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Humans of Tech - David Carter



“Every day there’s a lesson that walks in front of you and you either choose to internalize that or not.“

Who are you?

I’m David Carter. I’m the Executive Director of the Innovation Factory in Hamilton. We’re a Regional Innovation Centre - one of 17 across the province. I thought I’d be here for about 3 years but I’m coming up on 6 years next week!

The reputation for Hamilton isn’t high tech. The old reputation is steel and manufacturing. It’s what you see from the Skyway. So part of what I’m doing is more than just managing a centre, it’s really trying to be a participant in the community and draw out more entrepreneurs and more innovation.

What people outside of the region don’t seem to realize is just how much health care innovation we have going on. We’ve got the largest (or second largest, depending on how you measure) hospital network in the province and we work with McMaster University and Mohawk College around digital health innovation.

For example, we held a life science pitch competition recently. It was more than just “come and pitch”. We draw scientists with ideas out and pair them with recent graduates. We had a surgeon attend one of these events and he had an idea for a device that would make laparoscopic surgery better. The idea didn’t win the pitch but we did pair him up with a recent MBA grad and they went on to create a company around this device. Four years later, the device has been FDA approved, being used actively, and the student is the COO.

Lots of people want to help and solve problems, they’re just not sure how. We’re about bringing the right community members to the table and making those connections.

What's your major internal motivation for doing what you do?

My drive is to help companies like that and help them get ahead faster by sharing the lessons and examples of mistakes that I’ve made.

I did a startup and made some classic mistakes - like adding more features, making a product wider instead of more vertical. Some of the lessons seemed counterintuitive and if someone had told it to me, just the advice, then I wouldn’t have believed them. But if you can give an example, then I could’ve saved my investors $20 million!

I’ve always loved tech. From the first moment I put my hands on a computer. If you have the mind of an inventor, tech gives you unending raw material. It can be used in so many different ways. People take this amorphous tech, make it into something new, and we’re always amazed. Like a chef with a pantry full of unending ingredients. And those ingredients just keep on growing so rapidly. We’ve made thousands of new ingredients since 1998 - definitely after Windows 95!

How do you maintain energy/recharge outside of work?

On that note - I try to get away from the tech that I love so much. My zen is kayaking. I’m not going to lie … I do take my phone with me because it’s a camera as well … and I may have taken a conference call from the kayak once… but I don’t want to miss the joy of nature. It’s nice to look up and appreciate that once in a while.

Bonus!: How He Got Here

I’d worked in the Toronto Stock Exchange and that was very corporate. I worked with Microsoft when they were a scrappy startup and left at the end of 2000 as they were starting to get more corporate. I ran a startup for 12 years and now I’m in this interesting environment where you’re working in-between the government and startups. All the things I’ve done in my career have played a role in where I am now. It’s an interesting 3rd phase of my career!

I never had the desire to be the CEO and being technical, it’s always hard to manage when you think you might be able to do it better and want to get your hands in there. When you’re a leader of a lot of different people with different roles, you have to check your ego at the door. You have to help bring out aspects of the people you’re leading and help them manage their priorities. You have to manage competing personalities and smooth the way for them to work together. How you work with people and how you lead people is an acquired skill.