Alberta launches new innovation strategy focused on attracting tech talent, capital

Edmonton
Plan contains minimal details on how budget funding will be allocated.

The Government of Alberta has unveiled its new innovation strategy, which outlines how the province plans to strengthen its tech sector and diversify its energy-reliant economy.

With the Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy (ATIS), the Government of Alberta aims to turn the province into an internationally recognized tech and innovation hub with leadership in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and quantum science.

“Alberta’s technology sector is already seeing record growth, and now is the time to build on that momentum,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy, and innovation.

“Overall, we’re pleased with the direction of Alberta’s Technology and Innovation Strategy.”
-Bronte Valk, CCI

Through ATIS, Alberta hopes to create 20,000 new jobs in the province and help Alberta tech companies generate $5 billion more in annual revenue by 2030. To achieve these goals, the province plans to focus on five “key” pillars: expanding its tech talent pool, attracting more capital, commercialization support, optimizing Alberta’s innovation ecosystem, and promoting itself as a tech destination to the rest of the world.

As part of its 2022 budget, Alberta has committed $73 million CAD to ATIS over three years. The Alberta government has promised to share more information regarding how this total will be allocated “in the coming months as initiatives are finalized.”

On the talent front, ATIS initiatives include Alberta’s previously announced tech worker immigration stream, micro-credential program, and plans to establish a new public sector AI lab. From an access to capital standpoint, Alberta outlines a vague plan to “explore options to address gaps in venture capital funding in Alberta.”

As part of its broader innovation goals, the province has also been working to develop dedicated intellectual property (IP) and data strategies.

Bronte Valk, manager of government affairs for Alberta at the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), described ATIS as a positive development for the province’s tech sector. “Overall, we’re pleased with the direction of Alberta’s Technology and Innovation Strategy,” Valk told BetaKit. “It contains many measures that innovators have called for, including a provincial IP strategy. It’s also positive to see commitments to increase access to talent for Alberta’s high-growth tech sector.”

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Kelly Schmitt, CEO of Calgary-based Benevity, also welcomed ATIS’ commitment to two “key ingredients” in improving access to growth capital for startups and scaleups and attracting and retaining skilled talent.

However, Valk expressed disappointment that ATIS “lacked a focus on procurement,” which she described as “the biggest tool in the government’s tool-belt to bolster economic growth for small and medium-sized startups and fast-growing scaleup companies.”

“The government should be leveraging its procurement capacity because government purchase orders act as validators for future global sales and help support economic growth here at home,” said Valk.

According to Schweitzer, approximately two-thirds of the initiatives outlined in ATIS have already been implemented or are currently being rolled out, while the remaining programs will be made available later this year.

RELATED: Alberta launches tech worker immigration stream after calls from community

Alberta’s United Conservative Party (UCP) first disclosed plans to develop a broad innovation strategy in its 2021 budget, which earmarked some funding for the province’s tech and innovation sector as part of its COVID-19 recovery plans.

“We knew right away that we had to diversify Alberta’s economy,” said Schweitzer, during the press conference announcing ATIS. “At that point, there was a huge amount of uncertainty. We just experienced negative oil prices. We weren’t sure if the vaccines were going to work. But we knew that we had to make sure that we doubled down on the technology and innovation space.”

The province hasn’t always been so focused on technology. When the Alberta government first came into power in 2019, it suspended a number of tech programs, made a slew of innovation cuts, and scrapped related incentives as part of a broader push to decrease the province’s spending.

“We knew right away that we had to diversify Alberta’s economy.”

At the time, Alberta tech leaders expressed concern, describing the province’s 2019 budget “short-sighted,” and penned an open letter during the early days of COVID-19 calling for urgent support.
 

Since then, Alberta has placed more of a focus on tech and innovation. Schweitzer has been spearheading these efforts since his appointment in 2020, telling BetaKit that he wants to turn the province into a “dominant player” in Canadian tech.

“When I took on this role, at that point in time, our government’s relationship with the tech and innovation space wasn’t as good as it should have been,” said Schweitzer. “And we took on that role to make sure that we built as many bridges as possible.”

Schweitzer added, “The one thing that I’m really proud of is the fact that we’ve taken a lot of the politics out of this space, where everybody’s cheering for this industry doesn’t matter if you’re at the federal level, the provincial level, [or] the civic level. Everybody in Alberta wants this industry and this whole space to be successful. They recognize that it’s important to diversification.”

Political differences at the party level still appear to play a role, however. Noting that Alberta attracted less VC funding last year than provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, and Québec, Alberta’s NDP party recently put forth a bill that would see the province create a new tech-focused venture fund. However, Alberta’s ruling UCP party voted to kill the proposal at a private members’ committee meeting earlier this month.

Feature image from Wikimedia Commons.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling and breaking Canadian tech and innovation stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.

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