Igniting Innovation at WorldQuant WorldQuant’s commitment to fostering innovation within the firm was on display at this year’s Global Research Conference.

It is a cool November day in Bucharest, and there is a flurry of activity inside the JW Marriott conference hall. Eleven quantitative researchers stand next to their booths, describing their projects and presenting cleverly designed posters as their audience listens intently, inspired by their passion and excitement. The researchers’ ideas include everything from natural language processing and deep learning to derived data and Python libraries.

One could be forgiven for thinking this is a session at an academic conference. But the Innovation Bazaar has nothing to do with academia. This two-and-a-half-hour special event was organized by WorldQuant as part of the firm’s annual research conference — three days of information sharing, research updates and panels featuring senior leaders of the organization. This year’s gathering, ResCon18, included a new session designed to shed light on innovation at WorldQuant.

We try lots of things and see what works and what doesn’t work. Noble failure is okay. Michael DeAddio, WorldQuant President & COO

Innovation is central to the vision of WorldQuant Founder, Chairman and CEO Igor Tulchinsky. The firm is built on bringing together some of the smartest people in the world and providing an environment that encourages them to innovate without fear. “We try lots of things and see what works and what doesn’t work,” WorldQuant President and COO Michael DeAddio explained at ResCon18. “Noble failure is okay.”

This bold way of thinking gave rise to the Innovation Bazaar. It all started with a conversation between WorldQuant Chief Research Officer Chalee Asavathiratham and Timothy Kim, General Manager for the Seoul office, discussing ways to foster innovation at the firm. They came up with the idea of inviting researchers from across the organization to submit projects; the top five would be presented at the annual research conference in Bucharest, and three winners from that group would be crowned. 

Despite some initial doubts by its organizers about whether the Innovation Bazaar would attract interest, there was an overwhelming response to the call for project ideas. “We were a bit concerned that nobody would submit, especially since this was the first time we had planned an innovation-specific session at our annual research conference,” says Kim, who oversaw the Innovation Bazaar’s planning and execution. In total, there were 27 submissions, “all of which were project ideas of the highest quality,” he adds.

The CRO’s office and WorldQuant’s global research directors evaluated the projects based on several criteria, including their innovativeness, synergy value, feasibility and potential value to the company. In the end, the number of projects short-listed for presentation in Bucharest totaled 11, and the number of winners expanded from three to four.

The Innovation Bazaar was open to all WorldQuant researchers, irrespective of seniority or title. This meant that the 11 chosen presenters were able to go to the research conference, which is generally attended only by senior researchers, vice presidents and others in higher management. In fact, five of the 11 presenters would not have attended the conference otherwise.  

The final four winners were decided by a vote of 140 of the conference’s attendees, and all 11 projects received votes. “Innovating at WorldQuant feels like having my own start-up within the big company, says one of the winners. “New ideas can immediately reach those who can benefit from them.”

What’s next for the four winners? WorldQuant plans to follow up on these research projects, assess what they require to turn their ideas into reality and provide needed training and support. “We will see how the projects progress and look at what they want and what we can do to support their future direction,” says Kim.

For their part, the researchers are excited about the future and want to give something back to the firm. “We will proceed step by step,” says another winner. “The preparation work we have done for this poster session is a very good start, and we will work hard to make these ideas come true.”