Greek philosopher Heraclitus once stated, “the only constant in life is change” and this past year has definitely proved it. As can be expected from an innovative unit at UWaterloo, we wholeheartedly accept and embrace change and are extremely excited to fill you in on a new addition to the Concept Team. We recently welcomed a fresh face to the role of Concept Interim Director, John Dick.
John recently stepped into the new role as Interim Director, bringing with him a wealth of experience and an exciting vision for the future. Now that you know the name, we’d like to introduce you to the person behind it to share his thoughts on entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Waterloo.
A Wealth of Experience
John earned his Bachelor of Chemical Engineering from McGill University in 2004. He remained at McGill and quickly followed up with a Master of Chemical Engineering in 2007, focused on the development of protein-based gas hydrate inhibitors. Continuing his education, John journeyed to the United Kingdom where he completed his PhD in the Development of Nanotechnology Enabled Biosensors at Imperial College London in 2012. After his extensive education, John co-founded Nicoya Lifesciences with UWaterloo and Conestoga College students. This young team of future minded entrepreneurs worked out of Velocity (at that time called the Velocity Foundry) before graduating to their own space in 2016. John left Nicoya in 2019 and continued his quest for knowledge by earning his MBA from Wilfrid Laurier in 2020.
During his time at Nicoya, John was the Chief Science Officer and saw the team grow from 2 Co-founders, to over 40 employees and it continues to grow today. He was instrumental in the growth and success of the company and looks back on that time fondly. With such an impressive background and limitless possibilities for his future, we asked John about what brought him back to the UWaterloo community and what he envisions for the future of Concept.
Q&A With John
Q: What inspired you to come work with Concept?
After cofounding and working at a startup for almost 7 years, I reflected on the times that I enjoyed the most and it was really in those first few years when everything was new, and we really had no idea what we were doing. The advisors we had at that time were crucial to our success and since I gain a lot of joy from teaching and advising, joining the Concept program was a perfect fit.
Q: As an accomplished entrepreneur and co-founder yourself, what stands out about UWaterloo?
It’s really the quality of the students here at UWaterloo that makes everything we are doing at Concept and Velocity possible. It was that way back when I first started with Nicoya in 2012 and it remains that way today. The innovative thinking, the enthusiasm and the determination I see from the student teams really powers everything that has been built in this region. The Concept program exists and continues to grow due to their accomplishments.”
Q: How do you see Concept fitting into the entrepreneurial community and helping students?
I see Concept as a guide for students who want to develop skills in innovative thinking. Over the past few months, we’ve been collaborating more with the other campus innovation centres that share in this vision. Problem Lab, The Zero Experience, The Greenhouse, The Centre for Peace Advancement, Conrad School, UWaterloo Libraries and The Centre for Career Advancement are all designed to help students develop the skills they need to have great careers, whether that is employment or entrepreneurship. When we work together, we can advance student teams further than when we work independently. I think Concept is well positioned to facilitate these collaborative efforts.
Since Concept’s focus historically has been to inspire entrepreneurship, this will remain our bread and butter. However, we will support any student who wishes to explore any interests in innovation and direct them to the centre most applicable to their needs.
Q: What’s next on the horizon for Concept?
The Concept team has some great ideas coming through the pipeline. Recently we launched the Cornerstone Program designed to take advanced student teams through customer discovery and validation processes to test their ideas and build a robust business plan. Its goal is to ensure that all students who wish to commercialize their idea are well equipped to continue pursuing their goals post-graduation. This Spring we will be piloting a Translation Program designed to help graduate students and professors commercialize their scientific research. Our aim is to drive positive outcomes for research that has a high potential for commercial impact on the Canadian economy.
In order to help expand the Campus Innovation Centre’s offerings beyond entrepreneurship and into general skills in innovative thinking, Concept is developing new programs with The Problem Lab and the Centre for Career Action. Innovation does not belong solely to entrepreneurs; it is also used to help established businesses improve and grow their own processes to better compete in the marketplace. New hires who have an innovation skillset and know how to bring about positive change to their organization are in high demand. The goal of our new programming is to teach skills in employee innovation that any student can use to improve their chances of being hired and enjoy a more fulfilling career. We will be crafting the new programs over the spring term and will be ready to launch them in fall 2021.
And last but certainly not least, we are working with Co-operative and Experiential Education through the WE Accelerate Program to deliver the Concept Innovation Stream. In it, first year co-ops who are unable to find employment next term will be assembled into teams and brought through a training program that will teach them problem analysis and design thinking. They will then put their newly acquired skills to work with The Problem Lab, The Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change, and TRANSFORM on issues related to climate change. They will work on creating innovative solutions throughout the semester and in turn receive valuable experience, as well as a co-op credit.
Q. What do you do for fun outside of work?
A few years ago, I really got into axe throwing with a league at BATL Kitchener. I liked it so much, I even worked there a little on evenings and weekends to teach newcomers how to throw and to run events. I was able to win a few local championships and was invited to the Champions League finals 5 years in a row. Due to COVID, the Kitchener business had to close unfortunately, but as soon as things are safe, I’m really looking forward to cleaning the rust off my old axe and throwing again.
Since John became Interim Director, Concept has been undergoing an evolution to provide better resources, to a wider range of students. The Winter 2021 semester saw a record number of $5K applicants, the first iteration of the Cornerstone Program, an increased level of collaboration and communication across entrepreneurial units at UWaterloo, the creation and launch of the Concept Innovation Stream through WE Accelerate, and additional funding resources for UWaterloo students through the Climate Change Fund. With John at the helm, the future of Concept is looking incredibly bright and with the students at UWaterloo, innovation in the region has never looked more promising.
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