SPARK 2017: Q&A with Steve MacDonald, CEO Of Emissions Reduction Alberta

Sep 12, 2017

Alberta Innovates and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) are hosting SPARK 2017 from November 6-8 to support game-changing solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance the bioindustrial sector. We sat down with Steve MacDonald, CEO of ERA, to find out more about the upcoming event.

Why SPARK? Why now?
Alberta has set very clear goals to reduce carbon emissions. SPARK is a chance to connect the researchers, entrepreneurs and investors who want to develop and de-risk solutions for our lower carbon future. I want to point out, SPARK is more than just a networking opportunity. It’s a showcase for what’s working—and a place to have conversations about what we can do better. It’s also a venue for customers to learn about new technologies and ideas. We believe new connections made at SPARK will lead to unique approaches to accelerate the development of new products and technologies and take them closer to commercialization.

What is it all about?
We need complete solutions to address emissions challenges, create new jobs and drive economic growth in Alberta. Through SPARK, we are tapping into the collective wisdom of our innovation ecosystem to come up with answers to challenges we are facing each day. We know that technology providers are making progress toward Alberta’s climate leadership goals, but how can we continue to advance the transition to the lower carbon future we need? SPARK will offer thought leadership through inspirational speakers, technology showcases, networking opportunities, and will include the launch of the 2018 Cleantech Directions research report.

Who should attend?
Anyone who wants to learn how innovation can be a catalyst for clean technology scale-up and emissions reduction. Anyone who wants to be inspired by fresh thinking. Anyone who wants to hear different perspectives that can spark the movement we are creating to de-risk new technologies in Alberta, create more jobs and adapt policies and regulations that can help us achieve our goals. I’m thinking of entrepreneurs, researchers, investors, academics, non-government organizations, businesses leaders — big and small, industry associations, regulatory and funding agencies and advisory groups. Also, elected and senior government officials will find value in this conference.

What about the program? Why are these speakers timely and relevant in today’s clean tech market?
We are bringing in a range of experts to share their views, perspectives and learnings. These are visionaries who have dedicated their careers to advancing clean technology in Alberta and around the world, including Thomas Homer Dixon, best-selling author of The Ingenuity Gap. These leaders have a solid understanding of how the innovation community can address market needs and the clean tech challenges confronting our biggest industry sectors. It’s also an opportunity to connect these big ideas with the resources they need to get off the ground.

Do you think Clean Tech is really an important market in Alberta?
Clean Tech is an enabler. Developing clean technology is about continuous improvement—from an economic and environmental perspective. In Alberta, we’ve been advancing clean technologies for a long time and we will continue to do so.

How do we commercialize Clean Tech successfully in Alberta? There are so many start-up failures in this arena.
It’s about providing complete solutions. It’s not just about technology readiness. We need commercialization readiness. This will require that we work harder to create a more integrated innovation ecosystem with shared ownership—more than seamless hand-offs between partners in the ecosystem. This requires the policy, regulation and business solutions that will support the scaling-up of technology.

Will SPARK really move the needle in Alberta in terms of Clean Tech development?
I think any time you bring motivated and thoughtful people together, great things can happen. Connecting the top minds in the innovation space, through SPARK, will create opportunities to drive outcomes for Alberta, Canada and the world. It’s true that some promising ideas never get off the ground, and others change our lives forever — each take time and investment. By learning from successes and failures, we can adjust our own approach to find solutions that will accelerate the advancement of clean technology — SPARK is a forum for us to learn and grow.