A lifelike robot with a human personality. Self-flying cars. Wooden buildings. $9 cardboard bicycles. Glow-in-the-dark plants. It has taken me over two weeks to adequately process everything from this year’s ideacity conference, which took place June 19 to 21 at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Koerner Hall in Toronto. What I experienced at Canada’s answer to TED inspired me beyond anything I was expecting.

Referred to as “Canada’s premier meeting of the minds,” ideacity is not themed around one main topic or focus. Rather, it features 12 technology-related sessions with 50 individuals speaking for 17 minutes each on topics as wide-ranging as robotics, 3-D printing, space, transportation and even love and sex. Technologies, innovations and ideas that would normally be reserved for science fiction are actually happening around the world as we speak, away from the mainstream media’s glare. For the 14th consecutive year, ideacity brought them to us.

The founder and host behind this yearly celebration of innovation is none other than local media mogul Moses Znaimer.

Jennifer Marron, Moses Znaimer, and Karen Schulman Dupuis

What differentiates ideacity from other conferences is its structure and content. Speakers from across the globe present their products, innovations, research and all-around cool stuff. There are no scripted keynote speeches, panels or demo pits. Everyone is in the same room to experience the conference as one group, including the speakers and performers. ideacity also includes daily live entertainment, après-lunch yoga breaks, extra-long networking sessions, back massages, a pop-up bookstore and three incredible after-parties.

As a community supporter, MaRS was fortunate enough to secure two tables in the conference’s second-floor lounge, and MaRS client InteraXon was on hand to demo their brainwave-sensing headband, Muse.

The InteraXon team demoing up a storm with their brainwave-sensing headband, Muse, during Day 2 of Ideacity. Photo credit: MaRS Discovery District.

Karen Schulman Dupuis, manager of digital communications at MaRS, and I were able to network and connect with a wide variety of attendees, including artists, adventurers, authors, cosmologists, doctors, designers, entertainers, filmmakers, inventors, magicians, musicians, scientists and technologists.

My main takeaway from this year’s conference is that we are living in the age of big ideas. The key is to look at problems differently rather than simply trying to innovate for the sake of innovating. We need to come up with these big ideas so that we can participate in discussions to improve our environment, health and economy. ideacity makes you think differently. For example, what if obtaining leather and meat didn’t require killing a single animal? 3-D printing technology makes this possible.

Here is a small sample of my favourite ideacity talks:

1. Futurist Don Tapscott

Don Tapscott is a leading author on innovation, media, and the economic and social impact of technology. He spoke about “Generation Now,” emphasizing that adults can learn a lot from youth about how to use technology. He abolished the typical negative stereotypes associated with Generation Y and concluded with the simple statement: “The kids are alright.” Don proved that many of our fears related to the overuse of technology are really nothing to worry about.

Don Tapscott at ideacity, photo credit: Jennifer Marron


2. Bina48 Robot

Bina48 is the world’s first humanoid robot, uploaded with personality data from an actual human being.

Bina48 at ideacity: photo credit: Jennifer Marron

3. Izhar Gafni and the cardboard bicycle

Izhar Gafni experimented with cardboard for over four years and kept persevering until he built a functioning, waterproof, rust-proof bicycle that costs $9 to produce and requires no maintenance for three years. This invention has the potential to forever change transportation in the world’s poverty-stricken, congested areas.

Izhar Gafni and the cardboard bicycle photo credit: @karensd

4. Cody Wilson and the 3-D printed gun

You may recall recent news coverage and controversy surrounding the world’s first 3-D printed gun. University of Texas student Cody Wilson is the man behind this story and he gave an honest perspective on his reasoning for publishing the blueprints online, only to have them ordered down by the United States Directorate of Defense Trade Controls. Cody spoke about how creating “The Liberator” gun was a method of creating anarchist philosophies. It was a fascinating perspective that reminded me that you really shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

5. Jack Andraka and a cheaper, faster, more accurate and less invasive test for detecting cancer

Jack Andraka was the most inspiring speaker for me, proving that nothing is impossible. Jack is a Maryland high school student who, at age 15, created a paper sensor that detects pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancer in five minutes for as little as three cents. It took him many hours of research, trial and error, not to mention incessantly emailing academic institutions for use of their lab space.

Jack was present for two of the three days at ideacity, missing Day 2 for a trip to Washington, DC, to accept an award from none other than President Barack Obama. Simply incredible.

Jennifer Marron (left) and Karen Schulman Dupuis (right) with 16-year-old ideacity speaker Jack Andraka at the MaRS booth. Photo credit: MaRS Discovery District.

Jennifer Marron

Jennifer Marron was the Manager, Marketing and Channel Development for MaRS. See more…