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What innovation really means for traditional small business in Waterloo Region


Written by Mistie Brown


One of the most important things the DISC program is doing for participating small businesses is finding and executing opportunities for innovation outside of their existing operations.


Only 13% of Canadian firms are actually aware of changing technologies and promoting cultures of innovation. 


After speaking with over 160 local small business owners in Waterloo Region through community consultations, we know that many entrepreneurs often focus their energy solely on the everyday operations of their.....


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Student Experience: A Journalist's Perspective

Written by Carly Verhoeven


The Kickoff

Over three hundred applicants, with fifty of the strongest competitors and a short list of fifteen businesses… it’s hard to believe the time has come, but class is now in session.


I walked into Proof Kitchen and Lounge in Kitchener with feelings of excitement and gratitude. As one of the lucky 30 students selected for the March cohort of the Digital Innovation and Skills Certificate Program, I felt a rush being in the same room as so many talented and driven individuals. Being accepted into the DISC Program was not an easy feat, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities that lay ahead.


Last week was our first in-class session and it was everything I could have hoped for. We kicked off the evening with a casual meet and greet over appetizers. This was a creative approach that allowed students to mingle and discuss each other’s background and interests. I was fascinated by the diverse skills ranging from art and science, to public relations and entrepreneurship.


The Team

Following appetizers, we moved across Erb Street to Shopify's office. Orientation kicked off with an introduction of program details and expectations. I was impressed by the organization of the entire leadership team. Jeff Mitchell, DISC Program Coordinator, quickly assigned students into teams of six before introducing us to our coaches. Trish Gray from Stryve Digital Marketing is leading my student team and I value her passion, and determination to make our capstone project experience meaningful and successful.



The Client

My team was assigned Eco-Cafe; an extraordinary small business roasting coffee St Jacobs with overflowing amounts of potential and opportunity. I had the opportunity to speak with owner Ed Denyer during an information session in mid-February. He spoke very passionately about his involvement in organic fair trade coffee. I am excited to work with him because his personality is larger than life!


The Values

The first project we worked on was establishing our core values as a marketing/e-commerce agency. Five teams of 6 students were each given post-it notes and markers to create a list of values that would steer the integrity of our team and its work. My team decided on the name DarWin (based around the thesis of evolution). In this exercise, we determined that our values will:


be radically transparent,
and purpose driven.


We came to the conclusion that complacency is not an option.  


The Verdict

As a team of multi-talented individuals, I look forward to the many personal and professional opportunities for growth that this program has to offer.


Oh, and one more thing... my first impression was this program is going to be intense, but so worthwhile!


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Week I: Jobs to be done

Written by Jeff Mitchell

“Customers don’t buy products and services;
they pull them into their lives to make progress.”
Clayton Christensen


Walls lined with three stories of century-old whiskey barrels, the historic Seagram Distillery building now sits at the cutting edge of e-commerce. This collision of old and new, at the intersection of one of our region’s foundational, family-started businesses, and one of our country’s most innovative tech companies, was the perfect starting point for the DISC program.


(Jeff Mitchell, DISC Program Coordinator)


We have been pulled into the lives of young professionals and small business owners in the Kitchener-Waterloo region to create progress of varying kinds: to develop digital skills that are aligned with emerging industry needs on the one hand, while creating sustained digital growth, and offering an influx of talent, on the other.  Functionally speaking, these are the jobs we’ve been hired to do. However, as we discussed in our first session, the progress we’re hired to create for customers is more nuanced and layered than surface level functionality. As we kicked things off last week we focused equally on our students’ desires to build confidence in their skill sets, and their pursuit of meaning in employment opportunities beyond the program - our social and emotional jobs to be done.


Armed with an understanding of customer discovery best practices and methodologies, DISC students left the Shopify Plus offices with a clear purpose: to build a critical customer persona for their small business client. Catalyzing digital growth for these small businesses begins with this fundamentally human foundation.



A remarkable energy sparked in our first collision of local small business and talented young professionals. Individually fueled by the pursuit of growth and equipped with the initiative to make change a reality, we are well on our way to our destination: progress.



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Student Experience: First Impressions

Written by Manny Ojigbo


As someone who entered the Digital Innovation Skills Certificate (DISC) program with a background in communications and an insatiable appetite for learning, I was super pumped to meet up with my teammates and begin a thrilling journey into the constantly evolving world of digital. 


Off to a Great Start!     

Our evening kicked off with a meet and greet dinner at Proof Kitchen and Lounge before all the participants and the program team headed out to our first in-class session at Shopify, one of Canada's leading tech companies with one of the coolest office spaces in the region. It was nice to chat with people with unique skill-sets, from very diverse backgrounds like journalism, business, sociology and music. In addition, I began to get a good sense of the team dynamics, program expectations and deliverables. 


Our first in-class session opened with several team building exercises that gave us all an opportunity to brainstorm cool agency names with our respective teams, develop value statements and learn about the small businesses that we'll all be working with for the duration of the DISC program. It was an activity filled first day with lots more to follow in the coming weeks!


What We’ll be Learning 

Throughout this 11-Week graduate certificate program, we're going to be diving deep into the world of e-commerce, digital marketing and project management. From the first in-class session, I've seen that the program is going to be an interesting mix of theory and hands-on work sessions that will allow for experiential learning, critical thinking and strategic problem solving as the teams work through each module. It's been designed in such a way that we're all going to be able to learn in-class and online too. Oh, another neat thing about it is the fact that we're going to be constantly exposed to valuable industry-specific insights from experts that live and breathe these core concepts every day!



In a Nutshell

Overall, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the first session. Following 5 straight hours of mingling, brainstorming and learning, I can say with absolute certainty that this promises to be a fully engaging experience. I’m also convinced that many of the program’s participants will share the same sentiments. We’re just getting warmed up, cheers to an amazing 11 weeks!



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Student Experience: DISC begins with first ever cohort

Written by Jared Hippe


It began with a toast to the first 30 students selected and just like that we were into the first cohort of the Digital Innovation Skills Certificate. A few appetizers and a little mingling at Proof Restaurant broke the ice for the new program. It was a great way to start meet before we headed over to Shopify’s office space in the old Seagram’s Distillery.



We jumped into our teams and in true “Apprentice” style (thanks, Jeff!), we were tasked with coming up with team names and mission statements in under 15 minutes. Talk about a quick way to get to know new teammates and their styles.


A brief brainstorm session and our agency was born: “Beanstalk”, a collaborative team embodying growth that values getting things done, taking risks and pushing boundaries. We’re thrilled to be working with Dana Shortt Gourmet & Gifts, and having Jolene MacDonald (Partner, The Blondes), as our coach and mentor along the way. The next 11 weeks will reveal much about Dana’s business and it’s our job to take that knowledge and help position her for success.



In the coming weeks we’ll be conducting face-to-face interviews with customers, potential customers and even folks who may not know the first thing about gourmet foods. We will uncover the customer personas to better position our campaign for success. Otherwise, we’re just guessing.To prepare us we took a quick dive into the customer discovery process and personas. We need to know who is buying, why are they buying, and how do we find them? The simple answer: primary research.

We’re set to meet with our client this week and will be ready for interviews to get our first inside look of Dana’s business. We need her perspective of what success looks like to create a roadmap for a digital marketing strategy.


It’s only one day in and we know it’s going to be fast-paced, work-filled and slightly-stressful journey. But there will be fun too. We will get to know the business and its customers inside and out, all while learning in-demand skills and best practices in an emerging field. It’s a win-win scenario and I know my team is ready for the challenges ahead.


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