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Author: Michael Brown

This article first appeared in the January 28, 2021 issue of Folio

University of Alberta and Brass Dome Ventures Ltd. launch imYEG accelerator to increase commercialization of research-driven innovations

New industry-led accelerator will address and overcome the earliest barriers faced by researchers just starting on the path to commercialization.

The University of Alberta and a local business consultancy firm, with the backing of the federal government, have launched a new accelerator program specifically designed to increase the number and quality of commercial ventures at the earliest stages coming out of the university.

Innovation Masterminds Edmonton (imYEG) stems from a partnership between the U of A and Brass Dome Ventures Ltd., led by serial entrepreneur and U of A alumnus Christopher Micetich, to create an industry-led accelerator to address and overcome the earliest barriers faced by researchers just starting on the path to commercialization.

“Through imYEG, my fellow business leaders and I can help bridge academia and industry, providing university innovators with the knowledge and support to bring their ideas to commercial fruition,” said Micetich, CEO of Brass Dome Ventures Ltd. “I want to see Alberta benefit from the success that is possible when entrepreneurs are given the tools to thrive.” 

The Government of Canada, through Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), is supporting the launch of imYEG with an investment of $700,550. The initiative aligns with WD’s focus on supporting the commercialization of western Canadian technologies and applications for the global market, as well as the growth of innovative early-stage companies in Alberta.

“Innovation is at the heart of the University of Alberta. imYEG will strengthen the U of A’s role as a key partner in Alberta’s efforts to diversify and drive the economy through innovation, and job and company creation.”Bill Flanagan, U of A president and imYEG founding partner

Melanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, said she’s seen first-hand the positive impact that our leading universities and post-secondary institutions can have on our innovation ecosystem when they’re given the chance to turn research into market-ready applications and get their big ideas off the ground.

“Our government is proud to support the University of Alberta’s imYEG initiative, which will play a critical role in connecting researchers with industry leaders and investors,” said Joly. “I’m tremendously excited about the potential for this initiative to transform lab research into new spinoff companies, high-value jobs, and a strong and resilient Alberta economy.”

As part of an integrated approach to innovation development, imYEG will establish a mentorship program led by proven business leaders and investors, who will work with U of A innovators and the university’s technology transfer services team to identify and accelerate the commercialization of innovations and technologies.

“Innovation is at the heart of the University of Alberta,” said Bill Flanagan, U of A president and imYEG founding partner. “imYEG will strengthen the U of A’s role as a key partner in Alberta’s efforts to diversify and drive the economy through innovation, and job and company creation.”

Promising ventures will be matched and mentored by imYEG’s team of successful entrepreneurs and investors, and graduate students will be matched with job opportunities created by new university spinoffs.

The focus of imYEG on early-stage ventures complements and strengthens the U of A’s suite of successful initiatives including eHUBTEC Edmonton, the UAlberta Health Accelerator, and the ThresholdImpact University of Alberta Venture Mentoring Service, which foster entrepreneurship and spur commercialization at every step from concept to market.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson added it is the city’s collective approach as problem solvers together with an innovative mindset that will shape our emergence from the pandemic. 

“Nurturing and lifting up our entrepreneurial and startup community through an initiative like imYEG can help retain talent, ingenuity and jobs—and ensure an increasingly diverse, resilient and diverse economy,” said Iveson.

In its first phase, imYEG will support 10 to 15 pilot ventures across various sectors including energy and clean technology, agriculture, life sciences, digital technology, construction and mining. The program is also purposely designed to scale to include Edmonton’s other post-secondary institutions in the future.

Stantec named fifth most sustainable company in the world, first in North America

Stantec was named the fifth most sustainable company in the world and first in North America by Corporate Knights, which released its 2021 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations rankings today. Companies in the Global 100 represent the top one percent of companies in the world on sustainability performance. To determine the ranking, Corporate Knights analyzed 8,080 companies using up to 24 quantitative key performance indicators, weighted to reflect each industry group’s impact profile. The full 2021 methodology can be found here.

This distinction comes less than a month after CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) awarded Stantec its technical classification of A- for the third year in a row, making Stantec the only engineering and design firm in the industry to earn an A- rating for the last three consecutive years. Stantec is headquartered in Edmonton.  

“We are tremendously proud to be recognized in the top five of the top one percent of sustainable companies in the world and first in North America,” said Gord Johnston, President and Chief Executive Officer of Stantec. “Our leading track record on sustainability is the result of the deep commitment and exemplary leadership of our people across Stantec’s entire global operation. Our teams continue to enhance sustainability in our own operations while also helping clients set and achieve their sustainability goals.”

Corporate Knights – Key Scoring Metrics & Commentary* 
Stantec’s clean revenue and clean investment (i.e., goods and services that have a clear environmental and social benefit) as determined by Corporate Knights was the highest in the consulting and professional services industry group. Together, clean revenue and clean investment accounted for half of the weighted score.

Additionally, a number of metrics related to employee benefits and compensation figured prominently in the analysis, accounting for an aggregate weighting of approximately 26 percent, where Stantec also scored well.

More information on the firm’s sustainable initiatives, projects, and thought leadership can be seen on the company’s website here.

About Stantec
Communities are fundamental. Whether around the corner or across the globe, they provide a foundation, a sense of place and of belonging. That’s why at Stantec, we always design with community in mind.

We care about the communities we serve—because they’re our communities too. This allows us to assess what’s needed and connect our expertise, to appreciate nuances and envision what’s never been considered, to bring together diverse perspectives so we can collaborate toward a shared success.

We’re designers, engineers, scientists, and project managers, innovating together at the intersection of community, creativity, and client relationships. Balancing these priorities results in projects that advance the quality of life in communities across the globe.

Stantec trades on the TSX and the NYSE under the symbol STN.

Investor Contact
Tom McMillan
Stantec Investor Relations
Ph: 780-917-8159
tom.mcmillan@stantec.com

Interview: Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of BioWare

Ray Muzyka is the founder and former CEO of BioWare, and an impact investor.

IBR: You and your co-founder Dr. Greg Zeschuk originally worked as emergency room physicians in Alberta. What motivated you to start BioWare while still practicing medicine?

Before BioWare, Greg and I had actually dabbled in entrepreneurship with medical education software. We made a gastroenterology patient simulator, which ended up being distributed by Janssen-Ortho to all the family doctors across Canada. Even before that, we had also developed an acid-base physiology simulator, which we sold to the University of Alberta — it was used by the first-year med students for a decade. One day at lunch, Greg and I realized that while the potential customers we were speaking to seemed to want medical software, no one seemed to have enough money to pay for it. We liked software, we liked business, but medical education software seemed like a challenging market. So instead, we decided — literally decided over the course of a lunch meeting — to make the leap to take all of our personal savings, max out our lines of credit with our banks to get some startup capital, and hire some folks to start making video games. We both had played a lot of video games; they were our passion growing up. Even after founding BioWare, I continued in rural locum tenens ER and family medicine for the better part of a decade — partly because I liked medicine, and partly because we didn’t take a salary for the first five years at BioWare so I needed the money to pay my mortgage payment for my condo and the minimum payments on my credit cards and lines of credit!

We initially had no business training, but there were some intangible things we learned as MDs that ultimately helped us as entrepreneurs as well. As a doctor, you really learn to understand and value the importance of diverse, multidisciplinary teams. You also have to make sure your communication is clear and respectful to your team members and patients. When working with others, you learn to always trust everyone on your team, but also know that you need to be willing to dive deep and understand the details to ensure that the patient is taken care of.

Something else that always stayed with me is the importance of continuous lifelong learning. This is especially true when you’re focusing on evolving technologies and dynamic market changes. We’re in one of the most transformational periods of human existence right now, so the things you might learn in school are not necessarily always going to be relevant, but the frameworks for learning always will be. You just have to be willing to continually learn.

IBR: How did you manage your time and conflicting goals between your original dream job and your new passion? How did you know that video games would be your next ‘career chapter’?

It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t become my next career chapter. It’s true that both of us had medicine to fall back on if entrepreneurship didn’t work out, but it wasn’t something that I ever thought about. I was likely quite naïve, in that it never really occurred to me that the company could fail! We just did everything to make sure that it didn’t. I was doing the medical locum tenens ER/GP work as a hobby because I loved it, but I just loved BioWare and growing the business and working with my team there more. In a poker analogy, I basically just went all in. When we made Shattered Steel, we maxed out our lines of credit and took all our assets and put it all into BioWare. We didn’t have any external investors (until 15 years later when we had a private equity investor) or family money to invest in the business so it was on us to make sure it succeeded. I suspect that part of the reason I kept working so hard was so I wouldn’t go personally bankrupt!

At the time, publishers were the only way you could get video games distributed, via retail stores. This was prior to the modern era of digital distribution, so you needed a publisher to help you get your products to market. We made a list of what we felt were the top ten publishers in the world at the time and we divided it in half, five each for Greg and me. We then started cold-calling these publishers, but initially, none of them would take our calls. The one we ended up signing with, Interplay, was on my list. I called them at least ten times over the course of a couple of weeks, and finally, the VP Biz Dev I was speaking with there told me to stop calling them. When I asked if they would look at our demo, they finally agreed — if we would stop calling! They then looked at the demo and called us back the next day and suggested we fly down to California that week, and we were off to the races with our first publisher for our first product, Shattered Steel.Through sheer perseverance, we ultimately got nine out of ten of the publishers to place a bid for the product and learned early lessons on the importance of price tension and negotiations.

Persuading experienced people to come work with us in the early days was difficult. By the time of Baldur’s Gate, which was our second game, we had about 60 employees in total. But not a single person on the team had ever made a video game before because we didn’t have the money to hire experienced developers and nobody knew who BioWare was. Why would they come work for us when we’re a bunch of doctors up in Edmonton making video games? That sounds crazy. And it was crazy. At the end of the day, our approach to BioWare was about believing in it deeply and going all in. We were lucky to be able to hire amazing people on our first two teams — smart, passionate, hardworking, and excellent team members, but it wasn’t until after the success of our first big hit, Baldur’s Gate, that we had a brand to attract experienced video game developers to BioWare.

IBR: Although the rewards can be very high, entrepreneurship is also a challenging journey at times. When you were running BioWare, what kind of challenges did you face, and how did you handle them?

The landscape of video games wasn’t as big a challenge for us because we were active consumers of video games ourselves and soon came to know all the developers and publishers. We knew their names, and we were very active in conferences and networking. I soon came to love networking. I was slightly introverted when we started, but I developed more of an extroverted streak. And since then, it’s just grown because I love networking and meeting new people. Over the past decade I’ve come to realize that the angel investing and venture capital landscape is a small, tight community, too, but the people in it, like in videogames, are generally very friendly and welcoming.

One early challenge at BioWare was cash flow. In the early years, cash flow was tight, and we had multiple publishing partners because we had several projects. I’d sometimes need to try to convince our publishing partners to send in payments owed to us a bit earlier than was scheduled. There were a few times where unexpected events occurred and I knew that we could go out of business if we don’t get enough cash to make payroll the following month. Thankfully, I was always successful in persuading them to send it a little bit earlier those times!

Taking my executive MBA at Ivey was quite instrumental for me. The time when I was taking my MBA, from 1999 to 2001, was one of our fastest periods of growth — we were the fastest-growing company in Alberta one of those years, and second fastest a couple of other years before and after. With rapid growth, structures and systems become strained and can break; being able to explore different frameworks and problem-solving perspectives from Ivey to these challenges was exceptionally helpful.

IBR: What advice do you have for students who are considering pursuing entrepreneurship?

You never know if you’ll like being an entrepreneur until you try it! That’s the challenge. If you’re young and curious about entrepreneurship, I’d ask, what have you got to lose in trying it? Recently, there was a paper by Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the Creative Destruction Lab, and Joshua Gans, Chief Data Scientist for the CDL program, about the benefits of mentorship for an entrepreneur. They quantified it in terms of reducing the costs of testing hypotheses, which resonates with me: if you can surround yourself with the right folks who have that critical experience, as an entrepreneur you can de-risk a lot of elements that are otherwise very challenging and risky.

One thing I will note though, similar to our experience at BioWare, is that while helpful, I don’t think you necessarily need prior work experience. As an investor, I personally have a bias towards smart, passionate entrepreneurs who have a creative “spark”. I invest in a lot of science and technology businesses with first-time entrepreneurs. First-time entrepreneurs can do really well if they’re humble and open to feedback, hardworking and thoughtful in their approach, hire the right team and treat the folks they work with well, and bring on the right advisors to help them navigate successfully. For my part, I’m a general medical practitioner, but I co-founded a business that eventually sold for close to C$1 billion. There was a lot of perseverance and hard work over a long time, we were always seeking feedback to help us to improve, and I was incredibly lucky to be able to work with a great team throughout my journey at BioWare and EA.

In retrospect, I can say early signs were probably pointing to me to eventually become an entrepreneur. I chose one of the more stressful medical fields — I practiced rural locum tenens general practice and emergency room medicine, operating in a remote hospital environment, typically as the only doctor on call and sometimes the only doctor in a hundred-mile radius! You could have multiple car crashes, heart attacks, sick kids all arriving near-simultaneously, some in critical condition, and you had to quickly triage and try to figure out what’s going on with them and coordinate a diverse team of nurses, technologists and support personnel. I think you have to have a certain entrepreneurial streak as a doctor to want to do that sort of medical practice.

I like playing poker as well, which is to me a very entrepreneurial type of game. It’s got a lot of parallels with business and being an angel investor — it’s about taking carefully calculated risks and placing the right bets. I try to de-risk my investing by being an active advisor with the teams I invest in, doing a lot of thoughtful diligence, and getting opinions from other folks I respect. Entrepreneurial activities can be high stress and high risk. That’s an important thing to consider if you’re considering becoming an entrepreneur or joining an entrepreneurial team: do you like that level of stress? Is that energizing to you? If it is, then you might want to check out startup entrepreneurship. If it isn’t, that’s okay. Maybe instead of starting a new team, you’ll want to work for an established startup to try it out and learn more about entrepreneurship, or take a more stable, lower-risk role with a team that’s more established, already further on their journey.

IBR: You managed the product development, financial, human resources, operations, marketing and legal business side of BioWare. How did you build your business expertise while starting your own company?

For the first two games, Baldur’s Gate and Shattered Steel my cofounder Greg and I were hands-on, acting as producers, the games’ directors. We built the games with our teams, played them every night to find bugs and provide feedback and ran the business throughout the day. Even though I didn’t have any financial background per se, I learned how to love Excel and make financial models. I was always obsessed with scenario modelling, although I didn’t know it was called that at the time. Cash flow was one of our most important concerns; we were constantly thinking, ‘Well, if that happens then we’re out of money, how do we fill that hole as we grow?’ We played a very hands-on role there, while also acting as the public-facing voices of the company in PR interviews and managing the team and recruiting new talent as we grew.

It was important for us to find mentors, but at that time, there weren’t many technology companies in Alberta, so our choice of local mentors was limited. We modelled our systems and structures on large enterprises like Microsoft or Oracle and other video game developers across the world, and from what we learned in our MBAs, trying to translate from what they were doing to a smaller software business. We leaned too on our professional advisors — our accountants and lawyers. Early on, I learned to run every legal agreement past my lawyers, advice I follow to this day, as I’ve found that the upfront time and cost can prevent much larger downstream challenges and costs. Even though I’ve read thousands of contracts now in my life, I still get everything I sign reviewed by a lawyer, and I find that I can always learn something new in this process.

Early on, we established core values at BioWare that we used to run our business and help us make better decisions aligned with our team, our customers and our shareholders (we didn’t have any external investors for the first fifteen years of BioWare so our shareholders were basically us and all our employees, all of whom had shares or options in the business): quality in our products for our customers, quality in the workplace for our employees, and entrepreneurship for our shareholders. Later, we added two additional values: humility and integrity. Humility is about being honest with yourself and being able to take hard feedback. Integrity is being honest to your core stakeholders like your team, your customers, your business partners, and so on. It was important to always try to live those values to keep our turnover low and maintain a good work-life balance. As our teams grew older, team members had children and developed lives outside the office. They couldn’t spend the same amount of time that they could in the early days. We had to figure out how to balance quality in the workplace with the quality of the products, all while maintaining the entrepreneurial environment. We made sure to talk through problems with our team in the context of those values, all while taking their feedback seriously. The teams working on the products are the first ones to realize when your targets for quality and scope aren’t aligned with the resource and time available, so it’s important to actively listen when they call this out.

IBR: How did you maintain BioWare’s own values and culture after becoming part of a huge organization like EA? Were there ever times when you felt like what made BioWare so great and special were being challenged?

When you get acquired, there’s always a concern that you’ll lose your identity. You have to be thoughtful about it. Thankfully, the CEO of EA — my new boss — was very focused on ensuring that every individual part of EA had their culture and identity. We were a tenth of the size and therefore large enough to actually have a voice in that conversation, but small enough that we were still proverbially sleeping next to an elephant. I tried to be an advocate for what I felt was important. I always tried to have a rational explanation for why we needed to do something if we had to do something a little differently. I didn’t just say, “No, we’ve got to do it this way.” I thought through the business case first, trying to identify, “What’s the advantage to the company of doing it that way? What’s the benefit of culturally ensuring that the integrity is maintained there in terms of return to the parent company?” We were then part of a public company, so we had to return earnings per share to the shareholders.

I made a point to fly down regularly to EA headquarters and to all my studios, typically monthly for most of them, so I was on the road a lot, around 200–250 days a year, for the five years I was at EA. This was exhausting, but I wanted to make sure that I had a presence both in HQ and also within my local studios because that was important from a cultural standpoint. I think “out of sight, out of mind” is something to reflect on; in other words, if you want to have influence with the headquarters and your teams, you have to be seen. Now, of course, it’s somewhat easier now because video communication is sort of the new normal, but back then it wasn’t, though we did use video conferencing a lot earlier than most folks, as my division’s leadership was distributed across North America, with my CFO in Edmonton, CMO in San Francisco, CTO in Austin, COO in Virginia, and GMs running business units of BioWare in five locations. I realized I had to make a point of going down to important budget review and product review meetings to have a voice and more influence in the key conversations.

IBR: What motivated you to pursue your “third career” in social impact investing — mentoring and investing in entrepreneurs in technology, media and medical innovation?

When I was retiring from EA, I gave them six months’ notice. And for the first four months, they were trying to retain me, but eventually, they realized I was set on leaving. At that point, I became “a dead man walking,” so to speak; I still had the same budget authority, signing line item things for million-dollar item allocations and projects, yet I would go to a meeting at HQ and no one would really listen to me on strategy.

So, the result was that for the last couple of months at BioWare/EA, I had some additional free time. I was still very focused on making sure that BioWare was successful and contributing to the parent company, and grooming my chosen successor to step into my role when I left, but around this time I was thinking about what I wanted to do after I retired from BioWare and EA. I discovered the Young Presidents Organization, or YPO, which I’m a member of, had an impact investor talk coming up, organized through their social enterprise chapter. It was in London, England and I only had a day to attend as I had meetings before and after, so I took a red-eye flight out to London and attended this meeting for one day with some of the really big names in impact investing, like Sir Ronald Cohen, who invented the concept of social impact bonds. There was also this investor who runs one of the largest Latin American and Mexican impact funds, Ignia, and many other amazing people focused on supporting social enterprise and impact investing, and although I didn’t yet know much about this space, I found I was truly inspired by it.

I flew back on a red-eye that night, to go back to work, and it came to me. I realized that’s what I’m wanted to do in my third career chapter. Similar to how we decided to form BioWare, that was about all the thought I put behind it! Then, I just started reading to learn more. I created a website at www.thresholdimpact.com, trademarked ThresholdImpact, and started calling investors asking, “How does this work? What’s VC, what’s an angel?” I threw myself into mentorship, starting the University of Alberta’s Venture Mentoring Service as Founding Chair, and I spent a lot of time learning more about angel investing and impact generally. Four years ago I joined the Creative Destruction Lab as a mentor, and it’s been truly transformational for me in expanding my knowledge and network; in addition to my advisory board role, I now mentor a number of teams at the ThresholdImpact UAlberta VMS program and take part in 6 streams of the CDL program, in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, mentoring a dozen or so teams at any one time there as well as investing in a number of new teams every few months. I gravitated to focus primarily — about 80% — on health-tech and med-tech because of my medical background, and because I felt that was probably an area of social enterprise and impact in which I could make a difference. I still have a number of general technology investments, too, but more and more my investments tend to be primarily health-tech and med-tech, along with bio-med-tech and some pharma investments. All told I’ve invested in over 60 startups so far, many with follow-on investments too, and I’m continuing to grow the number every year.

IBR: It must take a lot of confidence to just be able to put a big career chapter behind you.

Or naiveté! Maybe it’s the humility of knowing that you can screw it up and being okay with that. Maybe it’s more the willingness to actually take and implement feedback when you are screwing it up and the desire to take on a new challenge, build a new network, just learn something totally new.

As an aside, I believe humility is a very powerful word for entrepreneurs and investors to keep in mind. I remember somebody on my team once said, “Humility as a core value, seems kind of weird, it feels like a weak word.” And I said, “No, it’s actually one of the most powerful words you can have in your vocabulary because it means you have the confidence to actually take feedback and to improve.” When you fall into a pool, you only get wet the first time. After that, you’re wet all the time. So just open yourself up to it and jump in!

That carries over to my investment philosophy. I invest in teams where they want me to be an active volunteer and advisor. Sometimes it’s more formal than that, and they’d want me to join an advisory board or board of directors. But for all of my portfolio teams, I want to be an active value-add investor that’s going to help them when things get tough — this could be helping with networking with other investors or customers, or operational feedback, or just providing advice when they’re having challenges. I’m a generalist, and I sometimes half-joke that I’m just a country GP, not knowing a lot about anything, but a little about a lot of things; I can look at agreements, I can look at financial models, I can provide feedback on marketing plans. I can provide advice around organizational behaviour, structures, systems and processes, which is a particular passion for me, helping teams as they grow and scale. Certainly, if it’s software related, I’m happy to look at the product, UI and UX and give them feedback on that front, too. I’ve been really lucky to work with smart, passionate, hardworking people over my various career chapters!

IBR: Is there a specific type of advice, or specific obstacles, that you frequently encounter or help entrepreneurs with?

I help the entrepreneurs with whom I work with all sorts of different things. These are the same things I worked on when I was CEO at BioWare: scaling, systems and structures, organizational behaviour, HR processes like management and communication and compensation, marketing and sales, product development, and more. As a med-tech and health-tech investor I’m building some general understanding of the challenges of reimbursement, regulatory hurdles in med-tech, clinical trials and things like that, and I’m getting more pattern matching ability on that front as well when I see things over and over.

Also, something that’s become part of my regular activities is networking, business matchmaking. My friend Chen Fong, who’s based in Calgary and Hong Kong and whom I met through the Creative Destruction Lab, is a consummate and amazing business matchmaker in terms of being able to put the right people together, and I’ve tried to model my networking with him as an iconic mentor. Almost every day I find that I am making an intro to somebody in my portfolio teams and often in my network of investors and other folks that I’ve run into through my various travels. This is incredibly satisfying and rewarding; in some cases, they’ve actually formed partnerships and have revenues flowing from one to the other from my matchmaking. In other cases, they’re sharing go-to-market lessons of how they overcame regulatory or IP barriers, or have created commercial partnerships. Maybe they’re developing complementary products, but they’re selling to customers that actually could benefit from both of their services so they can share to grow their customer base.

And that kind of goes back to my experience in my medical practice days where there were the specialists in different subject areas, and generalists that bonded everyone together. It’s vital to have a network of specialists and other generalists that can help de-risk different elements and help make your teams more antifragile, and this is true in business as well as medicine, as it turns out!

IBR: What areas of impact investing are you most excited for or interested in moving forward, especially given those kinds of markets that you said you specialized in?

For health investments, there are some really interesting developments in med-tech and health-tech generally, and COVID-19 has actually accelerated the rate of change, probably by as much as 10 or perhaps even more years, down to the past few months of pandemic! Remote patient monitoring now is actually a real deal. Virtual health care is a major thing. It’s actually a positive for the patient, and it’s a positive for the clinician to be able to have more access to data intervals outside of a clinical visit. It’s also obviously better from a COVID-19 infection risk perspective to not have all the patients coming in, especially those who are at risk with complex morbidities and multiple underlying conditions that make them more susceptible to COVID-19. We live in an interesting time, and one of the most rapid periods of change in human history.

The other big thing I see evolving quickly in health- and med-tech is the increased acquisition of data and increased importance of analytics. When you combine that with personalized medicine, genomics and metabolomics and other aspects of A.I. and machine learning, it’s actually very synergistic; you are able to access data on patients individually and combine that with personalized medical reports to inform drug discovery or therapeutic interventions that are more aligned with that particular patient — it’s really quite magical.

And beyond human health, there are incredible scientific and technologic advances in our understanding of physics, climate change, advances in transportation, engineering, energy creation and storage, space travel — and huge opportunities for investors to have a positive impact in many other categories of impact and social enterprise such as education, climate change and protection of the environment, minority rights and women’s rights, reduction of poverty, agricultural technology to reduce global food instability, and more. This is truly a time of transformational change where there’s great opportunities to make a real difference. There are real challenges in the world that we can and must all work on together to solve. It’s a great time to be alive and continually learning and building networks with others passionate about these causes, and an amazing time to be investing as an angel focused on impact and mentoring social entrepreneurs.

IBR: Given Threshold, your board memberships, and your charitable projects, how do you balance all of these responsibilities and your personal life?

I had a call with a relatively new venture capitalist recently about this, and he was getting overwhelmed. My advice to him was to keep your default answer as “no” until it becomes “yes.” It’s a tricky balance; this doesn’t mean to brush people off. Rather, it means to be principled with whom you do talk to, but to always treat everyone with respect and courtesy. If someone comes to me with a “cold” (non-introduced by a colleague) email and takes the time to explain why they want to speak with me, I’ll always try my best to give them some time. It may not go anywhere, but I treat them respectfully and I try to give them advice and feedback and introduce them to some people who could help them more.

When I was at BioWare I realized how important it was to treat every person I met with respect. It didn’t matter to me what they were doing, what company they were with, or what stage of their career they were at; I always tried to be respectful and gave them time. I still try to do that whenever I can, but I’ve had to create a bit more of a filter because of a lack of time and competing priorities. I try to prioritize my portfolio companies at the top, along with friends and family. Close second are my mentorship commitments from the UAlberta VMS program and the Creative Destruction Lab and my various board work, and still lower priority after those, prospective investment deals that are imminently closing. Everything else is behind these priorities, but I do still try to make time, whenever possible, for networking, meeting new people, helping students and doing talks and connecting generally with new deal flow and impact opportunities. Back in pre-COVID times, my wife and I were also passionate photographers, travelling the world to learn more about social entrepreneurship opportunities in health, environment and education and taking photos of wildlife along the way (I post our photos here, if anyone’s curious to check them out!).

At BioWare, my realization of the benefits of treating everyone with respect dawned on me about ten years after I started going to conferences and giving people my time; I started to see interesting things happen. I didn’t do it for these benefits, but I came to realize that good things happened later on because of the investment in treating others with courtesy and respect. For example, somebody that I helped early on became a major journalist and they recognized that I had helped them earlier in their career; once that sort of thing happens, I had a friend in an important and influential role. In another example, I’d be walking down the hall at BioWare and someone would introduce themselves as a new employee, saying that I had had a call with them back after we met at the Game Developers Conference ten years ago., and telling me that they always wanted to work at BioWare because of that call! To this day, I try to treat everybody I meet with respect and give them time, to the extent that time permits. The benefits are often indirect and take a while to manifest, but they are real and valuable.

Some of my best memories from my Ivey MBA are the case studies that I was able to take back to BioWare, oftentimes the day after I got back from the class. One amazing professor, Al Mikalachki, who retired the year after my MBA, stood out in particular. His class was truly transformational for my understanding of organizational behaviour. And he taught it all out of his head! I came up to him once after class and said “This is amazing. Is there a book I can go to, to learn more?” He responded, “No, it’s just me speaking from everything I’ve taught for the last 40 or 50 years.” There are a lot of amazing things that I learned in that class and many others at Ivey, frameworks that I still apply today on a daily basis with my portfolio and mentorship teams.

IBR: If you could go back and give yourself advice as a university student or eMBA student, what would you tell yourself?

Stay focused on your core values. They’re the most important thing — living them, truly living them every day and staying open to feedback is very important. And, treat the people you work with and interact with, with respect; build your network, build your relationships every chance you get and treat people respectfully because if you don’t, it’ll come back to bite you. If you do treat others respectfully and with consideration, it’ll be rewarding — and you can’t predict how it’ll reward you. But it will, and you’ll have friends as a result for life that you can turn to. Ultimately, that’s what Greg and I did and what our teams did at BioWare.

And if you fail but you learn from it, it’s not really a failure. That’s also where mentors come into play. They can help prevent you from running off a cliff and give you the feedback to make sure you’re asking yourself the right questions. Surround yourself with people who can give you feedback and ask the right questions of you, and listen to their advice.

IBR: When starting BioWare, you mentioned that you never conceived that the idea could fail; evidently, you had a really strong goal in your mind. What does “success” mean to you?

I have a bias against investing in teams that create a business with the sole purpose of exit. Instead, I prefer to take more of a Taoist approach: not to seek an outcome, but rather to strive. This was my philosophy at BioWare; I tried not to seek specific outcomes but tried to strive in a positive direction. If you aim for the moon, sometimes you get the stars! If you’re building value every day, good things will happen over time, which will accrue to your customers, your investors and your employees. Those things will lead to virtuous cycles over time. Look for the opportunities, de-risk the challenges and always try to move forward in the right direction. For me, success is having an amazing and passionate team around me, and I was lucky in all my career chapters to work with incredible teams.

I’m still figuring out what I’m going to do when I grow up. I think part of success is always enjoying every step along the journey. One time at BioWare, I was in a panic because Baldur’s Gate was a massive hit and it was the second game we had released. I turned to my wife Leona De Boer and said, “What If this is the best thing we ever did?” That was frightening to me because I didn’t want it to be the last and only “best” thing we did. For me, success is continually building on the things you’ve done and always trying to make them better. It also means doing it for the right reasons aligned with core values: you want to make a good workplace for your team, you want to create the best products for customers and you want to create good outcomes for your investors and shareholders. If you do this, you’ll be building something incredibly valuable and enduring.

I have a philosophy that teams that create better outcomes for the world — social enterprises — actually have a greater propensity for better financial outcomes. This is because they are creating things that people love, value and want. Public companies have the challenge of quarterly earning pressure, which sometimes creates more short-term thinking. I personally really enjoy the long-term view of private businesses, including thinking about how you take your past failures, successes and make learnings out of them in the future. That’s a long-term view. If you are always striving and not seeking, you can’t be disappointed by missing a target; if you’re always open to feedback, you can’t be hurt by constructive feedback, and you can use it to learn, and grow, and continually improve.

Jobber’s success helping pave way for continued tech growth in Edmonton

Sam Pillar, Jobber’s CEO and co-founder, says the new financing will help the Edmonton firm grow to become a global technology company. (Submitted by Jobber)

Edmonton tech company Jobber has raised $60 million US in growth financing to help fund research and future growth, but won’t take much of a break to savour the success.

Sam Pillar, CEO and co-founder of Jobber, told CBC’s Edmonton AM this week the company is taking a moment to be happy at the news, but will be getting right back to work.

“This financing is going to allow us to really continue doing more of what we have been doing for the last number of years but at a larger scale and with a bigger ambition to build a global technology company,” Pillar said Thursday.

Jobber provides management software for small home-service businesses like lawn care, HVAC, painting, roofers and residential cleaning.

Earlier this week the company announced it had raised $60 million US from existing and new investors. The money will be used for research and development, marketing and reaching more customers. 

Started in Edmonton in 2011, Jobber has grown to have more than 250 employees and a second office in Toronto.

With the new funding, the firm plans to hire another 200 people, both from Edmonton and outside, in the next 12 months.

Fast-growing sector

Edmonton’s tech sector is growing, fuelled in recent years by Jobber and other companies. The sector is leveraging local talent and the strength of its own community, which is small compared to other major Canadian cities.

Edmonton Global, an economic development corporation for the Edmonton metropolitan region, says other local tech companies have also had recent success raising funds.

They include Drivewyze, which raised $60 million US in minority financing last July; SAM, which raised $3.6 million last May; and Showbie, which raised $5 million last August.

Much like what e-commerce company Shopify has done for Ottawa, in terms of being a major employer and transforming the tech landscape of the region, Jobber hopes to achieve in Edmonton, Pillar said.

He said building a global tech company is possible anywhere in the world now, but being in a city like Edmonton comes with some challenges.

“The ecosystem is less developed and less mature than some of the larger ecosystems,” he said. “It’s a smaller population mass as well.”

However, he added that the flip side of that challenge is that a smaller tech ecosystem also means less competition. 

He also said Edmonton offered a lot of talent coming from the University of Alberta, MacEwan University and NAIT, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Local talent

Talent is the local tech sector’s biggest driver, said Lynette Tremblay, vice-president of strategy and innovation with Edmonton Global.

“That is the primary driver for a tech company because their most important capital is human capital,” Tremblay said. “Wherever the talent is, that’s generally where the company is going to want to locate.”

Tremblay noted that in 2019, RBC ranked Edmonton the best city for Canadian youth to live and work in.

In the same year, real estate giant CBRE’s research centre ranked Edmonton as one of top 10 Canadian cities — not only for affordability but also for tech jobs, noting that jobs in the sector had increased by 26 per cent in the previous five years.

Tremblay said one of the challenges the city faces is that although there is enough talent, there aren’t enough companies to hire all the qualified workers. Edmonton Global estimates about 5,000 graduates are leaving the region per year.

“So we need to try to retain that talent because that is going to attract the companies,” she said.

However, talent is also the biggest cost for tech companies, Tremblay said, adding that while petrochemical companies can get tax breaks for machinery, equipment and construction, tech companies have been asking for help to offset the cost of labour.

“Jurisdictions we are competing against — Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal — they all have similar incentives in place,” she said. “So anything we can do to level the playing field, helps us.”

‘Tight-knit’ community

Besides talent from post secondary schools, Edmonton’s start-up community thrives because of support from within, said Lauren Briske, interim director at Startup Edmonton.

“It is a tight-knit community,” Briske said. “There’re lots of people kind of willing to, kind of open doors for people that are taking a chance on entrepreneurship, taking a chance on taking their ideas to market.”

Companies like Jobber are dedicated to growing and supporting Edmonton’s start-up community as well, she said. 

“Tons of their team members actively mentor early-stage companies.”

Developing strategies for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s economy

This morning Lynette Tremblay, Global Edmonton’s Vice President, Strategy and Innovation joined Danielle Smith on her talk show on 630 CHED to discuss the economic outlook for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region and the proactive approach that Edmonton Global is taking to transform our regional economy. 

Their discussion highlighted the need for collaboration, both on a regional, and a provincial level, and how using a data-driven approach means we can be proactive and really targeted in how we are attracting investment into Alberta.  

“It’s not good enough anymore to take a passive approach,” said Lynette. “We can’t waste resources chasing every shiny object or putting out vague marketing pitches on the assumption that investors will just come our way. Now is the time for us to get creative, aggressive, and targeted. That’s why Edmonton Global has developed strategies for targeting investment opportunities that reflect the assets we have, the things we do well, and the things the world is looking for now.”  

A recording of their conversation can be found here.

Lynette also presented on this topic to the Realtors Association of Edmonton’s Housing Forecast event on January 13, 2021. 

For nearly two decades, the Realtor’s Association of Edmonton’s Housing Forecast event has been one of the first of the year to share an economic outlook for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. This year it was held virtually. 

Using the analogy of the shift from analog to digital to streaming services, her speech outlined the importance of talent, innovation and technology adoption as key drivers for economic growth. The presentation included information about how the COVID-19 pandemic has both introduced shifts in the global economic landscape as well as accelerated global trends that existed pre-COVID. 

“Shifts in the global economy mean that opportunities that were once a ‘sure thing’ for the Edmonton region, just aren’t anymore,” said Tremblay. “But these shifts have also opened new doors. We can now compete in areas where we couldn’t before. This is more than hope – these are concrete opportunities where we can compete to win. We’re taking a proactive approach so that when global investors begin unleashing their pent-up demand and start shopping for a new location – we’ll be ready.”  

An opinion piece from Edmonton Global CEO, Malcolm Bruce outlining Edmonton Global’s new regional strategy for attracting foreign investment was recently published in the Edmonton Journal and can be found here and includes immediately investable opportunities across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region: 

Technology & Innovation in the Edmonton region – it’s an opportunity right now

For companies looking to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) and other innovative technologies into their business operations, the Edmonton Metropolitan Region represents a distinct advantage. The region combines a university that is ranked 3rd globally for AI research, large datasets from established industries such as energy and health sciences, and a thriving research and development (R&D) ecosystem.

AI and innovative technologies are some of the biggest drivers of value for businesses in today’s economy. In fact, some estimates predict that AI could add as much as $15.7 trillion to the global economy by 2030. AI and technology adoption provide the tools to make businesses safer, more efficient, more productive and increase their competitiveness. Companies that are becoming early adopters of emerging technologies, like AI, machine learning (ML) and automation are expanding and increasing their market share, while others who are unable to shift their business models are struggling for survival.

The University of Alberta has a 20-year legacy of research in artificial intelligence and machine learning – an impressive track record that continues to attract talent into the region. In research heavy fields such as AI and ML, talent attracts talent. Often, decisions about where researchers choose to work and/or study has a lot to do with who they will be working with. Richard Sutton was one of the early global AI pioneers to locate to the Edmonton region to continue his work in reinforcement learning and since then we’ve attracted dozens of other big names in the AI field, like Patrick Polarski, and Michael Bowling.

Richard Sutton is considered the father of reinforcement learning

Not only are we attracting talent, industry is following suit with Google Brain, DeepMind, Toyota, Volkswagen and IBM investing in the region looking to chase the talent that exists here.

Local company AltaML is capitalizing on the opportunity by finding ways to apply the regional expertise to business. They’ve built successful partnerships with companies in some of the Edmonton region’s strongest industries – including healthcare, energy and construction.

“We should be world leaders in health and AI, in oil and gas and AI,” says Cory Janssen, co-CEO of AltaML. “Hopefully what we have here is a cluster out of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the next big boom will come out of that.”

The Edmonton region is also home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), part of the Pan-Canadian AI strategy.  Amii is linking theory to practice, by building partnerships with businesses, governments, and NGO’s to support them in adopting AI tools into their operations. Imperial Oil partnered with Amii to collaborate on the development of Imperial’s in-house machine learning capabilities, which will enable a range of applied artificial intelligence (AI) projects. Through these projects, Imperial will work to develop more effective ways to recover oil and gas resources, reduce environmental impacts and improve the safety of its workforce.

“At Imperial, we are taking action to be a leader in advancing digital and AI technology across the value chain,” said John Whelan, Imperial’s senior vice-president, upstream. “Amii is not only a leader in the AI space globally, but based locally in Alberta. We believe the institute is a perfect partner to help us showcase Alberta’s leadership in technology and digital solutions for responsibly-produced oil and gas.”

Government supports are also in place for businesses in the energy sector looking to access this expertise. The province of Alberta is supporting Amii with a $5 million grant to develop AI capabilities in the energy sector aimed at emission reduction technologies.

RJ MacLean is another great example of an Edmonton region company that is turning to innovative technologies to transform the energy sector using robotics to do some of the industry’s dirtiest – and most dangerous – work.

RJ MacLean’s innovative solutions for tank cleaning make the process safer and more efficient

Storage tank cleaning is an essential process in the oil sector and is required to be performed in any facility where oil is stored. Traditionally, this process involves removing as much of the product or sludge within the tank as possible, then people climb into the tanks to finish the job by hand. Despite rigorous safety precautions, this is some of the most dangerous work being done in an industry that is often viewed as resistant to change.

RJ MacLean’s robotics technology makes the process easier, safer, more environmentally friendly and more efficient and its being adopted by some of the biggest multinationals in the energy sector.

“The Edmonton region is very focused on research and development,” says Kiely. “It’s very innovative here. There are not a lot of communities that are as focused on putting their heads down and challenging the status quo the way Edmonton is doing. There’s a collective willingness for innovation that translates into a global scale.”

AI and innovative technologies also hold enormous potential for the life sciences sector.

One University of Alberta spinoff is using the regional expertise and access to data to scale rapidly. DrugBank is a University of Alberta spinoff that has created a vast database related to pharmaceutical drugs, selling their information to more than 130 clients around the world. Commercial users can purchase a license in to use the data and gain access to additional datasets. DrugBank Scientific Drug Information is available to pharmaceutical companies and helps them use artificial intelligence, bioinformatics and data science to discover new drugs and find new applications for existing drugs.

Josh Felker, Founder of BoxOne Ventures, says they invested in DrugBank because, “computational and machine learning advances are transforming the pharmaceutical and health industries. The success of these approaches is highly dependent on the scope and quality of their reference data. DrugBank has developed the world’s most detailed, comprehensive and accurate resource for drug and molecular data. They are increasingly becoming a key input into major advances in data-driven medicine.”

Learn more about the opportunities in AI and innovative technologies in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

The Edmonton region’s nutraceuticals industry – it’s an opportunity right now

Image supplied by BioNeutra

Nutraceuticals are part of a large and growing market in natural health products that include things like functional foods and supplements. As consumers are becoming more and more health conscious, many are turning to supplements to boost their health. The nutraceutical industry is seizing the opportunity with increased product innovation and market expansion. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has all the ingredients needed to attract international investment into the growing nutraceutical industry.

One of the biggest demand spikes in the nutraceuticals market has been the addition of cannabidiol (CBD), a functional additive that has seen a surge in popularity due to mounting evidence of its health benefits.  

The nutraceutical market in Canada alone is valued at $16.4 billion and 75% of buyers are classified as ‘frequent users’ of these products. Nutraceuticals have demonstrated exceptionally high growth globally with a compounded 10% year over year growth rate over the last decade.  When we look at CBD specifically, the global market is projected to reach $22 billion by 2026, with an annual compound growth that is almost double that of non-CBD nutraceuticals.

Companies in the Edmonton region are capitalizing on these opportunities and are seeing some phenomenal success.

BioNeutra is one of the Edmonton region’s fastest growing companies, with a five-year growth rate of 1,378% and a ranking from Canada Business magazine as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies for the 3rd consecutive year. They sell their products to global markets including the U.S., EU, India, and SE Asia.

Image supplied by BioNeutra

BioNeutra is focused on both the research and development, and the production of ingredients for nutraceutical, functional and mainstream foods. They’ve developed a patented process that leverages manufacturing technology to produce a range of nutraceutical products that function as sugar replacements. Their VitaFiber IMO sugar alternative, has just been named the world’s top beverage ingredient by FoodBev, a leading food and beverage industry publisher. This international recognition demonstrates the incredible research and expertise that is taking place here.

The Edmonton region also has access to inputs.

One example is Rosy Farms, a haskap berry orchard located in Sturgeon County. Owner, Andrew Rosychuk bought the 76 acres of land that make up the farm in 2015 – he now has 26,000 haskap bushes growing there. 

The berry is relatively new to North America but has grown abundantly in both Japan and Siberia. Haskaps are quickly becoming North America’s newest superfood due to their high antioxidant properties. These “super berries” are beginning to enter the European nutraceutical market in powder form. If a processing facility were to be established here, the Edmonton region could reasonably be expected to be one of the most competitive regions in the world for haskaps. But whether fresh or processed, these berries represent a lot of potential for the region.

Rosychuk agrees. He says the next step for the industry is to establish the distribution and processing systems that are needed to support the growth of this industry in Alberta.  

The Edmonton region has the expertise and a competitive advantage in shipping fresh fruits to Asia. A large percentage of Western Canada and northwestern U.S. cherries ship to Asia through the Edmonton International Airport. That’s due to the combination of quick flying times to Asia, regular food-focused cargo routes, and expertise in handling fresh fruits, produce, meats, and other temperature and time sensitive products. It’s just one more example of our region’s unique value proposition.

Oats are another input that is widely available in the region that holds significant potential. Oats are commonly rendered into oat beta glucan, a fibre-based nutraceutical proven to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Oat beta glucan is supported by Health Canada, the US Food and Drug Association, and the European Food Safety Authority as a “qualified” nutraceutical due to scientific evidence in its favour. Ceapro is a regional business already accessing these inputs to produce oat beta glucan

PBG BioPharma  is another Edmonton region company operating in the nutraceutical sector. They’ve recently completed a 25,000 square foot expansion to their research and manufacturing facility.  The one-of-a-kind facility houses three distinct operations under one roof— a GMP certified facility for natural health product development and manufacturing, a C1D2 manufacturing facility with license for cannabis processing, and a suite of world-class GMP and ISO 17025 accredited research and analytical laboratories with cannabis analytical and research license.

Image supplied by PBG Pharma

According to PBG Pharma, this new facility is one of the largest of its kind in North America with a manufacturing capacity of up to 200 tonnes of biomass extracts every year. The manufacturing and research labs will be used as innovation and manufacturing centres performing proprietary extractions, isolations, formulations, research and testing of Canada-based medicinal herbs, as well as cannabis products for health and wellness. The manufactured products will include ingredient extracts and isolates and formulated finished products. The facility will also serve as a “one-stop-shop” for Canadian and international businesses looking to create innovative, reliable, consistent, and evidence-based nutraceutical and medicinal cannabis products.

Learn more about the opportunities in the nutraceuticals sector in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. 

The Edmonton region’s plant protein industry – it’s an opportunity right now

Plant-based protein is one of the single fastest-growing food and agri-food sub-sectors in the world. By 2030, the global demand for plant-based protein is anticipated to reach $100 billion. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has all the ingredients needed to attract international investment into this growing industry.

The growth of this sector is being led by a global shift that is happening in the way people are consuming food. Western consumers are eating less meat due to environmental and health concerns, while consumers in emerging markets are looking to add more protein to their diets. The changes are also being driven by a growing consciousness around food security. COVID-19 has awakened many countries to the importance of internal food security, which includes both sustainable practices and shorter supply chains.

Protein rich products like peas, beans, lentils, and canola provide the solutions to these global problems – and we have access to more of these products than anywhere else in the world. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of pulse crops as well as canola.

Dan Brewin, CEO of the Plant Protein Alliance of Alberta (PPAA) addressed the emerging opportunity for the plant protein industry in Alberta at their annual general meeting on November 4, 2020.

“If consumers worldwide are asking for this product — plant protein or plant protein ingredients — and we already grow the commodities, why wouldn’t we process it here?” asked Dan. “Let’s make sure we capture that value,” he continued.

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region is poised to dominate this skyrocketing global industry and some regional businesses are already capitalizing on the opportunity. PPAA is actively working on measures to attract new investment into the sector, improve access to capital and make start-up investment available.

One example of this is Eat Beyond Global, a Vancouver-based investment fund that specializes in the alternative food sector. Due to be listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange in the next few weeks, Eat Beyond is the first fund of its kind in the country. It was created to provide investors with a chance to be part of the booming alternative food sector. Patrick Morris, CEO of the new fund participated in the PPAA AGM to share the organization’s mandate.

“We’re focused on a broad cross-section of companies addressing the growing need for sustainable and plant-based food options to benefit global health and food security,” Patrick told attendees at the AGM. “This is the premise on which Eat Beyond Global was formed — the future of food, investing in good companies to contribute to a more sustainable industry.”

Nabati Foods is a great example. They’ve developed a line of plant-based cheesecakes, cheese shreds, and meat alternatives have recently announced that they have gained a listing for their first chain of supermarkets in the United States. Nabati products are currently available across Canada in well over 300 stores, and will now be in the U.S. in over 100 stores. Nabati is working on a new facility that is seven-times larger than its current facility and plans to enter the European Market in 2022.

“Nabati has a very loyal customer base that has been growing rapidly. Sales grew by over 33% in Canada in just the past year, and this was without a putting focus on marketing or advertising. This has been almost completely organic growth,” said Patrick Morris, CEO of Eat Beyond. “By expanding production capacity, increasing marketing efforts, and partnering with reputable distributors that align with Nabati’s values, I expect to see this growth accelerate.”

There’s a lot of support for industry entrepreneurs in the Edmonton region wanting to get their products to market. The Food Processing Development Centre (FPDC) and the Agrivalue Processing Business Incubator (APBI) are housed under the same roof in a Leduc industrial area. These government facilities provide subsidized support to entrepreneurs wanting to try out new ideas by offering space, production equipment and expertise.

With specialized equipment and a team of scientists, engineers and technicians, these facilities are key players in the province’s food and beverage industry, helping small and medium-sized entrepreneurs with everything from research & development to navigating the logistics of getting their products to market.

The FPDC is home to Alberta’s first fractionation suite, which recently received funding to expand their capacity. The funding came from a combination of government grants and private investment from the crop industry, demonstrating that there is a broad understanding of the value that plant protein fractionation could bring to the region.

According to Dan, the sector’s long-term economic benefits will include increased agri-processing and job creation. “We feel we are a big part of the economic recovery,” he told attendees at the AGM. “The opportunity is now. It’s not going to wait forever.”

Learn more about the opportunities in plant protein food and beverage manufacturing and plant protein fractionation in the Edmonton Metropolitan region.

The Edmonton region’s pharmaceutical industry – it’s an opportunity right now

Entos Pharmaceuticals Lab in Edmonton Alberta Canada
Entos Pharmaceuticals Lab in Edmonton Alberta Canada
Entos Pharmaceuticals (CNW Group/Entos Pharmaceuticals)

The Edmonton region has all the ingredients needed to attract investment into pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) and manufacturing.

The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on the ongoing issue of global drug shortages as governments around the world struggle to secure supplies of critical medicines, impacting patient care. The critical need for stable and secure manufacturing and supply chains for these critical goods is clear. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region has all the ingredients needed to grow its existing pharmaceutical industry and attract international investment in this area.

Propofol in particular, has seen a lot of shortages during the pandemic, and is a critical drug in the treatment of patients requiring the use of a ventilator. Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API), a not-for-profit institute aligned with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has been co-ordinating labs across the Edmonton region to manufacture the drugs needed to put people on a ventilator.

API recently passed an important milestone in securing the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s place as a global player in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. Their Drug Development and Innovation Centre has received a notice of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance for a Drug Establishment Licence, an important international manufacturing standard that is required to be able to produce pharmaceuticals that can be sold internationally. This news will dramatically enhance the region’s ability to attract investment into pharmaceutical manufacturing.

“We’ve now got everything in hand to expedite the launch. The Edmonton region is home to a large concentration of chemical companies, world-class expertise, accessible health datasets from 4.5 million people and a university that is ranked 3rd globally in AI research,” says API CEO, Andrew MacIsaac. “We’re well positioned to be an emerging hub for pharmaceutical R&D and production from our planned facility once it is funded.”

Chemical companies in the region such as Gilead, General Intermediates of Canada and Rane Pharmaceutical, already manufacture smaller batches of drugs that are used in clinical trials. They produce a lot of the ingredients needed for GMP certified facilities. Gilead’s Edmonton facility, a large multinational that continues to invest in the region by growing its capacity, has been critical in producing Remdesivir. By establishing a GMP facility in the region, API is helping to secure the missing link that would complete the entire supply chain of pharmaceutical manufacturing in the region.

Entos Pharmaceuticals is one example of a regional company that is working with API to ensure secure supply of inputs for its vaccine production and the ability to expand its Edmonton facilities. API has now begun local GMP production of inputs for Entos’ clinical trial manufacturing of Covigenix, its COVID-19 DNA vaccine.

“We’re thrilled to be working with API on this.” said John Lewis, CEO, Entos Pharmaceuticals. “Combined with our Fusogenix genetic medicines platform, we are developing a robust, cost effective pathway to produce millions of doses of our COVID-19 DNA vaccine as well as future vaccines and therapeutics.”

The Edmonton region has the infrastructure needed to support this industry. The Edmonton International Airport (EIA) is the first airport in Canada to successfully secure CEIV certification for pharmaceutical handling through the International Air Transportation Association. This means we have the expertise and capabilities needed to get drugs and vaccines to international markets.

“Alberta has always had very high potential for the production of pharmaceuticals,” said Glenn Weagle, executive vice president of technology and innovation, General Intermediates of Canada. “We’re a testament to that. The access to skilled chemists, inputs, good access to global markets, and the low cost of doing business have kept us here for over 40 years.”

Expertise in health and life sciences is a core component of the region’s thriving economy. The high concentration of top-notch facilities, research institutions, and government-backed initiatives are attracting some of the world’s leading researchers.

Dr. Michael Houghton is an example of the calibre of talent that the region has been able to attract. He was recruited by the University of Alberta to head up the commercialization arm of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology in 2013. Dr. Houghton was already a superstar in the field for his work in identifying the hepatitis C virus. The Canadian government awarded Houghton and his laboratory $10 million over seven years and he chose to come to the Edmonton region to continue his quest for a vaccine. Just last month he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his work on hepatitis C.

Dr. James Shapiro and some members of his team (photo supplied by Alberta Diabetes Institute)

Or consider our legacy in diabetes research. Scientists at the Alberta Diabetes Institute have been at the forefront of solving this global health challenge for over a century and they are at the cusp of discovering a cure right here in the Edmonton region.

“There’s an opportunity to attract investment into the research that is happening, manufacture these drug discoveries here and reap significant and lasting rewards across our economy,” says Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “All the ingredients needed to grow this industry are already in our region. Now’s the time and we want you here.”

Learn more about the opportunities in the pharmaceutical sector.

Jeff Bell joins Edmonton Global

Edmonton Global is excited to welcome Jeff Bell as its new Director of Research and Business Intelligence.

Jeff has more than 15 years of experience working with a diverse set of sectors in academia, industry, non-profits, and government. Armed with an undergrad in environmental science from the University of Alberta, and a master’s degree in environmental studies from Dalhousie University in Halifax, his career has taken him around the world. He lived in Mexico, Japan, and the UK before returning to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region in 2007. Over the course of his career, Jeff’s work has focussed on the adoption of technology innovations with a broad range of businesses and organizations. Jeff’s published work around the future of the energy economy in Alberta continues to attract attention.

“Jeff brings a really well-rounded set of skills to our team,” says Edmonton Global CEO, Malcolm Bruce. “And his experience aligns very well with the purpose of Edmonton Global – to radically transform and grow the economy of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. His passion for implementing technology adoption and innovation, and the work he’s done with industry in our key sectors like energy, technology, and agriculture, make him a real asset.”

Jeff strengths lie in his ability to synthesize data, identify connections, and build collaborative relationships. Jeff is a bridge builder, connecting people and organizations from diverse sectors and industries. He refers to himself as a generalist, a skill that he says gives him a distinct advantage.

“Having a general knowledge on a diversity of industries means I can go from problem to solution faster across a wide range of projects,” says Jeff. “It means my knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep and when a question arises – I enjoy digging deep into the data to provide solid defensible research that can inform strategy. My network includes a broad range of experts, so if I don’t have the answer, I know where to get it.”

Jeff is looking forward to using his skills and expertise to promote the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

“The Edmonton region holds a ton of potential – there’s a real diversity of capabilities here,” says Jeff. “Throughout my career I’ve had the opportunity to meet with some incredibly innovative industry leaders in the greater Edmonton area. From software to biotech, to robotics and drones, to clean energy initiatives – there are so many exciting things happening here.”

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