Yung Wu is CEO at MaRS Discovery District. Under his leadership, the companies MaRS supports are advancing prosperity through entrepreneurial achievement. Located in Toronto, Canada, MaRS is the world’s largest urban innovation hub.
1. When you reflect upon your career path, is there a defining moment that influenced where you are today?
I have been fortunate to have had more than my fair share of wins along the way over a multi-decade career as a serial entrepreneur. But without exception, my most transformative, defining moments always occurred when being tested in major challenges without a safety line. Whether it was surviving the Tech bust, or the crash of the financial services sector after 9/11, or the Great Recession in 2007 … these perfect storms were the catalyst for huge personal and corporate transformations – they were change or die moments, and without exception, the driving factors were externalities that were outside the scope of anyone’s control. Each time, we came out better, faster, smarter and tougher. And the lessons that came from each of those experiences form the core of my worldview – even today.
Cycles are an inevitable force of nature, and when you’ve been in business long enough, you’re going to encounter them – many of them.
It’s not about IP, or product-market fit or smart strategy – those are table stakes just to be in the game. Certainly not about “fail fast”. It’s about how you learn, adapt and pivot fast. And that “NFQ” factor - being willing to put everything on the line, just to outlast the inevitable cycles. Navigating that razor’s edge is the difference maker between massive failure or stellar long term success, both of which are simply two different points on the same continuum. What it taught me was the power of always having choices when times are tough, and creating those choices by assembling dry powder and building relationships, making more deposits than withdrawals when times are good. It also taught me that inertia kills and speed wins.
2. Canada’s tech ecosystem is vibrant and rapidly expanding. Looking back, which factors in your view have driven this expansion?
Factors are: (i) Brain Gain with Transformational Talent; (ii) Rise of AI; (iii) First generation serial entrepreneurs returning to reinvest into the community; (iv) Lengthy 10 year favourable economic cycle (v) Power of an Ecosystem working at scale. The density of ecosystems like MaRS (now the largest urban innovation hub in North America) is creating a virtuous circle, attracting a connected value chain for all of the ingredients that fuel entrepreneurial success. Crucially, this takes out transaction costs and drives down decision inertia for entrepreneurs.
Inertia Kills – Speed wins.
We have an opportunity to build global powerhouse companies that can win on a world stage – Yung Wu, CEO at MaRS
3. Canadian Dream Summit aspires to a Canada where everyone is able to pursue and achieve their greatest ambitions. Three principles guide us: #VisionToReality, #CollaborateLocal, #DreamGlobal. Which one of these resonates the most with your work?
#DreamGlobal–Canada is home to great innovators, but let’s be clear. We are a small market. We must pursue global markets (outside of North America) if we are to create sustainable economic advantage for Canada going forward. Geo-economic boundaries are being reconfigured around disruptive innovation and the centres of power are changing, from powerful countries to powerful cities of innovation. Like Toronto. We have an opportunity to build global powerhouse companies that can win on a world stage, based on the density of the innovation community and the value chain that fuels entrepreneurs that has assembled here. Doing so over the next 3-5 years, will ensure prosperity for Canada over the next 30-50 years.
4. If you had three wishes for Canada’s tech ecosystem in 2019, what would they be and who would they impact?
1) Reframe silo’d regional thinking into collaborative initiatives that can create pathways to high growth global markets.
2) Focus on innovation adoption, and connect “innovation alley” with “main street”. By this I mean faster strategic adoption by large scale corporates of key technology solutions that help corporates to future-proof their businesses, while at the same time providing our entrepreneurs with the strategic backing and validation that they need to build global scale in their start-ups.
3) Harness “entrepreneur nation” to deliver the impact from inclusive innovation and create the shared prosperity that our citizens need.
The companies we support are building truly worthwhile innovations… solving real issues for real people and real businesses.
5. What do you see as a significant area of untapped opportunity for Canadian tech?
Canadians are wired differently. We’re looking outwards, as others look inwards. We see diversity and collaboration as sources of strength, not signs of weakness. As a result, we have created a value system which leverages our differences and gives us our edge.
This is the opportunity for us to reframe that old anachronism, which creates a false choice between creating economic value vs. driving impact. The companies we support are building truly worthwhile innovations like finding ways to trap carbon emissions in concrete, creating eyewear that help the blind to see or using AI to discover digital markers for early onset dementia. It’s here where innovation alley connects with main street, solving real issues for real people and real businesses.
Yung Wu will be speaking at Canadian Dream Summit on February 19th in Toronto. To request an invitation, click here.
About Canadian Dream Summit
Canadian Dream Summit is the world’s only tech conference focused on energizing Canada’s innovation economy by connecting scale-ups to corporates and capital. This event is organized by Canadian Dream Initiative, a not-for-profit with the mission of transforming Canada into the world’s leading innovation economy. Dream Summit attracts 400 business executives and leading voices in technology, business transformation, digital disruption, and innovation, for a full day conference on February 19th, 2019 in Toronto.
The event welcomes global perspectives on issues of national significance in the economy and beyond. With a curated audience and interactive learning opportunities, the conference provides an intimate environment for meaningful discussion. For more information on Dream Summit’s programming, speakers, and sponsorship opportunities please visit https://www.dreamsummit.org