Think of any global challenge. Climate change. Public health. Food security. Social justice. Today, it’s virtually guaranteed that you’ll find a startup with a novel solution taking root in Edmonton’s fertile business soil. From sprouts to saplings to grand oaks, here are four new growth innovators spreading their branches for global reach.
New businesses are thriving in Edmonton as a confluence of cultural and economic factors come together to make this cosmopolitan Canadian city a destination for innovation and growth. The breadth of ideas from which these businesses take root is astounding. Ambitious and purposeful founders are making Edmonton their headquarters as they disrupt and drive change in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, public health, transport logistics, climate change, and social justice.
True Angle: Bringing Health from the Lab to the Individual
Dr. Jana Rieger
Co-Founder & CEO, True Angle
As a clinician researcher in rehabilitation science and also as a lifelong restaurant aficionado, Dr. Jana Rieger had a vision of bringing easy enjoyment of food to those with health issues that got in the way. And so, she created the Mobili-T®, a wearable piece of biofeedback technology to assist patients with swallowing disorders. But to get this into the hands of those who needed it, and to thus truly make a difference, Dr. Rieger realized that she needed to be an entrepreneur as well as a scientist.
“There’s this valley of death people that talk about between academia and commercialization,” says Dr. Rieger. “We developed this beautiful thing in the lab that wouldn’t get into the hands of patients. Starting True Angle took a leap of faith.”
Today, True Angle, with the support of organizations like Innovate Edmonton, is growing and expanding its reach, helping patients across Canada and in 24 U.S. states. “We hear stories like a customer in New Jersey, who’s gone from taking five hours to drink a cup of coffee to 15 minutes, or somebody who couldn’t eat anything by mouth, and now went out and had a Sonic burger,” says Dr. Rieger. “Those are amazing stories that are so exciting for us.”
Fly and Fetch: Human Connections Bring the World Within Reach
CEO & Co-Founder, Fly and Fetch
COO & Co-Founder, Fly and Fetch
The fundamental idea behind Fly and Fetch is that, with tens of millions of people flying on airlines every day to destinations all over the globe, there’s no cause for international shipping of small packages to be expensive or delayed. By connecting shippers directly with airline passengers, it has created a distributed network of personal carriers that can shuttle packages from anywhere to anywhere quickly, easily, and affordably.
“Being immigrants, we already did this,” says CEO Shelvie Fernan of herself and co-founder Victoria Celi. “International shipping is so expensive that we would ask someone to bring the packages for us rather than going with a traditional courier company. We were like, wait a second, that’s a startup idea.”
Taking that initial idea and developing it into a robust solution that addresses all the finer points and concerns has been a journey. But it’s one that Fernan and Celi have leaned into, viewing every obstacle that arises in the growth of Fly and Fetch as an opportunity to explore and innovate. “We’ve learned so much,” says Fernan. “With a startup, it’s essential to always be learning.”
Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation: Building a Vibrant Life Sciences Ecosystem
Edmonton has long been a hub for pharmaceutical and life sciences research and development. In this difficult space, new innovators like Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) are finding that there’s still room to make waves.
“API was founded and launched five years ago as a spin-off from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to transform the ecosystem and fill the gaps in translational science and the commercialization of research,” says CEO Andrew MacIsaac. “The Edmonton region has all the right pieces in place to fill a huge manufacturing gap in Canada’s pharmaceutical supply chain.”
With initiatives that include a multi-year fellowship program at the University of Alberta, which serves as a talent incubator in pharmacometrics, API has built its entire modus operandi around continual collaboration. And Edmonton’s rich research and business community has proven exactly the right venue. “By pulling together teams from academia and industry, we bridge the skill gap and provide innovators with access to translational research capabilities, infrastructure, and expertise,” says MacIsaac. “Collaborations like these promote a healthy ecosystem, address the need for drugs and therapeutic treatments faster, and drive innovation in ways that can lead to economic growth, job creation, and talent development.”
Octo-M: We All Share One World, Let’s Keep it Clean
Eyup Demir, E.I.T.
Irina Garces, Ph.D., E.I.T
Also at the University of Alberta, Faculty of Engineering Postdoctoral Fellow Irina Garces has teamed up with PhD Candidate Eyup Demir to tackle the global microplastics crisis. Their company, Octo-M Technologies, is developing a three-part product capable of collecting water, analyzing it for microplastics, and separating those microplastics from organic material.
“Some people may not know that only a very tiny portion of plastics are recycled each year, and even when they are, they can only be recycled a finite number of times,” says Garces. “This means that plastic eventually ends up being waste that breaks down into tiny pieces called microplastics, and it’s everywhere! Researchers have found that humans consume the size of one credit card of plastic per week on average.”
Octo-M is addressing a problem with broad global implications, but it’s doing so from a very specific local base. And there’s a reason that it has chosen Edmonton for its headquarters. “This city has a great support system at all levels,” says Garces. “It’s a great time to be in Alberta right now. Our province has really committed to innovation. With the new accelerators and everything, you can see that many opportunities are coming our way.”
Edmonton’s innovators are committed to impact. By tackling global challenges, they’re also opening the doors to international market demand and enlightened investment. Edmonton is poised as an inclusive global innovation capital, and organizations like Innovate Edmonton and its partners are cultivating local leadership and positioning the city on the world stage.