Meet Aman Chahal: Industrial Professor — Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Mechanical Engineering

Professor hopes to inspire the next generation to go ‘where no one has gone before.’

Donna McKinnon - 03 October 2022

Meet Aman Chahal: Industrial Professor — Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Mechanical Engineering

Championing technological innovation to meet the challenges of climate change and inequality, self-avowed Trekkie Aman Chahal hopes to inspire the next generation to go ‘where no one has gone before.’

Welcome, Aman!

Tell us about you!

I began my life as a wanna be red shirt in the engineering department of a star ship. It soon became obvious to me that we had not yet developed artificial gravity and I was content dreaming about doing CFD/FEA analysis on a pre-warp starship. I began my career working in aviation and hoping to say that I was helping Zefram Cochrane propel us into the future. As a dyslexic engineer — who found academia difficult to excel in, I thought I would seek out my path in the private sector.

Very early on I realized that in engineering and technology, the rules that governed the jobs you get had less to do with merit and more to do with bias. The discrimination I faced early on in my career working in aviation made me wonder how organizations could make these biased decisions and hope to innovate new ideas. I left my love for the technical field and went behind enemy lines to do my MBA at Ivey and enter ‘Corporate Canada’. Although I the patterns of discrimination echo across industries, I found my initial love of technology was always there to show me another avenue.

Wanting to change the world — I became strongly interested in cleantech and climate change reform. I began to work for startups in cleantech and tried to understand the challenges we face in adapting the world to a more sustainable, inclusive economy. I found that climate change and cleantech often intersected with legacy regulatory environments. I wanted to understand these challenges better and went on to do my second masters at Carleton where I wrote my thesis on the challenges of disruptive technology adoption in regulated industries.

Startups became a way of life for me. My background and my dyslexia seemed adapted to seeing things in new disruptive ways. It was as if thinking outside the box was innate. I went on to work at Canada's first and largest cleantech fund, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, helping companies access money and build their companies. I caught the startup bug bad, and eventually started my own company. Soon my enthusiasm was abated by the realities of fundraising in the startup ecosystem. I found myself once again, pivoting my career path because bias is endemic in society.

I find myself grateful today for experiencing these challenges because my mind is naturally curious. I always endeavor to learn about the world. Understanding the realities that underpin success is vital if we hope to change the world in any way. I was extremely excited to be offered a role at the University of Alberta to help build out the Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Incubator program and pass on the knowledge I have gained. I hope in sharing my experiences, my work and my future dreams I can help the students today avoid making the mistakes I did, while empowering them to never give up on their dreams.

If Scotty can beam Kirk onto a starship at warp — we can all boldly go where no one has gone before.

Tell us about your research

I research cleantech and the barriers to adoption that these technologies face. In addition I focus on how to foster innovative thinking and the challenges in fostering true creativity in companies. From VCs to bootstrapping — I am fascinated by learning about what we can achieve when we are open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

What inspired you to enter this field?

I am innately driven by curiosity and the drive to make the world better in some way. These two drivers made me realize that the most critical challenges of our time are climate change and inequality. I could think of no other worthy problems to devote my career to.

Tell us about your teaching

I like to teach by empowering students to understand how to question their assumptions and broaden their perspective. I find it extremely rewarding when I can find a student’s ‘learning language’ and begin to converse with them in a dialect that is natural to them. I hope to encourage them to ask their questions without reservation because accepting when one does not know something is the first step to building something amazing.

What are your impressions of Edmonton/the University of Alberta so far?

I love Edmonton. After 34 moves I finally came back home and I hope to build a life here. I would like my furniture to stay here long enough to get ‘carpet grooves’. It is very rewarding to come back to my own city and rediscover it. The students on campus have a wealth of knowledge and passion that encourages me to think we can solve our big challenges. I feel optimistic being on campus where this energy is prolific and hope that my work serves to manifest that optimism on campus so students can see that there is always a path to achieve your dreams.

What are your hobbies, or things you like to do outside of work?

There is never a hobby I do not want to try. I am an avid painter and I love to write poetry. Coming back to Edmonton, I am getting back into my pre-covid health and cannot wait for the winter season to get back to snowboarding. I am pretending to learn the Saxophone and hoping to get into improv this year.