Most Powerful People

Canada’s Most Powerful Business People 2016: #36 — Iain Klugman

Teaches big business to think like startups again

Iain Klugman, CEO, Communitech
(Euan Rocha/Reuters)

#36: Iain Klugman

CEO, Communitech

Why he matters: Teaches big business to think like startups again

@iainklugman 2,889 followers

Ten years ago, Silicon Valley venture capitalists had little regard for the Waterloo Region startup community. “They wouldn’t come up here even if you paid them,” says Iain Klugman, CEO of Communitech. Now, investors from the Valley visit every week.

The area saw massive growth in the startup community over past few years. In 2010, only 155 startups called the region home; that number jumped to 513 in 2014. Klugman has played no small part in the success of the region, overseeing the development of many of the $100-million firms in Waterloo, Ont. through his role at Communitech, a non-profit organization whose mission is to grow successful tech companies. About 120 businesses reside at its 50,000-square foot clubhouse, and it offers services to more than 1,000 firms each year.

Klugman has started partnering with large corporations, too, turning Communitech into the go-to hub for established businesses that want to unleash their inner startup. Canadian Tire, TD, Manulife, Canon, Deloitte and Thomson Reuters have all established labs at its facilities.“These big companies are trying to figure out how to become more innovative, and how to be disruptive themselves as opposed to being disrupted by other startups,” Klugman says. “We offer them an opportunity to be embedded in the broader tech ecosystem, and through our labs, teach them how to think differently.” Klugman believes the relationship can be mutually beneficial: These big brands can help out the smaller players by partnering on initiatives or by becoming customers.

When TD was considering establishing an innovation hub, the choice of location was obvious. TD Lab director Ian McDonald explains Communitech stood out because it’s situated near the University of Waterloo, which has the largest concentration of math and computer scientists in the world, and because of the number of tech startups and established companies in the region. At the end of its first year, TD Lab has built 25 prototypes of apps and potential new services, including a financial education app for kids.

Klugman joined Communitech back in 2004, at a time when he was figuring out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He’d previously worked at the Privy Council Office and Nortel. After a visit to Communitech, he was persuaded to take over by local heavyweights, including Tom Jenkins, now chair of the board at OpenText. “You come here for a job and it ends up being your life’s work,” laughs Klugman.

His next aspiration is to build a Toronto-Waterloo Corridor and turn it into a world-leading innovation centre. “What you’ve got to have is as many Silicon Valleys as you can in your country,” he says. “That’s how you move the needle at the national level.”

More of Canada’s Most Powerful Business People:

▲ #35 Darren Entwistle
▼ #37 Stewart Butterfield