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Cultivating Creativity and Inspiring Innovation

Posted on June 15 2016 | Author: Mary Dimou

Entrepreneurship has emerged as a feasible and exhilarating career for many millennials and provides an opportunity for baby boomers seeking change. In fact, the support of this community is absolutely overwhelming. Governments are offering non-dilutive funding and grants for new research and development; while, sophisticated investors are seeking to diversify their portfolios with high-risk opportunities in exchange for equity, control, and hopefully, large returns.

You’ve likely given some thought to joining the ranks of entrepreneurship; and have asked yourself: Where do you go and how do you start? 

First things first, a great idea can manifest in a multitude of ways, can be thought of anywhere, and can transcend into a variety of industries. It generally starts with a state of mind and a helpful reminder that anyone has the potential to be “creative”; and therefore, “innovate”. 

So let’s talk about two of the words you’ll hear in your early stages – “creativity” and “innovation”.  What are they? Can we define them? And, why do so many definitions exist? To be honest, there are many schools of thoughts pertaining to bolstering creative thinking and implementing innovation into business practices.

Here are two basic definitions to start with:

  • Creativity is a “mental characteristic that allows a person to think outside of the box, which results in innovative or different approaches to a particular task”1.
  • Innovation is “the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay”1.

In the start-up and small business network, an inordinate level of creativity and novelty are expressed through a variety of outlets and avenues; for instance: a new idea, a novel process, or an original solution to an existing problem. Your support can start at an academic institution, can be housed in an Incubator, and/or be nurtured holistically at an Accelerator.

In the early stages of entrepreneurship, developing creativity into a habit is critical.

Robert Epstein, PhD, a psychologist focused on the concept of “routine creativity” has conducted research that correlates high creativity and innovation into four core skill sets2.

  1. Capturing new ideas2 – be equipped with a notebook and writing instrument; or, even record new ideas on your phone or tablet.
  2. Seeking out challenging tasks2 – brainstorm different solutions to tasks you’re familiar with, or as a brain teaser, take on tasks deemed impossible and offer just as improbable solutions.
  3. Broadening your knowledge2 – read articles in unrelated fields, watch a documentary on a subject of interest, explore international business practices.
  4. Surrounding yourself with interesting things and people2 – stimulating conversation with interesting friends or family with diverse backgrounds, travelling to new places, or altering your workspace with new gadgets and memorabilia.

Most importantly, don’t get frustrated – although researchers have just started scratching the surface of creativity; most will agree that an optimistic frame of mind and cheerful attitude are fundamental. Stress, lack of sleep, and disarray inhibit the creative process and new idea generation. Perpetuating an environment conducive to creative thinking will come in hand through many of life’s challenges and will only aid in positive mental health. Whether, you’re heading down the path of entrepreneurship or perhaps seeking to improve existing processes in your own workplace – a creative outlook is always your alley.


Mary Dimou
Senior Analyst, Regulatory Affairs & Sustainability 



1. BusinessDictionary.com
2. American Psychological Association. The Science of Creativity. 

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Handling Consumer Mistrust

Posted on November 12 2015 | Author: Mary Dimou

Consumers are demanding transparency. The rise of the tech revolution has propagated a deluge of new information and new avenues to reach consumers. With advances in technology allowing information (of varying quality) to be readily available at a user’s fingertips, it’s no wonder that the nouveau consumer feels confident enough to make “informed” judgements on new innovation.

As an entrepreneur, your invention could be a revolutionary solution to assist in global issues such as the sustainability of our species or our environment. Inopportunely, this intended solution has the probability of intersecting with the plethora of great controversies in the life science sector, including genetic engineering (GE), genetic modified organisms (GMOs), vaccinations, animal welfare issues, antibiotics and many more.

For a select few businesses, providing transparency and reaching consumers will be an uphill battle. Although their numbers are few, the reality is some activists will seek to discredit your efforts irrespective of facts and evidence. Accepting early on that some of these individuals cannot be reached is essential. It will enable you to reallocate your efforts to the majority of consumers, the skeptics. Skeptics will seek your answers and should be viewed as an exceptional communications opportunity for your business. Immersion into the controversy will impact your business model. In this era, successful tech businesses must include appropriate education and communication efforts in their business planning.

The nature of this post is not to focus on any of the aforementioned controversial topics, but rather provide recommendations for educating and guiding your consumers through the labyrinth of available information.

 1.       Evaluating both viewpoints of the controversy carefully. Informing considering both polarized viewpoints increases your credibility to your audience. 
 2.       Collecting scientifically substantiated evidence. One of the greatest challenges that we are facing as an industry is the credibility of the knowledge being obtained. Recommend that your customers review various peer-reviewed articles, primary literature, as well as national government resources (.gov). Your role as an educator should also include assistance with the curation and dissemination of this information and translation of this knowledge to the general public.
 3.       Communicating in a palatable way. Consumers require easily digestible information. This knowledge transfer can often require creativity on your part. You may try providing examples that are relatable to their day-to-day life, in an easily understandable format such as an infographic or cartoon. For example, the recent statement regarding glyphosate as a carcinogen was based on the risk and hazard scale by WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Although glyphosate carries a carcinogenic risk, the associated hazard of glyphosate causing cancer is minimal (1). In fact, the amount of glyphosate required to produce these carcinogenic effects would be enormous! A similar day-to-day example could use driving. Driving is an inherent risk; however, driving in a snowstorm is an increased hazard.

Managing consumer mistrust is an essential task that has been under prioritized by tech businesses, especially in the Ag sector. Although potentially daunting and difficult, engaging and educating consumers has now become an integral function of any successful technology business. So get an early start!


Mary Dimou, M.Sc.
Sr. Analyst, Regulatory Affairs & Sustainability

(1) http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf  
Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos

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Why You Should Invest in Your Employees

Posted on March 18 2015 | Author: Mary Dimou

You’ve found yourself at the head of an enterprise; you may be at the stage where you’ve just recently scaled up your business or perhaps you’re undergoing expansion. Either way, it’s time for you to assess your resources, manpower, and finally, start making critical decisions for your company’s future. For that, you will need a dedicated team behind you that you can trust to operate collaboratively and effectively, while providing the appropriate level of support to your customers.

It is important to strategize how to maintain that trust with your seasoned staff as well as begin to develop that trust with new hires.

This is a matter of opinion and the methodology is uncharted; but as a small operation, the salaries you can offer are likely not competitive with large corporate counterparts. The challenge becomes deciphering what you can offer that is unique to the small business environment to entice your new hires and sustain your loyal staff. The truth is fairly straightforward; you can invest in both their professional and personal growth.

Here are a few critical points to consider while you are moving into this next step and recommendations to overcome these hurdles:

  1. The job market is perpetually changing. New graduates are entering the market with more credentials than their predecessors. This means a highly competitive applicant pool to choose new hires from; but on the other hand can translate to your current employees feeling pressures and insecurities. Diminish this by being proactive. You may consider creating a small allocation of your capital to a Professional Development Fund for each employee; or embark on creating company-wide training initiatives for all employees’ growth.
  2. Nurture them to be a resident expert in their field. Allow your employees to assume leadership roles on company initiatives and inspire them to share ideas of their own. Promoting an interactive and safe environment can stimulate creativity that could have positive effects on your current process efficiencies. Further, allowing your employees to work within interdisciplinary teams, or allowing them to shadow other positions in your company, can aid them in finding their niche. Once they have, take the time to plot a career path to alleviate any ambiguities about where they currently are in the company and where they could be.
  3. Support their network development. Encourage your team to expand their networks. Why? A greater network will contribute to greater self-assurance, confidence in their performance, and their opportunities to encounter relevant information. It’s imperative to keep your employees at the forefront of industry adaptations and educational criteria. As their employer, attempt to help them stand out in the crowd by introducing them to influential people in their expert field. You may even consider creating a Mentor Match program for your new employees to expedite their learning curve.

Ultimately, an employee that feels appreciated and invested in can be one of your greatest assets. A small investment, (be it monetary, time, or both) improves the productivity and workflow of your company; creates a champion in your corner, and can reduce your turnover rate. Consider what this could mean for your company and assess the amount you can allocate to employee development. 

Mary Dimou, M.Sc.
Business Analyst, Food Nutrition & Health

Photo Credit: Project Resource

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Become a “Regulatory Tactician”: Integrating a Regulatory Strategy

Posted on July 23 2014 | Author: Mary Dimou

Whether a start-up or a high-profile brand, regulatory considerations often fall short to the glamour of product development, packaging, and marketing techniques. Regardless of the industry, these considerations are often deferred to the end of projects, potentially leading to compromised standards, which in severe cases, may lead to monetary penalties.

Entrepreneurs are frequently required to adopt a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ persona, ultimately increasing their susceptibility of overlooking certain critical regulatory requirements. Implementing a strategic regulatory plan can save entrepreneurs’ money and time, facilitate the integration of short-term tactical decision points, and enhance communication with their business team.

Elements of a Regulatory Strategy for Entrepreneurs

A strategic regulatory plan can transform the productivity of a business by simply aligning regulatory considerations with business objectives from the beginning to the end of a project. From the Food and Natural Health Product regulatory perspective, irrespective of whether you are releasing your first or tenth product into the market, reviewing regulatory requirements is essential.

The regulatory affairs’ domain is constantly in flux and a regulatory strategy should be considered a “living document” that can be referenced at every NO/GO decision point of your process from initial prototype to advertising strategy. Defining this process as a “living document” suggests foreseeing deviations to your regulatory strategy regularly and adopting a pragmatic approach to dealing with them.

At various stages of the project, entrepreneurs will encounter both internal and external factors that may alter the regulatory strategy including (but not limited to):

  • Regulations evolving – changes in guidelines, flux of regulatory authorities and standards, consideration of new requirements and legislations available versus those projected
  • Competitive products on the market – viewing the competitive landscape, analyzing the potential players and their location, new intelligence of similar products, recent patents on the market, defining your market position
  • Product development - changes in target label or markets, applying for food safety certifications (Halal, Kosher, Organic, Gluten-Free and GMO-Free) that are most effective in the market and changing manufacturing and distribution practices accordingly
  • Exportation potential – considering international requirements for releasing your product, considering the compliance of particular ingredients – their uses and approval status, updating claims, relevance of certain certifications

Despite these variables, it is imperative to maintain focus on your end goal – using regulations as the catalyst for developing the synergy between clinical, product quality, and business elements.

How You Can Start Developing a Regulatory Strategy

More often than not, entrepreneurs are not aware of the serious time constraint necessary for following the regulatory framework nor the complexity involved in this process. The number of forms, length of applications, and allocation of own time learning regulatory processes can be reduced through an integrated regulatory overlay. This technique will also assist in identifying issues at an early-stage and reduce your workload in the future. Although an expense, connecting with appropriate regulatory consultants throughout the project timeline can also help guide your application with minimal errors and expedite the process of your product launch. Outreaching to pre-market approval and post-market surveillance legislation experts from governmental bodies including Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are also valuable tools in your regulatory strategy and their guidance documents should be visited regularly throughout your process.

Mary Dimou
Bioenterprise Intern
M.Sc. Candidate, University of Guelph

Health Canada

Photo Credit


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