Edmonton Confident in Increasingly Promising Future as Startup Hub

There’s always a long way to go. But it’s good to look back and see how far you’ve come.

The Edmonton innovation ecosystem is starting to function as it should, as witnessed by national Startup Canada 2014 Awards won by organizations and individuals from Edmonton and Northern Alberta.

Technology-based business incubator and accelerator TEC Edmonton was named Incubator of the Year. Investor of the Year was Randy Thompson, director of TEC Edmonton’s TEC Venture Angels investment group.

Honourable mentions were accorded to the Northern Alberta Business Incubator (Non-Profit Organization of the Year), TEC Edmonton’s Dr. Randy Yatscoff (Mentor of the Year), TEC Edmonton co-founder Allan Scott (Lifetime Achievement) and the Alberta Women Entrepreneurs (Incubator of the Year).

The rise in the number of Greater Edmonton innovation-minded startup companies has been dramatic. With over 100 active clients, demand for TEC Edmonton’s business assistance services has more than tripled in the last four years.

It may be a chicken-and-egg situation – which came first, a strong ecosystem of business development, or the surge in Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit? But both are feeding off each other.

The City of Edmonton, through Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and the University of Alberta led the way 10 years ago in forming TEC Edmonton as a business incubator and accelerator, offering assistance to both U of A spin-off companies and companies from the community at large.

What has happened now was yesterday’s best-case future scenario: Growing tech companies, whether university spinoffs or community based, have access to services that help them grow faster, find financing, and develop new customers. Further, TEC builds bridges between the university and its researchers, local entrepreneurs, and the investment community.

In its TEC Centre, taking up the fourth floor of Enterprise Square in downtown Edmonton, TEC Edmonton provides incubator space and services to startups from both communities. Partnerships and collaboration with other regional business service providers, like the Northern Alberta Business Incubator, have dramatically improved.

“If somebody comes for help and we can help them, great,” says TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb. “But if we can’t, we’ll connect them to somebody who can. We never say no to anybody.”

Investment interest in startups is on the upswing in Alberta, with one example being the restructuring of a group of local angel investors into the TEC Venture Angels group. TEC Edmonton provides administrative support to the group, and, in addition, uses its expertise to “vet” potential companies beforehand, thus bringing well-qualified companies before the investors.

The Government of Alberta has been active in encouraging and assisting innovation in the Wild Rose province for many years. Premier and Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education Dave Hancock is overseeing the final steps towards creation of a fully-integrated, fill-in-the-gaps government/institution/corporate innovation system for the province.

The ultimate result has been a dramatic increase in technology-driven, small-to-medium-sized enterprises, not only in the region’s dominant energy industry, but in all sectors of the Northern Alberta economy.

In August of 2012, TEC Edmonton released the results of its 2012 Economic Outcomes Survey of 106 client companies. The companies generated $103 million in revenue, a 25% jump over the previous year. They raised $55 million in financing and funding, hired 1,100 employees (28% higher than in 2011) and reinvested some $30 million in research and development. The 2013 Economic Outcomes Survey will be released in the coming months.

Of course the Northern Alberta innovation system has a ways to go. But Alberta’s enterprising entrepreneurs are busily transforming research and great ideas into products and services people need.

As a good ol’ Western Canadian band called Bachman Turner Overdrive once sang, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”