loading the innovate niagara site

The News

BIG Thinkers at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre - What a BIG Idea! - innovate niagara

BIG Thinkers at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre - What a BIG Idea!



Every day when you head off to your workplace, you’re in a competition. Rivals are after the same customers, clients and opportunities. Colleagues, as much as you like and respect them, will put their foot on your throat to get ahead. And in all these scenarios what is the weapon of choice?

An idea. A unique, one-of-a-kind, it’s mine, get out of the way idea.

So, when I walked into the PAC for the BIG Thinkers day and waded into a sea of black clad thirty-somethings, sipping an early afternoon Chardonnay, and buzzing about the upcoming afternoon session, one thing struck me. I hardly recognized anyone and that was so reassuring. The old guard, my old guard, is gradually becoming history and a different breed has galvanized in brand new areas of business chasing new ideas.

Hosting the day was former TV personality Kate Carnegie, now heading her own full-service PR agency in Niagara. Her very presence elevated the day to another level. Innovate Niagara’s head man Jeff Chesebrough then took the mic to welcome the audience. (and give far too much recognition to me for my peripheral involvement)

Kate introduced the day’s Keynote Speaker, Meghan Chayka of Stathletes, a major sports analytics and insight business (her brother is the very young GM of the Arizona Coyotes). For a sports junkie like me, her observations and message were mesmerizing. Consider “the humble work ethic of Niagara will get you a lot further than you can imagine”. “Be open to new opportunities and roll with it, and be confident. We can compete on a global scale every day.”

The two panel discussions that followed showcased local innovators and entrepreneurs. In one instance maximizing data and in the other, cross-border involvements with Health Sciences.

In total, eight truly impressive panelists passed along insights such as “remember data can be done anywhere”; “find a mentor, ask for advice”; “don’t be shy” and in the world of data “people are growing up, fully connected and they care less and less about their data.”

Mayor Walter Sendzik spoke briefly, urging us to think outside our comfort zones. The Health panel left us with thoughts such as “The U.S. views risk very differently. When dealing there, don’t hesitate.” “Build at home first then be aggressive.” And from our American panelist “don’t be discouraged by rules and regulations. NAFTA is not on most people’s radar.”

This was quite an “innovative” afternoon. And one of the most pervasive messages of the day was “We have to brag more. Brag about Niagara; brag about our academic resources; brag about our lifestyle and our people.” And that for this new breed is one hell of an idea!


Terry O’Malley, a native of St. Catharines, is one of the most highly acclaimed creative talents in modern Canadian advertising. O’Malley is the former creative director and partner in the highly influential Toronto-based agency Vickers and Benson Advertising. In more than 30 years at V&B, O’Malley helped build the agency into one of the leading brands in the Canadian advertising industry.

This article originally appeared in The Business Link Niagara.