In the Community

U of A, City of Edmonton expanding innovation partnership

TEC Edmonton winding down as partnership takes on broader social and cultural dimension while continuing to drive economic diversification.

  • April 07, 2021
  • By Michael Brown

After a successful 15 years, the University of Alberta and the City of Edmonton are revising their innovation partnership to better support an evolved regional innovation ecosystem. As a result, TEC Edmonton will be wound down as the university and City move to expand their partnership beyond technology innovation to incorporate social and cultural innovation while continuing to drive economic diversification.

TEC Edmonton was created in 2006 as a partnership between the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and the university to accelerate and help grow the local technology sector. It also served as the university's dedicated business and technology transfer agent.

“TEC Edmonton was a very successful endeavour, but the Edmonton metro region’s tech startup ecosystem has evolved in such a way that both the university and City agreed it was time to reimagine this partnership,” said Deborah James, U of A associate vice-president (innovation and commercialization).

The university and the City are restructuring and evolving their respective innovation strategies, supports and services. EEDC has refocused its economic development efforts on the visitor economy—evolving into Explore Edmonton—and Innovate Edmonton was established as an independent organization, while the university is readying the launch of an ambitious innovation strategy. The U of A recently repatriated the tech transfer function from TEC Edmonton as 90 per cent of their work was for the university. 

James also explained that as startup types and needs have changed in the last decade, the organizations offering commercialization and business development services have exploded.

Earlier this year, the U of A and Brass Dome Ventures Ltd., led by serial entrepreneur and U of A alumnus Christopher Micetich, with the backing of the federal government’s Western Economic Diversification Canada, launched Innovation Masterminds Edmonton (imYEG), a program designed to increase the volume and quality of commercial ventures leaving the university. 

Other university supports include the U of A Health Hub & Accelerator, the Threshold Impact Venture Mentoring Service and student-focused initiatives providing entrepreneurial and innovation support, including eHUB, the Elko Engineering Garage, The Pod and the Student Innovation Centre.

Outside of the U of A, the business and investment community, as well as all levels of government, bolstered the success of startups through organizations like A100, Edmonton Regional Innovation Network (ERIN), Startup Edmonton and Creative Destruction Lab, to name a few.

“There's a lot more knowledge and education in the system, and a lot more competition—all good things for Edmonton—and it's all finally starting to come together into an ecosystem that is approaching the critical mass needed for it to successfully and sustainably build on itself,” said James.

When TEC Edmonton was created, it was one of the first business accelerators to merge university IP with civic and university-based entrepreneurial services—a model that has since been emulated. Over the past eight years, hundreds of companies participated in TEC Edmonton programs, with 400 TEC clients realizing $1.07 billion in revenue and $565 million in financing, and creating 2,400 jobs.

During its time, TEC Edmonton helped create numerous commercial ventures, many of which have grown into strong Edmonton startups such as Metabolomic Technologies, a U of A spinoff co-founded by the late Richard Fedorak, U of A gastroenterology researcher and former dean of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, along with then graduate student and now assistant professor of surgery Haili Wang, to commercialize an easier, non-invasive way to detect colon cancer. 

TEC Edmonton also helped create U of A spinoff Ceapro, then helped the company license U of A technology co-created by Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences PhD graduate Bernhard Seifried and his supervisor, food processing engineering professor Feral Temelli. This technology dramatically improves the process of turning raw materials, such as oats, into active ingredients for health-care and cosmetic products, and drove Ceapro’s growth and expansion. The company’s ingredients are now exported to the United States, Europe and Asia, and found in major global brands such as Neutrogena, Jergens, Johnson & Johnson’s Aveeno line, Burt’s Bees, Coppertone and The Body Shop. 

“TEC Edmonton is certainly a success story, but we think new models are needed in this new innovation landscape,” said James. “And we are looking forward to working with the City on this.”

Before TEC Edmonton winds down operations on June 30, the joint partners will develop transition plans for TEC Edmonton programs, services and spaces, while developing a new, expanded innovation partnership that continues to drive economic diversification and growth while best meeting the evolved landscape and needs.

“We are committed to working with the University of Alberta to foster Edmonton’s interdisciplinary and vibrant innovation ecosystem,” said Innovate Edmonton CEO Catherine Warren. “Together, we aim to coalesce supports for innovation companies at all stages, and for innovators of all stripes, including tech, social, cultural, sustainable and economic.”