I obviously knew of the proximity to the Rocky Mountains, but I didn’t know about all the wonders such as the Drumheller Valley, Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park and Jasper National Park. I also didn’t know that Calgary is the third most diverse major city in Canada. Or that in 2022 it would be ranked the third most livable city in the world – an ideal place to raise a young family.
When I pivoted my career from federal strategic policy to supporting innovation ecosystems with Prairies Economic Development Canada, I also didn’t fully know what to expect. Alberta hasn’t been widely known for innovation outside of its strong traditional industries like energy, agriculture and manufacturing.
I soon learned that innovation is thriving in this province, sometimes in unexpected fields. Alberta is a well-known energy superpower, and is now well positioned to lead the clean energy transition. It’s also only a matter of time before Alberta realizes its potential for agricultural innovation. Another best-kept secret is Alberta’s elite digital technology sector, boasting some of the brightest artificial intelligence, machine learning, and quantum and fintech innovators in the world.
I’ve learned that entrepreneurs and innovators need a lot of different things to succeed. They need access to capital, access to customers, mentorship, talent, applied research, technology de-risking for adopters, collaboration, connections and more. They need these ingredients in the right amounts, at the right times, in the right places and to be provided by the right people.
I’ve also learned that innovation ecosystems need to be inclusive and elevate underrepresented groups. A flourishing ecosystem needs interconnectedness between its many different players. There also needs to be the right mix of structure and disorder.
This is why at PrairiesCan we’re trying to take a systems level view to support conditions where innovators can thrive. We’re catalyzing innovation by investing strategically in non-profits that support innovators. We identify ecosystem-wide gaps and challenges through strategic analysis and by listening to entrepreneurs. We are active participants in giving advice and making connections between players. We are proactive, take calculated risks and work in concert with project proponents and our funding partners.
From my time in this exciting and surprising province, I’ve learned that every high performing innovation ecosystem has an identity, a shared sense of belonging. This is what makes Alberta special. It is fundamentally entrepreneurial, authentic, adventurous, gritty, resolute, supportive and charitable. There is this strong will to grow and diversify the economy, and to do it in an inclusive way.
It may be true that this province is still developing its reputation for innovation; however, with growing momentum, decades in the making, Alberta will soon be known as the place to be to start and to grow a business and help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.