The Globe and Mail's Innovators at Work contest recognizes talented Canadians who not only have great ideas, but also turn them into reality. Thank you to Globe readers who nominated people from across Canada. The panel of judges has selected the top 12 Canadian Innovators. The first four winners were announced last week and here are the next four. The final quartet will be revealed next week.
It's easy to recognize innovation when it comes in the form of a sexy new gadget with an abundance of media buzz. But sometimes, innovation can be small improvements that have a big impact, says Dan Debow, senior vice-president of emerging technologies at Salesforce.com.
"People think innovation is high tech," says Mr. Debow, a judge for The Globe and Mail's Innovators at Work contest. "It's got to be either a group of hackers or something that's being done in clean rooms with lab coats. What we forget is that innovation is often incremental improvements in the practical realities of normal businesses."
A prime example of this kind of innovative thinking is the "Whale" tanker trailer devised by Mr. Thiessen, president and chief executive officer of Western Manufacturing Ltd., and an Innovators at Work winner in the Natural Resources category. The Whale is a 230-cubic-metre tanker trailer, designed to double the hauling and heating efficiency of mobile tanks used in the energy sector. The supersized tanker trailer – which is mostly used to transport water and other liquids for use in fracking – boasts an improved heating system and is about as big as Department of Transportation regulations allow.
It's innovative because Mr. Thiessen took a traditional mode of transport and found a way to improve upon it, says Mr. Debow.
"That's what I found so interesting about it," he says. "[Lonny] was thinking, 'How can I do this better? How can I imagine a future that is better?' He didn't invent a hovercraft water carrier; he's saying, 'I can change the way the truck is physically built,' and all of a sudden it changes the game."
Ms. Pick is another Innovators at Work winner who found a way to improve upon an existing process. The executive director of the Missing Children Society of Canada won in the Public Sector and Academia category for her forward-thinking Search program. When a child goes missing, police and media are notified through regular channels. But the newly developed Search app can also push alerts about missing children to private companies and ordinary Canadians through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, getting the word out more quickly to more people.
It's a great example of how technology can be applied to all parts of our society, Mr. Debow says.
"Innovation doesn't have to be exclusively, 'Hey, I launched a new product.' Social innovation is exploding in Canada, and people want businesses and ideas with purpose," Mr. Debow says. "The cost of innovating for these not-for-profits is coming down and just like the rest of society, they are realizing that they can no longer engage and interact with their constituents the way they used to. What I saw [in the Search program] was that this project isn't just about business, but innovation in the way we deliver better community."
A winner in the Science and Technology category, Mr. Milne set out to improve chemical products across a number of industries after taking over his father's company, Alex Milne Associates. Mr. Milne has developed a number of safer, more ecologically-minded products, from water-based boat cleaners to mosquito repellents made from garlic oil to plant- and mineral-based products that reduce dust in horse arenas.
"[Bill] saw the way he had solved one environmental problem and took that solution and applied it to another industry, and then another industry," says judge Sheldon Levy, president and vice chancellor at Ryerson University in Toronto. "I thought that was very clever that he asked, 'If it could work here, why can't it work there?'"
Judge Annette Verschuren, chair and chief executive officer of NRStor Inc., was impressed by winner Ms. Ching's innovative HerSwab, a self-test for cervical cancer that women can do at home. It's a product that could have a big impact on Canadian health care, says Ms. Verschuren, and could even save lives.
Ms. Ching, chief executive officer at Eve Medical Inc., is a winner in the Health category. HerSwab, which is available for research and limited commercial use, is being developed to alert women who test positive for high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), so they will seek follow-up with a physician.
"What I liked about Jessica's idea is that it came out of a conversation she had with women around a table," Ms. Verschuren says. "This idea came out of need, and she saw the opportunity because she talked to customers.
"Those are the best ideas, quite frankly. Inventors are usually the people who see problems out there and look for solutions, and the best way to do that is to talk to potential clients and the general public."