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Inside Toronto's MaRS startup and innovation hub is Manulife’s innovation lab, the Lab of Forward Thinking (LOFT). The Toronto LOFT is the only lab of Manulife’s three worldwide that is off-site. The company's global head of innovation, Ace Moghimi, gave Digital Insurance a tour.
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MaRS houses 1,100 startups—some of which became household names years ago, including Facebook and Airbnb. Manulife ultimately set up shop in MaRS “not only because of the space, but because of the partnership benefits they provide too,” says Moghimi. There are two other LOFTs in Boston and Singapore.
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In one room, the C-suite, Manulife shares accommodations with corporate innovators Moneris, CIBC Live Labs and IBM. Each company is split up by pods. Manulife owns two pods and offices. “It’s just a really nice space with a lot of people that are focused on innovation, focused on fintech,” according to Moghimi.
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About a dozen employees, engineers and business strategists, work out of Manulife’s Toronto LOFT. There are two innovation teams focused on artificial intelligence technologies and launching new business in Canada as well as an enablement team. “Enablement is all about driving and catalyzing innovation throughout the organization. So it’s like doing workshops on design thinking and running hack-a-thons. Getting the masses involved in the innovation process and training them on how to innovate,” Moghimi says.
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The idea behind Manulife’s Toronto LOFT was to create an open environment for workers to think, write on walls and brainstorm ideas off each other. “This is a pretty new space. I’m hoping that this kind of comes more to life,” Moghimi said. “We want to get some color in here, get some more life in here, some bean bags or something like that. Just make it a fun space for the high quality talent that we attract.”
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Typically everybody associates innovation with startups, not larger organizations, Moghimi says. But larger organizations are doubling down on innovation and are investing in it. “People can look in and say, 'CIBC has a lab. Manulife has a lab. Moneris has a lab.' That’s awesome. They’re actually thinking about this and they’re trying to disrupt themselves to a certain extent," he explains.
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Each day for Toronto LOFT employees begins with a 9:30 a.m. meeting.

“Everyone has their various initiatives. We go after it separately or pull each other in as needed,” said Charles Thomas, product manager of LOFT’s AI team (left).
"The timeline from conception of an idea to product delivery can last somewhere between three-to-six months, Thomas says. “But it does vary. Depends on what the idea is. Just figuring out the tooling takes up a lot of time.”
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One of Manulife’s end goals is to perfect the user experience of using its products. User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designers are responsible for doing ethnographic research into the customer and drawing up journeys around processes clients go through in their lives.
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Toronto LOFT is currently looking to fill two developer positions. I think what’s worked for us is that we all have pretty deep networks and that’s really been helpful, and when that doesn’t help, we go to places like AngelList and these other websites that are more startup focused and just try and sell who we are there," Moghimi concludes.