The Neuroscience of Engagement

Spark Centre recently attended OCE Discovery – Canada’s leading innovation-to-commercialization conference in Toronto. The Spark Zone was full of activity, showcasing eight of our high potential start-ups, including Dr. Edmond Dixon. His initiative, Helping Boys Learn revolves around a unique “6 Secret” framework designed to improve boys motivation and achievement by using an approach in sync with male brain wiring and physiology. At the conference, Dr. Dixon had the opportunity to connect with 360 Incentives, one of Spark Centre’s innovation partners in Durham Region. 360 Incentives featured the following piece on Dr. Dixon and Helping Boys Learn on their Technology Blog discussing engagement in learning and business.


“Maybe the loyalty business has it all wrong.”

The idea that loyalty is a fish you can catch if you simply own the correct accoutrements is to ignore the biology of how loyalty works.  Herein lies the problem: loyalty in business is too often approached as simply a “what” question, but it’s really more of a “why.”   “What has worked before?” is often the question, when a more useful question is “why did it work?” and then capturing that information and applying it to create new, better programs.

After all, loyalty is not a mathematical formula, a secret sauce or social movement – it is a feeling. And feelings can be tricky little devils; they don’t necessarily simply come when called.   It turns out though, that feelings of loyalty do, in fact, have some predictable triggers.

“Motivation and engagement only happen when the person you want to engage actively participates in the activity,” says Dr. Edmond Dixon.  “You can’t ‘con’ them into it – the base of engagement is learning and for us to learn we have to be motivated to do it.”

Dr. Dixon specializes in building greater engagement between developing boys and their schoolwork.  Getting into this field involved years of studying the neuroscience around motivation and engagement.   It turns out that engagement has very different biological construction within the bodies of males and females.

So what is the biological makeup of engagement? Dr. Dixon says “Males release testosterone and prefer victory and triumph of some sort, whereas females release oxytocin and tend to like the idea of community better.”

From a marketing person’s perspective, considering these simple facts as we build strategy can serve us very well. You may be at the mercy of your incentives management software to determine if you have the necessary flexibility to address males and females differently in your marketing, but here is a brief cheat sheet to help you tailor your programs in such a way that they resonate better with people.

Start With Why

Males – Dr. Dixon says that in order to engage males, right out of the gate they need to know “what’s the end game?”   Be sure to communicate your own business goals, how it fits in with their own goals and any other information that fulfills this need.

Females – “Females need to understand ‘how does this fit in (to the bigger picture)?” adds Dr. Dixon.  They don’t necessarily need to know the clear end result, but be sure to frame your offering in terms of the big picture.

How To Get ANYONE Engaged

Even in the digital age, there may be situations where it is tough or even inappropriate to segment your marketing by gender. It is useful to consider some universal principles of this science.

“The connected world gives us all previously inaccessible amounts of information and choice, and when people can act autonomously, they tend to be more engaged,” says the doctor.

“You have to allow them to use information and choice in their own way,” he adds.

In the specific instance of engaging retail sales associates, Dr. Dixon suggests giving them a quick path to information to make sales.  Provide a way that they can get more expertise in a short time in order to help customer make choice.

He adds, “We say we’re socially connected, but people still like to feel special, like they’re part of a team.   To engage sales, allow them to learn in collaboration with others using their own information and choice, combined with recognition.   Geography is not important to forming this recognized group.   They will effectively go about forming a mastermind group, solving problems that a company may never have previously imagined.”

Remember: technology helps you scale these training resources and user communities in a way that was previously impossible. Digital assets such as training videos, sales leader boards and online discussion groups will build the engagement what you need, help the people in the channels to perform better and keep your brand on the tips of their tongues.

What has worked before will always be a sensible and useful point of reference.   Understanding why it worked will drive us to do better and better work.

This article was written by Jason King and first appeared on the 360 Incentives blog.

Durham College & IFTech to partner on wearable technology project


Durham College (DC) announced recently its intent to partner with IFTech, an Oshawa-based start-up company specializing in wearable technology. The college’s Office of Research Services and Innovation (ORSI), with support from DC faculty researchers and staff, will be working with IFTech on an applied research project designed to support the company’s growth and expansion into the wearable technology marketplace. A grant application for the project is currently being finalized with the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

In particular, the college will be assisting IFTech with bringing its flagship invention, As Real As It Gets (ARAIG), to a manufacture-ready, commercial product. A multi-sensory stimulation device, ARAIG is a wearable suit that immerses individuals into the reality of a gaming world by stimulating the senses with localized directional feedback. Providing physics to the body, it leaves the mobility of the user unfettered and provides a new level of immersion in terms of how games and virtual simulations are experienced.

“ORSI, along with our faculty and staff, is excited to work with IFTech on bringing such a unique technology product to market,” said Debbie McKee Demczyk, director, ORSI. “This project will provide a wonderful opportunity for our students, faculty and staff to pursue applied research in an area that is both new to the college and the current consumer marketplace including the chance for them to gain significant on-the-job research and work experience.”

A 3D-scale model of the ARAIG titled Legion One Exoskeleton, created in collaboration with Cimetrix Solutions Inc. an Oshawa-based company that specializes in providing professional grade 3D printing solutions, will be revealed on Tuesday, May 13 inside the Spark Zone at the OCE Discovery event. The event, which is taking place in Toronto on Monday, May 12 and May 13, will mark the first time IFTech has publicly shown the design. Attendees will have an opportunity to speak directly with Brodie and Michael Stanfield, co-founders and co-chief executive officers of IFTech and co-creators of ARAIG, and provide feedback.

“IFTech sees this as the beginning of a relationship that will continue for many years to come,” said Brodie Stanfield. “We see Durham College being involved in many current and future projects and are excited to be partnering with some of the brightest minds in Durham Region in order to rapidly move forward on our research and development.”

In addition to its new relationship with the college, IFTech has also been working directly with innovation experts from Spark Centre over the last year to advance its commercialization plans.

“IFTech and its flagship product ARAIG will revolutionize a video gamer’s experience,” said Dennis Croft, executive director, Spark Centre. “Durham College’s deep expertise in applied research will greatly advance the timeline for a commercial-ready, high-quality product for IFTech.”

Spark Centre is showcasing at OCE Discovery!

Discovery is a premier event where innovative entrepreneurship  is celebrated by innovation centers, entrepreneurs, students, venture capital, industry, government and academia. The event is magical and draws thousands of attendees from all over the globe to see and hear thought leaders and participate in entrepreneurial workshops.

Spark Zone will showcase seven of Spark Centre’s highest potential start-ups, ranging from gaming to energy storage solutions, and everything in between.  We have also invited key partners such as Northumberland CFDC, Durham College and Durham Region, who tirelessly work to help our clients succeed and elevate the importance of entrepreneurship.

Spark Zone will also feature interactive opportunities to view all of the various company’s capabilities, and we are hosting an ongoing pitch school which will be free to any attendee of OCE Discovery!

Come out and join us! And as a extra teaser… a few of our companies have some key announcements they will be making public!!

Want to attend OCE Discovery? Register Now!

Gov’t of Canada Invests in Innovation, Jobs and Growth in Southern Ontario


SOFII_ImagesBrantford, Ontario – The Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario) announced today a $20-million investment in innovation funds that will support small- and medium-sized businesses in southern Ontario. Minister Goodyear was accompanied by Phil McColeman, Member of Parliament for Brant.

“Innovation is critical to creating high-value jobs and securing a prosperous future for southern Ontario communities,” said Minister Goodyear. “The investment announced today will lead to new opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses in the region, allowing them to grow, develop new products, services and technologies. This will diversify the economy, encourage greater innovation and create hundreds of jobs for southern Ontario.”

“Small and medium sized businesses in southern Ontario are ready to compete and lead in the twenty-first century global economy,” said McColeman. “With the launch of this new fund, our government is taking additional steps to encourage innovation and the creation of high quality, highly skilled jobs right across this region.”

The $20-million contribution comes through FedDev Ontario’s Prosperity Initiative. This investment will support two funds, known as the Southern Ontario Fund for Investment in Innovation (SOFII) projects. SOFII will provide a $12-million fund in the west and an $8-million fund in the east. These two funds will be delivered by southern Ontario’s two regional Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) networks: the Western CFDC Association and the Eastern CFDC Network Inc. to both smaller rural and larger urban communities.

During the projects’ first two years, the Networks will provide business loans valued between $150,000 to $500,000 each to accelerate the growth of an estimated 80 southern Ontario small- and medium-sized businesses, which will help create or maintain over 700 full-time jobs. This will support innovation and growth in small- and medium-sized businesses in southern Ontario.

“We have heard about the difficulties small businesses can have bringing new developments to market,” said Cindy Swanson, Past-President of the Western Ontario Community Futures Development Corporation Association, Inc. “This fund will provide an opportunity for small companies to secure the financing they need and get the product to market more quickly than they otherwise might be able to.”

Dan Stanford, Chair of the Eastern Ontario CFDC Network shares this sentiment. “New products, new services and new processes often need support with that last push to the market—as do other late-stage commercialization activities,” said Stanford. “SOFII can help knowledge-based businesses do this successfully and we look forward to our role in assisting the Government of Canada to create a more productive and competitive private sector in southern Ontario.”

For more information about SOFII or the Prosperity Initiative, please refer to the SOFII-Brochure.

The investment announced today supports the Government of Canada’s science, technology, and innovation agenda, which is focused on increasing the country’s productivity, creating jobs and growing the economy.

Created in 2009, FedDev Ontario supports the southern Ontario economy by building on the region’s strengths and creating opportunities for jobs and economic growth. The Agency has launched a number of initiatives to create a Southern Ontario Advantage and place the region in a strong position to compete in the global economy. These initiatives are designed to encourage partnerships and support projects that help the region’s businesses and communities become more competitive, innovative and diversified. To learn more, please visit or call 1-866-593-5505.

Startups from Waterloo’s Velocity Incubator Have Raised $100 Million in Five Years

The University of Waterloo’s Velocity startup incubator today revealed that companies in the program have raised more than $100 million in funding.

That number comes five years after the program was launched and includes includes funding from venture capitalists, angel investors, government programs, grants from the Velocity Fund, and crowdfunding platforms.

Graduates with notable raises included Kik, Pebble, and Thalmic Labs. Kik’s last raise was a $19.5 million Series B round, while Pebble shattered crowdfunding records when it raised $10 million on Kickstarter. Meanwhile, Thalmic Labs had an incredible 2013, raising one of the most significant venture capital rounds of any Canadian startup that year and also winning 2013 Startup of the Year in the annual Canadian Startup Awards.

To read more:

Northumberland CFDC brings back N100 Startup Competition

By Joseph Czikk, Betakit

The Northumberland CFDC, a business development corporation dedicated to providing financing, strategy, and a comprehensive ecosystem for entrepreneurs, is bringing back to N100 Startup Competition. The winner takes home a cool $100,000.

Northumberland county is located one hour east of Toronto and part of the Northumberland CFDC’s mission is to establish a stronger startup culture in the area. Thus, while it calls the N100 a “global” startup competition, ultimately applicants are expected to establish a presence in Northumberland to qualify for the $100,000 investment.

Last year marked the first N100 competition, with the Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation taking the prize for it ubiquitous computing device, dubbed “the Ubi.” 34 companies applied in total.

“N100 helps accelerate early-stage companies in Ontario by providing risk capital to fund significant milestones in their development—such as prototyping—and ready them for angel round follow-on investment,” said Wendy Curtis of the Northumberland Community Futures Development Corporation. “In addition, N100 is an entrepreneurial attraction and development strategy designed to build a nucleus of next generation companies.”

To apply go to:

Do It In Durham 2013 Idea Generation

Do It In Durham celebrates Global Entrepreneurship Week and shines a light on local entrepreneurs who are making it happen right here in Durham, from students to the CEO’s of some of Canada’s fastest growing companies.

Entrepreneurship is increasingly the driver of new wealth, high paying jobs and investment. For many, entrepreneurship means living a few years like most people won’t, so they can live the rest of their lives like most people can’t. Could this be you?

Each year some 130 countries around the world celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week. To celebrate it here, Spark Centre and BACD have joined forces with regional partners to bring you Do It In Durham. For anyone with an interest in entrepreneurship, it is an opportunity to learn about the huge range of advice, education, connections and money available in Durham to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses here.

Do It In Durham 2013 offered free workshops, participate in contests and a chance to win cash prizes. Thank you to everyone who took part and became part of the rising tide of entrepreneurship in Durham!

Thank you to our major sponsors, Meridian, RBC and the Region of Durham for helping us make this happen!

For more information go to 2013’s Do It In Durham Website. To find out about Do It In Durham 2014, join our mailing list.

Ignite 2013 Entrepreneurship Journey

Ignite 2013 was an exciting entrepreneurial journey organized by Spark Centre and The Region of Durham, along with many local community partners. The Ignite program began with all applicants attending pitch school to refine their idea and “elevator pitch”. The 102 applicants had a chance to learn about creating a value proposition, marketing and what angel investors are looking for as well as how to present their business idea from local business people and “been there done that ” mentors. Not only was Pitch School a great opportunity to learn skills is was a great opportunity to network and be involved in an exciting entrepreneurial community.

The next stage was to complete a two page business plan to get an opportunity to present their business pitches at Pitch Night (our version of “Dragon’s Den”) on February 4, 2013 at the Abilities Centre to the Ignite Power Panel, which did in fact include Bruce Croxon from CBCs Dragon’s Den.

A total of thirty applicants presented in front of an audience of over 200 people at pitch night and from those thirty, five were chosen to present to the Power Panel in a boardroom situation. Following the selection process two “Ignite Start-ups” were announced who then entered an intensive four-month boot camp, which included the following: a $25,000 cash award; access to a Power Panel and in-kind professional services from local experts in areas such as finance, marketing, and law. The boot camp culminated in a public event, the Ignite Finale, on June 25, 2013 at The Regent Theatre in Oshawa.

On June 25th, over 600 people attended the Ignite 2013 Finale were we celebrated the growing community of entrepreneurs and cultural leaders in Durham Region. Highlights included hearing the two finalists – Squabble Studios Inc. and Mobile Experience Company, fresh out of start-up bootcamp as well as from keynote speaker, international bestseller, Tim Ferriss. Part of the evening’s attractions included a “Social Media Lounge”  and a “Tweeting Contest” with a chance to win one of two iPad Minis. The evening continued with local gourmet food and drinks, music, breakdancers and participatory art.

Ignite 2013 has really stirred up excitement in our local business and cultural community. We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors and in-kind partners.

For more information go to 2013′s Ignite Durham website. To find out about Ignite 2014, join our mailing list.