I’m very excited to be heading to Edmonton next week to learn about the different ways that the city is innovating in the technology sector. As part of my trip, I will be attending the EEDC annual luncheon to find out how the city of Edmonton will capitalize on emerging technology growth and become more competitive in the global economy. This is something that many Canadian cities are trying to figure out.
According to Candace Brinsmead, VP of Technology Advancement at the Edmonton Research Park, “creating a knowledge-based economy is the new black.”
Just last week, the city of Toronto released a report declaring itself as the technology hub of Canada. While I do believe that Toronto is a leader in technology innovation, I think that it’s perhaps a little too early for any Canadian city to claim itself as the hub of Canada. Ideally, major cities across Canada should be working together to elevate Canada’s leadership in technology and innovation as a whole.
That’s why I am very excited to find out what the Edmonton Economic Development Council is doing and how they are going to make an impact. While I am there, I will also be touring the Edmonton Research Park (ERP) to learn first-hand how Edmonton supports its local technology entrepreneurs.
In advance of my trip, I thought it would make sense to speak with a few people who know a thing or two about what makes Edmonton such a hotbed for technology. I spoke with entrepreneurs Ken Bautista, CEO and Co-founder of Rocketfuel Games and Chris La Bossiere, Co-CEO of Yardstick Software to get an idea of what’s going on in Edmonton from a startup perspective. In addition, I spoke with Candace Brinsmead, VP, Technology Advancement at the Edmonton Research Park and Stuart Cullum, Executive Director at novaNAIT to get a better understanding of what the municipal government and research institutions are doing to support technology SMEs.
Here is what I have learned so far from my conversations with them:
The Edmonton startup community is an extremely passionate yet humble, creative and tight-knit group
Chris La Bossiere explained to me that there are a number of grassroots initiatives happening in Edmonton. Their mission is to build a supportive ecosystem that links the arts and technology communities together. This will help to create a very unique knowledge-based economy.
Ken Bautista, who started-up artScene Edmonton two years ago, shared some insight about some of the grassroots initiatives taking place. For example, Startup Edmonton was formed around the same time as artScene Edmonton in order to marry the arts and technology sectors together. In addition, he explained that the very first Canadian Startup Weekend event took place in Edmonton.
Another new program that has recently launched is called the “Edmonton Champions Project.” This initiative will help to empower a new generation of creative entrepreneurs, startups and projects in Edmonton. It’s part of the city’s plan to make Edmonton a creative and entrepreneurial hub that connects local talent with the world.
According to Bautista, “the grassroots focus is less about attracting large companies to set-up head offices in Edmonton, but rather to fuel the growth of independent entrepreneurial shops that may one day become large headquarters.” He says that Edmonton aspires to one day “be like Austin, Texas – where the technology and cultural sectors are nicely integrated.”
The municipal government is putting SMEs first
Candace Brinsmead believes that in order to succeed, key stakeholders need to collaborate and “leave their egos at the door.” Ensuring that the city has “one united voice” helps to improve Edmonton’s chances for prosperity.
According to Brinsmead, the city of Edmonton now has the “perfect storm” of support from municipal, provincial and federal governments to ensure its success in the technology sector. She explained that by creating a knowledge-based economy in Edmonton, the city can help to supplement the resource-based economy in the rest of the province in the near future.
What’s important is to stay laser-focused on areas where they see the most potential. Brinsmead says that “we cannot be all things to all people and to all sectors.” Some of the winning sectors in Edmonton so far are:
- Nanotechnology – with businesses like Microline and Quantum technologies leading the way
- Biotechnology and Life Sciences – to find cleaner ways for Alberta’s oil & gas industry to extract oil from the ground & improve waste management
- Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) – with businesses like Empire Avenue, Bioware, Rocket Fuel Games and Yardstick Software as some of the leaders
Research services in Edmonton breed innovation
Research facilities at the Edmonton Research Park and novaNAIT can help technology entrepreneurs with funding and mentorship. Stuart Cullum, Executive Director at novaNAIT says that his institution “facilitates applied research and development,” which helps entrepreneurs to build commercially-relevant products and services. NAIT also provides incubator programs, can help students to apply for grants and find strategic partnerships for their small businesses.
These are just some of the opportunities and services that I’ve learned about so far. I will report on my experience in Edmonton next week on Techvibes.com and will share some of my photos and experiences on this blog as well. Stay tuned!