January 27, 2021

Alberta Innovates is turning 100

Illustration by Scott Carmichael

We celebrate our legacy with an eye to the future

Over the past 100 years, Alberta Innovates and its predecessor organizations have played an essential role in developing new technologies, growing Alberta’s economy, and spearheading advances in energy, agriculture, forestry, medicine, computing and other areas.

In many ways, the organization’s role has remained the same through the past century – as a catalyst and enabler to accelerate research and innovation for the benefit of Albertans.

Our Subsidiaries: InnoTech Alberta

InnoTech Alberta is one of two subsidiaries of Alberta Innovates. The highly skilled personnel at InnoTech provide applied research services to clients in diverse sectors, using advanced technology. InnoTech also develops the province’s innovation ecosystem by supporting innovative activity and commercializing new discoveries. It provides access to expensive facilities, equipment and other resources that might be otherwise out of reach for a company trying to prove a big idea. InnoTech gives these innovative companies, small and large, the specialized help they need to test and scale their technology.

Today, Alberta Innovates is focused on the next 100 years. Through its funding, services and other supports, Alberta Innovates has set its sights on fostering the growth and adoption of new and emerging technologies across our province’s traditional sectors and on creating new digital-based industries. It aims to help diversify the provincial economy, expand the knowledge workforce, improve health and well-being, and bring new prosperity by finding new ways of doing things.

The next transformation

When Alberta Innovates’ predecessor organization was established by the provincial government in 1921, one of its first orders of business was to investigate uses for bitumen. Over the decades it partnered with industry to bring about innovations that transformed the province’s economy. But while the researchers of the past saw bitumen as a road-building material and fuel, the focus now is on turning it into high-value advanced materials that could once again revolutionize the resource industry.

“Instead of burning the bitumen, we can take from the bitumen things like carbon fibres, asphaltenes, and precious metals for use in batteries,” says CEO Laura Kilcrease. “Actually, we can use our bitumen for a purpose that makes more money per barrel of oil than we make now, without burning it.”

Alberta Innovates is supporting other applied research to protect the environment and shepherd Alberta into a lower-carbon future. We are gearing up to reshape our province into a leader in clean technologies like renewables and alternative energy, and carbon capture, utilization and storage.

While the organization’s agricultural research also continues, today it involves things like the development and adoption of cutting-edge farming tech that includes smart soil sensors and autonomous harvesting vehicles.

Laying cornerstone for artificial intelligence

Alberta Innovates’ longstanding support for artificial intelligence has laid a cornerstone for the province’s future. In 2002, it took a big gamble on a little-understood field, laying the foundation for what would become the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). That initial investment helped draw some of the brightest minds in the field to Alberta. They were given the funding and the freedom to pursue their ideas. And it’s now becoming clear just how prescient that investment turned out to be, as the province is now positioned as a global leader in the field.

For a closer look at how artificial intelligence is changing Alberta, check out this conversation between AltaML co-CEO Nicole Janssen and Alberta Innovates Technology Development Advisor, Rick Davidson.

“I don’t think I can stress this enough. We have a Top 3 institution in arguably the most important technology in the world right now,” Cam Linke, CEO of Amii, told Alberta Innovates’ Shift podcast.

Today’s Alberta Innovates also extends the impact of previous investments by the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research (AHFMR), which was established by the former government of Peter Lougheed in the 1970s using money from the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund.  AHFMR put Alberta on the map as an international centre of excellence for medical research.

Alberta Innovates continues to: support advancements in health research; seek better patient care and outcomes; and improve the health-care system to bring down costs. Alberta Innovates supports and fosters a vibrant digital health sector, with the goal of improving the health and well-being of Albertans while boosting economic prosperity.

Alberta Innovates is achieving this goal by harnessing the power of big data, artificial intelligence and other digital technologies through its support programs for researchers and health innovators.

Supporting our clients through their innovation journey

Since its inception a hundred years ago, much of Alberta’s Innovates’ success has come from its close relationships with academic institutions, industry groups and private enterprises.

Now more than ever, it provides resources and expertise that can be a vital haven for entrepreneurs and innovators to grow until they are able to stand on their own. Alberta Innovates helps its innovator clients complete the often-fraught journey from big idea in the lab or boardroom through development, scale up and into use.

Our Subsidiaries: C-FER

Since 1984, C-FER Technologies has aimed to provide applied engineering assistance to private players in Alberta’s energy industry, and in construction, aerospace and manufacturing. Its wide-ranging engineering services are designed to help growing companies find practical solutions to key challenges. The organization also runs several testing facilities to foster private research and development.

As well, C-FER works closely with its industry partners to develop new methods and standards to increase safety and environmental protection within the industry.

These supports take the form of everything from direct funding to business development coaching and providing access to specialized facilities and resources. New ideas and new industries are inherently risky. By providing support, Alberta Innovates becomes an attractive place for tech startups and other businesses wanting to test their ideas.

“As much as we can de-risk business, that’s what we have to do,” Kilcrease says. “When it’s pure hypothetical research, there can be a lot of risk as that technology matures, then every stage we have to look at what we have to do to de-risk the chances of success.”

In addition, through its many partnerships, its support for numerous collaborations and regional innovation networks, and through its Inventures Unbound events, Alberta Innovates acts as a hub and a bridge that connects academics, researchers, entrepreneurs, businesses, industry, regions and government to all work collaboratively towards a brighter future for all.

Opening new avenues for further impact

The advent of 2021, Alberta Innovates’ centennial year, offers a moment to reflect on the profound impact this publicly funded organization has had on the province’s past. But more importantly, to consider its place in Alberta’s future, continuing to attract new ideas and innovators to the province while opening new avenues for its economy and people.

“We’ve been innovating in the province for 100 years. And yet, we feel as if we’ve just started. Alberta Innovates is looking where we need to go in 100 years,” Kilcrease says. “Where we need to go as a province … Alberta Innovates means, to me, the future.”

 

Some of our impacts

  • We’re currently invested in about 850 projects.
  • Our clients reported more than 1,100 innovations last year.
  • Small and medium enterprises we supported created nearly 2,400 jobs, post-funding.
  • We generated more than $57 million in external revenue last year.

Check out our latest Annual Report and Business Plan for more information about Alberta Innovates.