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How a research foundation turned WeaveSphere into an award-winning technology conference

WeaveSphere conference chair Iosif Viorel (Vio) Onut on the importance — and excitement — of cross-discipline collaboration.

Dr. Vio Onut
Dr. Vio Onut (Photo courtesy WeaveSphere)
Dr. Vio Onut (Photo courtesy WeaveSphere)

It was a moment he’ll never forget.

Dr. Vio Onut, the principal research and development strategist at IBM Canada’s Advanced Studies (CAS), was listening to a team of product architects share details of a challenge that had stumped the room. Also in attendance were 20 university professors who listened to their presentation to see if they could find a solution.

Then the ‘wow’ moment happened.

“Hey listen,” Onut remembers hearing one of the professors say. “This is not a new problem. In fact, it was solved in the 1970s, and this is what you need to do.”

The professor went on to outline the solution, as well as add new ideas based on more current research.

“Without that type of interaction, we could have been stuck on something that had already been solved,” Onut says. “Professors know what’s happening all the time, so they bring expertise. On the other hand, industry professionals can figure out what is practical to do and implement.”

That interaction was a single moment in time, but Onut says it’s become a common occurrence at the WeaveSphere technology conference where researchers, developers, tech leaders, founders, and investors “weave” ideas and research into reality.

Industry and academia ‘weave’ the future of technology

When you’re passionate about multi-discipline collaboration, it’s only natural that you’ll be a person that wears many hats. In addition to overseeing R&D for CAS — where there are currently 63 research and development projects on the go — Onut is also an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa, and co-director of the uOttawa – IBM Cyber Range that is in development at the university.

He’s also the chair of the WeaveSphere conference that he attended for 12 years before taking up an organizer role five years ago.

WeaveSphere — a collaboration between IBM’s academic and research technology conference (CASCON), and Evoke’s industry-focused developer conference — has become one of the largest technology conferences in Canada.

This year the event will take place November 15-17 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, and is expected to attract more than 2,000 attendees, 300+ speakers, and 100+ startups. 

At its core, WeaveSphere weaves academics and industry to create “innovation that matters.” This convergence, Onut says, is key to the conference’s success.

“When there is communication between these worlds, amazing things happen,” Onut says. “If you just have the professors, or you just have the industry, you don’t have that ripple effect of ideas. When you put those brilliant minds in one room, and they start talking with each other, we see enhancements and products that we couldn’t even dream of alone. That’s the key to success for us.”

Three decades of ‘innovation that matters’

WeaveSphere, now in its 32nd year, has undergone a unique evolution. 

It started with a group of researchers gathering in 1990 to work and share ideas. In 1991 the first CASCON event was held at the IBM Toronto Lab in Markham, Ontario in Canada. And over the course of the next three decades it has grown to become the country’s premier computer science and software engineering conference.

In 2006 the IBM Center for Advanced Studies team won the prestigious NSERC Leo Derikx Synergy Award for Innovation, an award that recognizes partnerships in natural sciences and engineering research and development (R&D) between universities and Canadian industry.

A decade later, the same IBM Center for Advanced Studies team won the prestigious Distinguished Synergy Award from the IEEE, the world’s largest technical professional organization. The award was in recognition of the event’s collaboration model as influential to both the Canadian software research and industrial landscape, adopted in many CAS centers around the world.

“In Canada, there hasn’t been an academic conference like ours running for any number of years — let alone 30 years,” Onut explains. “That is a testament to our group’s commitment to the Canadian computer science and software engineering ecosystem.”

And today? With its “weaving together” of academia and industry, it remains the only event of its kind.

How WeaveSphere creates opportunities for students

As part of the community-building that’s at the core of the conference, WeaveSphere also sees heavy participation from both undergraduate and graduate students. As a component of the conference since its inception, you’ll see Masters and PhD students from 25+ universities in the event’s exhibit hall talking to industry attendees about their research.

This year, two new initiatives will also be part of WeaveSphere.

Education Day will take place on Day 1 of the conference, with 300+ students taking part in solving a variety of real-world problems using design thinking methodology and teamwork. 

On the last day of the conference, WeaveSphere will offer STEM day, a version of “take your kid to work” day, where attendees will have the opportunity to bring their high school or university-age kid to the event for the day. A full slate of programming is in the works, featuring a leadership workshop and panel discussion on STEM careers and educational paths.

Keeping the bar high for content and speakers

While WeaveSphere has actively sought out more industry folks over the last five years, the conference has never lost its history and original purpose as a forum for real-life, active R&D projects.

When asked what he enjoys about WeaveSphere, Onut explained that it’s the event’s balance of being dedicated to world-class research, as well as commercialization opportunities for industry that he enjoys most.

“I think when you talk about a pure industry conference, it’s more led by sponsorship and…paying to be a speaker,” he says bluntly. “At our conference, we have committees that evaluate the benefit of having a particular presentation at the conference — does it align or doesn’t it? What is the speaker’s reputation? What is it that they are trying to do in that particular talk?” 

He continues, adding that “for our academic content we use the double-blind review process where reviewers do not know the names and affiliation of the authors and evaluate the work based on its pure merit. The evaluation is done by a Program Committee formed of 60+ professors and industry experts.”

In the end, as Onut says: “At our conference, technology prevails.”

Digital Journal is an official media partner for WeaveSphere. We will share updates leading up to the event, and we’ll be live on location from November 15-17,2022. Join us and get your tickets at weavesphere.co.

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