Alberta Innovates program accelerates innovation

Jul 31, 2018

Alberta Innovates brings people and organizations together to solve problems. One of the ways we do this is through the Campus Alberta Small Business Engagement (CASBE) Program, a pilot funding program we launched in 2016 in partnership with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

The goal is to incentivize academics and small Alberta businesses to collaborate. By helping small- to medium-sized enterprise (SME) to close knowledge gaps identified during their technology development, we help them to reduce the time from idea to innovation.

Simply put, CASBE works like this: an SME identifies a technology problem they’re having and presents it to academic researchers to see if there’s a potential solution. Once identified, the two collaborators create a research plan the researcher then submits for consideration. If successful, NSERC provides $25k through its Engage Grants and Alberta Innovates matches with another 25K.

“It can be a lot like a speed dating program, to start creating successful long-term academic-SME collaborative partnerships in Alberta,” said Marlene Huerta, Alberta Innovates program manager for CASBE. “The program is an open call that encourages academics and their students to use their world-class knowledge to help SMEs in the province solve a problem. Since inception, we’ve approved 32 projects through the prgram.”

Case study

In this CASBE project, the industry partner is an Alberta SME developing vertical farm-based production towers that use aquaponics effluent as a source of nutrients.

The problem

The company was looking to solve the problem of organic debris accumulating in the root pockets of the tower, which plugs the buckets and hinders drainage. This can lead to oxygen deprivation of the plant roots causing the aquaponics system to fail.

The solution

Lethbridge College offered to use its uniquely designed microfiltration process using biochar’s micro- and nanopore network that could efficiently trap the organic debris. The developed technology would also minimize the need for nutritional supplements to the systems and would create a niche value added product – nutrient rich and biologically active biochar, which has the potential to improve profit margins of the industrial partner.

“The company was looking for a solution to their problem,” said Huerta. “The College presented a viable solution, which they were then able to work together to fully actualize. We’re proud to collaborate on projects that accelerate innovation in Alberta.”

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Photographed above from left to right: Daniel Ronald, company CEO; Nick Savidov, Lethbridge College researcher; Jagvir Singh, Lethbridge College Applied Science Director; and Marlene Huerta, Alberta Innovates CASBE Program Manager