A new direction for innovation at the U of A

With a clear vision and new initiatives, the university is poised for collaboration with Edmonton's innovation community.


Innovation and collaboration are key to the University of Alberta's mission to lead with purpose and serve as an international steward of research and teaching. In service of that mission, in July 2022 Riya Ganguly joined the U of A as the institution's first Associate Vice-President, Enterprise. The new role marks an exciting shift in how the U of A approaches innovation initiatives within the Edmonton and global communities. With more announcements to come in the upcoming academic year, The Quad spoke with Riya about how she is helping to set a new direction for innovation opportunities with the U of A. The U of A is open for business, and more ready than ever to collaborate with industry on projects that will benefit our communities.

A new Strategic Partnerships Office

As part of the new AVP Enterprise role, Riya will be leading a new Strategic Partnerships Office.

"The idea is to create relationships with partners looking to connect into the university. This is a position that is really focused on the external community, connecting with corporate and community partners interested in understanding what's possible and available through a relationship with the university. Eventually, our team will have ‘sector specific experts'’ who will be aligned with the Colleges. These individuals will understand what the opportunities are for each of the Colleges–including research, facilities and talent–and then articulate these opportunities to the external community to build partnerships."

Repositioning the university within external communities

Having worked within post-secondary institutions for most of her professional career, Riya understands the challenge of showcasing everything that a university has to offer its broader community. "A lot of partners are very focused on the talent that's being created at the university, and that's so wonderful because we have such incredible students. But we also have access to research experts–we have opportunities for commercialization, we have startups coming out of the university, and we have advanced facilities. All of these other things don't often come to mind to people who are looking to connect with the university, and part of my role and the Strategic Partnerships Office is to articulate that opportunity. We want to be asking our partners–'what else can we support you with?' In the short term, my goal is to provide really great connections between partners that are interested in working with the university, and members of the university community that want to explore additional projects. I hear all the time from external community members about how they love the university and being on our campuses. The university has such great energy and everybody wants to be part of it, but it can be hard to know how to connect to the university and the opportunities that are available. My role can start to think about questions people have in a bigger way and even provide support to the Edmonton region as a whole."

Contributing to the innovation ecosystem

With a PhD in Physiology & Pathophysiology, Riya recalls how, as a student, she did not always consider the real world applications of her work. As AVP Enterprise, Riya wants to ensure those connections between in-progress research and real-world challenges are made, and that the U of A is playing a lead role in the innovation ecosystem. "There are opportunities to revamp and rethink the U of A's role in the broader innovation ecosystem. Because the U of A is such a large and talented community, it's really easy to get everything we need internally. But if we could align ourselves with those outside the university and participate more extensively in things like economic development, innovation and opportunities to solve real world problems. Key to this will be getting our students access to these opportunities so even more jobs and experiences are available to them." 

Starting the search for AVP Innovation, Knowledge Mobilization and Partnerships

This fall, the U of A will begin its search for an AVP Innovation, Knowledge Mobilization and Partnerships in the Vice-President (Research and Innovation) Portfolio. This AVP will work closely with AVP Enterprise on efforts relating to innovation, partnerships and entrepreneurship. While the U of A has undertaken significant innovation and commercialization efforts in the past, the combination of these two roles will strengthen the institution’s capacity to take on new initiatives. "A lot of companies want to understand the greatest technologies that are coming out of the university, and who the entrepreneurs are. The AVP Innovation, Knowledge Mobilization and Partnerships will help those individuals connect with corporate partners to find funding and technologies. They will also be working with Technology Transfer Services, which is consistently thinking about early stage intellectual property emerging from research, and how that intellectual property can be connected to the external environment. I will be collaborating closely with this AVP to work with corporations to really support increased opportunities for research and commercialization.” 

Working with a multi-disciplinary focus

While AVP Enterprise is housed under the Office of the President and will be leading this work, innovation is fundamental to so much of what is happening across the U of A. "We will be working with colleges, faculties and units to find out about and support initiatives however we can, and identify opportunities for cross-collaboration. This will also help us provide opportunities to outside partners who are interested in what the U of A can offer them because they're not always aware of everything that's available. As this office and role evolves, we will remain focused on connecting the U of A community to a variety of opportunities.”