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An Interview with Malcolm D. Bruce, CEO, Edmonton Global

Edmonton Global was created to advance economic development collaboration within the Edmonton Metropolitan Region and its 15 constituent municipalities. Edmonton Global’s core mission is to radically transform and grow the region’s economy, harmonize mutual efforts and story, and be globally relevant and prosperous for generations to come.

YEGBiz interviewed Edmonton Global’s CEO, Malcolm Bruce, to get his insights on the challenges and opportunities the Edmonton region faces as we head into 2021.

YEGBiz: So, Malcolm, it hasn’t been a year yet, since COVID descended on us. And it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting in its duration and impact, especially on an economic basis or health system strain, let alone individually. So, it has taken us for a loop. My generation has not seen anything like this. And if you go back, maybe the most comparable version of this epidemic was the 1918 Spanish flu. But, we still have to plan our way out. There has to be some clear vision to pursue. As Edmonton Global’s CEO, what do you see as the Edmonton region’s immediate and midterm future as we come out of this pandemic?

Malcolm Bruce: So I’m going to be honest with you, I’m very bullish on it. And I think partially because the fundamentals of what made us a strong region before COVID continue to exist today. So if you think about the youthfulness, you think about the educational rates amongst our folks, you think about the inputs, these are some real competitive advantages for this region vis-a-vis global competitors in agriculture and food, energy, including cleantech, manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, health and life science, all underpinned by advanced technology and the innovation eco-space. Those advantages continue to be valid today, regardless of COVID.

YEGBiz: What do you see as potential new economic engines for the region?

Malcolm Bruce: So there are three that I want to highlight. One is advanced technology and our strength in artificial intelligence. For example, there was a recent announcement from Jobber about how they’ve raised over $60 million for expansion funding; they have over 100,000 customers. Jobber is a classic example of the opportunity in the innovation ecosystem that can come out of the region, because of assets like our research university, Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, because of our entrepreneurs. When you talk about technology but AI specifically, there are some real opportunities. The other one is in health and life sciences. Dr. Shapiro at the University of Alberta has indicated that he’s cured diabetes in mice and believes that he will crack the code for diabetes in human beings in the next three to five years; that will be groundbreaking. There are three or four others that are like that coming out of our research capacity being commercialized. And what we need to do is make sure that we’re the place within the supply chain that creates the commercialization outcomes from these incredible discoveries. Finally, I think two plays are coming on stream that have transformational opportunities. One is in hydrogen, which we’ll see more of as we move to a low carbon economy. Hydrogen is vital in our region as we are one of the best producers of blue hydrogen in the country.

And as you know, there is a movement afoot to establish what we call the Edmonton metropolitan region node. That node is starting to figure out how to move hydrogen around the ecosystem and build out the stations that will be necessary to meet demand, whether it be transportation, heat, power, or whatever, and then how to grow the supply. But ultimately, we’re looking at the export market, which, you know, is the real prize. I mean, that is magnitudes of scale. And what’s nice about hydrogen is it’s employing the skillsets, technologies, and other assets from the energy sector to deliver for a low carbon economy and this transitional move to a different type of fuel stock. Those are the big ones, health and life science, hydrogen, and AI. And to be clear on the health and life science piece, there are many other things that are coming out of the University of Alberta in some of the other research institutes like oncology. Like Entos’ research and development on vaccines, some of the virus work done here is truly world-class.

YEGBiz: The first couple of the economic engines you mentioned are regionally based; the resources or the apparatus is here. Alberta Health Services serves a population of 4 million people that allows the testing of various medical innovations, therapies or devices, and various other things. So, we have a strong jurisdictional advantage in that area. Let’s talk about blue hydrogen; I haven’t heard of that term before. What is it?

Malcolm Bruce: Essentially, blue hydrogen means that we are carbon neutral. We produce 1000s of grey tons for use in commercial operations. But that means the CO2 is released into the air; blue hydrogen means that we carbon capture. And so we have, we have several carbon capture lines, the new one through the Red Water refinery, as well as the Shell facility. So we can capture the CO2 when we produce hydrogen and therefore make it blue or a lower carbon footprint. And then green is being produced mainly out of water, processing water, but it can be produced in other forms, like solar power.

YEGBiz: Is it hydrogen that you get as the output, or is it some hydrocarbon?

Malcolm Bruce: No, it’s the hydrogen, the H2.

YEGBiz: So those first two are regionally based; you have to be here to do that. Technology, though, is very mobile, and one of the great things that happened, maybe in the last 30 years, have been decisions by companies like Bioware, the gaming firm; their founders made a conscious choice to remain in Edmonton. They didn’t get up and leave and go to Toronto or San Francisco or Vancouver or anything like that. They made a conscious choice to stay right here. And that business remains here. What are some of the things that we can do to grow technology companies here in the region and keep them?

Malcolm Bruce: So I think that’s an excellent question. In Canada, 90% of businesses are deemed to be small and medium-sized. Only 10% are considered to be large. In the US, that number is 50/50. But when you think about where decisions get made, and where activities occur, a lot of that occurs in head offices. Stantec built the tallest Canadian office tower outside of Toronto right here in Edmonton, because they’re headquartered here. PCL is headquartered here, but they do most of their business outside of the province. TELUS has a significant footprint here because of the advantages of what this region provides in terms of affordability. So, in the top six economies in Canada, we are ranked number five. We are the fifth-largest economy in Canada, but only the Edmonton region falls under that affordability marker where less than 30% of your salary goes to housing. When you talk about affordability, you speak about liveability and connectedness with the community. Edmonton has a particular draw to it.

I’m a classic example. I was born in Montreal, and I spent 30 years in the Army. And then, when it came time for me to retire, I could have retired anywhere in the country. But I chose this region because of just all the things that it offers, both for my family and for me. The festivals, the river valley, the proximity to a series of outdoor activities, and I just like the people. And so I think guys like Sam Pillar of Jobber or Corey Janssen of AltaML, and Bob Gomes, the former CEO of Stantec, they’re here because of what this region offers. And I think we need to continue to promote that within our networks. And when we’re outside of our area, when a tech company goes down to silicon valley, why don’t they look at establishing a footprint here? The talent is here, the affordability is here, and the lifestyle is here. So I think that’s a significant advantage. Of course, the other one is we do need to make sure that we’re being competitive. And I mean competitive in terms of our offering to bring a potential investor in from when they arrive at the airport to when they’ve made their final investment decision to the aftercare that we provide to them. How do we help facilitate their process through to establishing a business here? You know, how do we connect them to the network, so they feel like they’re part of a greater community? These are the kinds of things that we can all collectively do together.

YEGBiz: So when we come out of this pandemic, and who knows what that’s going be, it’s January right now. And you know, as we start to make our way out of this, what are some of the things that we could perhaps do from an investment perspective? Like, is there a role for government to kick start some of these engines? And if so, how would they do it? Jonathan Schaefer (former Dean of Science, UoA) said this is one reason we’ve got such a boisterous artificial intelligence community because of the research being done at the university; world-class research. And so if we’re going to make those kind of investments from a public fund, where would those kinds of investments be made to get these three engines off to a good start?

Malcolm Bruce: So let’s use a historical example. The oil sands are a classic one. In the 1970s, there was a conscious effort to invest public dollars to get the technology into private businesses’ hands. And what happened? We had 40 years of incredible private sector growth in that particular industry because of a small investment from public dollars. So I think there’s a place for public dollars to be invested upfront. Alberta innovates an excellent example of how government can help small companies, maybe a $10,000 investment, perhaps a $50,000 investment. But if you look at the number of companies that Alberta Innovates have touched, it’s pretty significant. So I think the initial touchpoints are essential and understanding what an initial investment will do. But there’s also how we create the conditions so companies can access capital, so Alberta Enterprise Corporation is responsible for generating partnerships with venture capital. Well, the renewal and the recapitalization of AEC’s initial $175 million, we all want more, is still going to help us continue to see venture capital available in our ecosystem. Those are all monetary pieces, but it is also the nonmonetary pieces, like how do we align regulations? How do we look at things that will create efficiencies in the system? I’ll give you one example: the provincial government is looking at economic development zones, where you align industry geographically in an area. So think of the Edmonton metropolitan region, and then you try and create alignment of a series of policies and incentives and everything. So that it’s a nice package, you put a circle around that geography, you take it to an international market and say, hey, look at the Edmonton metropolitan region’s special economic zone. And we have things like the free trade component, and we’ve got incentives, we’ve got the heavy industrial heartland. These are all conversations we are engaged in right now. And we’re working as a collective. All the municipalities, all our partners like EIA, AIHA, and every acronym in the book, are all sitting at the table, figuring out how we create this energy and momentum around something that international markets understand and want to participate in.

YEGBiz: So there’s a lot of potential that is waiting to be tapped. And, and we see a lot of activity in each of these things. And I think what you’re saying is that it just needs to be brought together and given some structure and given some extra energy, love and care from the government, and perhaps some private entities. So if that potential is here, what are some of the challenges that the region faces in realizing that potential in the next five years?

Malcolm Bruce: Patience, and I say that with no tongue in cheek. As you know, investment decisions are not something that are made quickly. For example, Polykar decided in 2019 to build a $40 million facility that will create 40 jobs. They will start construction on that facility this year. So the investment decision was in 2019, but construction starts in 2021. So, I think people need to understand that some of these processes take a long time to unfold. The hydrogen play will be over a decade; it won’t be immediate. Logistics plays will be longer. And these things take time to generate and get going. But, growth opportunities are also there with small companies. These are some of the best ways because the organic growth that occurs like a Jobber or an AltaML or Stantec or a PCL. These are great opportunities because they’re local, and they’re expanding because they see the demand. When it comes to Edmonton Global, I think people don’t recognize the incredible leadership that it took to create the entity. It’s 15 municipalities who said we can’t compete as local brands anymore because we’re getting crushed globally. Nobody cares about Beaumont as an entity on a global market stage. But there’s a recognition that when you bring the region’s power together as a unified package containing all the regional assets. So, the incubators that would do the industrial heartland in the northeast, the massive manufacturing parks in the south into the West, and the core city with an excellent airport that’s got international flights, and that is what resonates with global investment. So the fact that you had 15 mayor’s stand up and say, We want to do this, and by the way, we don’t know how to do it. So we want you to go and get a professional board of business leaders to drive these outcomes. So, we’ll be a shareholder group, but the strategic direction and outcomes is the responsibility of the board. Our board is very strong. It has academics on it, several business leaders from the innovation ecosystem right through to large commercial. So the board is what’s driving the outcome. And we want to make sure that we’re driving at the speed of business.

YEGBiz: Final question. We have explored some of our hidden assets, some of the burgeoning industries that we can grow in the region. What would be a question that we are not asking right now that we should be asking? What would you think is not getting as much attention as it deserves but could be a game-changer for the region economically?

Malcolm Bruce: So I’m going to answer in two parts. And the first one is from an international lens; we need to recognize the fact that our competition is not Beaumont or Calgary. Our competition is Metro Denver, Kuala Lampur, and Los Angeles. We are competing globally for dollars and we get so mired down, and we often lose sight of who our true competition is. So I would say to you, that’s an important piece that needs to be remembered is that we’re not competing against local competition. We’re competing against these other countries. An example I could use is agriculture. 35% of the best agricultural land in Alberta’s province is in the Edmonton metropolitan region, but we only represent 3.5% of the land area. 95% of everything we produce on the agricultural front, we ship out unrefined. The opportunity is incredible. We have 1.7 million acres under agriculture. The Dutch have 4.4 million. They make about $150 billion a year on their 4.4 million acres. We are making, conservatively, about $8 billion a year on our land. So the opportunity to take what we have now, like agriculture and food production, and grow it is tremendous. We need to create the value-add conditions, so we need to think bigger. We need to think at scale. We have to think as global players.

YEGBiz: Malcolm Bruce, thank you very much.

New Solar manufacturer to set up at EIA

WeFaces Technology Inc. to develop and manufacture advanced solar products at Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre

An example of the solar-powered LED lighting WeFaces plans to manufacture

Asia-based solar LED manufacturer WeFaces Technology Inc. will build its new North American headquarters within the sustainability campus at Edmonton International Airport’s growing Airport City. The new facility bolsters the airport’s commitment to energy diversification and job creation.

EIA has entered a strategic partnership to help WeFaces begin research and development as well as the mass production of advanced solar panel lighting systems. WeFaces will set up offices as well as a product showcase area at EIA by fall 2021 and immediately begin research and development work. By 2022 the company will begin manufacturing Canadian made solar lighting products for international export from the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. This private partnership will generate long-term jobs, drive advanced solar panel manufacturing opportunities, diversify and grow Alberta’s economy.

“We’re committed to helping grow Alberta’s economy with strategic partners such as WeFaces Technology. This is a long-term approach to creating jobs and attracting investment to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. Our focus on innovation and technology developments, along with transportation partners, tourism and entertainment are making Airport City a major place to do business and invest in this region.”
– Tom Ruth, EIA President and CEO

“Collaboration with EIA will enable us to quickly develop our solar energy and intelligent control technologies and expand in the global market.”
– Vilens Lin, CEO of “WeFaces Technology Inc. & Vilens Group Co. Ltd.

By locating at Airport City, WeFaces will tap into other opportunities made possible by partners such as Edmonton Global and other businesses who use the existing Foreign Trade Zone. In addition to its air cargo services, Airport City offers close access to rail transportation and the North American CANAMEX highway corridor. This helps both for supply chain imports and exports. WeFaces will also join the EIA-sponsored Alberta Aerospace and Technology Centre, a business and technology incubator located in Airport City, to participate in industry partnerships around solar technology.

“On behalf of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, we are excited to welcome WeFaces Technology Inc. to our community. The combination of WeFaces Technology Inc.’s North American Head Office and major solar and lighting manufacturing facility will have a significant impact on our regional economy. We worked closely with EIA on attracting this important investment. EIA is becoming known as Canada’s Innovation Airport in part due to their innovative approach to attracting international investment and businesses to our region – well done!”
-Malcolm Bruce, CEO Edmonton Global

“Alberta abounds with sunny days and opportunities to improve energy efficiency. With rapid increases in investment in both solar energy and efficiency in recent years, we know that the economic opportunities from these technologies will continue to grow in leaps and bounds. As such, the value chain that feeds into these investments will continue to expand, meaning new jobs and business opportunities for Albertans. This collaboration between WeFaces and EIA is an exciting initiative to grasp these opportunities for the region.”
– Heather MacKenzie, Executive Director, Solar Alberta

This development will be the second major solar-power related investment at EIA, following the announcement this past summer of Airport City Solar. The two projects are unrelated to each other but represent EIA’s commitment to fostering growth and diversity in the energy sector.

About WeFaces Technology Inc.
WeFaces Technology Inc. is a new Alberta company, which will act as the North American head office and distribution point for NanDe Solar Energy Technology Co Ltd. Based in China. 

NanDe Solar Energy Technology Co., Ltd., formerly the Zhongshan Wanxin Lighting Technology Co., Ltd., was founded in 2003 with a registered capital of 10 million RMB, located in Xiaolan Town, Zhongshan city, Guangdong province, China. Nande Solar outdoor lighting and integrated application products are the best combination of latest solar energy and LED lighting technology. Nande Solar has projects in 65 countries from Kenya to Australia. For more information visit: www.wefaces.ca

About Edmonton International Airport
Edmonton International Airport is a self-funded, not-for-profit corporation whose mandate is to drive sustainable economic prosperity for the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. EIA is Canada’s fifth-busiest airport by passenger traffic and the largest major Canadian Airport by land area. For more information please visit flyeia.com, or follow @flyeia on TwitterInstagramLinkedInor Facebook.

About Edmonton Global

The purpose of Edmonton Global is to radically transform and grow the economy of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. We are a not-for-profit corporation founded by 15 municipalities that make up the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. Our focus is attracting foreign investment, helping regional businesses export with the world, enhancing our region’s global competitiveness, and bringing our region together with a unified voice to attract the attention and interest of investors the world over.

Media Contact:
Darrell Winwood
Edmonton International Airport
Corporate and Digital Communications
587-338-4454

Vilens Lin
CEO, WeFaces Technology Inc.
lin@wefaces.ca

Chris McLeod
Vice President, Global Marketing & Communications
Edmonton Global
780-499-4517

Edmonton’s ShookIOT acquired by Chicago-based software company

Edmonton’s ShookIOT founders Dave Shook and Leanna Chan recently announced the company’s acquisition by Chicago-based software company Uptake. The owners hope the merger will help give the start-up more resources to grow. Submitted photo ShookIOT jpg

A small Edmonton-based startup now has the resources to grow its business even more after being purchased by a Chicago software company.

ShookIOT was created in 2017 by founders Dave Shook and Leanna Chan, both former Matrikon executives, to provide data management services. On Feb. 8, it was announced Uptake, an industrial artificial intelligence software company, purchased ShookIOT.

Details of the deal are not being disclosed publicly.

Shook said the merger made sense as both companies complemented each other.

“We’re a small startup, we started it with our own money,” he said. “We’ve been running (the company) on cash flow but there’s a window of opportunity to capture the market right now. We need to scale up both on the commercial side and on the execution side. We didn’t have the internal resources to do that. We needed a larger partner in one way or another. The acquisition by Uptake is giving us the muscle that we need to grow.”

The goal of both companies is to provide organizations with up-to-date information on their operations, whether that be in the oil and gas sector or another industry, in order to maintain equipment and facilities.

Shook said the data being provided allows organizations to be more efficient by ensuring everything runs smoothly.

“There’s a lot you can do with that data around optimizing how you run your whole business,” he said. “Uptake, in particular, focuses on optimizing maintenance and equipment reliability so equipment runs as it should with the least downtime and the lowest cost. They need the data that we get in order to do that most effectively.”

While small, Edmonton’s tech sector has been growing over the past few years and was ranked among the top 10 markets to watch by CBRE Limited’s 2020 ranking on U.S. and Canadian cities. The city had more than 25,200 jobs in the tech sector in 2019, a 17 per cent increase over the last five years, according to the ranking.

Shook said both companies remain committed to Edmonton and plan to invest in the region.

“We’re here to stay,” he said. “We’re continuing to hire and we’re continuing to look locally and we’re continuing to operate within here. Uptake didn’t buy us to take us apart, Uptake bought us to integrate us into (them).”

Having started the business only a few years ago, Chan said it has been satisfying to see how far the company has come.

“We’re super excited to be a part of the Uptake family,” she said. “It’s such a great fit between us and our culture. We really feel we are already ‘Uptakers’, that’s sort of the terminology and we love it.”

Edmonton region tech companies raise more than $246 million since January 2020


Jeff Bell, Director of Research and Business Intelligence weighs in on what he’s seeing in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s tech sector

The last twelve months saw significant funding raises for the technology sector in the Edmonton region with at least 39 deals totalling more than $168 million in capital raised between 35 technology companies. This is significantly higher than we have seen in the region in the past and when we look at early 2021 there’s reason to expect this trend to continue. The first couple weeks of January already saw significant raise announcements totalling more than $78 million.

Value of Select Deals in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region by Year ($CAD Million)

Note: Data set is based on information that was available publicly and may not include all deals that occurred. 2021 column is YTD
Source: Edmonton Global based on data from Crunchbase, Betakit and others

Notable companies that raised more than $1 million in 2020 include Absolute Combustion, OncoQuest, Direct C, Drivewyze, G2V, Nanoprecise, Quote2Me, SAM, Showbie and Trust Science

Jobber and dealcloser both announced successful funding rounds that met the million dollar threshold in January 2021 – with $76 million and $1.75 million respectively.

Based on the data available, we are also seeing that the number of deals originating in the Edmonton Metropolitan region is increasing over time.

Select Number of Deals in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region by Year

Note: Data set is based on information that was available publicly and may not include all deals that occurred. 2021 column is YTD
Source: Edmonton Global based on data from Crunchbase, Betakit and others

Why do I find this interesting?

Global attention

When companies in the Edmonton region succeed it draws attention from global investors and piques the interest of decision makers in other jurisdictions. Attracting attention from well know hubs of venture capital such as Toronto, Silicon Valley or Boston raises confidence in the ability of companies in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region to create and sustain value for investors. This in turn increases the chances that the fantastic innovations coming out of the Edmonton region will land the investment they need. 

Seeing technology companies based in the region raise capital demonstrates that we have the talent international companies are looking for and a quality of life that can attract and retain that talent.

Strengthening our innovation ecosystem

Success also improves the chances of activating interest from local investors. Part of Startup TNT’s mission is to activate capital we already have in the region and provide support to those with capital who may not have experience investing or investing in technology. Their activities played no small part in the region’s success. In 2020 they raised $1.365 million for 10 startups from 70 investors, many of whom were angel investing for the first time.

COVID and emerging trends

It’s interesting to note that much of this rise, in both the value and number of deals, occurred during COVID lockdowns and considerable economic hardship. This data shows that companies in certain sectors are faring better than others. Transportation and logistics, software, and biotechnology are all areas where we see these deals taking place. Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) is a great example of what’s coming. API works directly with SME’s in the region’s pharma sector and have increased combined market capitalization of the firms they support to $370 million. 

Tech is an opportunity for the whole region 

It is important to note that the technology sector is not strictly a ‘big city’ opportunity. These companies are operating throughout the region. Some notable examples that saw activity in 2020 are Baune who is working closely with the City of Beaumont and Absolute Combustion, a company based in Leduc. 

Room for growth

There is still incredible opportunity to grow the tech sector in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. We can see this clearly when we compare ourselves to other Canadian regions. In 2019, Calgary witnessed 23 deals worth $5.2 billion, Toronto saw 56 worth $1.5 billion and Montreal was home to a whopping 98 deals worth $7.6 billion. Though we trail our larger Canadian peers (for now), the Edmonton region is already home to a large and growing community of technology innovators. The region is young, educated and growing – and the data shows there is good reason to be optimistic about the future growth of our technology sector.

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 if you know of an innovative business that should be tied into his network.

Learn more about technology and innovation in the Edmonton Metropolitan Region here


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.

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.

Jobber recognized as fastest growing

Jobber’s Forrest Zeisler and Sam Pillar. Photo credit, Globe and Mail

Jobber, has been recognized as one of North America’s fastest-growing technology companies by Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500, as well as one of the 50 fastest-growing technology companies in Canada by Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50.

Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 is a ranking of the 500 fastest-growing technology, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy tech companies in North America, while Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 identifies Canada’s top 50 fastest-growing technology companies.

It’s been nine years since University of Alberta graduates Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler started technology firm, Jobber after meeting in an Edmonton coffee shop. Together, they built a business management platform for small home service businesses, like electricians, plumbers and landscapers, that continues to scale rapidly.

In fact, this is the second year in a row they’ve been featured in Deloitte’s Fast 500 list. The recipients are chosen based on both the percentage revenue growth over a four-year period as well as the development of proprietary intellectual property.

The extent to which Jobber has grown is truly impressive. Today, the software company has 220 employees and 90,000 users in 47 countries. Platform users do $6 billion worth of business every year and Jobber now gains more customers in a month than the company had in the first four years of business – but co-founder and CEO, Sam hasn’t lost sight of what makes this growth possible.

 “That’s $6-billion worth of lawns mowed and sinks fixed, and roofs repaired, and apartments cleaned,” Sam says. “And there are millions and millions of these small businesses in North America alone, so it’s still early days for us.”

Sam didn’t grow up in Edmonton. Originally from BC’s lower mainland he chose the University of Alberta as the place to pursue his education in computer science and commerce. Since then, he decided to remain in Edmonton and has no plans to relocate anytime soon.

Sam says that being located in the Edmonton region, gives Jobber a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting and retaining the amount of skilled talent they’ve needed to support their growth.

“In other major tech hubs, talent is expensive and retention is really difficult,” says Sam. “It’s a frustrating environment for fledgling companies. I think it would have been a lot more difficult to get the momentum we developed early on if we weren’t in Edmonton. Today, Edmonton is a city of over a million people, with a really big university and a couple of colleges. The quality of the talent that comes out of these institutions is high.”

Earlier this year, Jobber was also named as one of the top five fastest-growing software companies on the 2020 Canadian Business Growth List, and the #1 fastest-growing software company in its revenue category by The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business ranking of Canada’s Top Growing Companies.

To learn more about Jobber, visit www.getjobber.com.

Petrochemical program is open for business

A new program to turn Alberta into a top global producer of petrochemicals is launching with an aggressive industry-driven strategy to spur long-term international investment and thousands of jobs to the province.  

The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program (APIP), part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan, will help attract billions in petrochemical project investments and continue to diversify the province’s economy while drawing directly on our abundant reserves of natural gas. The goal is to aggressively compete with several jurisdictions across Asia, the Middle East, and those in the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, many of which also offer similar incentives for petrochemical manufacturers, to become a global destination for petrochemical investment.

“Today we’re adding another incentive to Alberta’s already world-class opportunities for petrochemical development. On top of our existing petrochemical producers and all the companies that feed in and support them, we have a multi-generational supply of natural gas, an experienced workforce, and one of the lowest tax rates in North America. By launching this program, Alberta moves towards achieving the goal of becoming one of the most attractive investment opportunities for petrochemicals in the world.”

Dale Nally, Associate Minister of Natural Gas and Electricity

The program is one of the key pillars of the Natural Gas Vision and Strategy, which outlined the province’s goal of becoming a top global producer of petrochemicals. According to Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association, there is an opportunity to grow Alberta’s petrochemical sector by more than $30 billion by 2030, resulting in more than 90,000 direct and indirect jobs over the construction and operations of new facilities, and more than $10 billion in revenue for the Government of Alberta from corporate and personal income taxes.

To encourage additional investment in the sector, Invest Alberta and Alberta international offices will be courting petrochemical companies and investors by highlighting the many benefits of investing in Alberta’s growing petrochemical industry. Alberta’s industrial associations are also doing their part, working with current members and leveraging contacts within the petrochemical industries to share the opportunities available. Hydrogen-producing facilities will also be eligible for APIP, ensuring continued interest from investors in the province’s nascent hydrogen economy.

“Diversifying our energy industry is key to ensuring Albertans will have good-paying jobs and careers to get excited about in the future. Alberta has the potential to become a major player in low-carbon hydrogen and sustainable plastics production, but we’ll only get there if we have a competitive edge over other jurisdictions. Petrochemical companies have dozens of factors to consider when choosing where to invest, and we’re putting together a winning formula to ensure Alberta is at the top of their lists.”

Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation

APIP offers a direct financial incentive on new petrochemical or fertilizer facilities, or on expansions to existing ones. High-level details include:

  • Once a project is up and running, companies that have successfully applied will receive grants worth 12 per cent of their eligible capital costs.
  • The grant will be issued in the final step in the process, ensuring that only projects already built and employing Albertans receive funds.
  • Prior to the grant, companies will need to show their project meets the program requirements by detailing the scope and expected cost of the project.
  • The application window for small projects (between $50 million and $150 million in capital costs) will be open for five years. Applications for larger projects will be open for 10 years.

“The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program is a meaningful incentive program that will strengthen Alberta’s value proposition for large-scale petrochemical investments. As Canada’s largest hydrocarbon processing region and a critical partner in Canada’s energy future, Alberta’s Industrial Heartland is focused on capturing a potential $30 billion in new, diversified, value-add investments by 2030. As an investment attraction tool, APIP will increase our region’s competitiveness and enhance our ability to attract petrochemical investment projects that diversify Alberta’s economy.”

Mark Plamondon, executive director, Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association

“Low-cost, low-carbon and abundant – Alberta’s natural gas and natural gas liquids make it a global player in industrial chemicals manufacturing. The Alberta government recognizes this potential and the Petrochemicals Incentive Program goes a long way to level the playing field with other jurisdictions competing for new investment. The opportunity for growth in this sector exists in the province and that is good news for jobs, new global-scale investment, and Alberta’s economy.”

Bob Masterson, president and CEO, Chemistry Industry Association of Canada

“We have heard directly from companies that they have been looking at Alberta for greater chemistry investments, but that we are also competing with the best locations around the world. The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program helps to provide the necessary incentives to grow Alberta’s burgeoning petrochemical sector, which in turn will provide thousands of good jobs and sustainable economic growth while continuing to diversify our resource and energy sectors. I’m particularly excited that this program will incentivize hydrogen and fertilizer production. These are key growth and diversification opportunities for our province in a lower-carbon future.”

Adam Legge, president, Business Council of Alberta

“Alberta’s petrochemical industry competes globally with many other jurisdictions that are determined to bring new investment to their part of the world. This program will attract new value-added investments which will bring much-needed jobs and prosperity to the province. The Resource Diversification Council is confident that APIP will garner international attention and thanks the Government of Alberta for its collaborative approach in developing a meaningful and world-class investment attraction program.”

Denis Painchaud, executive director, Resource Diversification Council

“The Alberta Petrochemicals Incentive Program will help bring much-needed investment to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, diversify our petrochemical sector, create jobs, and boost our economic recovery. This program is great news for our many energy producers, processors, fertilizer producers, and the construction and service companies who work closely alongside them.”

Janet M. Riopel, president and CEO, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce

Projects eligible for the program must have:

  • A minimum $50 million in capital investment
  • Consume natural gas, natural gas liquids or petrochemical intermediaries
  • Create new and permanent jobs in Alberta
  • Meet the federally set definition of a manufacturing and processing facility

There is no cap to the program, but the government will report on expected costs each fiscal year, based on applications received and projects approved.

Full details on the eligibility and requirements for projects are available on alberta.ca, where companies can also register to begin the application process.

Alberta is already among Canada’s largest hubs for petrochemicals manufacturing, and global demand for petrochemical derived products is expected to continue increasing. The COVID-19 pandemic has also shown the continued need for petrochemicals to support the development of personal protective equipment, plastic food packaging and cleansing agents. A growing petrochemical industry will continue to feed into these integral products.

Alberta’s Recovery Plan is a bold, ambitious long-term strategy to build, diversify, and create tens of thousands of jobs now. By building schools, roads and other core infrastructure we are benefiting our communities. By diversifying our economy and attracting investment with Canada’s most competitive tax environment, we are putting Alberta on a path for a generation of growth.

Quick facts

  • The program was developed based on best practices in competing jurisdictions, including several American states with large petrochemical industries. The program was also refined with the input of stakeholders and interested companies.
  • Alberta has the lowest corporate tax rate in Canada at eight per cent, and compares favourably with the lowest tax rates in the United States.
  • Alberta has one of the most established petrochemical industries in Canada, with potential growth in existing centres like Alberta’s Industrial Heartland, Grande Prairie, Joffre and Medicine Hat.
  • Every day, people around the world use dozens of products that are made with petrochemicals, including:
  • Medical supplies, such as computers for X-rays and MRIs and personal protective equipment, including disposable masks and gloves
  • Polyester fabric couches, HD televisions, phones, bicycle helmets, coffee makers and computers
  • Car tires, engine hoses, gasoline, radio components and AUX cords, and car seats
  • Desks, chairs, computers, carpets, cellphones and other office supplies
  • Food packaging that keeps food fresh and safe during transport and storage
  • According to the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, Alberta’s chemicals sector, comprised predominantly of petrochemicals, was valued at $12.1 billion and employed about 58,400 people directly and indirectly in 2019.

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