Innovation is the backbone of progress and growth. It is a commitment to continuous learning, a willingness to challenge the status quo, and explore untapped opportunities for development. As the founder of Illuminate Universe, a Canadian organization dedicated to providing top tier business and leadership education, I have dedicated my career to cultivate a culture of innovation and empowering individuals to thrive in the future of work. I firmly believe in the transformative power of progress over perfection and the importance of community building through a common mission.
My journey from an immigrant middleclass background to managing a multimillion dollar fund and running programs supported by the government of Canada has shaped my perspective on dreaming big and thinking creatively. Growing up in a middle-class environment was like having a blank canvas—an opportunity to paint my dreams and aspirations without limitations or preconceived notions. With little to lose, I embraced courage and creativity to forge my own path.
This experience instilled in me a resilient spirit and an unwavering “whatever it takes” attitude, fueled by the scarcity of resources. Throughout my journey, determination and grit were my companions, as I paved my way forward. When you have little to lose, audacious risks are taken, failures become stepping stones, and unconventional solutions are explored. Within the realm of vulnerability and limited resources, true creativity thrives, and an unyielding passion becomes the propelling force behind every endeavor.
During the initial 5-8 years of running Illuminate Universe, I faced numerous challenges that became stepping stones to progress. I leveraged personal student loans and tapped into my $500 debit card overdraft and even organized weekly recycling bottle drives in my neighborhood to fund operations. Tirelessly collecting and recycling bottles in the hot summer days with tiny fruit flies dancing over half-emptied juice boxes were vivid memories of my teenage years. Even though the $50 recycling rebate saved each week seemed insignificant in the grand scheme of things, at the moment in time, it was everything to me, and to Illuminate. Looking back, I marvel at the boundless energy and dedication I possessed as a youth—a testament to the resolute drive that comes from having no safety net and wholeheartedly pursuing one’s dreams.
These experiences brought about a fundamental shift in my mindset—one that embraces creativity, experimentation, and risk-taking. At Illuminate Universe, we embrace the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept, focusing on delivering just enough value to satisfy early adopters while gathering feedback for future iterations. By prioritizing essential features, we test our ideas in the real world, gather insights, and adjust our approach to maximize results, avoiding wastage of resources on non-essential features.
Moreover, central to Illuminate Universe’s mission is our dedication to serving and empowering our employees to thrive in the future of work. We grant them autonomy to make significant decisions and think like CEOs. By providing the necessary resources and skills, setting their own goals, and offering inspiration for personal development, we uplift our employees and give them room to make important decisions. We also prioritize diversity within our teams, recognizing that diverse groups are more successful in unlocking innovations that create competitive advantages and drive market growth. Together, we overcome challenges, celebrate successes, and collectively drive positive change.
Ultimately, innovation is more than a buzzword—it is a mindset, a culture, and a catalyst for transformation. My thought leadership embodies these principles, emphasizing the importance of progress, community, experiential learning, and the unwavering pursuit of our dreams. By embracing these ideals and leading with kindness, empathy, drive, motivation, and business acumen, I strive to inspire and empower my team, fostering a culture of innovation and growth. Success in business requires a delicate balance between nurturing relationships, making tough decisions, and leading with integrity and empathy. Collectively, we have the power to construct a future that is inclusive, innovative, and empowering for ourselves and the world around us.
Alina Huang founded Illuminate Universe when she was a high school student. She is passionate about building a more diverse and inclusive Canada through innovation in the education landscape. Before joining Illuminate, she worked as a consultant for Deloitte and a product manager for IBM. In her spare time, you can find her watching Bridgerton and Emily in Paris on Netflix with her two Golden Retrievers while sipping on iced coffee.