The pandemic has brought a whole new meaning to words like lockdown and circuit-breaker in public health, and pivot in the world of business. Like other organizations Alberta Innovates has done its share of pivoting in the way it operates, and more recently, in the way it supports Alberta entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In October and November, we launched two programs to bring COVID-19 relief and recovery to SMEs, and two entrepreneurial programs with a new business focus.
Getting through the downturn
The federal government has provided $1.3 million from the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund through Western Economic Diversification Canada for two new Alberta Innovates programs. The Alberta Innovation Network GrowthX Program and the Innovation Relief and Recovery program are designed to deliver practical and timely supports to tech-focused Alberta SMEs, to help them adapt and thrive in the current business environment affected by COVID. The first program helps tech startups scale their businesses, and the second offers technical and business supports not covered through other relief programs.
Read more about our activities and support related to Covid-19 relief and recovery for Alberta SMEs.
Onward and upward
Alberta Innovates has designed its two other new entrepreneurial programs with a new business strategy in mind, says Terry Rachwalski, Executive Director of AI’s Entrepreneurial Investments business area.
The existing Entrepreneurial Investments suite of programs have demonstrated success in helping many Alberta startups, notes Rachwalski. “And like every successful program, we must continually evaluate and improve,” she adds. So, we decided to enhance, pilot and pivot with some new offerings.”
That’s the idea behind the Alberta Digital Traction program, being piloted until the end of March 2021, targeted at software development companies. The application process is easier, companies don’t need to provide a business plan, and Alberta Innovates invests smaller dollars faster, Rachwalski explains.
Moreover, the Digital Traction program is based on a different strategy – instead of releasing funds to companies as they reach technology milestones, Alberta Innovates is now looking at the business milestones they achieve. “We’re tying the funding to customer discovery, product validation, finding product/market fit which will result in revenues, jobs and exports,” Rachwalski says. “Our goal is to create great companies for investment attraction.”
The Digital Traction program also gets companies to pause and pivot faster if things aren’t going as well as they hoped, she says.
Alberta Innovates partnered with ScaleUp Edge, a Silicon Valley company, to deliver the second entrepreneurial program, called the Product ScaleUp Pilot Program, to qualifying SMEs. Alberta Innovates will pay up to $100,000 for scale-up stage companies to hire and train a product manager.
These two pilots stopped accepted applications in mid-November. They are highly competitive, with only 10 companies accepted to each.
Ryan Tucker, CEO of Edmonton-based G2V Optics Inc., has been enthusiastic, saying the new supports are filling a business need in the technology space. “I’m really excited about the new programs out of Alberta Innovates,” Tucker says. “The Digital Traction program supports $50,000 for product market fit, and it’s nearly impossible to find any kind of grant for that activity. “We know that the technology itself is only a small component of overall business success. But it’s so hard to get support for product market fit for new businesses and product lines.”
Alberta Innovates will evaluate the two new programs after March 2021 to determine whether they met their objectives.
The entrepreneurial ecosystem
Growing Alberta’s economy – from post-secondary to private sector
Alberta Innovates supports the entrepreneurial ecosystem and our clients’ innovation journey from mind to market. It all starts with an idea or a problem, and then with patience, support and some capital, it begins to flourish and grow.
Our Post-Secondary Investments programs invest in Alberta’s post-secondary institutions to strategically develop capacity in people, key infrastructure, collaborations and projects necessary to create innovative solutions within emerging technology areas of Alberta’s knowledge-based economy. We help build an entrepreneurial mindset amongst Alberta’s post-secondary and researcher population.
Our Entrepreneurial Investments programs help high-growth, high-potential small and medium enterprises (SMEs) reduce the time it takes to commercialize their new technology and knowledge-based products, and to scale their business. Here, we help entrepreneurs through the critical stages of committing, validating and scaling.
These two program areas complement each other. Budding entrepreneurs coming out of Alberta’s post-secondaries, who received support from Alberta Innovates as students, can apply for new supports from Entrepreneurial Investments. There is a hand off from one business line to the other, and that can happen almost seamlessly.