University of Calgary

Drivers of Disruption

Submitted by alumni on Wed, 04/12/2017 - 20:35.

Drivers of Disruption

The future of Canada lies in entrepreneurship and technology — precisely why incubators and amplifiers such as Innovate Calgary are critical if universities are to play a role in Canada’s future. Discover the services that help bridge the gap between research discovery and innovation that support early phase startups.
by Mark Witten

The future of Canada lies in entrepreneurship and technology. Historically, Canada has been a resource-based economy, and that isn’t going to vanish — however, the need to supplement natural resources with technology is undeniable. In 2015, Canada’s tech sector contributed $117 billion to our economy and employed some 864,000 Canadians. It’s an explosive industry that spans the country, creating job opportunities from coast to coast.

That’s how Peter Garrett, BSc (Eng)’80, president of Innovate Calgary, UCalgary’s technology-transfer and business-incubator centre, sees the future and the crucial role his organization plays in helping researchers and entrepreneurs make the leap from research idea, to innovation, to startup business. Innovate Calgary offers programs and services that help bridge the gap between research discovery and innovation, supporting early phase startups.

“There is tremendous leverage in the technology market, and a lot of value and wealth are created from research endeavours,” says Garrett, who led a Nortel Networks team of 1,200 engineers and scientists on four continents in developing and deploying more than 50 new products. He was also CEO of Global Thermoelectric, a fuel cell company.

“From an economic-development perspective, creating value from research is one of the most important strategies for any jurisdiction. That’s true for Canada and for Calgary, where the need for diversification is greater now than it has ever before.”

"You need interaction between researchers, entrepreneurs and investors, and we bring these people from different spheres together."

Innovate Calgary saw 600 new clients last year, an 800-per cent increase from five years ago. Clients have included: Parvus Therapeutics Inc., developer of a new class of autoimmune disease drugs; Diversity Leads, a social-innovation consulting firm; and MOMS Link, a peer-support network that combats postpartum depression.

Beyond providing the basic knowledge and support to help people build a business, Innovate Calgary also connects researchers and entrepreneurs with potential investors or licensing partners. “Innovation is a contact sport,” says Garrett. “You need interaction between researchers, entrepreneurs and investors, and we bring these people from different spheres together.”

Startups and small companies are the growth engine of the economy, creating new jobs at a much faster rate than older, traditional businesses. Garrett sees the university as fertile ground for unlocking the entrepreneurial potential of both student and faculty researchers, that, in turn, will create more new businesses that can flourish and grow.

“I’m bullish about the future,” he says. “I’m constantly amazed by the capacity of this younger generation, their creative thinking and technical excellence. We old dogs have to create the environment and innovation culture for the younger generation to realize their dreams.” U


George Shimizu, a professor in chemistry, is working with people from across the industry spectrum — scientists, engineers, business analysts, political scientists — to collaborate on new carbon-capture techniques. They recently had a breakthrough developing a metal-organic framework (MOF) that works like a solid sponge and traps excess CO2 emissions at the source of combustion. Shimizu compares it to a baseball glove that catches the CO2 like a baseball. He has partnered with private company Bow Valley Innovations to bring this to market.

Solar Biocells is an innovative bioengineering startup that came straight out of UCalgary labs. Co-founders are geoscience Prof. Marc Strous and postdoc Christine Sharp. They have designed a natural mechanism to capture and convert CO2 into biomass.


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