The newly established Innovate Edmonton has named its first CEO, Catherine Warren, following an extensive, nation-wide search process that took place this year.
Warren has served in a number of executive roles for Canadian innovation companies and organizations, including, most recently, as CEO of the Vancouver Economic Commission. The announcement of Warren’s appointment was made Tuesday, noting that she was chosen by Innovate Edmonton’s board of directors to lead the city’s newly established innovation entity.
“Now is a critical time for Edmonton and the world as we tackle major challenges that need innovative solutions.”
Innovate Edmonton, while possessing the same name as its predecessor, is a new organization established by Edmonton’s City Council in May. At the time, the City of Edmonton’s Council unanimously voted to form a new innovation entity independent of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC).
The new Innovate Edmonton is led by an independent board with a mandate to “champion innovation in Edmonton.” This new non-profit entity was part of a restructuring of the EEDC, an agency owned by the City of Edmonton, that operated the old Innovate Edmonton, Edmonton Tourism, the Edmonton Convention Centre, and the Edmonton EXPO Centre. The restructuring was done to allow for EEDC to be more focused on tourism and conventions.
In May, the City approved $5 million per year for Innovate Edmonton. The funding is set to start in 2021. Over this year, Edmonton’s City Council has been working to build out the new Innovate Edmonton by choosing an independent board of directors. In July, Naseem Bashir, an Edmonton business leader and currently the CEO of the Williams Group of Companies, was named as Innovate Edmonton’s board chair, with an additional seven members named in August.
The board includes Joanne Fedeyko, founder and CEO at Connection Silicon Valley; Shaheel Hooda, managing Partner at Sprout Fund; and Nicole Janssen, co-founder and co-CEO at Altaml.
“Catherine will launch and lead our new organization with the right blend of start-up business, high-impact investment and city-building acumen,” said Bashir. “Now is a critical time for Edmonton and the world as we tackle major challenges that need innovative solutions. Catherine’s inventiveness, risk-taking and collaborative vision unanimously impressed Innovate Edmonton’s Board as a great match for our city’s spirit, strengths and positioning.”
Based on the City of Edmonton’s approved structure for the new Innovate Edmonton, Warren reports to the chair of the board. She is now tasked with building a team for Innovate Edmonton. According to Innovate Edmonton’s website, the team will be focused on supporting Edmonton’s entrepreneurs, impact businesses, universities, cultural organizations, as well as First Nations and other groups. With the overall goal of the agency is growing Edmonton’s innovation economy and positioning the city on the global stage, the entity is also being tasked with helping companies making significant advances in clean energy, decarbonization, and green buildings.
“I am incredibly honoured to join a community of experimentalists, thinkers and disruptors as we take on the world’s greatest innovation challenges — from health to sustainability to social equality — where Edmonton’s leadership and values shine, and are needed most,” said Warren. “As a start-up and venture catalyst, Innovate Edmonton is embarking on an exciting trajectory at a pivotal time. I look forward to building collaborative relationships and making real gains together for innovation across all sectors and communities.”
“This pandemic has stressed that innovation and diversification will be essential to building a more resilient economy,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. “I’m glad Innovate Edmonton has selected an entrepreneurial CEO with a global approach to join our community. Thanks to the Board’s efforts, we welcome Catherine as a convener and change-maker in this new role.”
Prior to the formation of an entirely new innovation entity, Edmonton’s innovation was driven by the former Innovate Edmonton, a division of the EEDC, which supported startups and scaleups through networking, resources, and funding. Innovate Edmonton’s partner organizations included Startup Edmonton, Advanced Technology Centre, and business accelerator TEC Edmonton; all of which fell under the EEDC umbrella. In April, as part of broader COVID-related layoffs and downsizing by EEDC, the old Innovate Edmonton lost key members of its leadership team, including vice president Cheryll Watson and Alexandra Hryciw, director of strategy and stakeholder relations.
Startup Edmonton is set to be moved under the new Innovate Edmonton and continue offering its programming. Iveson noted earlier this year that Startup Edmonton “will pass over to the new entity as soon as it can,” with the board and CEO having the option to evaluate and make adjustments to the programming.