Innovate Edmonton loses VP, director of strategy as Edmonton Economic Development Corporation makes COVID-19 layoffs


The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation announced a second round of pandemic-related layoffs last week, citing an “unprecedented financial situation” given measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The second round of temporary layoffs affects a “significant number” of EEDC’s full-time employees, across the entire organization.

As part of the cutbacks, EEDC laid off staff at Innovate Edmonton, which supports the city’s tech sector. The cuts include senior leadership team member Cheryll Watson, VP of Innovate Edmonton, and Alexandra Hryciw, director of strategy and stakeholder relations.

The EEC also downsized its broader senior leadership team, including CEO Derek Hudson and VP of research and strategy, Glen Vanstone.

Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is the not-for-profit agency owned by the City of Edmonton. It operates Innovate Edmonton, Edmonton Tourism, the Edmonton Convention Centre, and the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

Last month, EEDC temporarily laid off around 1,100 hourly staff after the Convention and Expo centres closed to the public. On Tuesday, April 14, the organization announced a second round of temporary layoffs.

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EEDC noted that the second round of temporary layoffs would affect a “significant number” of its full-time employees, across the entire organization. “Every level and in every business unit,” EEDC noted in a statement. The agency is also implementing salary rollbacks for all remaining staff. EEDC emphasized that these measures are “impacting everyone.”

BetaKit has reached out to Innovate Edmonton and its partner organization, Startup Edmonton, for more details on how the cutbacks are affecting the tech-focused groups. They had yet to respond by time of publication.

The purpose of Innovate Edmonton is to help startups and scaleups bring ideas to market through networking, resources, and funding. Watson had been at Innovate Edmonton since 2016 and worked to foster the tech startup and scaleup company both within the city and more broadly in Alberta.

Watson was co-chair of the Alberta Innovation Corridor (AIC), founded by Innovate Edmonton, Calgary Economic Development, and Platform Calgary. AIC is a joint pursuit by Alberta’s two largest tech ecosystems that looks to advocate for companies and drive economic prosperity in the province.

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In a tweet following the layoffs, Watson called the decision “concerning.” “The work we’ve been doing to support #yegtech has effectively stopped,” she said.

Hryciw also noted the “big changes” calling them “concerning” and “alarming.” Both expressed faith, however, in the local tech ecosystem that momentum will continue to build and noted plans to continue to offer their personal support.

“As we move forward, Innovate Edmonton remains committed to serving our innovation ecosystem, clients and stakeholders; we are here for you and our work continues,” the EEC said in a statement to BetaKit. “We believe now more than ever that supporting entrepreneurs and job creators is vital to ensuring our economy can bounce back when we emerge from this.”

The organization also noted that as it goes through a review process to determine “essential and nonessential activities,” EEDC and Innovate Edmonton will continue to deliver on commitments to grant funders, continue to engage with the City of Edmonton and the Province of Alberta, and communicate with and support stakeholders and partners. The group is also set to continue to deliver on programming.

“The commitment to the innovation space in Edmonton has not waived.”

While EEDC emphasized in its statement last week that it is experiencing “tremendous revenue reduction,” Startup Edmonton is still visibly active, offering free access to programs for local startup founders and companies. In its statement to BetaKit, EEDC noted that Startup Edmonton will continue to support startup and scale-up entrepreneurs.

“To ensure we continue to support the important work being done in our tech ecosystem, we are currently evaluating how we can deliver high impact results and maximize resources,” the statement to BetaKit read.

Watson’s departure means she is no longer co-chair of the AIC, which has been working to create a proposal for the government on how best to support the province’s startups during COVID-19.

The AIC has already garnered responses from the province’s innovation sector and has been working to draft a letter to send to the Alberta government. Platform Calgary CEO Terry Rock is the Calgary-based co-chair of the AIC and continues to work with the group.

“This is a challenging time for everyone,” Rock told BetaKit. “Cheryll and her team were excellent colleagues, and we look forward to strong collaborations with Edmonton in the future. The value proposition for our two cities working together hasn’t changed; we have complementary strengths and are stronger together.”

The EEDC also told BetaKit the agency will “continue to follow direction from City Administration” as it works to establish a focused and independent innovation entity in Edmonton. In December, Edmonton’s city council voted to change the EEDC’s mandate, scaling back the organization’s responsibilities and separating out Innovate Edmonton and Startup Edmonton.

EEDC is set to continue to lead Innovate Edmonton until the City is ready to begin a transition. A report is due to the city council on May 11 with recommendations on the new innovation entity.

“The commitment to the innovation space in Edmonton has not waived,” the EEDC said in its statement to BetaKit. “EEDC remains completely supportive of the innovation ecosystem community’s feedback over the last year … we will continue to work through the ongoing process with the City of Edmonton.”

Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Senior Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.

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