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Inclusive Innovation in an Evolving City: Edmonton as Idea Powerhouse

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Edmonton has never been underestimated, but its new era of inclusive innovation is accelerating the city beyond even the most optimistic projections.


Innovate Edmonton is positioning Edmonton as an inclusive global innovation capital. Born from a visionary city council in 2020, the publicly-funded organization responsible for municipal innovation, led by CEO Catherine Warren, is uniting and promoting homegrown innovation as a gateway to solving the world’s most pressing problems, and it’s just getting started.

The City of Edmonton, long known as “ the Gateway to the North,” is today also the Gateway to the Future. Historically, Edmontonians have found motivation and opportunity in challenges that others find daunting, hardened perhaps by the long, bitter winters and driven to self-sufficiency by once-remote geography. Now, when global challenges like climate change, the digital divide, food security, public health, and social justice all require novel solutions, Edmonton is stepping up and saying: “Let’s get to work and deliver.”

The spirit of ingenuity can be felt in the air and seen in the streets. Edmonton was recently recognized as North America’s fastest-growing tech sector, and the downtown core is home to multinational headquarters and burgeoning startups in industries ranging from machine learning to public health, and from gaming to clean energy. At the corner of 101 Street and Jasper Avenue, Innovate Edmonton is opening a new 20,000-square-foot innovation centre, collaboration space, and gallery to encourage and accelerate the growth of even more homegrown enterprises. Edmonton’s world-class science attraction, Telus World of Science, is in the midst of a massive $40 million expansion, reflecting an insatiable hunger for learning, innovation, and exploration in the community at large.

Edmonton: A powerhouse of talent and diversification

Over the last three-quarters of a century, Edmonton has grown into an economic powerhouse on the back of the energy and natural resource sector. More recently, the Albertan instinct for resilience and adaptability has driven the city to aggressively diversify and future-proof its economic capabilities. Over the last five years, the local tech skills labour force has grown by more than 50 percent, while the costs of setting up shop in Edmonton remain low. With fully modernized-and-then-some communications and transportation infrastructure, the once-remote city is now a major hub. All of this provides considerable motivation for young companies to actively choose Edmonton as a home base, amplifying the diverse community of startups and scaleups that already call Edmonton home.

The land we now know as Edmonton has been the home of Indigenous innovation since time immemorial, and today First Nations, Métis, and Inuit thought leaders are continuing to ideate and spark a resurgence of ancestral knowledge. Edmonton recognizes the absolute imperative of elevating these insights in pursuit of collaborative answers to broad-spectrum challenges like public health, Reconciliation, and the climate emergency.

We continue to build our city as an inclusive global innovation capital, delivering solutions to today’s thorniest challenges, such as the climate emergency, public health, food security, digital inclusion, social justice, and Reconciliation.

Catherine Warren, Innovate Edmonton CEO

Charting the path forward with Innovate Edmonton

As the public face of the city’s economic innovation initiatives, Innovate Edmonton fosters, formalizes, and reinforces the values and qualities that make Alberta’s capital city a natural global trailblazer. Operating on five pillars, Innovate Edmonton builds on Edmonton’s potential through: positioning, programming, placemaking, pathfinding, and partnerships.

The work of positioning and pathfinding is, at its heart, one of storytelling and mapmaking. The organization spreads global awareness of Edmonton’s incredible narrative arc and the part that new innovators can play in writing the next page of the story, while also filling the vital role of navigator for enterprises and entrepreneurs new to the local business and regulatory landscape.

As programmers and placemakers, Innovate Edmonton offers invaluable coaching, curriculum, and mentorship for innovators at every stage of growth, while also providing the space, conditions, and context needed for businesses to help themselves and others. The organization’s future home will contribute to downtown vibrancy, and a sense of innovation and pride for residents, while expanding opportunities for global events, collaborations, and community re-invention.

None of this would be possible without engagement from business, academia, and the community at large. And so, the fifth P, partnerships, is the one that both underpins and overarches the whole endeavour. With a network of contributors across government agencies, cultural and educational institutions, investors, and private companies of all sizes, Innovate Edmonton unites an innovation ecosystem where individual players are committed to ensuring the health and success of the broader enterprise.

Finding new ways to find new ways

Among the city’s vibrant community of startups, scaleups, prospective founders, and established multinationals, there’s a passion for disruption and an appreciation that the notion of innovation needs innovating. Edmontonians have an insatiable appetite for new ways of thinking and new approaches to the application of old wisdom. This has led to remarkable interdisciplinary collaborations and a fertile environment for transformative business models pioneered by Albertans of all ages, genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Every voice adds a new texture to the chorus of economic reinvention.

True evolution has no endpoint

This is a time of peak transformation for Edmonton, at the very moment when the world needs more Edmonton. The city’s bench strength in innovations that tackle the world’s thorniest problems, and Edmonton’s underpinnings in artificial intelligence, machine learning, life sciences, and sustainability, are just what international markets demand and exactly where enlightened investors want to deploy capital.

Edmonton is reaching out its hand to all with the ambition and courage to take it. “Come aboard,” the community is saying. “Together, we will make an impact.”


Edmonton’s innovation ecosystem bodes the following highlights, as mentioned in the 2022 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER) by Startup Genome:

236%

Ecosystem value increased by 236% since 2020: currently $641 million, up from $191 million in the 2020 report and $435 million in the 2021 report.

Median seed round increased 47%: from $400K in the 2021 report to a current $588K

#4

#4 North American ecosystem in affordable talent, measured by the ability to hire tech talent.

Artificial intelligence, machine learning , big data and analytics, and life sciences sectors are highlighted for their density of talent, support resources and startup activity.

TOP 25

Top 25 North American emerging ecosystem in funding, measured by innovation through early-stage
funding and investor activity

Skilled talent and affordability are cited as reasons a startup should move to Edmonton

+50%

Early-stage funding increased+ 50%: from $89 million in the 2021 report to a current $134 million

Fastest growing tech ecosystem in
North America (source: CBRE)

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