More than 2.5 exabytes of data are created every single day. Thanks to the multitude of devices connected to networks generating an unprecedented amount of information, we’re only going to see this number increase.

On Wednesday, April 15, Microsoft co-hosted an event with MaRS, bringing together an esteemed panel—moderated by John Weigelt, national technology officer at Microsoft Canada—to share expertise on data from a variety of backgrounds. Kicking off the event, John reflected that we’re no longer limited by data storage challenges. Our economy is digital and storing a plethora of data is nothing short of routine.

We’re moving toward an ecosystem surrounded by sensors and instruments; everything is on demand—from electricity to healthcare—and is enabled by the cloud. Smart meters, smart thermostats, smart light bulbs, wearables, digestibles, driveables and the Internet of Things are all constantly gathering and storing data. John stressed that no single person or company will be able to develop the infrastructure to handle this data alone. Instead, we need to rely on what’s available through big data to make ideas thrive.

The event’s panellists included Steve Walintschek, vice-president of data science at T4G; Thomas Lock, entrepreneur and founder of Fhotoroom; and Joe Greenwood, program director of MaRS Data Catalyst. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion.

Have a hypothesis

Steve highlighted the need to have a hypothesis when working with data. Using the analogy that you can’t just dump data into a lake and fish insights out of it, he explained the value of thinking strategically. By asking the right questions—especially upfront with customers—we are able to gather information from vast amounts of data.

Steve went on to explain that the data collected might end up being move valuable than originally expected, and even more valuable than the application being developed. Never close the door to opportunities, he said, especially not to novel ways of using big data.

Path to revenue

Steve also urged people not to get caught up in a specific technology. It’s important to remember to take a step back and round out your business case. Ask where the value is and where you are able to capture that value. Entrepreneurs can’t just focus on big problems; they need to focus on the problems that someone will pay to solve.

Validation through data

Sharing his personal experiences founding Fhotoroom, Thomas talked about the importance of using data to validate innovations. Successful entrepreneurs gather information upfront, use insights to validate their technology ideas and then develop products. You can’t get lost in the vision of a startup.

Breaking barriers

Joe rounded the panel out with some insights about big data at a societal level. For years, society has valued physical assets, people and finances. However, in the digital economy, data is an asset that is worth more than the cost of collecting it. We need to develop new ways of looking at big data and removing the barriers that currently exist in accessing it.

Joe urged people to ask bigger questions, linking different aspects of businesses, and to look across institutional barriers. By doing so we can break open ecosystems, making data more accessible and useful.

Thus far, we’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible through big data. There are still many treasure troves of valuable intelligence out there that can help us better understand trends, patterns, challenges and opportunities.

Photo credit: 2013 Esri by Kris Krug under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Jennifer Minelli

Jennifer manages the accelerating ventures program at MaRS, supporting high-growth ventures in the cleantech, health and information & communications technology (ICT) sectors.See more…