Innovator Spotlight: Luke Butterworth

Luke’s incessant curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit is helping to shape the next generation of U of A entrepreneurs.

Luke Butterworth

Luke Butterworth is committed to elevating the entrepreneurial culture and programming available on campus. As the Industry Partnerships and Business Development Executive in Residence with the Technology Transfer Services Team, Luke supports undergraduates, graduates, postgraduates and faculty members looking to transcend their ideas into meaningful change.

In this week’s spotlight, Luke explains how brainstorming sessions can hinder creativity, why taking a bold approach to solving solutions is critical to flexing our curiosity and how innovative thinking can be achieved by all.

How do you describe your work to people who don’t work in your field?

Right now I have two primary focuses: my part-time role with the U of A as a startup mentor sponsored by Edmonton Regional Innovation Network (ERIN) where I support entrepreneurs under ERIN with accessing different programs, advancing their companies, and building towards notable goals. My work supports undergraduate, grad, postgraduate and faculty members who are looking to build something that changes their corner of the world.

As an entrepreneur, I’m also working with JustCook, where we focus on restaurant real estate. By creating well-designed food halls and markets we make commercial restaurant spaces available to restaurateurs. To date we’ve built 5th Street Food Hall and we’re working towards a second location called Station Park on Whyte Ave.

What’s one big problem you want to solve through your work?

In the U of A context I would like to continue adding to the entrepreneurial culture and programming to help create the next generation of U of A entrepreneurs. In the coming years I would love to see the centralization and branding of U of A entrepreneurship on campus. Achieving a singular entrepreneurship program and brand similar to DMZ is my primary goal.

What does the word “innovation” mean to you?

Innovation is recognizing a problem that pains you, an area of your life or life adjacent. This problem strikes an entrepreneur or innovator enough that they start thinking of what a potential solution could look like and testing that solution. Starting to solve that problem is the act of innovation, and anyone can do it, in any context.

What’s been your biggest a-ha moment — in life or work — so far?

Regardless of the job, thinking of big audacious ways to solve problems has always piqued my curiosity and moved me to action regardless of the context. Entrepreneurship allows me to work on a particular problem or set of problems unencumbered from someone else's goals or expectations.

How do you come up with your best ideas? What do you do to create space for innovation?

Distraction through relaxation or context shifting is normally the best. My take is that trying to solve issues in a “brainstorming” session applies pressure that doesn’t result in optimal solutions. Instead, chewing on an idea over a few days tends to provide me with open moments for creativity. I make sure that my schedule is clear and then find an activity like walking, a long bike ride or reading a favourite book. These low pressure settings, along with zero deadlines provides a moment of clarity and opportunity for creativity.

What’s your favourite thing about working at the U of A?

The U of A has been my home the last six years as a student and then contractor. It provides a community and connection to Edmonton that I have yet to see in any other context. It holds a special place for me as it welcomed me to a life of entrepreneurship. The U of A was my gateway to Alberta and remains so.

Do you have a role model at the U of A? How have they influenced you

Tony Briggs, an executive professor in the Department of Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Management in the Alberta School of Business, and I have worked alongside one another for a number of years. His initiatives at the university are always for the betterment of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and I hope that he continues to build upon his wins.

What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I’m consistently interested in the world of entrepreneurship, so it is inevitable that there will be new projects on the horizon. However, for now I am interested in continuing to build entrepreneurial programming at the U of A and building out a successful foundation for JustCook.

How does your work help you lead with purpose with your research, your colleagues, in your community and/or in your home life?

I’ve been through the entrepreneurial journey for about six years where building beneficial companies, that create notable change in a particular industry, has been my mission from day one. In this respect I believe that I’ve been able to achieve the goals that I set for myself professionally and alongside my founder colleagues.

In my community I am very encouraged with the entrepreneurs I see coming out of the U of A and I do hope that I can continue making a positive impact on new entrepreneurs. The work that I see being done creates enormous purpose for me because I understand that the minds coming up through the ecosystem are supercharged with curiosity and will continue to mold the ecosystem.

In my personal life I tend to take innovation into every element of my life including the friends and partner I surround myself with. I ask questions about everything and attempt to test the status quo (even when that can be a slightly overwhelming character trait to have in my home life). This is why it is incredibly important to select your partner carefully. I happen to have a very supportive and loving wife who understands what it takes to be an entrepreneur and I am thankful everyday for her.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Innovator Spotlight is a series that introduces you to a faculty or staff member whose big ideas are making a big difference.

Do you know someone who’s breaking boundaries at the U of A? (Maybe it’s you!) We’re interested in hearing from people who are creating new solutions to make our world better. We want to feature people working across all disciplines, whether they’re championing bold ways of thinking, driving discovery or translating insights from the lab into the market

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About Luke

Luke is an innovator with experience in automated supply chains, autonomous vehicles, virtual health care and food tech innovation. As an Executive MBA graduate from the University of Alberta, serial entrepreneur of three companies and NEXT36 alumni there is nothing he enjoys more than building new ventures. This past year he co-founded JustCook Kitchens with Jennifer Keith to build food halls and turnkey commercial kitchens for restaurateurs. Luke is the designated Executive in Residence at the U of A and works closely alongside the ERIN to help Edmonton companies.