When Laura Kilcrease invites you to dinner, be prepared. The CEO of Alberta Innovates is likely planning to do much more than feed you; she wants to involve you in something big.

Case in point: a dinner organized by Kilcrease at the Inventures conference in June 2018 sparked an Alberta-wide cross-sector effort that - just eight months later - led to a $100 million commitment to artificial intelligence (AI) commercialization by the provincial government.

"Alberta is recognized as one of top three centres in the world in AI, machine learning and reinforced learning thanks to investments already made in research and discovery, advanced education, and research translation," says Kilcrease.

"However there's still a gap on the business side. This new $100 million commitment leverages previous investments to accelerate the positive impact of these new technologies on the Alberta economy."

But the path to the increased commercialization of AI wasn't always clear, as Alberta entrepreneur Cory Janssen knows very well. For the past year, Janssen, along with fellow entrepreneurs in Edmonton, had been working on an initiative to draw attention to the business potential of Alberta's wealth of talent in AI. When he received the invitation to the private dinner, he saw the opportunity to take small-scale efforts like his to the next level.

"The dinner hosted by Laura highlights the important role of Alberta Innovates as a catalyst to fill gaps in the marketplace," says Janssen. "Politicians, academics and business people sat around the table and we had a wide-ranging discussion about what was needed to create value and lasting wealth from Alberta's fantastic resource in AI and machine learning. This simply would not have happened without Alberta Innovates taking the lead and having the Inventures conference as the perfect venue."

Minister of Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous, who also attended the dinner, was similarly impressed. In fact, he set a challenge to his dinner companions: if they could work together and develop a plan that everyone agreed on, he would take it forward and seek funding from the government.

The next several months were a frenzy of activity as different groups worked on various aspects of the plan. Alberta Innovates drew them back together and then worked with the Ministry to develop the final proposal. The $100 million investment was announced on February 13, 2019.

This is a profound example of what can be achieved when people, who normally would not connect with each other, come together around a subject as critical to our province as AI," says Kilcrease. "It speaks to the whole purpose of Inventures.

And she's far from finished. Two other dinners Kilcrease hosted at Inventures 2018 have also catalyzed new collaborative initiatives with significant results in the key areas of women in innovation and Calgary/Edmonton collaboration. And she is hosting more carefully curated dinners at Inventures 2019. Stay tuned...