Aurelie Wen is Managing Partner at Agorize for North America, based in Montreal, Canada. Agorize is a 100-strong open innovation tech company that brings together companies and an astonishing five million innovators from 185 countries. It is “the missing link between companies willing to innovate and recruit faster, and people willing to solve problems and be recruited on merit.”

Aurelie and her teammates have helped over 200 clients that include Microsoft, AWS, Google, L’Oréal, PepsiCo, LVMH, Publicis, HSBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, TD Insurance, Oxford Properties, National Bank of Canada, Desjardins, Bank of America, Citi Group, HP, IBM, Bank of the West, and Capgemini.

We were fortunate to catch up with Aurelie when she had some time available to answer a few questions for us.

Open Innovation Helps Businesses Power Breakthroughs and Identify Best TalentHi Aurelie, many thanks for finding the time to do this. First, how would you describe yourself?

I’d describe myself as an advocate for open innovation, diversity and inclusion, and authenticity. I love to be amazed by people’s random superpowers.  

Is there anything you’d like to explain in more detail about what Agorize is and does? What sets it apart from other hackathon and open innovation challenge platforms?

Agorize is one of the most advanced open innovation challenge platforms. What’s unique about us is the scale of our challenges that have gathered up to 50,000 people online. Our platform is connecting millions of people together to solve problems. We’ve built an incredible community of 5 million innovators over the years. These innovators are mostly students, entrepreneurs, startups, developers, and professionals who want to make an impact using their creativity and skills. 

Entrepreneurship Through Open Innovation Is A Journey, Not A Status

Francois Lombard, Airbus. Source: Agorize

Have you any examples you can tell us about clients making significant breakthroughs through using hackathons or open innovation challenges on the Agorize platform?

One of our clients, Airbus, awarded a project that uses its satellite data to predict the human footprint in forests. Knowing what’s happening in the Amazon right now, this innovation would help prevent such future catastrophes. Another challenger built a tool that uses satellite imagery to provide a new perspective for legal due diligence in real estate. This project has influenced Airbus to create a new multi-million dollar potential business line focused on real estate.

Who owns the copyright of any challenge solutions – the challenge sponsors, the actual members of your crowd of solution providers that create them, or Agorize as the process provider that delivers them?

The intellectual property of the solutions can be owned either by the challengers or shared between the sponsors and the challengers – but never by Agorize. The Creative Commons license is a very useful legal framework when it comes to open innovation. 

You’ve been described as “re-inventing hackathons” and have ideas on how HR can use them in recruiting talent.

Hackathons are a really powerful tool when it comes to recruiting and retaining talent at your company. But traditional 48-hour in-person hackathons have their limits: they do not give enough time for participants to dig deep into their projects, they require heavy organization and logistics, they lack diversity, and sponsors miss out on potential challengers who don’t live in the area. These are the main limitations that we are tackling through our platform and our 3 to 5-month format. One figure that makes me really happy is that our challenges attract 41% of female participants on average compared to 15-20% for regular hackathons. 

What do you make of the gender disparity in the tech sector, and what do you think would attract more women and encourage greater diversity in general?  

In 2018, 20% of all jobs in technology were held by women. What strikes me the most is the fact that only 18% of undergraduate computer science degrees were held by women in 2016, versus 37% back in 1985. Few women in tech means we are putting aside half of the population when building the products and services we are all using. Investing in mentorship programs and in girls and women in STEM initiatives is great. But to achieve equal representation in tech, we need to build awareness around gender-biased upbringing. Having more diversity in tech begins in our homes, with our kids and the toys they play with, the values we teach them, and the bedtime stories we read to them.  

Sorbonne University, Paris. Photo by Robin Benzrihem on Unsplash

Your own education includes a Masters in Languages and Economic Affairs from the Sorbonne University in Paris. How much do you think entrepreneurship can be taught and how much of it is down to inherent instinct?

I feel really fortunate to have had access to higher education. University taught me critical thinking, researching, summarizing, and the power of words. But let’s face it: most of the contents, facts, and figures I learnt are now 80% obsolete. When it comes to entrepreneurship, it is the same logic. You can teach best practices, step-by-step guides, due diligence, and legal and HR frameworks. However, resilience, how to deal with failure, humility, and having a clear vision are things that you have to cultivate in yourself, every day. Entrepreneur is not a status. It is a journey. 

You’re going to be on stage at CSW Global 2019, our global crowdsourcing conference this September in San Francisco. What will you be talking about and what do you particularly want to impress on delegates?

I’ll be talking about nine ways to ruin your open innovation challenge. My main point is that if a company wants to launch a challenge, they should do it with an open, generous and organized way. Most innovators from our community are turned off by highly competitive challenges. Instead, they want to invest themselves in initiatives that will give them an opportunity to grow, meet inspiring people, solve issues, and change the world. 

Earlier this year Agorize raised funding of $20 million CAD. What is the company planning to use the money for?

Major investments are being made on the product side to build an even-more advanced open innovation platform. We also focus on developing new ways to grow our community more efficiently. We will continue to expand our teams locally in our six offices in Montreal, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, and Stuttgart.

Aurelie, thank you.

CSW Global 2019

If you’re in the neighborhood there are still a few remaining tickets to hear Aurelie Wen and all the other amazing speakers at our conference on September 12 and 13 in San Francisco. You can also follow the conference on social media using #CSWGlobal19.

Main image: a selection of Agorize clients