E-Town celebrates entrepreneurship in Edmonton

e-townNext week a new festival takes place in our city called E-Town. Billed as  “an intensive two-day festival of ideas for entrepreneurial-minded people who get excited by innovation, change and disrupting common thought,” the event is being organized by EEDC and takes place at the Shaw Conference Centre next Thursday and Friday.

“E-Town is built on an existing regional strength—a tenacious entrepreneurial spirit. The festival features not only a reflection on past learnings and stories, but a launching ground for ideas, change, self-growth and relationships. Attendees won’t be disappointed to meet and join the people in their city who didn’t just talk about their business ideas or leave them on a cocktail napkin. They put their ideas into action to get them where they are today.”

Tickets for the event are $299, but the impressive lineup of speakers should make that easy to stomach. You’ll get to hear from musician David Usher, astronaut Chris Hadfield, former WestJet president and CEO Sean Durfy, former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki, bitly’s chief scientist Hilary Mason, and founder of The Webby Awards Tiffany Shlain. On top of that is a series of panels and breakout sessions, and a concert featuring the Barenaked Ladies.

I asked EEDC CEO Brad Ferguson for some additional details on how the event came about and what attendees should expect. “We wanted to go bold,” he told me. “It speaks to brand development and confidence in Edmonton.” Brad explained that the idea was to bring the entrepreneurial community together, to celebrate entrepreneurship in Edmonton. “EEDC has the ability to assemble, to germinate the idea,” Brad said. They brought a group of local organizations focused on entrepreneurship together and said, “let’s go do something.” Co-hosting with EEDC are the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Startup Edmonton, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, TEC Edmonton, Junior Achievement, JCI Edmonton, Capital Ideas, Alberta Enterprise & Advanced Education, Alberta Enterprise Group, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Make Something Edmonton, and the Edmonton Executives Association.

It was important to the organizers for the event to be about more than just business. They wanted a mix of arts, creativity, business, entertainment, and education. “We are aligned by mindset rather than industry,” Brad told me. He cited C2MTL, LeWeb, and InnoTown as events that are similar in spirit to what E-Town hopes to become. 

Commander Chris Hadfield will kick things off with a keynote on Thursday at 5:15pm. The Food Truck Fest (featuring Bully, Drift, Eva Sweet, La Poutine, Smokehouse BBQ, The Crooked Fork, The Food Fighter, and Yellowbird Café) and Barenaked Ladies concert will follow. The remainder of the keynotes and sessions take place during the day Friday, with local musician Martin Kerr closing the show at 6pm that evening. Check out the full schedule here.

One of the interesting things E-Town is doing differently is sponsorship. They’re really trying to get the speakers engaged and participating in the event instead of just plastering their logo all over it. Sponsors can choose to take part in the Emerging Questions Panel and then get interactive in what are called “exploration sessions”. Think whiteboards and interactive panels rather than talking heads. Sponsors on board include ATB Financial, the City of Edmonton, Parlee McLaws LLP, PWC, and Rogers.

While EEDC is supporting the festival for the first year, the goal is to have it both grow and become sustainable in future years. “We want to break even this year, and build the brand,” Brad said. In future years, additional days and locations could be added, making the event even more of a festival. More than 1000 attendees are expected to take part in the inaugural event, most of whom would likely be locals. That’ll change in future years as well.

I asked Brad why people should attend E-Town, and he responded with a question that has driven much of the event’s planning: “What do you feel the least prepared for?” The conference is an opportunity to explore what’s changing, and to get inspired by what’s possible. Don’t stay comfortable with the status quo, is the message. Brad also promised some surprises for attendees once they get inside (think of the impressive stage from this year’s Economic Impact Luncheon, amped up). “We want to show off what we can do with digital!”

As for EEDC, Brad says E-Town is an opportunity to “take economic development in a new direction.” They’re striving to provide value for money but also to make a statement. “We want to get people talking about it.”

Be sure to check out the E-Town news page for lots of additional information and updates. You can also follow @etownfest on Twitter and Facebook. And if you’d like to attend, get your tickets here.

Recap: 2013 State of the City Address

Thousands of Edmontonians filled the Shaw Conference Centre during lunch today for the Chamber of Commerce’s annual State of the City event. Featuring Mayor Mandel, the event was an opportunity for our city’s business, community, and government leaders to reflect on the past year and to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Or at least, that’s what we were supposed to be talking about. Instead, the only thing on the minds of those in attendance was Mandel’s decision – would he be running again in October or not?

State of the City Address 2013

Many members of Mandel’s family joined him at the head table, including his adorable grandson, and that only fueled speculation that he would be announcing his retirement. As Mandel took the stage, he received a thunderous standing ovation. It was the kind of standing-O that said, “thanks for nine great years.” But it turned out to be premature.

“I know that there is expectation in this moment – one that I set myself – that I would answer a key question today about whether I would seek re-election this fall.

And as much as I pride myself on giving clear answers – I do not have an answer today.”

There was an audible gasp as he spoke the words. Most people were expecting a yes or no – the possibility of a maybe hadn’t even registered! I’ll admit that I was fairly certain he was going to announce that the current term would be his last, but it seems Mandel had more difficulty making a decision than anticipated. “Key issues affecting the state of our City are genuinely unsettled in my mind,” he said.

While Mandel touched on Make Something Edmonton and some of our city’s successes in his slightly-longer-than-normal speech, most of his comments were directed at the Province. And they weren’t positive. Specifically, Mandel focused on spending cuts to the post-secondary sector, and the imbalance of regional costs and funding.

State of the City Address 2013

First, he addressed the post-secondary sector and it’s very large impact on Edmonton, both to our economy now and to our future competitiveness.

“We should expect nothing less than passionate, relentless defense of this sector from our provincial representatives who should know better than to just stand by. We should expect that our Minister would actually engage this sector and challenge them to find solutions.”

Mandel stated that our post-secondary institutions have the potential to be “amongst the best in the world.” He went on to discuss his concerns with short-term thinking, and called for real leadership. “It means setting a course that people can believe in, and being clear about long-term intent.”

Next, Mandel addressed regional issues. While the Capital Region Board has at least started to address the issue of collaboration and planning together, the imbalance in provincial grant allocations “has not been touched,” he told us.

“The taxpayers of a city of 850,000 cannot continue to pay an unfair share of the costs of urban services for a region of 1.2 million. Making all municipalities responsible on both sides of the ledger is the only way to make growth fair – it is also the only way Edmonton can sustain itself.”

Here again, Mandel questioned decisions made by the provincial government in its most recent budget.

“If you really want to make a difference, not just for Edmonton – but for Alberta’s bottom line – this is a great opportunity for change. Because it will cost billions less to pay for a single coordinated regional plan – than for the wish lists of 25 municipalities.”

Mandel clearly had the element of surprise on his side today, and that helped to make the speech even more impactful. Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk reacted strongly to Mandel’s criticisms. “I don’t know who pissed into his corn flakes, and you can quote me on that,” he told the Journal.

State of the City Address 2013

Mandel very much positioned himself as the defender of Edmonton today, and his call-to-action was to speak up for the city. “You know, Edmonton is a funny city,” he said. “We are so fiercely proud of what we have, but too often scared to tell others that we have it.”

Though he acknowledged that his eventual decision about whether or not to run again will impact this year’s election, Mandel urged candidates who may want to run to make their intentions known on their own schedules, not his. That’s easier said than done, of course. No one on City Council seems willing to run against Mandel. If he were to run for an unprecedented fourth term, it’s widely expected that he would win.

Mandel’s non-announcement today has the speculation engines revving. Is there funding news about the downtown arena forthcoming? Is he considering a jump into provincial politics? Who knows, maybe he simply hasn’t made up his mind yet. My own sense is that Mandel must feel as though he can resolve a couple of those “key unsettled issues” over the next few months, otherwise, why not just announce that he’s running again?

Edmonton is a better place because Mandel has been our mayor for the last nine years. He’s given so much to this city and it must be taking a toll, but clearly Mandel feels he has more to give. “My focus remains on the job at hand, on what I owe to Edmonton, and what Edmonton needs.”

Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce for inviting me today. You can read my recap of previous State of the City events here: 2011, 2012. You can read the full transcript of Mayor Mandel’s speech here (PDF), and the rest of his speeches here.

Recap: Edmonton’s Economic Impact Luncheon 2013

Today more than 900 local leaders filled Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre for EEDC’s Economic Impact Luncheon. It was Brad Ferguson’s first luncheon as the new CEO of EEDC (you can read my interview with Brad here). Peter Silverstone, Chair of EEDC’s Board of Directors, told us that Brad wanted to go big with the luncheon this year. I think it’s safe to say he delivered, and not just because of the giant screen that dazzled everyone in attendance.

eedc impact luncheon

The program began with remarks from the Province and City. Minister of Finance Doug Horner was on hand to bring greetings from the provincial government. He sounded positive, declaring that Alberta would remain Canada’s growth leader, but also realistic. “You’ve heard over the past few weeks about the province’s fiscal challenges,” he said. “You’re going to hear more.” Next up was Mayor Stephen Mandel, and he too sounded upbeat, calling Edmonton “the most entrepreneurial city in the country.” Both men talked about the incredible opportunity that Alberta affords.

Brad followed the dignitaries and he brought a more even tone to the event. He delivered EEDC’s Statement of Intent for 2013-2015, which you can download here. The highlights are that EEDC intends to:

  • “Refocus and re-engage the organization” and will “get back into the industry development business.”
  • Become the change they want to see in the marketplace, which means being competitive vs. complacent.
  • “Fundamentally change the value we deliver to the market.”
  • Bring clarity and confidence in the structure of the organization.
  • Redefine stakeholder relationships within the economic development system.

There’s also a section on “being accountable” that reads:

We believe strongly in building a performance-based culture, and will be working throughout 2013 to build a reporting process of transparency and accountability. To build high-performance business units, each division will focus on its objectives, goals, strategies, and measures – a change from the past to a future focused on a new level of predictable performance. 2013 will be a year of transition, new leadership, new processes and new accountabilities.

Of course the big highlight is the new organizational objective:

To ensure Edmonton and the Capital Region outperform every major economic jurisdiction in North America consistently over the next 20 years – no matter if the price of oil is $40 or $140.

That objective is all Brad, and it speaks to his commitment to competitiveness.

Reading through the longer version of the Statement of Intent, it is clear that major change is on the way for EEDC in 2013. The section on EEDC’s divisional approach makes clear that each division, from the Shaw Conference Centre to Edmonton Tourism, must be held accountable and perform well. It also opens the door for one or more of those divisions to leave EEDC, something that has been discussed with growing frequency. “We are organized to maximize operating efficiency, with proactive orientation and resource allocation along with clear exit strategies…” Furthermore, the list of priorities highlights that alignment with the City of Edmonton and an organizational restructuring is on the way. Perhaps EEDC needs to become a leaner organization in order to execute on its new objective (for the record, I believe it does).

EEDC Impact Luncheon 2013

Here’s what Brad said in the press release for today’s luncheon:

“We are upfront and clear in outlining what we are about and what we will do this year,” says Ferguson. “Edmonton is a great northern city with unlimited entrepreneurship, education and energy — we will be a beacon toward which people who crave opportunity will come.”

Far more interesting is what he said during his remarks. Here are a few quotes I made note of:

  • “When the head of EEDC and the Mayor are in sync, great things can happen. When they are disconnected, the city perishes.”
  • “The self-esteem of Edmontonians is just as volatile as the price of oil, and that has to change. Our self-esteem issues must be conquered.”
  • “When the going gets tough, the tough gain market share. Now is our time.”
  • “We need to have less bravado about Alberta and more about our contribution to the country.”
  • “We need to start talking about what the premier isn’t talking about – and that’s a stable revenue framework.”
  • “I can promise you we’ll never fail because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we lost focus.”

Brad talked about why Edmonton is Canada’s economic and entrepreneurial powerhouse, but he also highlighted some of the dark cloud he sees looming. The message was the same one he has been reiterating since he took the job: we cannot be complacent. It wasn’t all so heavy though. Brad also joked about possibly needing to save the Oilers again, and remarked that we may or may not have a new mayor in October (which I don’t think was meant to be funny, even though the crowd nervously chuckled). He finished with a call-to-action: “come build it here.”

The guest speaker was former Suncor Energy CEO Rick George. He shared some thoughts on Alberta and the future we have ahead of us. Though he touched on some of the topics discussed in his book, Sun Rise: Suncor, The Oil Sands And The Future Of Energy, he didn’t get into too many details about the oil sands. He did challenge everyone to look far down the road, echoing Brad’s earlier call for a plan for Alberta. Rick described himself as “a hopeless optimist” and said we need both optimism and imagination to succeed. “Without optimism, there’s little room for contrarianism and the outside-the-box thinking needed to turn the corner,” he said. Everyone in attendance took home a copy of Rick’s book.

I loved the giant screen and the reorientation of the stage at today’s event. As we ate lunch, images and factoids about Edmonton’s past and present danced across the screen. The event was live-streamed, and it sounds like that was a big success. There was a lot of discussion about the event on Twitter too, using the #yegimpact hashtag, and that always makes these things more interesting.

Most of all I enjoyed the refreshing approach that Brad brought to today’s luncheon. Even, measured, realistic, honest. Sure there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks. We can’t take our eye off the prize.

Want to compare to years past? You can read my recaps of previous EEDC luncheons here: 2012 Annual Luncheon, 2012 Economic Outlook Luncheon, 2011 Annual Luncheon, 2010 Annual Luncheon, 2010 Economic Outlook Luncheon.

Keep an eye on this URL for speaking notes, video, and other materials from today’s luncheon. Be sure to follow @EEDC and @EEDC_BRAD on Twitter for updates.

EPCOR’s Community Essentials Council was a fantastic experience

I wrapped up my term on EPCOR’s Community Essentials Council (ECEC) a couple of weeks ago with the final meeting of 2012. Some members had three year terms and will be continuing while the rest of us have made way for a new group of EPCOR employees and community representatives to take part. The ECEC was officially announced in May 2011 with the goal of enhancing EPCOR’s commitment to the communities it serves:

We’re committed to supporting the communities where we operate. In 2011, we established the EPCOR Community Essentials Council (ECEC) with the objective of creating a positive impact in our communities. The ECEC includes community leaders and EPCOR employees who meet quarterly to award up to $100,000 to selected eligible applicants.  The ECEC donates up to $400,000 per year.

Before the Q4 2012 meeting, the ECEC had already donated over $598,766 to 34 organizations. You can see some of the amazing programs and organizations that we’ve supported here.

ECEC 2012
From left to right: Jeffrey Lloyd, Liz O’Neill, Mack Male, Matthew Herder, Jamie Pytel, Brian Gerdes, Patti Lefebvre, Ruth Kelly, Simon Farbrother, Frank Mannarino, Not pictured: Robert Walker

Every quarter we met to review applications from a wide range of organizations. Over time we became more efficient at the adjudication process, but it never got any easier to decide against a worthy cause. I feel really fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about so many of the great things happening in our community (for instance, I got to teach kindergarten). I also had the opportunity to learn about some of the challenges our community faces. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Getting to know my fellow council members was definitely a highlight of the experience. We all came from different perspectives, but everyone was pumped about the opportunity to help EPCOR make a difference, and I think we worked really well together. I felt pretty honored to be at the same table as all of them. Ruth Kelly served as our chair and she set the tone and kept us on track. The ECEC is lucky to have her!

I want to thank everyone at EPCOR who has worked on making the ECEC possible, but I especially want to thank Diane Allen. I know she put a lot of work into the ECEC and clearly it has paid off. Her contributions cannot be understated, and I’m very grateful that she was there to guide us through the process. I can’t wait to see which interesting challenges she decides to tackle next!

My seat on the council was the “Youth Representative” position, and I’m very happy to share that fellow Top 40 Under 40 alum Emmy Stuebing will be taking my place. She is currently the Executive Director of the Alberta Emerald Foundation and loves to get involved in the community, volunteering her time for a number of causes. She brings a lot of experience to the ECEC and I know she’ll have a positive impact.

You can learn more about the ECEC here and you can sign up for the quarterly e-newsletter here. If your organization would like to apply for ECEC funding, make sure you qualify and have a link to at least one of EPCOR’s three pillars for community support, then fill out the application form online.

Edmonton benefits from seconded Oilers employees during the lockout

oilersThe players and the owners get the spotlight whenever the NHL lockout is discussed, but the lack of hockey affects many more people than that. At many teams, the employees that run the organization have been laid off or have had to take pay cuts due to the lack of revenue coming in. But for many of the Oilers staff, secondment to other organizations throughout the city has been a welcome alternative.

“Our biggest and most valuable asset is the people we have recruited and trained,” Oilers President & COO Patrick LaForge told me. “The worst thing you can do is lay people off.” He knows it is not only difficult for the employees, who would have to go out and find new jobs and deal with everything that goes along with that, but also for the Oilers who will still need talented people once the lockout ends.

The Oilers have done two key things to retain staff during the lockout. The first is that the senior executives all took a sizable pay cut, and the difference is used to ensure that all employees who make less than a certain amount of money per year still earn 100% of their salaries. That leaves the folks in the middle, and that’s where the secondment idea comes in. During the last lockout in 2004, a few Oilers employees found temporary homes at other organizations. One of the employees had a connection with the company that suggested the secondment, and the Oilers decided to give it a shot. “This time, everyone was prepared,” Patrick said.

The Oilers currently have 22 employees seconded to other organizations in Edmonton (that’s about 30% of the folks in the middle). Pennock Acheson Nielsen Devaney took six accountants on board, and other employees have gone to Body by Bennett, the Winspear Centre (including Tony Bao, who the Journal and Sun both wrote about), Williams Engineering, West Edmonton Mall, and a number of other local companies and non-profits. The employees stay on the Oilers payroll, earn their full salaries, and retain all of their benefits, and the Oilers simply invoice the companies for part of the employee’s salary. Most employees have two week notice periods with their temporary employers, so if the lockout were to end the Oilers could be back up and running at full capacity in short order.

Regardless of what happens with the lockout, the employees will likely be back with the Oilers full-time in February as the organization ramps up to sell season tickets for the 2013-2014 campaign. But that may not be the end of the secondments; Patrick indicated that the Oilers may explore the idea for the summer too.

There’s a risk that the Oilers will lose some of these people, but it doesn’t seem likely. “It’s about good commerce in the city,” Patrick told me. It certainly does seem like a win-win-win. The employees get to keep their jobs and paychecks, and they’ll be exposed to new ideas and approaches along the way. The employers get to take advantage of some talented individuals, which is a big deal in Edmonton’s tight labour market (it took just ten days to place the 22 individuals). And the Oilers get to retain their employees and will likely experience a jolt of energy and fresh ideas when they all return.

Actually, they’re probably experiencing that already. Every two weeks the team gets together to swap stories and to share the things they have learned. “Having a culture where everyone is learning is important”, Patrick said. While I’m sure the Oilers would rather be in the middle of a season right now, the opportunity for employees to learn new things from other local organizations probably isn’t such a bad thing.

Could this happen in other cities? Sure, but it’s no surprise that it’s happening here. As Todd wrote, Edmonton is “an unusually open city: open to ideas and open to change.” There’s a spirit of collaboration that makes partnerships like the ones the Oilers have forged possible.

Preview: Launch Party Edmonton 3

startup edmontonNext Thursday evening, Edmonton’s third Launch Party will take place at Startup Edmonton. It’s an opportunity to mix and mingle with some of the city’s most interesting entrepreneurs, creators, and developers. The focus is on ten startups that have risen up over the last year or so and are now ready for the next stage. There are no formal presentations or panels, but there will be drinks, demos, and DJs! You can see my recap of Launch Party 2 here.

Here’s what you need to know about each startup.

GeniePad
TWO WORDS: Condo Communication
WHAT: “GeniePad is a communication portal for condominiums, condo boards, homeowners associations, and property management companies. With GeniePad you can simply and easily deliver news, share documents, buy and sell goods within your building’s community, provide your residents with a tool to communicate with the condo board, homeowners association, property management and other residents electronically, making it quick and efficient.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rafal Dyrda of Flame360 Inc., also co-founded PartsBazaar.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’m a big fan of the product (my condo building uses it). GeniePad solves problems that all large residential buildings have, and it does so with an attractive, easy-to-use, cost-effective web app. With 130 properties already using the product (which they found largely through word-of-mouth), GeniePad is off to a great start.

Granify
TWO WORDS: Shopping Analytics
WHAT: “Granify is an Edmonton-based company backed by several of the strongest venture capital firms in Canada and the US. We’re at the intersection of artificial intelligence and e-commerce, providing a SaaS solution that enables online retailers to maximize their sales by using cutting edge big data and machine learning technologies. We’re a small but growing team of eager entrepreneurial individuals that enjoy working in a fun, creative, and agile environment.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeff Lawrence, founder of Bloro Games and Precision Targeting; Lihang Ying, architect at the City of Edmonton working on 311 and Open Data; and Shawn Wan, formerly of Tynt.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Member of Extreme Startups’ first cohort earlier this year.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Granify has already received a significant amount of investment from some very seasoned investors, so that’s a good sign. Big data is an increasingly growing area of interest for many people, and Granify seems well-positioned to make a play in the e-commerce segment of that space.

Jobber
TWO WORDS: Business Management
WHAT: “Jobber is a cloud based mobile-capable business management system for field service companies. Landscapers, painters, cleaning companies, contractors and many other service professionals are getting organized, saving time and earning more using Jobber to power their administrative back end, and to close the information loop with their employees in the field.”
KEY PEOPLE: Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 15.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I ran a painting franchise one summer and I could definitely have used Jobber back then! With a rich set of features, competitive pricing, and a giant market of small service companies, it’s no surprise that Jobber has attracted Boris Wertz and Point Nine Capital as investors.

LoginRadius
TWO WORDS: Social Login
WHAT: “LoginRadius is Software as a Service (SaaS) that provides social infrastructure to help businesses grow through the power of social media, improving the ease and efficiency of online identity management. Using LoginRadius, website owners can allow their users to log in with existing accounts on Live, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and over 20 more providers. Social Login eliminates the annoying registration process that all online users have come to dread and not only attracts more traffic to a website but also boosts its user base.”
KEY PEOPLE: Rakesh Soni, who did his MSc in Engineering at the University of Alberta.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: LoginRadius has partnerships with Mozilla, Microsoft’s BizSpark, DynDNS, and X-Card, and already has 22,000 customers according to Business in Edmonton magazine. Social plugins are all the rage, and LoginRadius makes it easy to add them to your website with the added bonus of gathering data for social analytics.

Monogram
TWO WORDS: Instagram Profiles
WHAT: “Monogram is a web service that helps users create simple online profiles. We create custom plugins that use API’s from popular tools and social networks to give users a deep amount of customization with little effort. We currently only offer profiles for Instagram – but we plan to roll out new profiles in the new year.”
KEY PEOPLE: Brandon Webber, Tim Fletcher, and Adrian Gyuricska, all from Lift Interactive.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 19.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: During the demo back in September, Brandon and Tim emphasized that supporting services beyond Instagram was important. Well three days ago Instagram launched their own web profiles. Monogram plans to support SoundCloud, Vimeo, and Etsy among other services. While there’s definitely a market for beautifully designed, premium profiles, it is a busy space with about.me and many others. They’ll have to focus on quality and service.

Mover
TWO WORDS: Cloud Storage
WHAT: “These days most consumers are using, or starting to use, cloud storage. This means that files are now in Dropbox, or Google, or somewhere other than their computers. Mover uncomplicates the process for software developers to work with cloud storage. Using Mover, any app, product, or service can easily interact with cloud storage providers like Box, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft SkyDrive. Mover provides a great application programming interface (API) for software developers. The process of authorizing, downloading, and uploading files from any cloud storage provider is identical using Mover, whereas the old way of doing things was a long and arduous process.”
KEY PEOPLE: Eric Warnke, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former Nexopia employee; Mark Fossen, co-founder of Mesh Canada, former ThinkTel employee; and Ben Zittlau, creator of Alertzy and co-founder of Firenest.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 as Backup Box.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Dropbox is the poster child of cloud storage, but it is just one of many options. SkyDrive (my favorite), Box, Amazon S3, Windows Azure, and Google Drive are just a few of the other big players. Moving data from one to another is going to become increasingly important, and Mover helps make it easy. Their slogan of “one API for the cloud” is a lofty but potentially lucrative promise.

PlanHero
TWO WORDS: Event Planning
WHAT: “PlanHero makes planning social group trips easy and stress free. We take the chaos out of planning group trips while making sure everyone pays the planner on time. PlanHero makes communicating efficient, allow you to poll your friends to help decide what, when and where to go and help everyone book their trip like a pro. Planners set up basic trip information and any questions they want the group to decide on in no time, meaning less time arguing and reading email chains and more time getting the trip of a lifetime happening.”
KEY PEOPLE: Dave Chmiel; Kyle Huberman, CEO of Pixel Designs; and Richard Aberefa.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Demoed at DemoCamp Edmonton 18.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Even with an ever-growing list of online tools, coordinating group events (especially those that require payment) is still a pain. That’s the problem that PlanHero hopes to address, utilizing Facebook for easy social connectivity. They may need to focus on a specific niche to start (ski trips, for instance) but the service is slick and easy-to-use.

Poppy Barley
TWO WORDS: Custom Boots
WHAT: “Poppy Barley will revolutionize the way women buy footwear. Mass-manufactured footwear only considers one measurement – foot length and as a result over 60% of women struggle to find boots that fit. Motivated by the promise of fit and brilliance of bespoke, Poppy Barley makes it possible for women to design their ideal pair of boots and self-measure their feet, ankles and legs in 5 minutes. Poppy Barley makes the luxury of made to measure boots attainable for the first time by a business model delivered entirely online with no middlemen and layers of markups.” 
KEY PEOPLE: Justine Barber and her sister Kendall Barber, editor & founder of City & Dale.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Featured in the Edmonton Journal on September 13.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Purchasing clothing or shoes online is always difficult because of the sizing issue. Will it fit? You never know. Add to that the fact that everyone’s fit is slightly different, and you have a solid use case for Poppy Barley (it also seems more likely to take off than something like Pedpad, which requires a hardware device to measure). The sisters have done their homework and they’ve already inked a number of key partnerships. Oh, and they definitely know fashion!

Sendioso
TWO WORDS: Gift Certificates
WHAT: “Sendioso is an online community where people share their favourite local shops and buy and send gift certificates immediately via email or mobile phone. Anyone can visit Sendioso.com, view their friends’ favourite places, buy a gift certificate from any Sendioso merchant, and then send it to anyone, at any time. We want our audience to have fun gifting, sharing and visiting Sendioso stores — maybe for the first time.”
KEY PEOPLE: Jeremy Payne and Lisa Hryniw.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: I’ll admit I don’t know much about Sendioso, but the idea of getting gift cards for places I actually like is appealing. The services seems to have an interesting discovery angle too.

Showbie
TWO WORDS: Paperless Homework
WHAT: “Showbie unlocks the creative potential of classroom iPads with easy document sharing right from everyone’s favorite apps. Showbie makes workflow easily manageable, effective and secure. The best way to go paperless. Students, parents and teachers are thrilled with the simple but effective way of sharing assignment, projects and homework.”
KEY PEOPLE: Colin Bramm, President of Bramm Technologies and long-time entrepreneur in the education technology space. Demoed SelfChecker at DemoCamp Edmonton 9 in November 2009.
PREVIOUSLY SEEN AT: Launched on June 12, 2012 at Launch Education & Kids in Mountain View, CA.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: Colin has been dabbling in the ed tech space for a while so has quite a bit of experience to draw from. The product has already been used by 400 schools around the world. Many districts are investing in iPads for schools, so the addressable market does seem to be growing.

Tickets for Launch Party 3 are $25 or $15 for students. You can get yours here.

Launch Party is just one of many exciting events celebrating entrepreneurship in Edmonton next week. Global Entrepreneurship Week 2012 kicks off on Tuesday at Startup Edmonton, and there are events planned all week long.

See you there!

Media Monday Edmonton: Righting the ship at the Edmonton Journal

After a year full of change, the Edmonton Journal of 2013 and beyond will be a very different newspaper than the one you’ve come to know. In fact, if the transition goes according to plan, you won’t think of it as a “newspaper” at all. Instead you’ll think of it as “the most valued source of information about our community…accessible when and where our readers want.” That’s the Journal’s vision statement, and its leaders would suggest that the changes made over the last few months were all in support of that goal. While that may be true, there’s also the business reality of being owned by a larger organization that continues to lose millions of dollars every quarter in an industry undergoing dramatic change. With a leaner organization and a greater focus on increasing revenue, can the Journal (and Postmedia) really turn things around?

Edmonton Journal

“Everyone agrees the old business model for newspapers is challenged,” says Edmonton Journal Editor in Chief Lucinda Chodan. “No one has figured out an alternative that allows us to pay a large newsroom full of journalists good wages to continue to do fine contextual journalism that sheds light on important local, national and international issues.” The truth is, we have never really paid for the news. As usual, Clay Shirky sums it up well: “We have, at most, helped pay for the things that paid for the news.” Newspapers produced bundles of content and sold ads against that content, but the realities that allowed that to work in the print world no longer exist in the digital world. “Newspapers, as a sheaf of unrelated content glued together with ads, aren’t just being threatened with unprofitability, but incoherence,” Shirky wrote.

Solving that problem is not trivial, and it’s harder still when the business needs to continue to operate. That has led to the deep cuts at newspapers all over North America. Here in Canada, Postmedia hopes to cut spending by $120 million over the next three years, and it has made changes across the chain in an effort to do just that. In August came one of the biggest yet: all of its newspapers now use shared pages built at a central facility in Hamilton for non-local content. Instead of each newspaper selecting and editing national and international stories, they’ll all print the same thing. The initiative, dubbed OneTouch, meant the loss of 20 full-time equivalent jobs (FTEs) at the Edmonton Journal.

We’ve seen a number of other changes happen here in Edmonton already this year. In June, the Journal stopped publishing the TV Times, which resulted in numerous complaints and the direct loss of 96 subscribers. Starting July 1, the Journal dropped the Sunday edition. As of the end of August, that had resulted in the direct loss of 320 subscribers and many more complaints. And while the impact of the stoppage of rural home delivery is hard to quantify, it could be significant (the paper is still available in grocery stores, gas stations, and other locations in rural areas). In August, the Journal announced it would outsource the actual printing of the newspaper to Great West Newspapers, starting in 2013. A total of 70 full-time jobs would be cut as a result.

In September the Journal’s six-day average circulation was 95,706 (total of everyone who bought a paper, subscriber or otherwise), so while the number of actual subscribers lost as a result of the changes seems relatively small, the impact on headcount has likely had a much larger effect. Both Cam Tait and Nick Lees are no longer full-time employees, though both are writing weekly columns. Ed Struzik is another recently departed member of the newsroom, after he requested a buyout. Those are just the most recent names you recognize to leave, however. Dozens of former staffers are gone, and that has likely had a very real psychological effect both inside and outside the organization.

More changes are on the way. Fortunately, it sounds as though most others will be focused on increasing revenue rather than simply cutting costs. Yes, you might soon find yourself paying for content that was previously “free”. In August, four of Postmedia’s newspapers launched paywalls. “You can’t spend millions of dollars on content and just give it away,” Postmedia chief executive officer Paul Godfrey said. A paywall here in Edmonton is virtually guaranteed, and will launch sometime this fall according to Chodan.

Another big change on the way is “product differentiation.” The key here is for the Journal to stop thinking of itself as a newspaper, and instead as a news organization utilizing a variety of platforms, print being just one of them. That should enable it to take advantage of the opportunities provided by each platform – there are things you can do with a tablet that just aren’t possible on paper. I don’t think the printed newspaper will ever go away completely, just as vinyl records have not vanished, but there are big advantages to this strategy of treating print as just another platform. You might pay more for a tablet application that brings you interactive features, for instance.

It’s an example of how the Journal is becoming more deliberate about finding new revenue streams. This doesn’t mean you’ll see sponsored news articles, however. “We don’t expect our journalists to build revenue into their considerations when they are gathering and disseminating news,” Chodan says. Instead, think of e-books and other non-newspaper products. “Many newspapers are now creating new revenue streams around (often primarily digital) content that has high reader interest, good journalism and revenue attached.”

The Journal took a big step down this path over the summer with the launch of Capital Ideas. The goal is to bring local entrepreneurs together to share what they know, and so far the events have been well-received. Generating revenue from that effort hasn’t been a focus yet, but that’ll have to change eventually. If it works, Capital Ideas could become a model for other Journal-led projects. “We are examining the ways that we can add value to readers’ lives…then figuring out how to make the financials add up,” Chodan said.

Edmonton Journal Building

There’s no guarantee that any of these efforts will bear fruit, of course. We have seen past initiatives fail to deliver, most recently The Bridge. If the new projects don’t turn out well, there’s always the possibility of additional cuts, either to staff or to the six-day print schedule as we have seen elsewhere. For instance, September 29 was the final daily edition of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. It now prints just three days a week, a widely-discussed change that led to a number of protests. It’s a reminder that things could get worse before they get better.

Without question we’ll look back on 2012 as a difficult year for the Journal, with job cuts and other big changes, but there is reason to be optimistic for the future. “If you count all platforms, readership of newspapers has never been higher,” Chodan said. “It’s just a matter of monetizing that readership in some reasonable fashion.”

The question is, can the Edmonton Journal figure out the monetization puzzle before it’s too late?

How do I network effectively? Good tools help!

I’m really looking forward to being one of the three panelists at tomorrow’s Capital Ideas Edmonton event tackling the question, “How do I network effectively?” I guess you could say I have had some success with networking and I definitely have some ideas and thoughts on the subject to share!

How do you approach someone in a crowd without seeming pushy? How can you best connect with someone you meet at an event? Should you send a follow up after first connecting? You have been sharing your networking advice, and now we’re asking three Edmonton entrepreneurs to share their experiences.

We’ll get into those questions and many more during lunch tomorrow, and my sense is that we’ll quickly coalesce around the notion that you simply can’t beat face-to-face interaction. We’ll probably touch on technology, but I don’t think it’ll be the focus. For that reason, I thought it might be interesting to share some of the tools I use to help me network effectively.

Business Cards

I look forward to a time when everyone carries around a device equipped with NFC technology so that we can just tap devices and have contact information shared instantly. We’re not there yet however, so most of us rely on business cards to pass our details to someone else. I tried to do away with business cards for a while, thinking that anyone could Google me really quickly. That experiment didn’t last long though – I learned that people like having something tangible. I’m still using the business cards I designed back in 2009 (with some minor adjustments) and I find they work well. I only have my website and email addresses on the front of the card, which reflects my preference for online communication instead of the phone. On the back of the card is a tag cloud with organizations and words that hopefully jog someone’s memory about where or how they met me. Plus, I think it looks cool! The challenge of course is that I always think of things to add to the tag cloud before I run out of cards. Notably absent at the moment? What the Truck?!.

Website

I have resisted the temptation to make my blog the “front page” of my website specifically so that I have a more static place to put contact information, a brief bio, and a photo. I think this useful for people who want to find out more after looking at a business card or my Twitter profile or some other page that lists my URL. I treat my website as a hub for all of my online activities (you’ll find links to most of my social media profiles). One new service that does this for you is about.me and if you don’t already have a website, I would recommend taking a look at it. Here’s my page.

Online Calendar

You can very often find me at Credo Coffee or one of the other coffee spots downtown because I love meeting with people face-to-face. I will sometimes initiate but very often I get messages from others who want to meet with me to discuss something. I found that keeping track of all the emails and going back-and-forth on availability was time consuming and error prone, so I started looking for tools to help. I settled on Doodle a few months ago, which I had already started using to organize group meetings with others.

Doodle has a great feature called MeetMe which gives you a page that others can use to book time with you (Tungle.me is another option). This requires syncing your calendar with Doodle, but it supports all of the popular options such as Google Calendar, Outlook, iCal, etc. You can see my Doodle page here. Scheduling meetings is now really easy – I just point people to my Doodle page and they can suggest a time that works for them! I have scheduled more than three dozen meetings this way, and I now wonder how I ever got by without it. The basic service is free, but there’s a paid option if you want to customize your page.

Email & CRM

I have been a very happy Exchange/Outlook user for years, and last year I made the transition to Office 365 which is Microsoft’s hosted service. Whether you choose Exchange, Gmail, or some other service doesn’t matter too much, as long as you have access to it from anywhere. I don’t currently use a separate CRM tool, though I have given it some thought (not sure it is worth the effort). What I do right now is store contact details and simple notes about people in my Exchange address book, and I store longer form meeting notes (if necessary) using OneNote. I used Evernote for a while, but I’ve chosen the Microsoft ecosystem, and OneNote simply works better with Outlook, Skydrive, my Windows Phone, etc.

Social Networking

Have a favorite service? Chances are I am “mastermaq” there. I have profiles at most places, though my main networks are Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. These services are great for keeping in touch with people, but they are also a great way to augment my address book. My Windows Phone automatically links contacts from my address book and social networking services together so that I have one master contact list. I can’t tell you how many times I haven’t had a phone number or email address in my Exchange address book but have found it via someone’s social networking profile. Very handy! And the best part is that you don’t really have to keep your address book up-to-date – your contacts do it for you.

Reminders

I use a combination of services to make sure that I don’t forget to follow-up on something or with someone, and I have to admit that I still miss things from time to time (I have a terrible memory). First, I make extensive use of flags in my email. If I can’t deal with something right away, I’ll flag it so that I can review it later. Second, I make use of lists and flags inside of OneNote. Sometimes it’s just easier to have a page with a list of stuff that I know to check. Third, I generally set reminders on events in my calendar. Fourth, and probably most important, I use Remember the Milk. There are dozens and dozens of task list or reminder services out there, but RTM does everything I need it and more. It is frequently updated and improved, it works on pretty much every device, it integrates with a ton of other services, and it’s fast and easy-to-use. Best of all, unless you need some of the advanced features, it is free!

Sync & Backup

I guess underlying all of the tools I have talked about above is that everything is synced to my various computers and devices automatically, as well was backed up. I use both Dropbox and Skydrive very extensively. While these are not “networking” tools, they are important to make sure that all the effort you put into writing things down isn’t all of a sudden lost one day!

Other

Although recent devices and software have improved the situation greatly, I think QR codes are still more of a gimmick than a useful tool. My preference would be to use a short URL that is relatively easy to type or write down instead of a QR code.

And finally yes, I will absolutely Google you before we meet!

I hope you find some of these tools useful for your own networking activities. More importantly, I’d love to hear about the tools you use that I haven’t even discovered yet! Let me know in the comments below.

The Past, Present, and Future of Food Truck Bylaws & Guidelines in Edmonton

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later – Edmonton has joined the long list of cities that have had disputes between restaurants and food trucks. As you’ve probably heard, Grandma Lee’s in Petroleum Plaza has complained about Drift, one of our city’s most popular food trucks. It’s an attractive media story as we head into summer and that has contributed to the issue becoming a bigger deal than is necessary. On the plus side, the situation has highlighted the need for a review of the Street Vending Program.

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona

I have been learning about and researching the bylaws and guidelines and how everything works for quite a while now, and this seems like a good opportunity to share what I know!

Why are food trucks allowed in Edmonton?

The Traffic Safety Act (TSA) sets out the basic rules for streets in our province. Among other things, the act outlines how the Alberta Transportation Safety Board should work, the rules for operator’s licenses and vehicle registrations, speed limits and other rules of the road, and the powers of municipalities with respect to streets. Specifically, section 13(1) states that municipalities can pass bylaws that govern the use of highways under its direction, provided they are not inconsistent with the TSA. Here in Edmonton that is bylaw 5590 (Traffic Bylaw, PDF) and in Calgary, that is 26M96 (Traffic Bylaw) and 20M88 (Street Bylaw).

A useful way to think about it is this: All streets in Alberta are governed by the basic rules set forward by the province. In cities like Edmonton and Calgary, bylaws enable each municipality to manage its own streets, building on top of those basic province-wide rules.

In Calgary, the Street Bylaw states in section 5(a) that you cannot sell things on streets. Section 5(b) outlines some exceptions to this, including pushcarts and ice cream trucks, but does not specifically mention food trucks. In Edmonton, section 67 is far less specific, and simply states that you must have a permit in order to sell goods and services. It also grants authority to the City Manager to basically bring the bylaws to life through policies, procedures, guidelines, and enforcement.

That’s why Edmonton has been allowed to have food trucks – our Traffic Bylaw enables permits for selling goods and services on city streets, and it does not specify any restrictions as to what those goods and/or services might be. As long as you have a valid permit, you’re good to go. In Calgary, you’d need to get a letter from the Director of Roads unless you fall under one of the allowed exceptions. Obviously that’s not a very scalable solution, hence the pilot that is underway in Calgary.

How does the City of Edmonton manage food trucks?

Nearly thirty years ago the Street Vending Program was created. According to a City report from 2005, it “was initiated by City Council to aid in the revitalization and enrichment of the downtown core.” Parks & Recreation was originally responsible for the program, though it has also called Community Services home. Currently responsibility falls to Sustainable Development.

The program today consists of the coordinator, the application forms, and the guidelines. You can download the latest package here. If you look at the package, you’ll find that the Street Vending Program deals with all kinds of vendors, not just food trucks. Hotdog carts, ice cream trucks, and any other vendor wanting to sell things on city streets must have four things: a business license (specifically a Travelling or Temporary Food Sales license), a health permit, a minimum of $2 million general liability insurance, and a vending permit. In order to get a vending permit, you need to talk to the Street Vending Coordinator and you need to follow the guidelines. There are slightly different guidelines for sidewalk vendors as opposed to street vendors, and altogether different guidelines for ice cream trucks.

Until very recently, the coordinator was a seasonal position, which means that throughout most of the winter there was no staff person at the City working on street vending. That meant that there was limited time to make improvements to the guidelines or changes to the program, which is part of the reason why they have remained largely the same for years.

What are the guidelines for food trucks in Edmonton?

There are a number of guidelines that apply to all kinds of vendors. For example, vendors are only allowed to operate from 7am until 11pm. Permits apply to a single location only – if you want multiple locations, you need to have multiple permits. Vendors must adhere to a code of conduct and “conduct themselves in a professional manner”. Vending units must not be left unattended, vendors cannot sell illegal or counterfeit products, etc.

In addition to the general street vending guidelines, there are roughly fifteen bullet points under the section for street vendors. Most of these are fairly straightforward, including things like “all existing parking restrictions apply” and “overhead canopies or vertically operating doors must not obstruct or hinder safe pedestrian traffic”. I encourage you to read the document for yourself as it isn’t very long. I’ll highlight the two points that deal with disputes between existing businesses and vendors:

  • Permission will not be granted to Vendors where a conflict with an existing business is evident.
  • Where a conflict arises with an existing business, the Sustainable Development Department reserves the right to relocate the contentious Vendor.

Nowhere else in the guidelines does the topic of conflicts come up. There is no section on how such complaints are handled, nor is there any information on how to appeal a complaint. Under the current guidelines, if you’re a vendor that someone has complained about, you’re automatically labeled “contentious” and there’s not much you can do about it. There are no rules to fall back on, and there is no process to follow to try to resolve the issue.

When was the Street Vending Program last reviewed and updated?

While minor modifications have been made over the years, mostly with respect to title and department name changes but also fees, the current street vending guidelines are largely the same as they were in 2005 (the oldest copy I was able to find). And according to a report from that year, the “program has not had an Administrative or City Council initiated review”. In other words, they haven’t been formally reviewed since they were created!

That report came about because then-Councillor Michael Phair received a complaint about street vending and “especially concerning vendors that sell food” so he made an inquiry to Administration. They brought a report back to the Community Services Committee on September 1, which outlined how the program operates. The committee voted to have Administration bring back a second report comparing the program with “best practices in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.” That report came back on November 4 and outlined some of the things other cities do with respect to street vending. Here are the two key points from that report:

“Community Services Department surveyed service providers directly and asked a series of questions via telephone with counterparts from Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, New York, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle.”

“After looking at the street vending practices for ten municipalities, it is concluded that Edmonton’s program equals or exceeds that of the other municipalities.”

As a result no further action was taken, and the program has continued the same way ever since.

Why should the guidelines be reviewed and updated now?

Put simply, a lot has changed in the last thirty years since the Street Vending Program was created! Especially in the last five years, interest in food trucks has exploded across North America and expectations about how such businesses operate has changed very quickly. In 2005, the program had about 40 vendors in total. This year, there are 55 vendors (that number includes food trucks, ice cream trucks, carts, and all other sidewalk vendors). That’s not a large jump, but we are seeing new food trucks joining the fray and I expect that trend will continue.

More important than the quantity of vendors is the type of vendor. Back in 2005, we didn’t really have curbside food trucks like Drift. Now we do, and we should expect more! I think there are significant differences between a sidewalk vendor and a food truck, yet the guidelines for the most part don’t reflect that. Whereas it might make sense to restrict a sidewalk vendor’s permit to a single location, the whole point of a food truck is that it is mobile and can move around.

The food trucks of today are serving a completely different kind of product than mobile carts have in the past, and that has an impact on the program too. Sandwiches from Drift are certainly competition for brick-and-mortar restaurants, so it’s no surprise that some disputes will arise. The current street vending program does not outline any process for dealing with such disputes.

The opportunity to realize Council’s original vision for the Street Vending Program – “to aid in the revitalization and enrichment of the downtown core” – has never been stronger than it is today. If we want food trucks to be viable and sustainable into the future, we need to update the program.

What changes should be made?

This is a topic that will need further discussion, but we could do a lot worse than to look to Calgary for guidance. Because their pilot program is so new, they have been able to capture many of the key points that differentiate food trucks from other vendors and those are reflected in the program’s guidelines.

Note that we don’t need to change our bylaws, just the Street Vending Program. Changing the bylaws is a much more difficult process that would require approval by City Council. Changing the Street Vending Program can be much simpler. Remember it’s the bylaws that make food trucks possible but it’s the Street Vending Program that outlines how food trucks are managed and should operate.

Here are some ideas for positive changes to Edmonton’s Street Vending Program:

  • Grant food trucks a permit that applies to multiple locations or a large area, rather than requiring one permit per location. In Calgary they have the concept of “roll zones” and “no-roll zones” which outline where the trucks can and cannot go.
  • Bring the cost of the permit in line with other cities. In Calgary, food trucks pay a flat fee of $700 per year that is not dependent on actual street usage.
  • Make it easier for trucks to serve in the evening. This could be accomplished by establishing some sort of evening roaming rules, by extending the valid operating times past 11pm, or both. In Calgary, food trucks may operate until 3am.
  • Get rid of the restriction that only one truck may operate on a street at a time. We know that food trucks are often more successful when there are many together than when they are going solo, as long as they are complementary, and we know that food truck operators all talk and already team up from time to time!
  • Clearly outline where food trucks are allow to operate. Calgary’s guidelines clearly state that food trucks cannot operate within 25 metres of any restaurant during its operational hours. (Note: Drift is a lot further from Grandma Lee’s than 25 metres!)
  • Outline a process for dealing with complaints. Food trucks need to have some certainty about their business, and if the processes by which they may be asked to move is completely opaque, it’s hard to have that certainty.
  • Revamp the evaluation process for issuing permits. The current “process” is highly subjective and often relies upon the food truck’s relationship with the street vending coordinator. That leads to inconsistent treatment of food trucks, and in some cases, inconsistent fees.
  • Create a proper website. For the longest time, all the Street Vending page said was to call the coordinator and it gave a phone number. At least now it links to the application package, but we could obviously do so much more.

The good news is that discussions regarding these changes have already been taking place, and I anticipate we’ll make significant progress this year. I think if we can make some of these changes a reality, we’ll have a much stronger vending program into the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that perhaps Sustainable Development is not the right home for the Street Vending Program. Sustainable Development is responsible for business licenses, property management, and economic development strategies, among other things, but food trucks in particular need more than that. They also deal with Transportation, Transit, and other departments. I would recommend folding the Street Vending Program into the Civic Events Office, which already coordinates with the various City departments on a regular basis.

If we’re willing to put even more effort in, I think there are significant opportunities to once again have Edmonton’s street vending program be the standard by which other cities are measured. Here’s just one example. Food trucks are different lengths and so are parking stalls. Why not release a dataset of all the parking stalls in Edmonton, or at least those in food-truck-friendly neighbourhoods that includes the location, length, price and other information? It would then be relatively easy for a food truck to scan for potential locations at which to park. We’ve already got the open data catalogue and the parking meter data exists somewhere, so with a bit of effort we could make something like this a reality.

What’s next for Drift and Grandma Lee’s?

As you might have heard, Drift was granted an extension at their current 108 Street location until Friday. They are supposed to file an appeal by then, whatever that means. There is nothing in the guidelines that outlines how exactly Drift is supposed to respond to the situation. Furthermore, the advantage is clearly with Grandma Lee’s – the City can basically tell Drift that they have to move and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I would rather see businesses like Grandma Lee’s choose to compete rather than complain. With a brick-and-mortar location, a restaurant should be able to offer an experience that no food truck can match. Furthermore, we know from our experience with What the Truck?! that having food trucks in an area often draws more people to surrounding businesses, not less. Unfortunately, as Colby Cosh astutely identified last week, Grandma Lee’s has chosen rent-seeking over delivering a better experience, and that means everybody loses.

Drift Sandwich Mob

I hope Drift is not forced to move, but if they are, then I hope it ultimately results in improved guidelines that clearly stipulate how such disputes will be handled in the future. If we want to make it easier for new food trucks to open up in Edmonton – and I think we do – then we need to make the rules clear and consistent.

What’s next for food trucks in Edmonton?

I think Edmonton’s existing food trucks will become even more successful over time as they build up a larger and larger client base and as the food truck movement really takes hold here in Edmonton. We’ll also see new food trucks launch and enjoy success, such as The Act which entered service on Monday. More food trucks means more pedestrian activity and vibrancy on the streets and that ultimately will make Edmonton a better city in which to live. Unless we somehow take a massive step backward, I don’t see any other outcome for food trucks in Edmonton!

By reviewing and updating the Street Vending Program, we can create an environment for food trucks that better reflects the realities of today, and more importantly, better positions us for success in the future. It’ll take some work, but I think it’ll be worth it!

Recap: TEC VenturePrize 2012

tec ventureprizeLast night was the tenth annual TEC VenturePrize awards celebration and to mark the milestone, an evening dinner format was selected instead of the usual luncheon. Hundreds of people packed Hall D at the Shaw Conference Centre to see some of Alberta’s most inspiring entrepreneurs battle it out in three different categories: student, fast growth, and for the first time ever, nano. Over $300,000 in prizes was handed out this year! For those of you who are new to the competition here’s a brief description:

A program of TEC Edmonton, TEC VenturePrize is an Alberta-wide program providing training, professional support and financial incentives to help people build or enhance a viable business. Now celebrating its 10th year, TEC VenturePrize is open to individuals such as aspiring entrepreneurs and faculty and students of post-secondary institutions, or new companies entering the marketplace.

Mayor Mandel kicked things off by welcoming everyone to the event and bringing greetings on behalf of the City. He was followed by the University of Alberta’s Lorne Babiuk and EEDC’s Ron Gilbertson who shared introductory remarks as presenting partners. As he has done for the last few years, Ryan Jespersen emceed the event. Ryan encouraged everyone to participate using the #VenturePrize hashtag on Twitter, and participate they did! It was great to see all of the positive comments about the companies competing. Throughout the evening there were videos featuring participants from the last ten years talking about their experiences with VenturePrize and the impact it had on them as entrepreneurs and on their companies.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

Being the tenth year, time was reserved in the program to honor the organizations and individuals that have been a part of the competition since the beginning. The Edmonton Journal, Field Law, FMC Law, novaNAIT, PWC, and the TSX Venture Exchange have all been sponsors since 2002. Volunteers who have contributed their time and expertise since the start include Colin Christensen, Brian Goheen, Ted Heidrick, Van Konrad, Gord Meeberg, Dennis Pommen, Lloyd Steier, Sam Soliman, and Ted Yoo.

Just like last year, representatives from each of the finalists in the student category participated in a sit-down interview on stage with Ryan. It was a neat way to learn a bit more about each of the companies! The three finalists were:

Founded by 27-year-old Calgary surgical resident Dr. Breanne Everett, Orpyx is behind two highly innovative planar sensory replacement systems, the SurroSense Rx and the SurroGait Rx, that use pressure sensor-embedded shoe insoles to determine force exerted over the bottom of the feet, and wirelessly transmit collected information to a back pad, mobile device or wristwatch worn by the user. Employing the phenomenon of neuroplasticity – the potential of the human brain to rewire itself – the patient is able to interpret the sensory stimulus felt on the back as that from the feet, and positively adjust their gait, balance, mobility and overall health as a result.

Enercal is building CALTrack – intelligent data software for the oil & gas industry. CALTrack provides easy-to-use, intelligent tools to manage critical calibration processes, allowing companies to meet increasing regulation and measurement quality requirements. Enercal was a finalist in Calgary’s STIC competition.

CitizenBridge is a not-for-profit civic engagement organization creating an online platform that will directly connect Canadians and government by facilitating conversations between citizens and their representatives. Capitalizing on the movement of Gov 2.0 in Canada, CitizenBridge’s purpose is to create a much more accessible, transparent and engaging government by using technology to connect constituents with their elected representatives in an effort to strength the overall well-being of our communities.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

There were two finalists in the nanoVenturePrize category, and we got to hear a short pitch from each of them in addition to a video. I think the addition of a nano category is great and will help to cement Edmonton’s role as a key research and development centre for nanotechnology. The products the finalists have created sound really impressive (and way over my head):

Aquila Diagnostics uses the Domino nanotechnology platform developed at the University of Alberta to provide on-site, easy-to-use genetic testing that can quickly test for infectious diseases and pathogens in livestock. The mobile diagnostic platform is portable, low-cost, fast and easy to use.

Parvus Therapeutics’ breakthrough nanomedicines may hold the cure for difficult-to-treat autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. Parvus’ new Navacim medicines are nanoparticles coated with immune system proteins that can target specific autoimmune conditions.

There have been a lot of really unique and successful competitors in the fast growth category over the last ten years, so I’m sure the two finalists were feeling the pressure. Neither showed it up on stage though, delivering great elevator pitches before we got to see their videos.

As a combat trauma surgeon, ITC founder and CEO Dr. Dennis Filips was a firsthand witness to bleeding as a leading cause of battlefield deaths. Now a civilian surgeon and entrepreneur, he is committed to inventing point of injury solutions. ITC’s first product, the ITClamp, is a hand-held device that stops bleeding and saves live by instantly sealing a wound until surgical repair.

Pedpad solves a pervasive challenge faced by consumers in the footwear industry: finding shoes that fit. The process of trying on different sizes across different brands and returning online purchases that don’t fit is frustrating for customers and retailers alike. Pedpad solves this problem with a multi-axis, digital shoe-sizing platform. By stepping on the Pedpad device in-store, consumers can immediately determine their shoe size for a given brand. Through a personal Pedpad account, consumers can access their measurements online, obtain precise sizing recommendations across brands, and shop online with confidence.

The keynote speaker for the event was the Honourable A. Anne McLellan, who spoke about the spirit of innovation in Alberta. After attending a bunch of big events in the last week or two where speakers have not been shy about celebrating the positive economic outlook for Edmonton and the province, it was refreshing to hear Anne McLellan take a more measured approach. She said that we can and must do better in this province, that while energy is our traditional industry, it won’t always be enough. “Complacency is the biggest threat facing Alberta,” she told us. Her remarks covered a lot of ground, including the role that government should play in economic development. “Government should pick the races we’re in, not the winning horses,” she said. I wasn’t sure at first if McLellan was the right fit for a VenturePrize keynote, but I’m glad the organizers picked her!

TEC VenturePrize 2012

While I enjoyed the longer dinner format for the special 10th anniversary, I do think the program was a bit too long. It was well after 9pm by the time we got to the winners! The first award was the Screeners’ Award of Merit, presented by the Alberta Business Family Institute’s Shauna Feth. The award, which recognizes a business plan submission that shows excellent promise, went to Raw-Bitz.

Stephen Lougheed from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures presented the award to the winner of the student category, Orpyx Medical Technologies.

Dan Djukich from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures presented the inaugural nanoVenturePrize award, which went to Parvus Therapeutics.

TEC VenturePrize 2012

The two finalists in the fast growth category could not have been more different. I think Pedpad is on to something interesting, though as Sharon remarked to me when I told her about the company, you really have to try shoes on to see how they fit, because materials and other factors all play a role. Still, companies and products that mix the physical and online worlds are intriguing to me. As for ITC, I still can’t quite believe that their product doesn’t already exist. It looks and operates just like a hair clamp, and doesn’t look very complicated to my untrained eye (though I’m sure there’s more to it). But it obviously works and works well, so I hope it catches on!

TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb had the honor of presenting the award to the winner of the fast growth category: Innovative Trauma Care.

Congratulations to all of the participants, finalists, and winners! Thanks also to TEC Edmonton for saving me a spot at the media table – much appreciated! You can see more photos from the evening here.