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Edmonton’s Global Connectivity Advantage

Part 1- Planes

This is Part 1 of a 2-part series Planes, trains and…boats? Rethinking the global connectivity of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.

Did you know the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s geographic location gives us a natural competitive advantage when it comes to accessing Asia via air?

In fact, for businesses considering expanding into North America, where strong ties to Asia are important to their business operations, the Edmonton region is a great location to choose for their investment destination. The same is true for Asian companies looking to build a North American presence.

Being the northernmost major city in North America may create the impression that the Edmonton region is remote or isolated. But that only holds if you perceive the world as flat. The reality is that when it comes to evaluating our connection to the world, it all depends on where you are going.

Part of the problem is that we often picture the world and our connection to Asia like this:

When we should be thinking about the world as a globe – in which case, the concept of closeness should be turned on its head, quite literally.

The Edmonton Region is among the closest major population centers in North America to Asia
City Distance to Edmonton (YEG) 
in kilometers
Distance to Seattle (SEA-closest US city) in kilometers
Tokyo, Japan 7,852 7,675
Seoul, Korea 8,413 8,394
Beijing, China 8,652 8,727
Guangzhou, China 10,386 10,397
Manila, the Philippines 10,870 10,720
Source: The Great Circle Map https://www.greatcirclemap.com
Note: Proximity does not imply existing service or direct flights.

When we shift our perceptions, we can see that Edmonton is closer to Beijing and Guangzhou than any city in the lower 48 states. Edmonton also out-competes most North American jurisdictions in proximity to Seoul, Tokyo and Manila. In the case of Seoul, Seattle is the only American jurisdiction closer than Edmonton (and just barely).

The Edmonton International Airport is closer to Beijing than any City in the lower 48 states
City Distance to Beijing China (BJS) in kilometers
Edmonton, Canada 8,652
Vancouver, Canada 8,540
Seattle, USA 8,727
Los Angeles, USA 10,084
Denver, USA 10,240
Toronto, Canada 10,609
Chicago, USA 10,628
Source: The Great Circle Map https://www.greatcirclemap.com

Our proximity to Asia makes the Edmonton region strategically relevant to North American and Asian companies building bridges between the two continents. Our region has long been known as the “Gateway to the North” and we’re still an important hub for Canada’s arctic. In today’s economy, where global supply chains can create competitive advantage, “Gateway to Asia” is equally apt. 

When it comes to our connectedness by air, there’s some other things about our region and the Edmonton International Airport (EIA) that I think are particularly interesting and relevant.

Air Cargo Infrastructure

Expanding capacity

Infrastructure and expertise in the safe and efficient handling of air cargo are critically important to businesses wanting to enter global markets – EIA has both and has become an important hub for air cargo. From 2014 to 2018, EIA increased the international overseas exports from its facilities by 25 times; in 2020 the airport and its partners handled 46,000 metric tonnes of cargo. EIA seamlessly connects with both major class 1 rail lines in Canada as well as a highway system connecting across North America. The region’s proximity to the Port of Prince Rupert and the Port of Vancouver also makes it a strategic location for those who need to ship by sea (more on that in a future edition). 

EIA is also the largest airport in Canada by land size (image supplied by EIA)

Air cargo is the ideal mode of transportation for low volume, high value exports like pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals or small electronics like sensors or communications hardware – all areas where the Edmonton region has considerable expertise. In February 2021, a major expansion was announced that will extend EIA’s capabilities for primary cargo handling, cold storage and refuelling. EIA is also the largest airport in Canada by land size. EIA has developed 7,000 acres of land as part of Airport City, a hub of innovation and economic development for the region and beyond.

Air cargo is the ideal mode of transportation for low volume, high value exports (image supplied by EIA)
Cold Chain and Storage

EIA is also ­­the only airport in Canada with the globally recognized CEIV Pharma certification from the International Air Transport Association. This means EIA meets the highest standards in the world for handling temperature-sensitive cargo such as agriculture and food products as well as pharmaceutical and medical cargo. Whether its shipping Canadian cherries and lobster to Asia or importing sensitive COVID vaccines, EIA has proven itself as a key distribution and logistics hub for intercontinental air cargo.

Sustainable Fuel

Another major strategic advantage for our region is access to jet fuel. In November 2020, Royal Dutch Shell announced its operations in the Edmonton region’s City of Fort Saskatchewan will remain one of only 6 Shell refinery operations globally. This, combined with Shell’s announced commitment to net-zero emissions will mean that carriers with operations at the EIA will have a local supply of sustainable jet fuel, leveraging key infrastructure assets in the region such as the Quest carbon capture and sequestration project.


In 2015 the federal Government designated the Edmonton region as a Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ). This designation means investors are eligible for duty and tax relief when they use the region as a location to manufacture a portion of their products that are then exported into international markets as made-in-Canada products. 

Young, Educated, Growing – and Connected

The Edmonton region, by nature of its geography, is an attractive bridge between North America and Asia and should be a top location consideration for companies looking to invest in their next air cargo logistics hub or manufacturing facility. At Edmonton Global, we’ve branded the region around our international airport code, YEG. We’re young, educated and growing – and we’re globally connected, to Asia and beyond.

Jeff Bell is the Director of Research and Business Intelligence at Edmonton Global. His knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep – and when a question arises, he enjoys digging deep into the data to provide solid defensible research that can inform strategy.  His network includes a broad range of experts, so if he doesn’t have the answer, he knows where to get it.

Reach out to Jeff with any interesting facts about our region’s global competitiveness that you’d like him to know about.

Read more about our region’s global connectivity

Talent in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region

Edmonton Global has launched their latest video highlighting another regional asset of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region –  Talent.

A changing global landscape highlights the importance of talent

“The world is fundamentally changing and so are the practices of growing companies.” said Malcolm Bruce, CEO of Edmonton Global. “In the past, companies have been able to pull people to them. Now companies are the ones on the move and they are going where the talent is. The Edmonton Metropolitan Region produces an incredible amount and diversity of talented people and we’re increasingly attracting people to move here for academic research, to start or expand companies, and to be part of the new economy we’re building.”

Recent changes to the United States Visa programs an opportunity for Canada

Recent changes to the United States Visa programs are making it more difficult for companies to bring in foreign talent. “We need to be on the radar of companies looking to access North American markets and setting up teams,” commented Malcolm. “We need to raise our profile and do more to show off what’s happening here.” The new Talent video and our previous series on the sectors driving the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s economy are part of building awareness of the region among companies from around the world who are looking to expand. “We want companies to know – if you’re looking to access talent and a community that is open, welcoming, and inclusive, look north to Canada and the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.”

The proposed changes to the United States Visa programs may also make it challenging for international students to continue studying at US universities and colleges. “This presents a significant opportunity for Canada, both for attracting international investment and international students,” commented Malcolm. “Globally recognized top institutions like the University of Alberta can play a key role in attracting some of the world’s best young minds to Canada. And with programs at both the Provincial and National level to fast track citizenship, our goal is to keep them here.” 

You can afford to build a life here

The Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s high quality of life, diverse economy, high average salaries, and low cost of living make it very attractive to young people and young families. It’s the second youngest region in Canada and has been ranked as the best community in Canada for youth and youth work in Youthful Cities 2019 Urban Work Index

Data and trends with Tomas

Tomas Nilsson
The unique blend of data scientist, economist, and Swedish dairy farmer all rolled into regular updates on our region, economics, and trends. Keep checking back for this regularly updated blog by our own Tomas Nilsson, PhD. and bite-sized essayist.

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Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about the “new normal” – what the world will look like after this global pandemic has left its mark on every aspect of our lives. For us at Alberta Innovates, we are always talking about the next bold idea or the next big shift that has the potential to change how we go about our day to day lives. This creativity is at the heart of innovation – ways that we can use new knowledge or technologies to solve problems and create new opportunities.

“It’s no secret that innovative economies create highly skilled jobs, higher wages, more productivity and exports, and are generally more competitive.”

Innovation is key to growing Albert’a economy, expanding our markets and most importantly, generating new and different opportunities for Albertans. Often, people think that innovation is just technology – but it’s far greater than that.

  • Alberta is home to Canada’s largest integrated provincial health-care system producing unprecedented amounts of data. Digital health technologies and artificial intelligence can accelerate improvements in nearly every aspect of the quality and long-term sustainability of our health system and the health of Albertans.
  • Our agricultural sector is using advanced sensors, remote monitoring, automation, artificial intelligence and blockchain technology creating sustainable production, new digital jobs and improved food security at home and worldwide.
  • Alberta is home to natural materials needed to responsibly supply global demand for carbon fibre, asphalt, polymers, vanadium and other innovative hydrocarbon products. Markets for these advanced materials are estimated to reach more than $212 billion by 2030.
  • Alberta is a global leader in artificial intelligence and machine learning thanks to 20 years of publicly funded research. Artificial intelligence is estimated to add up to $16 trillion to global economic output over the next decade and is already transforming every sector and region.

Innovation isn’t new for Alberta. It’s been the backbone of our economy for a century and has lead to global leadership in many sectors.

Looking to the next 100 years, our support for innovators, entrepreneurship, and work with industry leaders must continue. Innovation will solve challenges and build new capacity in the digital economy – from health to smart agriculture and advanced hydrocarbons – all of which leverage existing advantages and strengths.

The creation and commercialization of new technologies and knowledge-based products is key to Alberta’s future. We have all the pieces in place to build a technology-rich economy that will allow us to compete with other global leaders. Alberta has an active investment capital market, leading universities and the supports to move startups to scale and market commercialization sooner.

It’s no secret that innovative economies create highly skilled jobs, higher wages, more productivity and exports, and are generally more competitive. Holding fast to the status quo is not an option – we need to support, celebrate and build up Alberta’s innovation culture – the unique combination of human ingenuity and resources which are abundant in Alberta. It’s going to take resolve and coordination to shift priorities and concentrate efforts that position Alberta for the advantages and opportunities a research and innovation economy can bring. But the size of the prize is immense.

Through innovation, we have the opportunity of a century to shape the future and to strengthen economic resilience for Albertans today and generations to come.


Inside Alberta’s Entrepreneurial Emergence

It seems like overnight Alberta has emerged on the global scene as a heavy-hitter in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, with a strong cluster of innovative startups powered by these technologies. Alberta’s transforming tech ecosystem might be different than you would expect. While energy and industrial technology are ongoing pillars, the province is also deep in software-enabled startups, with SaaS enterprises accounting for 40% of the province’s dealflow (according to the Alberta Enterprise 2018 Tech Deal Flow Study of 1,238 tech startups).

Demographics of Alberta’s tech ecosystem

Alberta’s tech landscape has a distinct female presence with a remarkable 30% of tech startups being founded or co-founded by women – more than double the Canadian national average. This is according to the 2017 Move the Dial Benchmark Report, which cites that only 13% of companies have a female co-founder, and only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a solo female founder.  Alberta’s strong female tech founder and co-founder representation of 30% also shines in comparison to the US national average of 17%, as reported by Crunchbase’s 2017 Study of Female Founders.

Additionally, Alberta’s tech ecosystem is bolstered by its highly educated workforce, as well as its proximity of several well-respected academic institutions with longstanding R&D reputations and abundant expertise in Energy, Life Sciences and Artificial Intelligence. Curious young minds and mega corporations alike are flocking to the University of Alberta’s Artificial Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII) to be closer to the world-class experts in reinforcement learning and natural language processing (NLP).

Catalysts for new innovation 

Furthermore, the opening of Google Deep Mind’s first North American office in Edmonton, Alberta was not by coincidence. The concentration of AI talent and strategic corporate labs is spurring a new wave of innovative startups. 34% of Alberta technology firms are already integrating AI into their offerings, and this number is expected to increase exponentially (according to the Alberta Tech Deal Flow Study).

Meanwhile, programs like the Creative Destruction Lab Rockies, based out of the Haskayne School of Business, are welcoming Energy and Prime (industry agnostic) Startups for the 2019/20 cohort. Eager for the exceptional mentorship and opportunities to raise capital, the program has received over 430 applications for the 50 available spots from around the globe.  Companies that have participated in the CDL program have raised over $14 million (CAD) in seed funding. CDL-Rockies Alumni include Ingu Solutions Inc., SensorUp, Neuraura, Zept, and Vivametrica – find more CDL companies in the Crunchbase Hub.

Global investors showing interest

Alberta’s startup ecosystem is rapidly gaining momentum, and global investors are taking notice. With twelve funds now with offices in Alberta (four of which also have offices in Silicon Valley), the growing venture capital industry is prompting increasingly impressive raises and exits. One such example is Drivewyze, which secured CDN $20 million from investors, including Alberta Enterprise’s VC fund Inovia Capital. Here are a few more examples of recent VC activity for Alberta startups:

A flurry of mergers and acquisitions have also taken place recently in Alberta, including a CDN $1.1 billion exit for Soliuma publicly traded SaaS company headquartered in Calgary recently acquired by Morgan Stanley.

Recent investment deals

2019 has started off with great momentum with several notable VC deals taking place in Alberta.

  • Eideticom, a company developing Computational Storage Processors for data center applications, secured USD $2 million in investment from Inovia Capital’s 2018 Fund, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Passportal, an Accelerate Fund II investment was acquired by SolarWinds(NYSE:SWI), a leading provider of powerful and affordable IT management software.
  • Scope ARan Edmonton and San Francisco-based augmented reality company closed CDN $13 million Series A funding to help make any worker an instant expert with augmented reality. The round was led by Romulus Capital, with follow-on investment participation from existing investors SignalFire, Susa Ventures, Haystack, New Stack Ventures, North American Corporation and Angel List.

2018 Deals

Early Stage (Angel and Seed):

  • AltaML, a developer of AI/ML applications that partners with organizations using a co-development model to provide technical and strategic expertise to build applied AI/ML applications, raised $3M USD of seed funding from Alberta angel investors.
  • Communo, a give/get work marketplace providing contingent workers and new projects to digital, creative and marketing agencies, secured CDN $1 million of angel-funding from several investors, including Panache Ventures, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Drivewyze, a sensor-enabled trucking and logistics company, secured CDN $20 million from investors, including Inovia Capital, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Fresnel Software, developer of a project management software designed to deploy utility-based infrastructures such as telecom, pipelines and distributed assets, secured CDN $1.63 million in angel investment.
  • iMirror, developer of an advanced interactive mirror designed to help consumers in the fitting rooms, closed a seed round of CDN $1.8 million backed by 500 Startups, Alchemist Accelerator, BDC and Valhalla Angels.
  • McThings, which provides businesses with access into the world of the Internet of Things with products that are affordable, easy to manage and highly scalable, secured early stage financing from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II.
  • MobSquad, which provides a solution to the significant and growing technology shortage faced by US-based start-ups and scale-ups, has raised a total of C$11 million in funding, comprised of US$4.6MM in seed-funding coming from private investors including Relay Ventures and Panache Ventures (both Alberta Enterprise portfolio funds), as well as C$5.5MM in non-dilutive funding from municipal, provincial, and federal orders of government.  
  •  OncoQuest, an Edmonton-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of immunotherapeutic products for the treatment of cancer, completed a private placement financing which raised USD $6.03 million.
  • SensorUP, a sensor data, analytics, and mapping API provider for every application, secured CDN $2 million of seed-funding from Vanedge Capital Partners.
  • StellarAlgo, a customer data platform that enables live audience businesses to leverage their data in order to better understand and connect with their fans., secured CDN $1 million of early stage financing with help from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II and Yaletown Partners.
  • Testfire Labs, a software and consulting services company building products that take advantage of the latest developments in AI, secured early stage financing from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II.
  • Veerum, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) company that matches digital technologies with capital project delivery, secured CDN $3.9 million of seed-funding from Builders VC, Blackhorn Ventures, Brick & Mortar Ventures, Creative Ventures and Ryerson Futures Inc. (RFI).
  • Zept, a Machine Learning company that serves as a grade matching service for international students and universities., secured CDN $1.3 million of seed-funding from Alberta angel investors.
  • ZeroKEY, developer of a VR technology product to help humans interact with machines, secured CDN $1.9 million of angel investment and early stage venture capital funding.

Series A and Series B:

  • Ambyint, an IIOT company focused on oil well optimization technology, utilizing lightweight sensors, wireless communications and advanced analytics secured a USD $11.5 million Series A led by Mercury Fund and participated in by, among others, Builders VC, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Circle Cardiovascular Imaging, developer and marketer of cardiovascular post-processing software that allows for the evaluation and analysis of MRI and CT images, secured CDN $16 million Series A investment co-led by Yaletown-Ventures, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund, as well as Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors.
  • Decisive Farming, a precision agriculture and data analytics software platform dedicated to increasing farmers’ profitability, sustainability, and technology ease-of-use, secured a Series B investment of an undisclosed amount, led by McRock Capital, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Osprey Informatics, a visual monitoring provider which offers a SaaS platform to help oil and gas companies manage remote cameras, secured CDN $3.75 million Series B investment led by Shell Ventures and Evok Innovations, with new Calgary-based fund InterGen Capital; the company plans to use the investment to drive sales and develop AI-enabled solutions.

How to find Alberta companies 

StartAlberta is a free and open source dealflow directory that provides an ideal medium for international investors to connect with Alberta entrepreneurs and identify investment opportunities. A new strategic partnership between StartAlbertaand Crunchbase expands Alberta’s richest database for the startup community – giving Alberta entrepreneurs even greater exposure to national and international investors. Under this partnership, StartAlberta’s database will be directly linked to Crunchbase – which reaches over 50 million investment professionals worldwide.

The StartAlberta platform is stewarded by the Venture Capital Association of Alberta (VCAA), with the express mandate to connect investors to a diverse pool of startups, fostering connections that otherwise could not be made. 

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