Calgary is emerging as a leading tech and innovation centre, where visionaries can scale their big ideas to the size of their ambitions. The final New Economy LIVE of 2022 explored the value of a robust innovation district as a space for creative collisions to unlock solutions to global challenges, attract talent and drive economic diversification.
With innovation recognized as a key driver of the economy, building a city where companies can scale their solutions to compete globally is a priority in the economic strategy, Calgary in the New Economy.
“Innovation doesn’t have to be flashy or a disruptive technology,” said panelist Lindsay Smylie, Director of Alberta, Plug and Play Tech Centre.
“Innovation is driven by individuals and corporations looking to solve problems, improve processes, save money or reduce waste. The most mature organizations are those that embrace failure, act openly and collaborate with startups.”
Leading the event, HR&A Advisors Inc and O2 Design shared guidelines for a new Innovation District Scoping Study. Commissioned by Calgary Economic Development, Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund, Platform Calgary, the City of Calgary and collaborators, the study will identify pathways to expand Calgary’s innovation ecosystem.
An innovation district brings innovators, startups, post-secondary institutions, government, civic partners, venture capital and the private sector together to scale solutions.
“As we take an integrated approach to evolve the innovation ecosystem, it’s important to include a diversity of institutions, companies and startups with short and long-term goals,” said Santiago Salamanca, Director, HR&A Advisors Inc.
The two agencies have established frameworks for growth for other emerging innovation hubs in North America, including Austin, Kansas City and Oklahoma. Described as an iterative process, Calgary’s innovation district will move through multiple phases with key focuses on governance, EDIA and financing.
“Equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA) values should be visible, enabled and embedded in all visions and goals to develop a sustainable innovation ecosystem,” said Salamanca.
Already ranked among the Top 30 cleantech ecosystems and Top 50 fintech ecosystems globally by Startup Genome in 2022, an innovation district could fast-track Calgary’s growth.
“We have to create opportunities for a 24-hour innovation hub and innovation districts that are a hybrid of digital connectivity and physical spaces,” said Chris Hardwicke, Principle, Urban Design, O2 Design.
Panelists discussed the current and future state of Calgary’s innovation ecosystem with reflections on the collaborative business environment and momentum across sectors as a competitive advantage.
“Innovation communities are really about people and a centralized space,” said Nic Beique, Founder and CEO, Helcim.
“Calgary already does a great job of connecting people, but having a place where people can organically make connections and embed themselves into what’s happening will help jumpstart their ideas.”
Placemaking for innovation will pave the way forward for connections between diverse communities in Calgary.
“The Innovation District is being approached with intentionality,” said Jon Algeo, Senior Economic Development Manager, Taza Development Corp.
“If there’s risk sharing, there’s also a risk pooling perspective, which helps our city and surrounding areas be competitive on a global scale for talent, businesses attraction and partnerships.”
Taza Development Corp, a partnership between the Tsuut’ina Nation and developer Canderel, explores economic development opportunities including Taza, one of the largest First Nation development projects in North America.
“We have the opportunity to interweave traditional culture with innovations in agriculture, health and wellness, and Indigenous entrepreneurship in our hyper local economy through authentic relationships,” said Algeo.
Calgary is the third most multicultural city in Canada and what sets it apart is a commitment to authenticity and shared success.
“We should continue to support local but think global,” said Smylie. “With strategic local partnerships we can combine strengths to foster global growth of ventures.”
Beique echoed Smylie’s nod to collaboration and bright minds as Calgary’s secret sauce.
“Calgary was built by Calgarians that wanted to do something unique to improve the world.”
Home-grown startups including Attabotics, Symend, Neo Financial, Benevity and Shareworks have recently garnered international attention, closing multi-million dollar funding rounds.
Already on pace to beat its $522 million venture capital investment record in 2021, $466 million was invested in Calgary through 57 deals in the first three quarters of 2022.
“We need to continue to highlight innovation across sectors that put their focus on transforming their city,” said Beique.
Encouraging connections across sectors in Calgary’s downtown – the economic and cultural heart of the city – can create a palpable vibrancy.
“Our programs in digital media and entertainment – including animation and game design – impact city planning and are transforming the downtown core as part of the innovation ecosystem,” said Tyler Weiss, Vice President Strategic Initiatives, Centre for Entertainment Arts, Bow Valley College.
“Our students aren’t learning just for VFX – students can begin to envision themselves in an industry and how they can help build Calgary.”
Innovators, startups and investors are taking notice that Calgary is a city of opportunity and potential. With a focus on developing an innovation district, Calgary will remain a top pick for game-changers looking for a place to turn big ideas into global solutions.
The New Economy LIVE event series aims to engage Calgarians in the economic strategy and the interconnected drivers that create long-term prosperity and an inclusive economy. In case you missed it, watch the full New Economy LIVE broadcast on our YouTube channel.
For more on Calgary’s momentum, watch Calgary: A city of innovation. To learn more about the innovation driver of the economic strategy, visit CalgaryIntheNewEconomy.com.