Cisco Canada opens Toronto Innovation Centre

Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman

Cisco Canada president Bernadette Wightman

Cisco Canada this week opened the doors to its new Toronto Innovation Centre, one of nine such facilities the networking giant has worldwide.

Located at its new headquarters on Toronto’s waterfront, the Innovation Centre aims to provide a place for Cisco, partners, complementary vendors, and customers to come together and work on new solutions. The company has big goals for the new centre, said Bernadette Wightman, president of Cisco Canada. So much so that she’s already informally planning an expansion from its current half-floor footprint.

“The more we bring these ecosystems together and bring these partners together, the better it will be,” Wightman said. “We’re already planning to transform the other half of the floor.”

That would be about on pace with what the company experiences in terms of usage at its other Innovation Centres and corporate briefing centres, said Allison Gleeson, senior vice president of Canada, U.S. and Latin America at Cisco.

“The best problem we have is being full,” she said.”It’s a beautiful thing, and I hope it’s the case here.”

The Centre will be a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-to-work environment, not one for tire-kicking cool future technologies, but one for solving current or near-future customer problems.

Rick Huijbregts, managing director of digital transformation for Cisco Americas.

Rick Huijbregts, managing director of digital transformation for Cisco Americas.

“Any customer or partner with whom we can work on a real problem together is welcome here,” said Rick Huijbregts, managing director of digital transformation for Cisco Americas.

At an open house showing off the new facility this week, Cisco used three of the facility’s meeting rooms to show off the three main stages with which the Centre is poised to help customers and partners. The first room, themed around “ideation and innovation,” housed a group of students from Toronto-area Cisco Networking Academies. The second room, the solutions lab, offered a variety of innovative offering from 11 different Cisco partner companies — nine of them Canadian — ranging from e-bikes to smart fire hydrants to computerized brain wave recognition and analysis. The third room represented “our Dragon’s Den Boardroom,” showing off the full lifecycle of solution development Cisco envisions — come up with the idea, develop the idea, get the idea funded. Cisco has committed $150 million to Canadian startups and Canadian innovation through venture capital partnerships, and sees many of the new solutions it will be funding coming through the Innovation Centre.

“The future of Canada can’t rely on the ups and downs of the resource sector. We’re betting on the innovation centre, and providing fuel for the rocket ships,” said John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures, a Cisco VC partner. He added that working with Cisco provides “intellectual horsepower” in the form of “tens of thousands of people we didn’t have access to before.”

The demonstration also featured live telepresence links to Innovation Centres in Berlin and Rio de Janeiro, the latter of which is the only other Americas-based Innovation Centre in the Cisco network.

From the start, it will focus on urban modernization, healthcare, and financial services. And while the temptation was there to define spaces for each of those categories, that wouldn’t prove to be a very innovative way to approach it, Huijbregts said.

“We’re using the technology – the digital media engine – to on-the-fly change the look and feel, and deliver different content to change the conversation,” he said. “We get much more value out of the space that way, and we can constantly innovate without constantly renovating.”

There will be some permanent — or near-permanent — visitors, though. Cisco has announced a partnership with TD Bank to work together on innovation in terms of customer and employee experience in the financial sector. Paul Milkman, senior vice president and CIO of TD, said the vision is to bring the “green comfy chair” experience profiled in the bank’s various ads to the digital experience it provides.

“We’re going where our customers are going to give them the best possible experience,” he said. “We’re off to a good start, but there’s still much more to do.”

The grand opening was attended by a variety of top partners and customers, as well as government officials including Toronto mayor John Tory, Ontario minister of research and innovation Reza Moridi, and federal minister of small business Bardish Chaggar.

“I want Toronto to be home of the game changers,” Tory said. “When they talk about things that are disruptive, they’ll say they came from here. This is nation-building and city-building at its best.”

A departure from Cisco’s meeting room naming system, which tends to use place names, the Innovation Centre rooms are named after innovation leaders throughout time, ranging from World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee to electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla to inventor and actress Heddy Lamarr. Those names are important, said Wightman. But not as important as the names yet to come through the doors to those rooms.

“The question isn’t what the name on the room is today, it’s what the name on the room is going to be tomorrow,” she said.