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Clayton Bear, Toni Desrosiers, Tim Lichti and Shana Kelley are among the 12 winners of the Innovators at Work contest.
Clayton Bear, Toni Desrosiers, Tim Lichti and Shana Kelley are among the 12 winners of the Innovators at Work contest.

Top 12 Canadian innovators

To be innovative, be unreasonable Add to ...

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. We named the first eight over the past two weeks. Today, meet the final four.

There’s a George Bernard Shaw quote that Dan Debow particularly likes: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

Being unreasonable can produce some of the most innovative ideas, says Mr. Debow, senior vice-president of emerging technologies at Salesforce.com, and a judge for The Globe and Mail’s Innovators at Work contest. Mr. Debow says many of the most intriguing entrepreneurs in the contest employed this kind of counterintuitive thinking, with fantastic results.

“Things that are innovative tend to sound like crazy ideas when people first hear about them, like ‘Nobody’s going to do that, it’s not possible,’” Mr. Debow says. “And I think this is sort of an interesting conundrum we have as Canadians. We pride ourselves on being a reasonable people, we’re pragmatic, we’re collaborative, we compromise. But innovation, it’s usually the unreasonable people who tend to drive these things forward.”

Clayton Bear

An Innovators at Work winner in the Natural Resources category, Mr. Bear is an example of this kind of unreasonable thinking at work, Mr. Debow says. Mr. Bear, chief executive officer and chief technical officer at New Energy Corp. Inc., designed a portable water turbine that can be used to create power anywhere there is a river or a stream. He now has installations in places such as Nepal, Alaska, India and Northern Canada.

“You have to know that people told him this was a crazy idea and he shouldn’t do it,” Mr. Debow says. “But he did, and to me, that resonated. Another thing I liked was, in many cases, when we think of power, we think of massive scale, giant power plants. I think it’s an interesting trend toward smaller fabrications, decentralization, and the idea that you could provide enough power that could dramatically transform people’s lives.”

Toni Desrosiers

Another example of an innovator who went against common thinking is Ms. Desrosiers, who won in the Manufacturing and Retail category. She transformed the idea of plastic wrap with her reusable Abeego wraps, which are made of hemp and cotton, infused with beeswax, tree resin and jojoba oil.

“This is one that I relate to because I make lunch every day and I hate plastic wrap,” says Paul Waldie, a judge and The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business editor. “And using those bags, I find them a waste. You feel like you’re doing horrible things to the environment by throwing them out. The Abeego wraps are interesting because they are reusable and environmentally friendly, and it’s really fascinating what she’s come up with.”

Mr. Debow liked that Abeego is tackling a small segment of the market, rather than trying to dominate the whole thing.

“I don’t think they are competing with traditional cling wraps or plastic wraps; they are saying, ‘There is another group of people who might be interested in using something else,’” Mr. Debow says. “There is a very large eco-friendly, environmentally-sensitive market niche.”

Tim Lichti

A winner in the Finance and Professional Services category, Mr. Lichti has created an innovation for employers who manage workers in the field. His company, Breadcrumbtracking.com, developed an app that works with almost any mobile device and provides employers with an almost instant update on where their staff is at any given moment, and how long they are spending on tasks.

“Everybody is looking for ways to improve productivity, and this not only helps the employer but the employee manage their day and the workload they have. It’s very smart,” says judge Annette Verschuren, chairwoman and chief executive officer of NRStor Inc.

Shana Kelley

Another innovator who is taking on the traditional way of doing things is Ms. Kelley, a winner in the Health category. Ms. Kelley, a University of Toronto professor and founder of Xagenic, developed a lab-free molecular diagnostic platform that can test for cancer and infectious diseases in the field, with results that are available in 20 minutes.

It’s a product, says Mr. Debow, that is in line with a bigger trend that’s happening in health care: the decentralization and democratization of diagnostics.

“We’re seeing people wanting to take control and understand their own data,” Mr. Debow says. “From a consumer perspective, that’s a large part of driving the adoption of wearables like the Apple watch. I want to know how I’m doing and share that and control that data in a way that adds value. So I think that [Shana’s] innovation is well positioned for the future.”

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