Paul Singh brings tough love to Edmonton’s startup community

Paul Singh is a well-known entrepreneur, investor, and speaker based in Washington, DC. For the last few years, Singh and his partner Dana Duncan have travelled around North America visiting startup communities “that other investors weren’t visiting.” Along the way they’ve interacted with thousands of founders, investors, community leaders, and elected officials, and have seen first-hand what nearly 100 cities are doing to try to grow their startup ecosystems.

ScaleUp YEG brought Singh’s North American Tech Tour to Edmonton this week. He participated in a number of events on Thursday and Friday in addition to one-on-one meetings with local entrepreneurs to provide “mentoring and support” (and presumably to look for investment opportunities). I saw him speak on Thursday afternoon at the Edmonton Innovation Ecosystem Community (EIEC) meeting hosted by EEDC.

Paul Singh

“It’s not better anywhere else,” Singh told the room. “We could pick this room up and put it down in any other city and we’d have the same conversations.” Entrepreneurs would complain that there’s not enough money, investors would complain that there aren’t enough quality companies, and bureaucrats would complain that they’re being overlooked compared to others.

Singh lamented the fact that entrepreneurs see investors as individuals with power that need to be won over, referencing Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank tendency to focus the camera on the investors as the popular reinforcement of this idea. He suggested investors are just like entrepreneurs, with a business to grow. Still, he didn’t hold back when it came to his advice for the entrepreneurs in the room.

“If you cannot build a business in Edmonton, moving is not going to help you,” he said. “The internet has made place less relevant.” Singh argued that because the barriers to entry are so much lower now, it’s most often entrepreneurs themselves that get in the way of success. “Most entrepreneurs underestimate the value of just getting started,” he said. “We have a lot of wantrapreneurs.”

When asked which cities he has come across that are successfully building startup communities, Singh cited Kelowna, BC and Lincoln, Nebraska. But he quickly turned back to Edmonton. “I feel like Edmonton’s worst enemy is the people that already live in Edmonton,” Singh observed. “You guys are awful to yourselves.” He noted that in today’s world, ambition and access to information are both fairly evenly distributed. “It’s visibility that is not equally distributed,” he said. And that’s what Edmonton should focus on.

“If you want to make Edmonton better, you don’t need collaboration,” he said. Instead, entrepreneurs need to pick up the phone 200 times a day and sell, investors need to just focus on making more money (wherever it comes from), and government officials need to drive visibility.

“The only thing stopping more billion dollar companies from being here in Edmonton is the entrepreneurs not doing it,” Singh said.

Controversial criticism

One of the other events that Singh participated in during ScaleUp YEG was a session called Customer vs Investor Presentation: Knowing How to Pitch to Your Audience:

“Local ScaleUp dealcloser will share their sales and investor presentation for feedback from our experts Carey Houston, Paul Singh, & Kristina Milke on what makes for a good presentation for each audience. You’ll leave understanding the differences between a sales and investor presentation, what makes a good pitch, and understanding the needs and motivations of your audience.”

Amir Reshef, co-founder and CEO at dealcloser, gave the two presentations on stage in front of a crowd and received feedback from Singh, Houston, and Milke. I was not at the event, but understand that Singh did not hold back in his criticism and that Reshef, while expecting constructive feedback, was taken aback at the approach that Singh took. This led Alex Putici, founder of Work Nicer, to write a blog post explaining that Singh would not be welcome to participate in upcoming events at the coworking space. He wrote:

“A community member was participating in a pitch event and was thereafter “roasted” and “humiliated”. Tough truths, direct feedback, and criticism is important. But it must be delivered respectfully while helping the individual and encouraging the community around them. This balance can be tricky, but it’s culture setting.”

Both Singh and Reshef have since responded on Facebook.

“I apologize for making you feel roasted and humiliated — I’m sorry,” wrote Singh. “My understanding of that particular event’s goal was clearly incorrect, I believe the organizer has conveyed that to you.” He said that he and his partners enjoyed their time here in Edmonton, adding that “we’ll be doing our best to invest more of our time and money in promising entrepreneurs here.”

“Overall, it was not a fun experience and while I do not begrudge Paul giving honest and blunt feedback, I would have preferred not to be the person at the receiving end of that feedback in such a public manner,” wrote Reshef. “When the organizer of ScaleUp YEG asked me to present, I was told it would be a very positive and friendly presentation. It did not pan out that way.”

I understand that Singh, Reshef, and Putici have all spoken with one another and are ready to move on.

My Thoughts

So why mention the controversy at all? Two reasons.

First, I think it is a reminder that people are generally making good faith efforts toward a common goal and that they really do care. Singh was not out to get anyone, the organizers did not intentionally mislead anyone about the intent of the session, Reshef did not complain or ask for the removal of Singh from Work Nicer, and Putici was acting in the best interests of the community he’s responsible for. I believe they all genuinely want to see Edmonton’s startup community succeed. The fact that they care so much is what makes incidents like this seem bigger than they are.

Second, it does present an opportunity for everyone in the local startup community to reflect on the type of community we’d like to have. If we want a respectful, constructive, and accountable community then we need to be intentional about building it that way.

Paul Singh

I really enjoyed Singh’s talk. Though I am sure he has delivered the exact same message to countless other cities on his tour, he seemed genuinely interested in Edmonton’s startup community and attempts to improve it. I appreciated his reminder that often the grass is not greener on the other side, as well as his observation that Edmontonians spend too much time worrying about how we’re doing rather than just getting on with it.

A little perspective goes a long way.

UPDATE: The pitch event took place at the Edmonton Convention Centre not at Work Nicer Beaver House as originally stated.

Recognizing child friendly businesses in Edmonton

Child Friendly Edmonton, a Council Initiative sponsored by Councillor Bev Esslinger, launched the new Child Friendly Business Recognition Program today at City Hall. The program “aims to promote businesses that are intentionally welcoming to children and their families.”

Child Friendly Edmonton
Councillors Esslinger and Paquette spoke at today’s launch event

“We want to share this new program with the city and highlight the current successes of local businesses who have become more child-friendly,” said Councillor Esslinger in a news release. “With more than 20 per cent of the population being under 18, it’s very important that kids feel welcomed and included in their city.”

Based on input from Edmontonians, Child Friendly Edmonton identifies three keys to being a child friendly business:

  • Attitude “is the most important way to become child friendly. Patient, friendly and understanding service from staff who take the time to greet and welcome their younger customers is a major factor in how welcoming a business feels to children and their families. A smile is a great place to start.”
  • Amenities “are generally for the benefit of the adult(s) accompanying a child. Amenities are choices that businesses can make to improve the experience for adults with children. Some amenities like providing seating for children and washrooms that can be used by all genders to change diapers are considered ‘must- haves’ for child friendly businesses.”
  • Activities “help occupy children throughout their visit. Children that remain calm and content make their, as well as their adults’ experience at the business more enjoyable. Activities can be anything from providing a coloring sheet to creating an area specifically for children.”

Nine different child friendly businesses were showcased at the launch event today, but there are already more than 65 businesses that have been recognized under the program. I was thrilled to see that they are all listed in the Open Data Catalogue! There’s also a map view which shows they are nicely spread around the city.

Child Friendly Edmonton

If you know of a business that is child friendly, you can nominate them to the program online. If you have visited a child friendly business recently, there’s an online survey you can fill out to share your experience.

Child Friendly Edmonton’s vision is “a welcoming city for all young Edmontonians; children are listened to, respected, and valued for their thoughts and ideas.” The new program supports all four of Child Friendly Edmonton’s goals, as outlined in the Working Plan: engagement, accessible spaces, inclusive city, and “downtown demonstration project.”

That last one is to use downtown as “a demonstration site to explore and showcase an urban area which is welcoming and supportive to children and their families/caregivers.” Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, spoke today about the DBA’s support for the program. “We want to improve the family-friendly nature of downtown and continue to work with our member businesses towards a downtown for everyone.”

Baby's first media event
Baby’s first media event

As a downtown resident with a new baby I’m obviously happy to see the push for child friendly spaces. But I know the outcome will benefit more than just families. Often the same considerations that make families feel more welcome apply to other demographics as well. This is well-illustrated in the similarities between strollers and wheelchairs, for instance.

You can learn more about Child Friendly Edmonton here and on social media using the #ChildFriendlyYEG hashtag.

Edmonton is a world leader in the science of artificial intelligence

Though he works in perhaps the most hyped field of science there is, Dr. Richard Sutton comes across as remarkably grounded. I heard him described at the 2018 AccelerateAB conference on Tuesday as “the Wayne Gretzky of artificial intelligence” and he’s often called a global pioneer in the field of AI. Sutton has spent 40 years researching AI and literally wrote the textbook on Reinforcement Learning. But he spent the first part of his closing keynote discussing the tension between ambition and humility. “It’s good to be ambitious,” he told the audience tentatively. “I’m keen on the idea of Alberta being a pioneer in AI.” But he tempered that by discussing the risk of ambition turning to arrogance and affecting the work of a scientist.

AccelerateAB

“I think you should say whatever strong thing is true,” he said. Then: “Edmonton is a world leader in the science of AI.”

Sutton made sure to highlight the word “science” and noted that we fall behind when it comes to the application of AI. And of course, he backed up his claim with sources, citing DeepMind’s decision to open an international AI research office here at the University of Alberta, and pointing to the csrankings.org site which ranks the U of A at #2 in the world for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

So how did Edmonton come to be such a leader?

It started with Jonathan Schaeffer’s work in the 1990s on Chinook, the first computer program to win the world champion title in checkers. The U of A’s growing expertise in game AI helped to attract a number of AI/ML professors and funding from the provincial and federal governments throughout the early 2000s. Edmonton’s rise to AI prominence was cemented with DeepMind’s recent decision to locate here.

Sutton showed the following timeline to help illustrate Edmonton’s path to AI-science leadership:

AccelerateAB

Sutton then outlined some of the key advances that have happened in the field of artificial intelligence over the last seven years:

  • IBM’s Watson beats the best human plays of Jeopardy! (2011)
  • Deep neural networks greatly improve the state of the art in speech recognition, computer vision, and natural language processing (2012-)
  • Self-driving cars becomes a plausible reality (2013-)
  • DeepMind’s DQN learns to play Atari games at the human level, from pixels, with no game-specific knowledge (~2014)
  • University of Alberta program solves Limit Poker (2015) and then defeats professional players at No-limit Poker (2017)
  • DeepMind’s AlphaGo defeats legendary Go player Lee Sedol (2016) and world champion Ke Jie (2017), vastly improving over all previous programs
  • DeepMind’s AlphaZero decisively defeats the world’s best programs in Go, chess, and shogi (Chinese chess), with no prior knowledge other than the rules of each game

Though the research taking place here in Edmonton and elsewhere has helped to make all of that possible, “the deep learning algorithms are essentially unchanged since the 1980s,” Sutton told the audience. The difference, is cheaper computation and larger datasets (which are enabled by cheaper computation). He showed a chart illustrating Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns to make the point that it is the relentless decrease in the price of computing that has really made AI practical.

“AI is the core of a second industrial revolution,” Sutton told the crowd. If the first industrial revolution was about physical power, this one is all about computational power. As it gets cheaper, we use more of it. “AI is not like other sciences,” he explained. That’s because of Moore’s Law, the doubling of transistors in integrated circuits every two years or so. “It feels slow,” he remarked, and I found myself thinking that only in a room of tech entrepreneurs would you see so many nodding heads. “But it is inevitable.”

Given this context, Sutton had some things to say about the future of the field:

  • “Methods that scale with computation are the future of AI,” he said. That means learning and search, and he specifically called out prediction learning as being scalable.
  • “Current models are learned, but they don’t learn.” He cited speech recognition as an example of this.
  • “General purpose methods are better than those that rely on human insight.”
  • “Planning with a learned model of a limited domain” is a key challenge he sounded excited about.
  • “The next big frontier is learning how the world works, truly understanding the world.”
  • He spoke positively about “intelligence augmentation”, perhaps as a way to allay fears about strong AI.

Recognizing the room was largely full of entrepreneurs, Sutton finished his talk by declaring that “every company needs an AI strategy.”

I really enjoyed the talk and was happy to hear Sutton’s take on Edmonton and AI. It’s a story that more people should know about. You can find out more about Edmonton’s AI pedigree at Edmonton.AI, a community-driven group with the goal of creating 100 AI and ML companies and projects.

If you’re looking for more on AI to read, I recommend Wait But Why’s series: here is part 1 and part 2.

Taproot Edmonton: We’re making progress!

Karen and I have made a lot of progress since announcing Taproot Edmonton nearly five months ago. I’ve been including some updates in my weekly media notes and we have a regular newsletter that we use to keep everyone updated but I thought it would be useful to summarize our progress in one post.

Taproot Edmonton

If you want to skip all of this and jump right into becoming a paying member, you can do that here. We’d love to have you!

What is Taproot Edmonton?

Here’s how we’re answering that question today:

Taproot Edmonton is a source of curiosity-driven stories about our city, cultivated by the community. We are building a new way to do local journalism, and a new way to fund it. We don’t sell eyeballs, and we don’t put up paywalls. We enlist our members to tell us what they’re curious about, we commission writers to explore those questions, then we publish the story for all to see.

We recently put together a video outlining what Taproot is and what we’re working to achieve:

As anyone who has tried to craft an elevator pitch knows, it’s not easy! We continue to iterate on the best way to communicate what we’re all about.

Members

Without our members, there is no Taproot. They give us the fuel we need to publish great local stories. Members share their curiosity with us and their questions are the starting point for our writers. In that way, members act as our assignment desk. They also provide us with the financial resources we need to pay writers fairly for the work they do.

We are very thankful to the more than 50 members who have joined us thus far – your support is making Taproot happen! But we need our membership to grow in order to continue moving forward. A Taproot membership is $100/year or $10/month. We hope you’ll consider joining us to help build the future of local journalism in Edmonton!

Story Garden

The Story Garden is central to how Taproot works. It’s the place that members go to post their questions, to comment and vote on other questions, and to interact with one another. In the early days we prototyped the Story Garden using online forms (we used Typeform) and we learned a lot through that process. It was a free, simple way to validate some assumptions and it allowed us to keep moving forward.

In August we launched the first version of our real Story Garden. We have big ambitions for the site but it’ll take time to achieve those. Our first version is a solid platform to build upon and we’re improving it as we learn from our members. We showed off the Story Garden on September 22 at DemoCamp Edmonton 32 and received some great feedback from the crowd there too.

Stories

We have published two stories so far:

I’m incredibly proud of both! Mel and Anna did some really great work and we have two high quality stories as a result. I hope you’ll check them both out if you haven’t already.

It took quite a bit of effort to get our first stories published. We had to make our theoretical process real and there was a lot to figure out and setup along the way. Now that we have, we are working toward ramping up our production of new stories. We’re not the kind of place that you’ll find ten new stories a day, but we would like to publish more frequently than once a month.

Future of Local Journalism

We are building Taproot because we know that the business model that used to support local journalism is broken. We want to find a new, sustainable approach that can ensure quality local journalism will exist in Edmonton and beyond. We know we’re not the only ones experimenting in this space, and that’s a great thing. We want to learn from others, collaborate when appropriate, and do our part to push the industry forward.

That’s why it was important to us to be a part of this list of 30+ examples of Canadian media innovation. And it’s why we wanted to be at Hacks/Hackers Connect in Toronto last month. Organizer Phillip Smith posted a recap of the event today, saying “we knew that by bringing participants together from coast-to-coast we had a unique moment to start some critical conversations about the shifting landscape of media facing Canadians in the next months, and years.”

What’s next?

We are thrilled to be one of the presenting companies at Launch Party 7 on Thursday evening. If you’re curious about Taproot and want to learn more, please come and talk to us about it.

Next month we’re going to be attending the People-Powered Publishing Conference in Chicago. We’re excited about the opportunity to connect with others working on innovative new approaches to participatory journalism.

We have a number of stories in the works and we can’t wait to share them with you! We’re working with some great local storytellers and our members have given us fantastic questions to explore. We’re also focused on improving the Story Garden and adding new value to our members.

You can help us do all of this by becoming a Taproot Edmonton member today. Thank you!

Postmedia merges Edmonton Journal & Edmonton Sun newsrooms, lays off 35 including senior editors

Postmedia today announced it is merging newsrooms and cutting about 90 staff across the country. Here in Edmonton, the Journal and the Sun newsrooms have merged and 35 people have been laid off as a result, including Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand.

The Journal
The Journal, photo by Channing McRae

When today started, there were about 90 people in the two newsrooms. That was already down signficantly from peak newsroom sizes – Terry McConnell suggested the Journal newsroom alone had 165 people ten years ago. Losing 35 people in a single day is devastating.

Here are the impacted folks we know about (alphabetically by surname, with links to sources):

You can read the memo that went along with these cuts from Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey here. Here’s an excerpt:

“What this means is that today we say goodbye to approximately 90 of our talented journalists, colleagues and friends. We will be working closely with those affected to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.”

Postmedia has decided to form “a national sports writing team under the leadership of Bev Wake, Senior Executive Producer, Sports.” While there will be “writers in each of our markets” according to Godfrey, it’s no surprise that the local sports reporters were significantly affected by today’s cuts.

This was obviously a difficult and painful day for many talented journalists here in Edmonton. Jana Pruden, who fortunately remains at the Journal for now, live-tweeted the agony of waiting for the news today.

Why is this happening?

When Postmedia purchased the Sun and other properties from Quebecor last year, it promised to keep the competing papers separate. That strategy has obviously changed. Here’s what Godfrey wrote in his memo today:

“Since the acquisition of the Sun Media brands, we have been working to move our teams together in order to leverage strengths and also to find synergies and savings. We have made progress across our Sales, Marketing, HR, Finance, IT and other administrative functions. The next step is our newsrooms.”

The reason is money. Or as Todd Babiak put it, “Postmedia isn’t a media company in any traditional way, it’s a debt-servicing entity.” From Postmedia’s latest quarterly shareholders’ report:

“Print advertising revenue increased $49.0 million to $142.1 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print advertising revenue decreased $16.4 million, or 17.6%, and declines were experienced across all of our major categories including decreases from local advertising of 17.1%, national advertising of 23.4%, and insert advertising of 7.2%. The decreases were due to declines in both volume and rate with the total print advertising linage and average line rate decreasing 11.4% and 9.8%, respectively, during the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year.”

Print circulation isn’t doing much better:

“Print circulation revenue increased $20.5 million to $67.9 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015 as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, print circulation revenue decreased $3.2 million, or 6.7%, as a result of paid circulation volume decreasing 7.2%, partially offset by price increases.”

And perhaps most concerning of all, digital revenue is also decreasing:

“Digital revenue increased $5.9 million to $30.2 million for the three months ended November 30, 2015, as compared to the same period in the prior year. Excluding the impact of the Sun Acquisition, digital revenue decreased $1.4 million, or 5.7%, as a result of decreases in local digital advertising revenue of $1.8 million and digital classified revenue of $0.6 million, partially offset by an increase in digital subscription revenue of $0.2 million and other digital revenue of $0.7 million.”

Postmedia is now targeting $80 million in cuts by mid-2017. Some are even suggesting that bankruptcy could be in the cards.

On losing our local editors

You might snicker at the thought that Edmonton had any independence from the mothership in Toronto, but now it’s official that we lack local editors:

“Jose Rodriguez, the Calgary Sun’s editor-in-chief, will oversee both Calgary papers, while current Herald editor Lorne Motley moves to Edmonton to steer the Journal and Sun there.”

It seems that Lorne will actually be moving to Edmonton, but it’s still highly suspect that a perfectly capable editor in Margo is being replaced with someone from our southern neighbour. I know that Margo spoke out about Postmedia’s endorsement of the Conservatives, but I can’t see that as the reason she was let go as some have suggested. If it was, I think we should be surprised to see Paula Simons remain at the Journal, as she heavily criticized the endorsements.

I think it’s an incredible shame to see Margo, Stephanie, and Donna go. Edmonton’s newspapers have lost some experienced editorial leadership and that will have an impact.

On keeping both papers

It’s no surprise to me that both papers will remain, even if they’ll be run entirely by the same folks on both the business and editorial sides of the fence. Here’s what I wrote back in November:

“While there’s a lot of wisdom in combining the sales and business teams from each paper (which has happened) and even sharing physical office space (which is happening) it makes much less sense to combine the editorial teams or otherwise merge the two papers. There’s little overlap between their audiences and a lot of lucrative ad inventory to lose by getting rid of one of the papers. Postmedia has made some surprising decisions in the past so I guess I wouldn’t be completely shocked if it happened, but I also wouldn’t put any money on it.”

So it’s a good thing I didn’t put money on it, because they did go ahead and merge the newsrooms. The papers are separate in name only now.

What does this mean for Edmonton?

While today’s news doesn’t destory journalism in our city, it certainly isn’t good for it. As Paula Simons wrote:

“We’re going to lose many other great reporters, photographers, and editors too. And it will be a loss, not just for us, but for the city they covered so passionately.”

I’m hopeful that many of the individuals impacted today will find new jobs here in Edmonton, but given the state of our economy, I don’t know how realistic that is. And that means we’re potentially losing some key insight, perspectives, and talent to other locations.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js On the other hand, innovation often arises out of difficulty. With a poor economy and a sudden increase in free agents with unique skills and experience in the media industry, perhaps we’ll see Edmonton make something new again.

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2016

EEDC hosted its annual Impact Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre on Tuesday. Last year’s event featured Premier Jim Prentice and took place during a more positive time for Alberta’s economy – looking back now it seems like so long ago. A lot has happened over the last year, and to say the landscape in Alberta today is different would be a major understatement.

I think EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson showed great leadership during Council’s budget deliberations a couple months ago, requesting a 2% cut to EEDC’s budget. “Going into 2016, it could be one of the hardest years in Edmonton’s history,” he said at the time. No City-owned organization or branch had ever requested a decrease.


Photo by Brad Ferguson

Board Chair Barry Travers welcomed everyone to the event, and said that EEDC is “committed to doing more with less.” He reiterated that EEDC is focused on achieving $175 million in economic impact. After lunch, emcee Carrie Doll read a story about Edmonton. “Amidst a year of economic headwinds, this resilient city pushed forward once again,” she read. The story was full of feel-good statements like “this is a city of beauty, a city that’s engaged, a city that is alive 52 weeks a year.” I think many in the room felt it was inspirational, but it was perplexing to me. “It’s time to say goodbye to the Edmonton that once was, and hello to the Edmonton that now is.” What does that even mean?

In delivering his keynote address, I thought Brad did a great job of balancing the necessary realism of the current economic situation with the upbeat cheerleading that goes along with being CEO of the City’s economic development organization. He acknowledged that the next 2-3 years are going to be difficult for everyone, then continued:

“But in three years, if we are united and do this properly, this city and province will emerge even stronger than it’s been in the past, an economic powerhouse for our country, an incredible place for the next generation of Albertans to be born into, and a place where everyone will again want to come in search of an abundance of opportunity.”

Brad started globally and worked his way to the local context. “The world around us has lost its compass,” Brad said, explaining that the current period of time is unique because of high debt levels, the fast pace of technological change, and geopolitical tensions. He noted that “using debt to stimulate growth is incredibly addictive for politicians” but that it is citizens who end up paying the price. Global growth has stalled, he said, and that means “demand for commodities grinds to a halt.” He touched on oil, saying that the supply at the moment seems endless. And he talked about “an incredible time of volatility and anxiety, all around the world.”

Next Brad turned his attention to Canada. Though he again scolded politicians for being addicted to debt, he talked about how personal debt has escalated in recent years, despite the fact that middle income wages “have been relatively stagnant since 1995.” This has led to the “Age of Anxiety” as Brad called it, in which “people and families are doing everything possible and are still unable to make ends meet.”

Although he criticized some of the Province’s recent decisions, including “a delayed royalty review and a substantial amount of new provincial debt and new interest payments”, Brad said he wasn’t blaming Rachel Notley or her government. “They inherited 10 years of drunken-sailor euphoria that came after the Klein years,” he said, “which was the last time we made hard decisions about size of government, debt repayment and government program spending.”

More importantly, Brad placed blame on himself and everyone in the room, “We…didn’t do our job over the past 10 years of euphoria and we didn’t hold our government to account.” Regardless of who’s in power, Albertans need to question their political leaders and get more involved. But he didn’t let the current government completely off the hook. “It doesn’t matter what political ideology was campaigned on, our government has a responsibility to steward this province forward for the best interest of Albertans and future Albertans.”


Photo by Carrie Doll

Last year, Brad highlighted ten themes “that would strengthen our economy over the long term.” This year, he highlighted five calls to action:

  1. Entrepreneurship
  2. Export & Trade
  3. Energy Innovation
  4. Tourism, Conferences, and Major Events
  5. Leadership in Public Service

On entrepreneurship, Brad said “the most important thing we can do is continue to invest in talent.” He said the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Edmonton is “working exceptionally well” but noted that health innovation, agrifood, and a shared maker space are all areas that we could improve upon.

“Export & Trade are essential parts of the wealth creation formula,” Brad said. He encouraged local business leaders to speak up about the TPP, saying “we generate about $50 billion per year from TPP countries.” He also talked about pipelines and logistics and said “everyone has a role in making these opportunities come to life.”

“Our energy future is all about innovation,” Brad said, highlighting five challenges that we should be focusing on: CO2-Free Emissions, Enhanced Oil Recovery, Carbon Capture & Storage, Clean Coal, Safest Pipelines in the World. He said it doesn’t make sense to shut down or phase out one of our competitive strengths in exchange for “making green infrastructure investments in which we have no competitive advantage.”

Though he noted that EEDC has been working with Northlands to “end the 30-year old discussion of how we can best market the city under one banner,” most of what Brad said about major events and tourism was a repeat of last year. “Major events create an energy, rhythm and pulse in a city” he said, repeating last year’s message nearly word-for-word. It seems to be that civic leaders love to talk about Edmonton’s major events strategy, yet I have never seen one articulated.

“In this country we have three levels of government with the risk of introducing a fourth at the regional level,” he said. I assume he’s talking about regional government, and he argued effectively against it. “We can barely afford the multi-tiered system that we have, and we certainly cannot afford it becoming more engorged.” He talked about government becoming more efficient and less bureaucratic.

My favorite part of his remarks came when Brad talked about the complicated system of economic development and innovation organizations, saying “the level of duplication and inefficiencies is astonishing, with no overall leadership, coordination in planning or true accountability for results.” He called for an overhaul of the system, and extended an invitation to work with the other organizations to “reshape the economic development and innovation system to what is needed for our future, and leave behind the ineffective systems and structures of our past.” I hope Brad’s colleagues take him up on the offer.

Brad finished with this: “I believe this province will regain its potential, and out of this extended period of darkness, better days will come.”

Overall I think he delivered a thoughtful speech. With clear calls to action, some thought-provoking statements, and a personal touch, I think Brad had a big impact on everyone who listened. Let’s hope that other civic leaders follow his lead and do their part to help Edmonton emerge stronger from the downturn that is ahead.

TELUS focuses on the connected lifestyle with its new store at Edmonton’s Southgate Centre

In today’s world, the smartphone is at the centre of almost every digital experience. In addition to a smartphone, many of us carry headphones, perhaps a battery pack, a fitness tracker, and maybe even a cable or two. The smartphone itself connects to a whole world of other devices on top of that, like so-called “smart” locks, thermostats, speakers, and video cameras. Can TELUS capitalize on this brave new world with its new store to change the way you buy electronics and perhaps make TELUS your preferred partner for the connected lifestyle?

Back in 2008 I wrote about the brand new Future Shop in South Edmonton Common, described at the time as “the future of Future Shop”. It was a curious time to be launching a fancy new electronics store – just a month or so before it opened, Circuit City down in the US had filed for bankruptcy protection. The Source had recently shut down more than 60 stores across the country and its parent company InterTAN had just filed for bankruptcy protection too. It took a bit longer until Best Buy felt the effects of online shopping, but in the last five years they’ve been hit hard with declining revenue (though recently have become profitable again). Earlier this year, Best Buy discontinued the Future Shop brand and closed 66 locations across the country, including that store in South Edmonton Common. And down in the US, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection too. It has been a rough decade for bricks & mortar electronics retailers.

But maybe it’s too easy to blame online shopping and showrooming for the difficulties facing Best Buy. The Apple Store has had incredible success during that same time period and is still expanding today, and others like Microsoft have followed suit with their own stores. Why go to Best Buy when you can go right to the source? Not to mention the experience of shopping at a Best Buy is nothing like shopping at an Apple Store. Maybe there’s hope for electronics retailers after all?

New TELUS Store at Southgate

It’s with all that in mind that I accepted an invitation to check out the new TELUS Store at Southgate Centre here in Edmonton. I joined fellow blogger Nugglemama for a tour of the new space, located directly across from the old TELUS Store near the stairs in the southeast part of the mall. Marc Jamieson, Director of Marketing, Merchandising, and Design at TELUS and Koodo, was in town to show us around and to explain all of the features of the new store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The existing TELUS Store at Southgate was about 640 square feet, and it’s safe to say it was a traditional phone company store (it will soon become a Koodo store). Most of the space inside was dedicated to counters where you’d spend lots of time waiting for a phone activation. There was very little product on display, and the whole environment was fairly uninviting. A few years ago TELUS launched its “G2” stores to try to change that perception. They were larger, brighter, and featured more phones and a limited amount of other merchandise, like cases and chargers. But they also made heavy use of digital screens and more or less kept the same core interaction – a TELUS employee on one side of a desk and you on the other. I’ve visited the G2 store at Edmonton City Centre a few times, and while it has always been a positive experience, I do find the store somewhat unfriendly thanks to the cold surfaces and dozens of screens.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Now TELUS is introducing a new generation of store with some much bigger changes. The new Southgate store and the new store at Toronto’s Eaton Centre are “Connected Experience concept stores” that TELUS says “are an evolution of our retail shopping journey.” There are currently no plans for additional new stores, but if these two are successful you can bet that will change.

“There’s no doubt that our smartphones are a central part of our lives and how we’re using them changes almost daily – from listening to tunes, to tracking our fitness to monitoring our home – our devices can really enrich our lives. With our new Connected Experience stores we’ve created a playground where customers can touch, test and play with more than 1,000 specially curated products that help enhance their digitally connected life.”

The new TELUS Store is the largest in Canada at roughly 3,400 square feet. It officially opened on October 21, just eight months after the original concept was created (the Eaton Centre store opened October 14). It features a bold green exterior and a wide entrance, and is immediately more welcoming than previous stores. As you walk in a greeter will say hello, and you’ll find the store roughly split in half. The left side is where you can go to quickly purchase merchandise, and the right side is where you’ll go to sign up for a TELUS service.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

But perhaps the most obvious difference from other TELUS stores is the array of non-TELUS products on display and available for purchase. You can’t miss the Fitbit and Nest displays, for instance. The new TELUS Store features a series of categories, each with an anchor product partner. You’ll find:

  • Health & Fitness, anchored by Fitbit
  • Audio, anchored by Beats
  • Essentials, anchored by Mophie
  • Fashion, anchored by Kate Spade
  • Devices, anchored by Apple and Samsung
  • Lifestyle, anchored by GoPro
  • Home, anchored by Nest and Optik

Each category anchor can change over time, and there are more brands available in each. For instance, there is also Sonos, Bang & Olufsen, Jaybird, and many others available in Audio alongside Beats. The Fashion section (bags and cases) features Kate Spade but also Ted Baker and Rebecca Minkoff. Prices are comparable to other retailers.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The items you’ll find at the TELUS store are all connected to the smartphone in some way. Fitbits, headphones, Mophies, Nest, and even toy drones, are all things you pair with your smartphone. I asked Marc if there were some things that just don’t belong in a TELUS store, noting the lack of laptops. Marc said that “there are things we have decided not to focus on, and laptops are one of those things.” He noted that even the tablet display was pretty basic. The focus is on “connected experience” devices – things you need a smartphone to get the most out of.

The new store is staffed more heavily than other stores, and all the staff have been trained on how to use all of the various products available. There’s a real focus on demoing, so you’re invited to try everything on display, and the staff all carry devices with the necessary software to show you how things work. I asked Marc if he was worried about showrooming, and he said he’s so confident in the training of the reps that he’s not concerned.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

There are some pretty cool displays to help with all that demoing, like the interactive sound bar for wireless speakers. It uses an app built by Stingray Music to allow you to compare different speakers and different styles of music. Above each table are attractive sound-dampening features, something you’ll find throughout the store actually.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

The new store has incorporated lots of feedback based on previous stores and also research that TELUS has done at its retail lab in Scarborough. There’s more quantity and variety of seating, because customers often spend a lot of time in the store. While the G2 stores featured Optik and other Future Friendly Home devices, they were hidden away. The new store puts them out in the open so that customers can better envision how the boxes will fit into their homes. There’s also a kid-friendly area and lots of carpet in the store. Instead of a single retail counter, there are eight point-of-sale stations throughout the store.

New TELUS Store at Southgate

Near the front of the store you’ll find a recharge station for your mobile device, and on the tables throughout the store are wireless charging pads (which my Lumia worked with immediately). There’s also free Wi-Fi at the store, though it wasn’t working on the day I visited. All of these things are open to all, even non TELUS subscribers!

To celebrate the grand opening of the new stores in Edmonton and Toronto, TELUS is offering 15% off accessories until November 23. They’re also encouraging you to share your experience on social media using the hashtag #ExploreTELUS. If you do, you’ll be entered to win one of the prizes they’re giving away weekly until December 14.

So, will I shop there?

I really liked the new store. It feels warm and welcoming especially when compared with its predecessors. There’s a lot to see and do in the store, and it definitely will feel approachable to anyone who likes the Apple Store in that it is experiential. When I made the comparison, Marc felt strongly that “aesthetically they are different” however, even if only thanks to the liberal use of the green and purple brand colors.

I can’t see myself buying my next Fitbit at the new TELUS Store, however. When it comes to electronics, I do a lot of research online. I compare and read and watch reviews and look up specs. I dig into forums and sift through social media to see what real people are saying and what issues they’ve run into. Then when I know exactly what I want to buy, I look around and compare prices. Often Amazon wins, especially as I’m a Prime member. The new TELUS Store isn’t competing on price and despite promises that the staff are exceptionally well-trained, I’m skeptical that they’ll have the level of knowledge that I would be looking for.

That said, as a TELUS mobile customer (since the Clearnet days!) I like the idea of a flagship store and would definitely visit the next time I need a SIM card or to talk with someone about my plan. It’s the same reason why I visit the Apple Store or the Microsoft Store – I expect a better experience and the flagship stores offer that.

But I’m probably not the target customer anyway. Marc mentioned that the new store has seen a large increase in foot traffic, and it’s the folks that are either casually looking or not willing to do all of that research that are the real target for TELUS. Have a smartphone and interested in getting an activity tracker? Head to the TELUS Store and they can help you get setup with the one that works best with your device.

It’s unlikely that selling Fitbits or Nests is going to measurably impact the $12 billion in revenue that TELUS generates each year. But if the new store can indeed become a hub for customers looking for the connected lifestyle, then it could positively impact wireless, Internet, and Optik subscriptions which is what TELUS really wants. The new store is about creating that halo effect. Will the new TELUS store be the last of its kind or the start of a successful strategy shift? Time will tell!

Win a Nest or Jaybird X2!

After I visted the store, TELUS was kind enough to send me a gift basket. Included inside were a couple of pretty expensive items which would be inappropriate for me to keep, so I’m giving them away to two lucky readers!

Nest and Jaybird X2

To enter my contest, simply leave a comment below by November 30 telling me how you currently like to purchase electronics and if you plan to shop at the new TELUS store. I’ll draw two valid email addresses at random from the comments and will contact the winners on December 1. Just in time to help with your Christmas shopping!

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 6

Tomorrow evening is Edmonton’s sixth Launch Party, part of Edmonton Startup Week (get tickets here). Launch Party has become our city’s flagship startup event and “gives you the opportunity to meet our city’s brightest entrepreneurs, demo their products, and celebrate everything that our startup community has to offer.”

edmonton startup week

There’s an impressive list of Launch Party alumni in Edmonton, including Granify, Mover, Yardstick, Poppy Barley, Jobber, and Pogo CarShare. Here’s my recap of Launch Party 5. Now we get an opportunity to see another ten grow and hopefully succeed!

Here are the presenting companies for Launch Party 6:


CareNetwork.com

@carenetworkcom
TWO WORDS: Doctor Collaboration
WHAT: “CareNetwork.com is the easiest way for teams of hospital doctors to stay in sync. With teams working in shifts to provide around the clock care to dozens of patients with complex problems it is incredibly challenging to stay organized. CareNetwork.com helps these doctors to keep track of who their sickest patients are, what their patients’ stories are, and what needs to get done now. Collaborating through the CareNetwork.com app ensures this typically ephemeral information gets shared during shift change. Happier doctors, safer patients.”
KEY PEOPLE: Dr. Noel Gibney, Kyle Fox, Emmet Gibney

Chitter

@trychitter
TWO WORDS: Social Education
WHAT: “Chitter is a mobile social media app that gives college and university students a digital way to engage with each other and keep up with what is going on around them in the fast paced environment of higher education.”
KEY PEOPLE: Mark Galloway, Tamara Bain, Kyle Kaiser, Ben Lavin, Sabby Choudhary

Evented

@evented_ca
TWO WORDS: Event Planning
WHAT: “Evented is a web-based platform geared towards serving the event industry. Evented works by offering people who are planning events a consolidated, comprehensive, and current directory of local vendors who can service their events. Users can use features such as sorting filters and user reviews to make finding and finalizing vendors a more streamlined and efficient process. Evented is also able to eliminate the need for vendors to advertise on multiple platforms by providing a marketing tool that specifically targets their intended audiences. Evented works to create something useful for you; your city’s essential event vendor directory.”
KEY PEOPLE: Ramneek Purewal, Avneet Purewal

Fitset

@fitsetpass
TWO WORDS: Fitness Membership
WHAT: “Fitset is a single membership to thousands of group fitness classes every day in 5 major Canadian cities — including yoga, spinning, obstacle course training, dance, boot camps, ballet barre and so much more. Our membership gives you the ability to try a new workout every day or visit each partner studio up to three times per month — for $99/month. Whether you are looking to diversify your workouts, discover your next favourite studio, or just explore your city, chances are we have studios close to wherever you live, work, and/or play. We aim to make fitness exploration as simple and convenient as possible.”
KEY PEOPLE: Tim Gourlay, Jake Stief, Raj Gandhi, Leila Panjvani, Bindesh Rach

Home Tribe

@home_tribe
TWO WORDS: Real Estate
WHAT: “Home Tribe is a technology driven real estate team dedicated to creating a more personalized real estate experience. We do this by combining traditional real estate services, technology, Big Data and Analytics. Our first technology application, “Home Tribe Match” helps buyers find the perfect home based on their lifestyle needs. We take into account safety, commutability, neighbourhood dynamics and more to determine the homes currently for sale on the market that are most desirable to a buyer. This time-saving, easy to use app makes it simple for a buyer to move through the buying process.”
KEY PEOPLE: Elisse Lara Moreno

InstaMek

@instamek
TWO WORDS: OnDemand Mechanic
WHAT: “instaMek removes the hassle and struggle associated with traditional automotive service and repair by making the process as simple as ordering a book online. Within seconds this on-demand service allows car-owners to request and schedule a fully certified mobile mechanic (“Mek”) to their home or workplace – all at a price up to 30% cheaper than a shop. All work is guaranteed with a warranty on parts and labor and Meks are reviewed after every job to ensure top notch workmanship. Since its launch in February, instaMek has serviced over 500 vehicles and currently operates in 11 different cities across Canada.”
KEY PEOPLE: Asem Alsaadi, Uzair Ahmed

PFM Scheduling Services

TWO WORDS: Intelligent Scheduling
WHAT: “PFM is a company that came out of Alberta Innovates Center for Machine Learning (AICML) at the University of Alberta after 3 years of ground breaking research. PFM has developed a scheduling product suite that automates schedule production, optimization and analysis for shift workers in complex organizations that contend with sophisticated rule sets such as collective bargaining agreements. Currently, PFM is focusing on healthcare and is partnering with Telus Sourcing Solutions as a distribution channel and United Nurses of Alberta Union and Alberta Health Services as clients.”
KEY PEOPLE: Dale Schuurmans, Csaba Szepesvari, Martha White, James Neufeld, Jason Harder

JumpSeat

@JumpSeat_io
TWO WORDS: Employee Training
WHAT: “JumpSeat is a product of Ten Speed Technologies and transforms how organizations onboard, train and support their employees. By providing in-context, interactive, step-by-step task guidance, users learn what they need to learn, at the moment they need to learn it. Our unique training method keeps the user in the browser, away from your support desk, and since it overlays on top of your existing web-applications, keeps them productive while learning. No code integration is required and no developers are needed to create your interactive guides.”
KEY PEOPLE: Mike Priest, Paul McCarthy, Trevor Dell, Christian Dendy

Varafy Corporation

@GetVarafy
TWO WORDS: Online Education
WHAT: “Varafy gives Educators the power to create an unlimited number of fresh and unique problems and their detailed solutions in minutes versus hours – and have fun doing it!”
KEY PEOPLE: Werner Biegler, Justin Sharp, Ken Fyfe

VR Bike

@vrbikeca
TWO WORDS: Virtual Cycling
WHAT: “MedROAD Inc. is a company designed and formed to act as a portal for delivering to the general community the exciting and state-of-the-art research and innovation developed out of the Advanced Man Machine Interface Laboratory, University of Alberta. These areas of innovation include: 3D virtual reality, telemedicine and enhanced image viewing. We at MedROAD Inc. are very excited to deliver some of the exciting and unique projects we have been worked on at the University; connecting our clients and consumers with the very forefront of research and development.”
KEY PEOPLE: Peter W Wood, Pierre Boulanger, Stephanie Shaeffer, Ga Young Kim


I’m really looking forward to learning more about each one. Here are a few thoughts in advance of the event:

  • What kind of Launch Party would it be in 2015 if there wasn’t “an Uber for” company? That’s instaMek, an Uber for auto mechanics.
  • Home Tribe’s Elisse is combining her experience as a realtor and her experience with Redman Technologies for this new startup. There are lots of tools out there that help you find a neighbourhood and a home, so it’ll be interesting to see what Home Tribe brings to the table.
  • JumpSeat looks like an iteration over TourGuide which was demoed back at DemoCamp Edmonton 26 (Mike Priest was the CTO at Glazr which built TourGuide).
  • Most products in the health care industry seem focused on patients, so it’s interesting to see one that aims to help doctors with CareNetwork.com. They’ve got a really impressive team and group of advisors, including Dr. Ray Muzyka and Bruce Johnson.
  • PFM Scheduling Services is the result of research done at AICML. Great to see that commercialization continuing!
  • I’m not familiar with Evented, but it reminds me a little of MASV from Launch Party 5 in that they aim to connect vendors and customers, but in a completely different industry of course.
  • Chitter is an anonymous post app targeting university and college students. I guess a little like the now defunct Secret app?
  • Fitset is basically an aggregator for fitness classes happening at gyms throughout participating cities. Instead of becoming a member of a specific gym, you can become a member of Fitset and get access to multiple gyms.

Launch Party 6 takes place from 6:30pm to 10:30pm tomorrow, Thursday, at the EPCOR Tower – you can get tickets here. For those of you who drive, the parking is free! Elm Catering will have treats for you to enjoy and The Volstead Act will be making cocktails. It should be fun!

You can see my previous Launch Party posts here: #1, #2 Recap, #3, #4, #5 Recap.

Recap: Ignite Edmonton 2015

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend Ignite Edmonton, courtesy of EEDC. This was the first year for Ignite, though it’s fair to say the event was the latest iteration of an idea that EEDC has been pursuing for a few years now. How do you host an event to promote creativity and entrepreneurial thinking in a more interesting and engaging way than the typical conference?

Ignite Edmonton Festival

E-Town Festival

Ignite’s roots go back to September 2013, when the first E-Town Festival took place here in Edmonton (which I previewed here). E-Town was “an intensive two-day festival of ideas for entrepreneurial-minded people who get excited by innovation, change and disrupting common thought.” It was also a mishmash of workshops, plenaries with big-name speakers like Chris Hadfield and Guy Kawasaki, a Food Truck Fest, a concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies, and more. The event took place throughout the Shaw Conference Centre, with the big sessions being hosted in Hall D.

I completely appreciated the opportunity to hear from Chris Hadfield, and I love food trucks more than most, but there was an awful lot going on over those two days. You have to admire the bold vision of the folks at EEDC who organized it though. They wanted to make a statement, and they did.

E-Town

E-Town returned in 2014 for another two-day event that featured speakers like Hayley Wickenheiser, Bob Nicholson, and Raine Maida. It kept the Food Truck Fest, and also had a concert featuring Maida and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk. The event was promoted like this:

“E-Town Festival feeds the mind and heart of people who get excited by innovation, creativity and disrupting common thought. You’ll be immersed in new ideas from thought-provoking speakers, contribute to interactive breakout sessions, connect to other bright minds and be entertained by great artists. You’ll leave inspired, re-energized, smarter and ready to take bold action.”

Again there was a desire to build a “high-involvement, high-energy event” that “wasn’t your typical conference.” But I know more than a handful of people who looked at either the agenda or the price or both and felt it was safe to pass on the event. I think both iterations of E-Town were reasonably successful, but people attending a concert is not the same thing as attendees taking something useful back to their work. I wonder if the right people were in the room.

There were plans for another E-Town, as the website stated:

“Looking to the future, we envision a multi-day, multi-venue festival experience that attracts attendees from western Canada and north-western United States.”

That didn’t come to pass, of course (at least not yet). After having attended Ignite, I think that’s probably a good thing, because I like the new direction they’ve taken.

Break the mold

To me the idea that EEDC has been pursuing first with E-Town and now with Ignite is this: creative, entrepreneurial thinking can help startups, big companies, and everyone in-between, but it doesn’t have to come from the usual suspects or in typical business-conference-fashion.

I think that’s why there was such an interest in previous years to incorporate musicians, artists, food trucks, and other not-usually-seen-at-business-conference-type folks into the event. They all have useful, interesting, and entertaining things to say, things that those of us in business (whether at startups or big companies) can benefit from hearing.

Ignite stayed true to that idea, I think, but with a course correction. Instead of just getting all those folks together in the room and hoping that the cross-pollination would happen, Ignite took a much more intimate and curated approach.

Ignite Edmonton

Ignite was organized by a big team of EEDC staff and volunteers, led by Ken Bautista, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at EEDC. There’s a certain expectation of polish that comes with an event organized by Ken (he’s set the bar high with TEDx, Startup Edmonton, and other events). He delivered once again with Ignite. The website, name badges, program, swag bags, venue, and everything else were attractive, high quality, and cohesive.

This year’s event took place on the Assembly Level in Halls A and B, with coffee, lunch, and social space outside in the common area. That meant everyone was in more or less the same space, which was better for networking and running into people.

Inside the two halls is where the main action took place. I have to completely agree with Neetu’s assessment of the venue:

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The six pavilions – Cocoon, Interlock, Orb, Riverview, String, Transposed Formation – were all designed by local designers through a special design competition setup just for Ignite. Each of the workshop sessions took place in one of the pavilions, which I think it’s fair to say achieved the desired effect of creating “a completely immersive, incredibly inspiring experience.” Everyone was snapping photos and commenting on them! Because of the way the room was setup there was probably more noise bleed than the organizers had hoped for, but I think most people were willing to forgive the excess noise because of the uniqueness/novelty of the pavilion designs.

Instead of bringing in food trucks as was done for E-Town, attendees of Ignite were treated to food created by the Shaw Conference Centre culinary team, led by Executive Chef Simon Smotkowicz. And why not? He’s one of our city’s most accomplished chefs! I thought the lunch options were great, and went back for more than a couple of the tasty sandwiches.

For scheduling, Ignite used Sched. Attendees could login ahead of time and choose their sessions, which produced a completely customized agenda for the two days. Each day started with a couple of main stage talks, which were about 30 minutes in length. The workshop sessions were perhaps a touch long at 90 minutes, but thankfully there was a lot of social time built into the agenda, even on top of lunch and drinks.

On the final afternoon attendees had the opportunity to attend a “studio session” which offered an introduction to “the inner-workings of some of Downtown Edmonton’s most creative offices and workspaces.” Startup Edmonton, Ice District HQ, DDB, and TELUS all hosted field-trips.

Session Highlights

You can see all of the speakers and sessions here.

Just like Nathan, I found the Square presentation by Steve McPhee to be thought-provoking. Be sure to check out his post for more highlights! In terms of main stage sessions, I also really enjoyed both Nir Eyal‘s talk on building habit-forming products (looking forward to reading his book Hooked) and Ted Graham‘s talk on what he learned about innovation by driving for Uber. Their presentation styles were completely different, but both were able to use their limited time to get across some interesting ideas.

My favorite session was a workshop called “Building a Team Culture with Respectful Leadership”. It was led by FC Edmonton Head Coach Colin Miller.

“Colin Miller specializes in the art of respectful leadership. As a coach and former professional athlete, Colin has faced every challenge in the world of teams from both sides of the white line.”

“His leadership style is the crux of a unique approach to team-building which stresses respect and professionalism as the building blocks in pursuit of excellence. Any company can use the respectful leadership model to elevate their team – no matter their size or budget.”

In addition to being an engaging and sometimes funny speaker, I really enjoyed Colin’s approach. He focused on what he knows best and is passionate about, which is football. The insights he shared could of course be applied to business, but he didn’t have to spell it out. That was an exercise left to the reader, and I think made for a bigger impact.

Ignite Edmonton Festival

For Colin, respectful leadership is “in-depth knowledge of your field” and “treating people correctly.” He shared a few key lessons that he has gleaned through his years of working with football players, including:

  • Give time for uninterrupted work
  • Surround your team with pros
  • Expect your team’s respect

I don’t think anything he said was revolutionary, but the way he framed his key points and supported them with examples from his experience in coaching was really valuable. Most importantly, I felt I could immediately take what he said and try to apply it to my own teams. I think that’s what I liked best about Ignite – most of the information seemed actionable.

A solid platform

I understand that through Ignite’s Community Fellows Program, sponsored by nine different organizations focused on entrepreneurs and business, some people in the audience had their attendance paid for (like me). That probably helped the event seem fuller than it would otherwise have been, because I doubt the $449+ tickets sold out (though the content, food, and swag bags make it seem like a pretty good value). My hunch is that EEDC didn’t make any money on Ignite. But I hope that’s not the only measure of success they consider.

Ignite Edmonton Festival

Whereas E-Town seemed targeted to everyone with concerts and food trucks, I think Ignite’s target audience (“teams of entrepreneurs, creatives, builders and change makers”) was narrower and the event was more successful as a result. Instead of talking about the spectacle, attendees were talking about the content. It’s anecdotal, but my conversations with people at the event and most of the comments I saw on Twitter suggest to me that Ignite was not just a fun event that attendees will forget. It was something they got value out of and will take back to work.

I don’t know if Ignite will become an annual thing, but I think if it returns in 2016 using a similar approach to this year, EEDC will have a successful event on its hands.

What’s next?

Ignite 2016, hopefully! But before that, there are a number of other entrepreneurship-focused events coming up:

Thanks to EEDC for the opportunity to attend Ignite. See you at Edmonton Startup Week!

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2015

TEC Edmonton held its 13th annual VenturePrize Awards this evening at the Shaw Conference Centre. A total of $150,000 in prizes was handed out to three deserving companies. TEC Edmonton says the competition is a win for all of the participating companies, as they receive mentorship, publicity, possibly new investors, but it’s also a win for Alberta:

“Nine new technology-based companies, creating new wealth. Companies on the leading-edge of their sector, companies hiring highly educated individuals, companies using the knowledge of our post-secondary institutions and their graduates, companies paying corporate taxes, companies fulfilling Alberta’s desire to be less dependent on the energy sector alone.”

There are three different competitions that make up VenturePrize now. The Fast Growth category is for general high-growth businesses, the TELUS ICT category is for technology-focused enteprises, and the Student category is for businesses started by post-secondary students from throughout the province. In each category, there are three finalists but only one winner.

VenturePrize 2015

Here were the finalists for 2015:

Fast Growth

  • Alieo Games is an educational technology company that recently launched COW, a writing app for students and teachers from kindergarten to Gr. 12. COW provides a safe and fun space for students to practice writing (building writing fluency and vocabulary) and to share their work with classmates. For teachers, COW uses text analysis to provide useful feedback that they can use to customize their lesson plans to meet the specific needs of their students.
  • Pogo CarShare is Edmonton’s first car sharing service. Founded and managed locally, Pogo provides members 24/7 access to a pool of vehicles located within a central zone in our city on a simple pay-as-you-go basis. Cars can be located, reserved and opened using the Pogo app.
  • Sensassure is a wearable technology sensor solution for the incontinent – alerting nursing staff in extended care homes to the need to change incontinence underwear. Sensassure helps restore dignity to those who suffer from incontinence by automating existing manual care processes, leading to timely changes that prevent secondary conditions from developing.

VenturePrize 2015

TELUS ICT

  • OMx is accelerating the development of advanced molecular diagnostics with technologies to analyze and combine data about the chemicals, proteins and DNA in the body. Their first product helps improve and optimize diet and lifestyle with a urine test that measures indicators for diet and wellness.
  • MasV is a software company within the oil and gas sector, MASV has a new way to benefit both rental companies and renters of oil and gas equipment. By connecting renters to the rental companies that have the relevant items, they reduce downtime stress while increasing profit for both parties.
  • Advancing Edge Technologies addresses technology deficiencies with diagnosis reporting in anatomical pathology (providing patients with the final diagnosis from tissue biopsies and body fluids). Their state-of-the-art touchscreen-based examination software delivers a more streamlined, accurate, and consistent pathology diagnostic report while also saving money and time.

VenturePrize 2015

Student

  • Alberta Craft Malting – Olds College: Alberta Craft Malting uses Alberta barley to develop specialty made-in-Alberta malts – a crucial ingredient in the making of beer. The use of local grains means brewers can now access specialty malts made from local barley considered among the world’s best, rather than depending on out-of-province suppliers.
  • Scout – University of Alberta: Scout is a marketing platform for small and medium businesses that incorporates a smartphone based loyalty program. The Scout app replaces traditional punch cards and allows merchants to create a loyalty program tailored specifically to them, allowing them to truly interact with their customers.
  • NoLemon Automotive Inc. – University of Alberta: By offering an online classified platform providing third-party vehicle inspections, NoLemon helps buyers and sellers more effectively navigate the vehicle transaction process. NoLemon provides the comfort and confidence individuals seek in making their vehicle purchasing decisions.

VenturePrize 2015

Some of these companies were familiar to me and it’s great to see them continuing to grow and evolve. Alieo Games was of course the winner of last year’s student category and they presented at Launch Party 5 back in October along with fellow Fast Growth competitor Pogo CarShare and MASV and OMx from the TELUS ICT category (and OMx was at DemoCamp earlier this month) And in the Student category, I have seen Scout at a previous VMS event and around town at various retail locations such as Earth’s General Store and Remedy Cafe. It’s an encouraging sign that companies are moving through the pipeline, from hackathon to business plan and beyond.

VenturePrize 2015

Here are your 2015 winners:

Screeners Award of Merit
Physio4D

Edmonton Journal People’s Choice Award
Alieo Games

Student VenturePrize Competition
Alberta Craft Malting

TELUS ICT Competition
OMx

Fast Growth Competition
Sensassure

Congratulations!

Our host for the evening was Ryan Jespersen and while he always brings an energetic approach to his emcee duties, I think he deserves a special shoutout tonight for dealing with a challenging room.

VenturePrize 2015

This year TEC Edmonton wanted to change the format to see if they could encourage more networking. That meant using more of Hall D and getting rid of the round tables in favor of cocktail tables and theatre-style seating. The program started on the west stage and then moved to the east stage. In terms of networking, it was a big success! But I suspect the format will be changed for next year as no one was paying attention to the speakers and presentations for the first half of the show.

There were a couple of other awards handed out this evening too. The inaugural Ross & Verna Tate Science Entrepreneurship Award was awarded to Alieo Games. The other award was the Peace Country Regional Science Fair Award, which went to Michael Fyfe from Glenmary School in Peace River. Science fairs sound like they’re becoming more interesting – the PCRSF now includes an entrepreneurial event called Bear Cave (inspired by Dragons Den). Michael was the 2015 Bear Cave Grand Prize winner.

Congratulations to all of the participants in this year’s competition and especially to this year’s winners. Thanks to TEC Edmonton for providing me with a seat tonight to capture the action. You can see a few more photos here.