Through Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD), the Government of Canada has invested $5 million CAD in an Alberta Innovates initiative designed to draw technology and business accelerators to the province.
The funding for Alberta Innovates’ Scale Up and Growth Accelerator Program comes through the Regional Innovation Ecosystem (RIE) program, which WD has been tasked with administering investments from in the region. The fresh federal capital comes in addition to the up to $25 million CAD previously committed by Alberta Innovates to the initiative.
“Business growth and scale-up is critically important to Alberta’s technology-based businesses,” said Laura Kilcrease.
A total of up to $30 million in funding over three years is available to three or more accelerators as part of the program, which aims to help address Alberta’s scale-up gap by supporting more Alberta startups and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Alberta Innovates also retains an option to extend these contracts for an additional two years.
“Business growth and scale-up is critically important to Alberta’s technology-based businesses,” said Laura Kilcrease, Alberta Innovates’ CEO. “This partnership with Western Economic Diversification extends our ability to help these businesses grow, attract investment and thrive.”
The additional federal funding will enable Alberta Innovates to expand the amount of funds available to not-for-profit business accelerators participating in its Scale-Up and Growth Accelerator Program. In March, Alberta Innovates said it would consider both private and not-for-profit accelerator models for the initiative. The organization first launched a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of business accelerators on March 31, and applications closed April 30. Alberta Innovates told BetaKit the organization has identified “top level” candidates through the RFP process, and is currently negotiating with them.
According to Alberta Innovates, the province “has a scaleup gap.” The organization claimed that although half of all Alberta startups survive over five years, “only 0.1 per cent of small firms become mid-size, and only two percent of mid-sized firms become large.”
“Alberta Innovates recognizes that the innovation ecosystem in this province is really good at some things, and we need to work on some other things,” a spokesperson for Alberta Innovates told BetaKit. “One of the big gaps we have is the ability to scale and grow companies. Our goal is to engage with acceleration entities that have a proven track record and can demonstrate success in scale and growth.”
Alberta Innovates said WD has been working with it for the past 18 months to assess the province’s ecosystem for scale and growth capability, and added that WD’s contribution through this initiative “allows the program to extend its reach.”
“This additional funding augments the $25 million that our government is putting towards tech accelerators in Alberta,” said Doug Schweitzer, Alberta’s minister of jobs, economy, and innovation. “With funding from all three levels of government, we are going to fill the gap that exists and build on the huge momentum we are seeing in tech companies across Alberta.”
Alberta Innovates is a crown corporation of the Government of Alberta that has been tasked with promoting tech and innovation in the province. The organization recently bolstered its support of its Regional Innovation Networks, nearly doubling its typical annual commitment.
In a recent interview, Schweitzer told BetaKit he wants Alberta to be a “dominant player” in Canadian tech. The provincial government has recently taken steps towards this goal, allocating funding for the tech sector in its 2021 budget as part of Alberta’s overall economic recovery plan. The province’s securities regulators also recently adopted a new measure to increase the investment potential of Alberta startups.
WD is the federal government’s Western Canada-based regional economic development agency. According to WD, about 300 Alberta tech companies across a range of economic sectors are expected to benefit from the Scale Up and Growth Accelerator Program over the next three years.
A group of Alberta business leaders also recently launched a new task force aimed at the province’s economic future. The Business Council of Alberta (BCA) has launched Define the Decade, a new, 14-member research and economic task force of CEOs.
The task force will be co-chaired by a prominent member of the province’s innovation ecosystem, Cory Janssen, the co-founder and co-CEO of AltaML. Janssen told BetaKit “tech and innovation is critical to this task force, and Alberta’s future.”
“Alberta is at a point where we are no longer just an ‘emerging’ tech hub, we have the opportunity to take a position among the best tech ecosystems on the continent,” said Janssen. “To do that though, we need to reject the idea that supporting tech means focusing less on other industries. Alberta’s fantastic assets in health, energy, talent and more are what is going to accelerate the growth of our tech sector.”
According to the BCA, its work will be informed and augmented by input from provincial stakeholders, experts, and regular Albertans, as it looks to create “a unifying vision of what a good life and great Alberta looks like 10 years from now.” The BCA says it will develop a framework for how to get there, including the economic environment necessary to spur investment and job creation.
Janssen said that although there is a “serious commitment” to Alberta tech from business, government, and the province’s population, and the sector’s momentum is growing, “the reality is, however, that we still need to up our game” in terms of creating tech companies and developing the talent they need.
Over the next six months, this task force will conduct research and develop a vision and framework. The group plans to release interim reports and research throughout the process, towards a goal of publishing a final report in January 2022.
UPDATE (08/09/21): This story was updated to include responses from Alberta Innovates.
Feature image from Wikimedia Commons