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Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.” — Tom Freston

The term ‘innovation’ often evokes visions of rockets bound for Mars, self-driving cars, or the alluring promise of fusion energy. Yet to me, innovation is as crucial in our daily lives as it is in these high-tech arenas.

When I established Technology North over twenty-five years ago, our driving vision was to create lasting solutions wherever we worked. The original founders weren’t satisfied with sitting down and simply selling a service; our aim was to create enabling technology and systematic changes to help companies and organizations focus on the goals and tasks important to them.

As a consultant agency, TN worked across Canada to implement efficient and lasting changes. In the 2000s, we automated and modernized a piece of Canada’s national medical system, saving an annual cost deduction of nearly 1 million dollars at the national blood services institution. We completed a comprehensive manufacturing enterprise resource management application that increased an oil and gas equipment factory’s revenue three times and increased their margins by 10%. We helped pioneer the development of identity and access management (IAM) systems. Wherever we went, we never lost sight of our mission.

In 2014, I found myself at a unique crossroad. Though I made progress as an innovator and entrepreneur, I was also a father of an aging son with autism. As my life progressed, I was gripped by an unsettling question: How would my son’s life unfold after high school? Turning my expertise to my personal life, I found a distressing reality. While Canada was witnessing record-low unemployment rates and record-high job vacancies, nearly 3% of the population over 18 years old were on the autism spectrum, with a staggering 90% being unemployed or underemployed.

This glaring discrepancy propelled me to delve deeper into the problem and instigate change. Over the last eight years, I collaborated with national funding bodies, provincial governments, career colleges, and Canadian NGOs, striving to create employment opportunities for autistic youth.

Navigating these changes offered invaluable insights. I realized a critical fault: many existing employment and support programs were hampered by misguided policies and allocation of resources. I didn’t want to send my kid into that, and I was certain that no other parent would want that either.

A thought came to me. If the current approach is ineffective, shouldn’t we pioneer a new one?

To generate meaningful employment for autistic and other neurodivergent youth, businesses need more than just altered logistics, motivation, and commitment. They also require innovative strategies in business modeling, assistive technology, and processes.

In 2019, Technology North embarked on a new endeavor – we developed a purpose-built assistive technology aimed at eliminating barriers and establishing a comprehensive framework for employing autistic individuals. From a small team of four, we have grown into a robust contingent of 16 employees, bolstered by job coaches and dedicated tech enthusiasts. Our team has generated revenue of $500K and offers digitization and data management services to local public and private clients, earning a reputation for top-tier work at competitive market prices.

The triumph of Technology North underscores a critical point. Innovation isn’t solely about the nifty gadgets the future can bring, it’s also about making a difference in the lives of the people we hold dear.

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