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A commitment to the creation of an Edmonton/Calgary innovation corridor strategy

The Avenue Innovation Event

The following remarks were made by Innovate Edmonton Vice President Cheryll Watson at the Avenue Innovation Event June 18th, 2019

Look at this room! Thank you for being here this afternoon, for taking an interest in – what truly is – the future of our economy, our city and our lives.

I’d like to thank Avenue Edmonton for recognizing the work of our community and the impact innovation is having in our city. THIS is the event, recognizing the first – but not last – innovation issue and THIS is a big deal!

I’m proud of Innovate Edmonton and our continued promotion of the founders, creators and inventors in our city that helped inspire this issue.

Thank you Trudy, Stephen and Chelsey. A lot of hard work went into bringing this to reality and your foresight into the importance of this issue does not go unnoticed.

As Vice President of Innovate Edmonton, I often get asked “what’s the most exciting, interesting, cool new technology about to come out?” and I can’t answer that.

Every minute, every hour one of our students, researchers or entrepreneurs is creating something that will – today or in the future – impact our world. Some will be incredibly successful, many will fail. But the point being – that they’re trying. And more importantly they need to take what they learn and try again. As a city, we’re at a tipping point and we have only those who tried to thank.

So I’m not going to speak about the next, new, greatest technology or  invention because there are simply too many to count.

Many of these thought leaders, innovators and creators are here tonight.

I would ask that, if your company or invention was featured in this magazine issue in some way can you stand up?

Let’s give these people a round of applause, they really are making a huge impact and deserve recognition.

As I stated earlier, you can see there are just TOO MANY amazing technologies and innovative solutions developed here to focus in on just one. So, instead , I’m going to talk about Texas.

Already the 10th largest economy in the world, Texas is one of the most promising technology investment opportunities in the United States.

They’ve produced world-changing startups like Dell Software and National Instruments. They have 4 of the 11 largest cities in the USA and all of those cities are within driving distance of one another.

Texas has world class educational institutions, well known tech hubs and they’re recognized for their research and work in health innovation, and they have a flourishing innovation ecosystem … sound familiar?

Texas cities have traditionally been competitive, but they’ve shifted their outlook. Instead of arguing why Dallas might be better than Houston, they’re discussing how to work together to ensure the success of their tech startups between all of their major cities.

It’s a long way from Silicon Valley. It’s underfunded, they struggle to attract venture capital and they have no recognizable investor brands.

So let’s compare with Edmonton.  We are one of Canada’s youngest cities with the highest discretionary income in the country. We are the most affordable major city to live in, we have some of the countries best educational institutions, we provide a healthy ecosystem for entrepreneurs to take a risk, and this city has been quietly leading the way in three key sectors: artificial intelligence and machine learning, health and life sciences and big data and analytics.

We have the potential to globally compete but to be honest with ourselves … truly, we are just a small fish in a very big ocean.

No city lives in isolation anymore. Our economies are connected. Our agriculture is connected. Our healthcare is connected. Cities are on the front lines of problem solving. And, as our Mayor often says, city building is nation building.

Alberta’s major cities have a long history of working together to advance innovation for our province. Working together is our best chance to make impact globally. Our largest cities are home to major research universities, national and multinational corporations, a high density of educated workforces and thriving ecosystems that support the emergence of innovation-driven enterprises.

We are competing in a global market for people and capital.

With more than 90% of tech companies located in Calgary and Edmonton our best chance at making an impact globally is together.

This is why, I’m proud to announce today that along with our counterparts in Calgary, we have committed to the creation of an innovation corridor strategy to connect our two cities.

This strategy will have two main pillars.

The first is based on a commitment to opening the tech entrepreneur supports and services between the two cities – to help talent, startups, mentors and opportunities flow freely. With only 3 hours between us, there is little point to duplicating all of our programs.  We can’t be world-class innovation hubs independently. But we can be together.

The second pillar is joint marketing of our tech and innovation assets.

We’ve seen this done successfully in Toronto-Waterloo where they promote a corridor of talent, growth, innovation and discovery that’s 100KM in length, the second largest technology cluster in North America.

This is about collectively quantifying our tech companies, our workforce and our startups.

12 universities, 2.8 million people, 120 languages spoken. And with joint ambitions to create 2000 startups a year THESE are the numbers that matter.  That garner international attention.

While this work is in its early stages, it’s a catalyst for change beyond our own local tech and startup company success. This partnership will make funding decisions easier for our provincial and federal governments. It presents a united front for external investment in ALBERTA. And it could bring about the momentum needed for connectivity between our two biggest cities.

More and more talent and companies are moving to our province. We’ve activated this momentum and we need your relentless advocacy to bring it to life.

We have a window to make transformation real for Alberta. With 25% of current Canadian jobs set to be heavily impacted by technology we need to unite for solutions that benefit us all. This requires strong partnership, community alignment, government support and vocal leadership.

The Innovation economy is the future and the direction our cities and province need to lean into. Technology is changing our world at an unprecedented pace.

Innovate Edmonton is dedicated to creating an environment where ideas can thrive. A place to help you overcome whatever roadblocks you face.   We believe in the power of yes.

An innovative city is a prosperous city. These tech companies grow quickly and create wealth at higher rates than traditional sectors. They accelerate our economy’s diversification and when they excel, so do all Albertans. So we’ll be here for you when you’ve hit a wall, we’ll help you build a window.

Gone are the days of “quiet humility”. It’s time to define and declare our innovative future and success.

Thank you.

Cheryll Watson
Vice President, Innovate Edmonton

Follow Cheryll on Twitter.