clean, the catering they choose, especially for the lunch, was of very good quality. The chairs in some rooms where not very comfortable but I liked that they placed those chairs in rooms where people were less likely to spend more than an hour at. They also had spaces outside of the conference rooms where someone could sit and relax for a bit, though there was no quiet room like some other conferences I have been to but it was a good way to have some alone time.

So which sessions did I go to? Here is the list of the ones I went to and their given descriptions:

Workshop: Storytelling That Predicts Disruptive Innovation – “The nature of growth—and survival—has changed. Most corporate cultures were created to scale efficiently, but innovation is no longer about navigating these constraints — it’s about breaking constraints. Leaders need a new system to break constraints, within their existing culture. Surprisingly, we already have a system so powerful that it works in every culture and has lasted as long as humanity itself. It’s storytelling. Join us and see how a story helps anyone become better at predicting low-end disruptive innovation (i.e. Netflix).”

Panel: D.R.E.A.M: Data Rules Everything Around Me – “Data rules all business decisions and if you’re not using data, chances are you’re missing an opportunity to connect with your customers, provide better services or product and ultimately create a better experience for your users. Join our panelists as they share how they have built their business around big data.”

Panel: Blockchain – “Blockchain: the de-centralized way to make transactions that’s got everybody talking. Our distinguished panel discusses the business cases for blockchain and how it will change the world of commerce as we know it.” I left this session midway in an attempt to get to see a spotlight chat happening at the same time called “The Future is Female” it was about girls and women engaging with technology but unfortunately it finished early.

Panel: AI: Hype vs. Reality (This was my favourite session of the day) – “From AlphaGO to self driving cars, advances in AI are making headlines and capturing our attention. Join our panelists for a lively discussion on the hype vs. reality of how AI is changing businesses and our relationship with technology.”

Panel: My Mind’s Playin Tricks on Me – This one (I couldn’t trace its description) was about VR/AR technologies, their future and how it can help businesses.

Panel: All Eyez on Media – This one from what I remember was about the media and how it is evolving through technology.

Spotlight Chat: AI – First World – “In this session, Element AI will leverage their research and consultancy experience to discuss how corporations can identify opportunities to use AI to maximize their business.”

Once the sessions ended they had a networking event at one of the halls in the venue. By the end of that networking event I was able to locate 3 out of the 4 other scholarship winners, that says that I did a very good job in getting out of my comfort zone and talking to a lot of people. Overall everything was very relaxed and that is something that I highly appreciate.Below you can see the conference highlight video (one of the tunes in the video sounded familiar, I realized it was a remix track of spirited away anime.)

The day ended well, and the next few days left in Canada were some of the best I have had in a while!

I got asked about how I find Toronto a lot. I told everyone that it felt very familiar to me even though I have never been there before. My time in Toronto was amazing! I met some great friends who made the whole experience one of the best I have had in a while. There were so many fun things we did. This was a great journey, that even though I embarked it alone it ended up being special because of all the caring people that ensured that I had a memorable time.

I hope to get other such great opportunities and I hope the same for anyone that wishes to experience great things.

2 thoughts on “My Take on TakeOver Innovation Conference and Toronto

  • November 10, 2017 at 7:36 pm
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    Great article! Hope you visit again sometime! What were some of your biggest takeaways from it as a whole? Other than communicating with new people, which I’m glad you did, and the fantastic food haha

    Reply
    • November 10, 2017 at 7:54 pm
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      Thanks Ben! I hope to visit again too!

      In the AI (Artificial Intelligence): Hype vs Reality, I remember that someone asked about what do people think about companies trying to hire AI researchers and get them out of the academia and how that can affect the advancement of research. This sometimes happens because AI is an area where there aren’t a lot of seasoned experts but then you can find some of them in the academia. One answer given is that some companies try to work hand in hand with academia and collaborate with them.

      One of my biggest takeaway is seeing that companies are actually embracing emerging technologies. Whenever a new technology is introduced sometimes companies can be cautious about it or hesitant to transition towards something different, so seeing how people are incorporating a lot of these new technologies on their businesses was impressive.

      Reply

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