Edmonton and Calgary launch “Alberta Innovation Corridor” to grow startups

Mark Lowey
January 22, 2020

Edmonton and Calgary have partnered on a new “innovation powerhouse” initiative to increase by five-fold their number of high-growth tech startup firms.

The goal of the “Alberta Innovation Corridor” is to have 1,000 successful startups in each city within the next 10 years, the initiative’s co-chairs told RE$EARCH MONEY.

“That would be a five times increase in where we are right now in the startup and tech space,” says Terry Rock, CEO of Platform Calgary, which supports startups and the city’s innovation ecosystem.

Such growth could lead to 50,000 to 100,000 new jobs across the province and add billions of dollars to Alberta’s economy, the partners estimate.

Between them, Alberta’s two largest cities have 90% of the province’s tech talent and companies, along with 12 universities and colleges, says Cheryll Watson, vice-president of Innovate Edmonton, a division of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation. “If we take the energy and business strength in Calgary and we apply the academic know-how and future thinking that Edmonton brings, we are the perfect two halves coming together,” she says.

The Alberta Innovation Corridor’s near-term priorities are to coordinate programs and services, advance joint marketing pursuits, champion joint policy recommendations and drive global innovation and technology benchmarking.

Early-stage funding for startups crucial

A key focus is supporting entrepreneurs and securing early-stage funding for startups with high growth potential. For example, Innovate Edmonton’s programs delivered within the city had an economic impact of nearly $100 million in 2019, Watson notes.

Each city brings complementary strengths to the partnership. Edmonton, which ranks in the top five centres worldwide for artificial intelligence and machine learning, has strong academic talent. An immediate goal for the Alberta Innovation Corridor is to secure a top-notch AI accelerator program for entrepreneurs.

Calgary, with its high concentration of corporate headquarters, has a cadre of business people with the experience of growing energy companies from startups.

Both cities also have new and growing companies in the health sector, such as data analytics and digital health care. Edmonton’s 2 ½-year old “Health City” initiative offers a collaborative environment for innovators, while the University of Calgary and Innovate Calgary last year opened a Life Sciences Innovation Hub that quickly filled with startups.

“Our goal is that the reputation of Alberta as a thriving, dynamic economy specifically in this innovation space will rival other regions in North America and definitely be the most prominent in western Canada,” Rock says.


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