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Thomson Reuters President and Chief Executive Officer James Smith speaks at the company's annual general meeting for shareholders in Toronto, May 8, 2013.

JON BLACKER/REUTERS

Thomson Reuters Corp. is looking to tap the Waterloo, Ont., startup culture to fuel a new wave of product innovation and problem solving.

The global information giant formally launched an innovation lab housed at early-stage incubator Communitech on Tuesday, promising to make the Canadian high-tech hub a key part of its investment in new ideas.

For years, the company has looked to scale up its collaboration with startup businesses, which had been mostly limited to one-off ventures. Now, Thomson Reuters wants to create a more organized pipeline connecting its data and software resources with new businesses, with clear terms and contracts set up in advance through Communitech.

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"It's a marriage of that startup energy with the rigour that's required of a global, publicly traded company," Jim Smith, president and chief executive officer of Thomson Reuters, said in an interview.

In the past, such marriages have been difficult to navigate, particularly as Mr. Smith acknowledges that many startups are "populated by people who never wanted to work for companies like ours."

But "they want to work on problems like ours," and Thomson Reuters has "real customer problems to solve," he said, many of which deal with Big Data.

Where once Thomson Reuters was known for its acquisitions, the company has more recently been in a steady rebuild that relies mostly on growth from within the company.

The first partnership through the lab involves working with the company ThinkData Works to organize large amounts of open government data, which have historically been kept in a fragmented way, "to make it useful."

The results could provide detailed sales data about Canadian companies to a major bank so it could better evaluate its investments, for example.

The lab is also sponsoring a project at the University of Waterloo to create databases from "unstructured data" such as news or Twitter posts, said Brian Zubert, the lab's director.

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Thomson Reuters has not disclosed the size of its investment in the lab, and Mr. Smith said the number of projects taken on will be dictated by the rate of success. Initial partnerships will likely be tied to Thomson Reuters' financial and legal divisions, but should eventually span all parts of the company.

The company's chairman, David Thomson, called the initiative "a personal one," citing the company's Canadian roots dating back to 1934.

"This really means something," he said. "We will put every ounce of our heart and soul into making it, well, frankly, disruptive to ourselves."

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