Chatham-Kent Expats & Alumni Return (Virtually) to Discuss Region’s Potential for Innovation
On Thursday April 29th, at 10:30 in the morning, screens all across the region ignited as Tech Homecoming: Chatham-Kent Edition commenced.
Heading up the panel was technology experts, including senior staff from Google and other regional leaders. Many of the experts are former Chatham-Kent residents who are now living abroad and are returning to share their insights and knowledge on how to make the region a Hub of Innovation.
And according to the President and CEO of WEtech Alliance—one of 17 regional innovation centers in the province—the excitable Yvonne Pilon, the conversation is all about changing.
“Over the next 60 minutes, we’ll be bringing together Chatham-area expats, former residents of Chatham and leaders to reconnect with the place they once called home,” Yvonne stated. “This year, WEtech stood ready to do whatever we could to support founders, talent and community. We have spent time educating ourselves day-by-day, minute-by-minute, on new support measures to help give back to the community.”
Before the first panelist took the stage, Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff weighed in with some opening remarks.
“I want to welcome everybody to the first annual tech homecoming,” Mayor Canniff exclaimed. “This is an exciting event, as tech is our future. As we move forward, tech becomes more and more a part of our daily lives. Looking at the panel, we have five amazing ex-Chatham residents that still consider our region home. I look forward to hearing what they have to say and how we can advance tech here!”
Next, Patricia Riopel, the President of Scribendi Editing and Proofreading and the winner of the 2021 Women in Tech Award, as a relative newcomer to the region, shared her unique perspective.
“I came to this region four-and-a-half years ago to take over Scribendi, a language-tech business,” Patricia explained. “We pay for more than $42 million in local wages annually. I think it’s important, for all of us, to have these local home-grown businesses. It’s important to the vitality of our home. In order for us to become a hub of innovation, we need people like our panelists to come home and start businesses.”
And Scribendi continues to grow. You can check out two of their current openings on the WEtech Alliance Tech Jobs Board.
After Patricia revved everyone up, Michael Stanford, the Vice President of Marketing from TekSavvy took the virtual stage.
“We remain hometown proud. We’re excited to continue our work making Chatham-Kent a hub of innovation.”
“TekSavvy has a keen interest in seeing Chatham-Kent and all of Southwestern Ontario grow and prosper,” Michael explained. “We’re headquartered here! The vast majority of our staff and employees live in this region. Many, many of our business and residential customers call this region home. Economic prosperity and growth in this region means TekSavvy grows. We remain hometown proud. We’re excited to continue our work making Chatham-Kent a hub of innovation.”
Going forward, TekSavvy plans on investing approximately $250 million over the next 5 years in broadband infrastructure in Southwestern Ontario.
“We’re working with local, provincial and federal agencies to put fiber in the ground,” Michael stated. “So that your homes have greater access to the networks and platforms that drive the local economy.”
Yvonne then took a moment to welcome Matt Reaume, the Economic Development Officer at the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and the event’s Panel Moderator.
“I am excited and humbled to be moderating today’s session,” Matt stated. “It’s an incredible time to be coming back to Chatham-Kent—or just coming here in general! Some of our panelists are coming home again because of the past. For others, it’s because of the future. Chatham-Kent leads the world in the production of over 70 crop varieties, from fruits and vegetables to plants and grains. Chatham-Kent is growing and moving, and we are thrilled to welcome our new and old friends!”
Matt then introduced the first panelist: Justine Janssen, the SVP Strategic Initiatives at Ceridian, named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2019.
“I think there’s some really small tactical things that can put Chatham on the map,” Justine explained. “That is one advantage Chatham has over the bigger centers, that it’s fairly small. You know who the entrepreneurs are locally. And Chatham is still growing! We have all this amazing talent coming in! It’s all about understanding the network that’s there and creating inclusions for them.”
Blenheim-area native Mike Pegg, the Head of Google Maps Platform Developer Relations from Google, then brought in some hard-won lessons from California. Specifically, the need for virtual and human connectivity.
“What’s interesting about the Bay area is that it feels like it hasn’t existed for the last year,” Mike admitted. “We moved here to be at Google headquarters. But, the location hasn’t mattered for over a year! The ways we’ve communicated over the last year have taught us a lot. We’ve always been pretty insulated within Google—it’s a city within a city. But Silicon Valley doesn’t just operate within itself. It’s connected to many other centers—Waterloo, Ottawa, London, Tokyo. Silicon Valley isn’t just this disconnected Ground Zero. It’s all about different ways of thinking for smaller communities.”
Allan Livingston, the also California-located Director of Product Management, Core Systems at Google, elaborated on what Mike had to say.
“There’s nothing magical at Silicon Valley,” Mike stated. “Just a built-in confidence. There’s nothing in the water! It all started with some guys at Stanford. So, I think what Chatham-Kent and all other areas need to do is ask themselves if post-secondary is setting up people in those fields. Are they understanding that they can be successful in their own communities? Make sure the innovation community is integrated within education. That’s the genesis of all these areas like Silicon Valley.”
Manufacturing and Agriculture sectors “ripe for innovation”
The fourth panelist, Don Duval, the CEO of NORCAT, then delivered a unique call to action.
“In terms of local tech entrepreneurs, Chatham-Kent is rooted in tangible IP,” Don explained. “We’re well-known in agriculture and manufacturing. Those are legacy industries in Canada. But, those legacy industries are often slow to accept innovation. I would encourage local entrepreneurs to recognize our amazing foundation, credibility and talent. We have some very important industries to our country’s GDP. What ideas are the entrepreneurial communities thinking about to enhance manufacturing? To enhance agricultural output? Those sectors are ripe for innovation!”
Want to soak up more knowledge from these five distinguished panelists? Check out the full recorded event below.
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