Each year Alberta Innovates receives hundreds of applications from businesses pitching their technology ideas for funding. Making the right investment decision on each application is crucial. At stake are millions in taxpayer dollars, not to mention the government funding agency's reputation as the province's largest research and innovation investor (Alberta Innovates typically invests more than $150 million annually in different research, innovation and commercialization initiatives).

Working behind the scenes to help Alberta Innovates make the right decisions on each application is a dedicated Investment Services team.

"When a company puts in an application to Alberta Innovates, we're a critical group that reviews applications and makes sure we do due diligence around potential investments," says Deryl Williams, the team's director. "As an agency, our fiduciary responsibility to Albertans is to manage their money for investment purposes, following industry standard rigour and best practices. That's something we take very seriously."

Williams says in 2021 the Investment Services team reviewed more than 500 funding applications for a wide variety of projects in energy, environment, health, agriculture and other sectors.

In each case, Williams and his three senior investment business partners - Helette Conradie, Luigi Simpatico and Torunn Landsgaard - undertake a detailed inquiry that helps determine whether or not the applicant's proposal secures funding.

First, they examine the company's technology. Using market intelligence and technology reports, they evaluate its potential: Will the technology add value to Alberta? How well is it backed by research? What is the state of the market?

At the same time, they look closely at the company's business fundamentals.

"We want to understand what makes a business compelling. That might be the company's product offering, the quality of its leadership team, its strategic positioning, but it also includes assessing financial viability and the strength of insulating factors like intellectual property (IP) protections. We also look at the competitive environment in which a company operates as well as the market opportunity," Conradie explains.

Importantly, they'll assess the application against Alberta Innovates' strategic objectives, including the investment's ability to generate jobs and economic growth in the province.

"We'll check that a potential investment aligns with Alberta Innovates' protocols so Albertans can see their taxpayer dollars making a difference," Landsgaard says.

Finally, they search for any "anomalies" or red flags: Do all the facts in the application line up? Is the company what it says it is? Does the company have a physical presence in Alberta? If things don't seem right, the team will dig deeper. That could involve following up to ask applicants for more information or investigating further. While most applications check out, the team sometimes uncovers falsified information or fraudulent activity.

"Detective work is a big part of our undertaking. We want to make sure there is nothing in the application that could hurt Alberta Innovates' reputation, or compromise effective stewardship of taxpayer dollars," Simpatico says.

Once their investigation is complete, they send the application along with their recommendations to senior management, who will make the final decision on investment.

It's a rigorous process - one to which the group brings considerable business experience.

Williams, who is a former oilpatch CEO and previously was a manager in Alberta Innovates' global partnerships group, has decades of experience in national and international business development. Simpatico is a senior investment analyst with a background in technology commercialization; Conradie holds an MBA from Ivey Business School and has been a strategic analyst for major corporations such as Enbridge and SNC-Lavalin; while Landsgaard has worked as a strategy consultant in digital innovation and a senior research analyst for a number of European market intelligence firms.

In addition to these credentials, each group member shares an innate curiosity about new technologies.

That's fitting, given the constantly changing makeup of files that cross their desks. On any day, for example, that might include a business proposal for a new drone technology, or innovative digital software for the resources sector, or a potentially breakthrough technique to detect cancer. To keep up with this subject matter, group members study research literature, meet daily to share review findings or consult with experts inside and outside Alberta Innovates.

"It's like going to school. We're constantly learning about different sectors and technologies," Landsgaard says.

It's the kind of work, the group says, that is deeply satisfying not only because of the constant learning and the exposure to new technologies but because of the opportunity to make a difference in Alberta.

"In our jobs, we get to see the real impact that Alberta Innovates is making as an innovation partner in this province. We have tremendous respect for entrepreneurs, and there's nothing better than seeing the companies we've funded go on to excel and expand," Conradie says.