The Innovate Calgary story: Accelerating the practical application of technology

Chantelle Little January 11, 2022 4 min read Tech
Adam Cragg headshot for Innovate Calgary interview

North American tech is alive and thriving. And as an ecosystem partner, we want to highlight the people and stories behind that growth.

We’re giving you the inside track into how some of our favourite tech companies and fellow ecosystem partners got started, the challenges they’ve faced, and their take on the future of tech in Alberta.

We connected with Adam Cragg, Executive Director with New Ventures at Innovate Calgary, to learn more about the company’s mission to accelerate tech in Canada and around the world.

Let’s see what Adam had to say…

Tell us about Innovate Calgary. What is your mission?

Adam: Innovate Calgary is the innovation center for the University of Calgary (UCalgary). We focus on accelerating the practical application of technologies, including patent and licensing services for researchers, industry engagement with world-class labs, and accelerating the growth of startups built with novel technologies.

Innovate Calgary also provides world-class programs, resources, and guidance to help diversify Alberta’s economy. We provide a launching pad for startups to disrupt the status quo and build new solutions to our most pressing problems. We support and facilitate the professional development of entrepreneurs, innovators, and researchers looking to grow in Calgary and beyond.

Lastly, Innovate Calgary aims to connect and strengthen the innovation ecosystem by supporting researchers and innovators in their entrepreneurial endeavours. We work with partners and other ecosystem players to create a robust system where all Albertans feel empowered and where most startups will survive and thrive as they positively contribute to enhancing the lives of our communities.

How does Innovate Calgary positively impact Alberta’s tech community?

Adam: Innovate Calgary serves as a training ground for tech innovators by providing space, investment, coaching and professional training. Additionally, as the innovation transfer and business incubator for the University of Calgary, Innovate Calgary is uniquely positioned to help with intellectual property, patents, licensing and connection with industry.

What challenges has Innovate Calgary faced over the years?

Adam: At Innovate Calgary, we are passionate about commercialization, innovation, and startups. We genuinely want to see as many researchers and startups succeed as possible. We recognize that many start-ups fail, which can be hard to swallow. We consider ourselves the biggest cheerleaders for startups and researchers, so seeing a few falling short can be difficult. But it also motivates us to find new and creative ways to support as many startups as possible. We are always looking for funding opportunities, community partnerships and the best industry members to connect with our researchers to encourage the best chance of success.

What marketing activities have you prioritized/invested in?

Adam: With Tiller’s help, we are launching a new website to better assist those we help navigate our programs and services. Also, we are increasing our offerings of free online resources such as webinars through the Life Sciences Innovation Hub and asynchronous learning. We offer a vast array of programs and services, and we have been spending time focusing our marketing efforts to make it easier for innovators to navigate all that we do.

How has Innovate Calgary been impacted by COVID-19?

Adam: COVID-19 has been a burden to all organizations. But, it has presented an opportunity to be better integrated with the global community of innovators. Innovate Calgary has gone through exponential growth in the past year. With the increased uncertainty around the region’s economic future, there is a high level of alignment from our ecosystem stakeholders that innovation and entrepreneurship are the paths forward. From a staffing perspective, we have tried to combat the isolation that comes with Covid by increasing informal touchpoints and implementing flexible working arrangements for those with competing demands on their time.

What’s on the horizon for Innovate Calgary post-pandemic?

Adam: We will continue to work with our stakeholders and the wider community to put the University of Calgary, the city of Calgary, and the province of Alberta on the map for producing innovative solutions and nurturing a burgeoning ecosystem. We hope to help an array of researchers and innovators from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. One way in which we will be doing so is with the launch of our new Social Innovation Hub, which will support startups, charities, not-for-profits, and social science researchers as they look to make an impact locally and abroad. This unique initiative will foster collaboration and provide players with the physical and technical tools to make their projects a success.

What do you think the future holds for the Alberta tech sector?

Adam: Alberta is at a crossroads as we see our oil and gas industry face challenges. As a community, it is essential to look at ways to diversify our economy. We have seen an increased interest in life sciences research, sustainable energy development and manufacturing technology. The beauty of tech is that it is everywhere and in everything. All industries use and benefit from technology and innovation. Our newly developed Life sciences Innovation Hub has seen tremendous success and helps establish Calgary as a destination for health startups. We have also seen many companies blossom through our engineering fellowships as we look at ways to support energy companies in lowering their net carbon and how we can strengthen other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, construction etc., in a carbon-conscious way.

The province has also identified digital health as a focus, and we are excited to see what Alberta’s digital health space will look like in 10 years.

Is there a recent tech startup success story that Innovate Calgary is excited about?

Adam: We have many exciting things happening in our Life Sciences Innovation Hub, and our UCeed investment fund is identifying and supporting the next big thing. One company to keep an eye on is Nimble Science. As Hippocrates said, “all disease begins in the gut.” Nimble Science aims to revolutionize the detection and treatment of disease through passive access to the gut microbiome. They have developed the Small Intestine MicroBiome Aspiration (SIMBA) Capsule, a small, ingestible pill that can selectively sample the microbiome of the small intestine.

What advice would you give to someone considering starting a tech company in Alberta?

Adam: Alberta has a lot to offer an aspiring innovator. There are vast amounts of governmental and NGO support, private investors, and accelerators. Alberta also has a terrific pool of highly educated and engaged talent. Now is the time to start something great. While there will always be a steep learning curve for first-time innovators, there are many groups, including ours, ready, willing and able to help make innovation as accessible as possible.

What is your must-read, listen, or watch for anyone in tech?

Adam: Venture Deals – Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer And Venture Capitalist is a great technical read for any budding entrepreneur hoping to raise money. Brad Feld is a founder of Techstars and a well-respected startup expert.

Also, from my former boss at MIT, Bill Aulet, Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup is a must-read that breaks down the process of entrepreneurship and makes it seem more accessible and manageable.

More tech stories to come…

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