Two years ago I received the first of what would become many emails from tech entrepreneurs concerned over the direction and strategy our economic and innovation ecosystems were heading.
Those notes of concern led me to question the current status of our ecosystems and potential missed opportunities we’ve endured from lack of leadership, or unwillingness to perceive change as an opportunity to grow instead of shying away from it. Tech entrepreneurs were left with no other choice but to take matters into their own hands to make a difference.
Smaller events designed to showcase our tech talent started to emerge. I started an event called BarTech, a founder-funder event. The Edmonton Advisory Council on Startups (EACOS) was formed, comprised of 13 technology enabled entrepreneurs from startups, scaleups, seed companies, students to investors. After a particularly difficult committee meeting, the Edmonton Innovation Ecosystem Community was struck by Innovate Edmonton, and I commend their effort to gather everyone in one room at a time when Innovate Edmonton, a division of EEDC, was facing harsh criticism. The YEG Innovation Compass report kicked off and work began soliciting feedback on the needs and direction the ecosystem should target. Fast forward a few months — The Compass Report released 14 recommendations for how to improve the ecosystem (which the latest Ernest and Young report sets out the progress Innovate Edmonton has made on them); TEC Edmonton released their Tech 2.0 progress plan which outlines a moderate strategy for scale-ups going forward; an Innovation Corridor partnership was announced between Calgary and Edmonton that leverages economic opportunity for all Albertans. Needless to say - I have never seen more activity, national attention, or unity across this sector than this past year.
This is what true disruption is all about. Yesterday, Council released the recommendations from Ernst and Young on the future of economic development in our city. They interviewed key people who work in the economic development space, relied on the advice from entrepreneurs and city builders alike, compared our city to several others of relative size and wrote a well thought-out approach. Their recommendation:
Clarifies roles and responsibilities
Reduces service provider overlap allowing for best use of tax dollars
Provides a “front door” for our technology ecosystem
Will allow for greater connectivity and collaboration
We heard the call for stronger alignment among service providers, increased transparency and communication, and an agile structure so that they can deliver better outcomes for clients, who are also residents and taxpayers in Edmonton.
We heard the call to make the system simple and efficient, with greater collaboration and increased returns on funding. And today, City Council made a first and decisive step to form a purpose-driven innovation authority.
Cities and regions around the world are jockeying for position as leaders in technology and innovation, as they should be — capitalizing on the growth of this sector will be key to future prosperity. We’re well positioned in Edmonton to become a leader in this field. We have a lot of the “ingredients” that go into an exceptional startup ecosystem. But we are at risk of losing that opportunity — If we don’t adjust our model to give entrepreneurs and funders what they need, Edmonton will be left behind. So, we did.
This change doesn’t only affect the tech sector. I’m confident this will help our tourism and convention centre thrive and become more agile. As well, Edmonton Global now has clear direction and soon, a larger team that can truly deliver global impact for our growing companies.
Today, the motion I put forward will allow administration and stakeholders to set a new path, a purpose-driven path for our City where local ideas become global investments and Edmonton’s reputation as a center for technology and innovation is further solidified. This shift will create generational economic impact for Edmonton. I’m proud that this Council near unanimously agreed to seize the opportunity. No doubt there will be challenges ahead, but I believe we’ve set this city on the right path for decades to come.
To the entrepreneurs who spoke up, thank you for speaking up, for helping us build a better ecosystem, and for supporting a vision of what our city can be.