Policy in Brief
There is a reason why Edmonton is a city of 10,000 head offices, the best place to take an idea to reality. It’s all driven by innovation: in energy, in agriculture, in engineering and construction. We can help expand this spirit into new realms, new strengths, by making this the best place to incubate and expand a technology company, a social venture, a creative business.
What we’ll do in the short term
Build on the success of TEC Edmonton and Startup Edmonton to create more early-stage and mid-stage incubators: one focused on unlocking innovation and entrepreneurship in First Nations and immigrant communities and another to incubate social enterprises.
Where we need to be a generation from now
Edmonton has to outperform every other regional economy no matter the value of a barrel of oil. The mayor is the city’s chief recruiter and chief sales officer, and I want to encourage our tech sector to grow exponentially. Ideas are plentiful in this city. What we do with those ideas is what will transform Edmonton. Finding the capital and expertise to build viable companies is where the City of Edmonton and EEDC can help.
More thoughts from Don:
Innovation can come from any corner of this city: from our post-secondary institutions, from a group of friends working their way around a problem in a pub, from aboriginal Edmontonians and new immigrants. Edmonton is and will be the best place to take a risk, to fail, to take another risk, to succeed, and to take a new idea into the world.
I’m not surprised that incubators thrive in Edmonton: it’s the core of our culture. TEC Edmonton is Canada’s number-one commercialization centre for post-secondary research and ideas, and number 17 in the world. I worked hard to help launch Startup Edmonton, a place for entrepreneurs with new ideas to access space, mentors, early-stage capital from business leaders, and a peer group of other risk-takers. In fact, I was the only mayoral candidate to vote in support of providing the modest funding required to get Startup Edmonton up and running.
The importance of incubation
Incubators like Startup Edmonton are cost-effective ways to encourage entrepreneurship, to take companies over those early bumps, to transform ideas into growing businesses, to diversify our economy.
As mayor, I would like to see the city push this model into two new realms: A business incubator for our aboriginal and immigrant communities can help immigrants put their skills to work in jobs they create themselves (but with help), which will create new business connections in Edmonton and in markets around the world. I will also support an incubator to build viable social enterprises, as well as enable more effective collaboration among existing social enterprises. Edmonton has a great diversity of agencies, and they are key partners in city building. These are small investments from the city’s perspective, mostly in the form of space or small seed-money grants, but the return-on-investment in our community and economy can be significant.
Attracting venture capital
The biggest challenge for businesses looking to get off the ground in Edmonton is not a lack of ideas, it’s often a lack of financing. For a long time, we tried to attract head offices to Edmonton when we should have spent our time and energy attracting what we really need: investment and venture capital. Venture-capital firms are beginning to notice what is happening in Edmonton. They are flying north and they are investing.
I understand the mayor’s role as the chief recruiter and chief sales officer of the city. As mayor, I will work with Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and with our business community to attract permanent venture-capital offices in downtown Edmonton. Just as importantly, I will encourage the growth of a local venture-capital network so more Edmonton investors can support the innovators right here in our city.
Scaling up in Edmonton
In Canada, there is a sense that you can build a company to a level of comfort and then either you plateau or you sell and move on to something else. Stantec and PCL, Canadian Western Bank, Running Room, BioWare, and others prove there is another option. Innovation in Edmonton can also be structural: Edmonton can be the best city in Canada to grow a company from 100 employees to 1,000, to scale and take a local business global. With better financing, with mentorship and with new connections in markets around the world, with an energetic and creative chief recruiter and sales officer, Edmonton’s innovations will be global successes.