Edmonton Tech in 2009

What another fantastic year for tech in Edmonton! I think 2009 had an excellent mix of events, product launches, company successes, and much more. Below I have tried to recap as much of it as possible. I did my first recap post like this last year – you can read it here.

STIRR in EdmontonCrazedCodersFree beer! London PrideDemoCampEdmonton9Start Me UpENTS Grand OpeningLeveraging Technical Expertise Locally

Events

Again we had a great year for DemoCamp, with five events (five, six, seven, eight, nine). The year started off with STIRR, a networking event for tech founders, funders, and others. In early March, the Alberta Entrepreneurs Bootcamp took place at the University of Alberta. Our second BarCamp event was held in June. In July, Edmonton’s first UXCamp took place. The annual Edmonton Code Camp took place in September. Though it wasn’t exactly a tech event, open data played a large role at ChangeCamp which took place in October. That same weekend, Flash in the Can (FITC) brought Flash developers together. November started with the annual ICE Conference, featuring a new startup focused event called Start Me Up. A couple of weeks later, the Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally open house took place – the pilot will get underway in Q1 2010. Also in November the City hosted an Open Data Workshop, another big step on the path toward open data in Edmonton. The month finished off with the iPhone Dev Camp. The year finished off with the first Startup Drinks, put on by Digital Alberta and Startup Edmonton. Watch for much more from them in 2010.

There were many active tech groups in Edmonton this year. The Social Web Meetup continued going strong. The Edmonton Flash User Group held a number of monthly events, in addition to FITC. Agile Edmonton had a great second year, with regularly monthly events. Other active groups included the Edmonton .NET User Group, the Edmonton Microsoft User Group, the Edmonton Web Design Meetup, and TechWing Wednesday.

With 2009 being the breakout year for Twitter, it’s no surprise that the service featured prominently in Edmonton’s tech scene this year. The first Photography Tweetup took place in April, and the group met a few more times later in the year. Also in April was EdmontonTweetup4, and in June we held EdmontonTweetup5. We held two Twestival events this year, in February and September. In November, the community once again got together to wrap gifts for Santas Anonymous. The last major tweetup of the year, the Holiday Tweetup, took place in December. There were many other smaller tweetups throughout the year. I’ll have more on Twitter in Edmonton in 2009 next week.

News

It’s hard to keep track of all of the news that happens in a year, but here are some of 2009’s most interesting Edmonton tech stories:

And here’s the collection of Edmonton Startup Index posts at Techvibes:

2010

I’m really excited for 2010. I think we’ll see accelerating growth and change in the tech community, based upon the strong foundation laid during the last two years. Here are a few things to watch for:

All the best in the new year!

Have another event, story, or link that should be included above? Let me know in the comments or via email. Thanks!

Recap: Community Evening with Jim Diers

Last night Sharon and I attended the West Community Evening with Jim Diers, the second of three events taking place in Edmonton this week (the last one is tonight in the south service area). Jim is a community organizer best known as the former director of the City of Seattle’s Department of Neighbourhoods, a position he held for 14 years. Some of Seattle’s most successful and well-known community initiatives, such as Little City Halls and the Neighbourhood Matching Fund, started and prospered under his watch.

Now Jim spends his time teaching at the University of Washington, and travelling all around the world speaking about what he calls “neighbour power”. In fact, he wrote a book on it! That’s what brought him to Edmonton this week, at the request of the City of Edmonton’s Great Neighbourhoods initiative. Last night was the second time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jim speak – he was in Edmonton back in 2006 for the Walkable Edmonton initiative.

Jim is probably best described as a motivational speaker. That’s what he did last night, sharing stories about the amazing things happening in communities all around the world. Here are some of the key takeaways for me:

  • You can have a neighbourhood without community! A neighbourhood is a place with which we identify, whereas a community is the extent to which we identify with and support one another.
  • There are four key ingredients for community: common identity, manageable scale, gathering places, and a vehicle for collection action.
  • Jim says that community is the key to so much of what we care about, and highlighted four main types of community power:
    • Power to care for the Earth
    • Power to prevent crime
    • Power to care for one another
    • Power to demand justice
  • So what does it take to build community?
    • Have fun!
    • Start where people are (their block, their language & culture, their networks, their passion, their call)
    • But don’t leave them there – strive for results!
    • Focus on assets rather than needs
  • Discover the buried treasure in your community!

His presentation was incredibly high energy, and he had the audience frequently do a cheer – one half yelled “neighbour!” and the other yelled “power!” Jim himself would let out a Howard Dean-esque “Yeah!” after each cheer.

My favorite stories were actually two that I heard back in 2006 – one about the Fremont Troll, and the other about the terraced community garden known as Billy Goat’s Bluff. All of the stories were really interesting, and I’m sure they motivated the more than 200 people in attendance to want to do similar things in their communities.

As I mentioned, Jim was here for the Great Neighbourhoods initiative. Everyone received a Neighbourhood Engagement Application last night. A total of 15 will be selected to attend an action planning workshop with Jim in February 2010. After the workshop, the City of Edmonton may provide matching funds of up to $2500 for projects. All projects need to be put into action by September, when Jim will return to check in.

I really enjoyed Jim’s talk, and I’m excited to see the projects that will happen in Edmonton as a result (but don’t forget there are already many amazing things happening).

For more on Great Neighbourhoods, check out the official website and also this article on Connect2Edmonton.

For more on last night’s event, check out posts from Tamara Stecyk and George Watts.

Recap: Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally Open House

Last night was the open house for the City’s new Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL) initiative (you can read my previous coverage here). The event was meant to provide more details to the community, and to introduce the people behind the scenes. David Faber from the Deputy City Managers Office, Kamren Farr from TEC Edmonton, Keith Chorley from CoE IT, Bruce Beecher from CoE IT/Transit, and Cam Linke were all on hand to introduce the idea and answer questions. Roughly 25 people attended.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

David began by giving the pitch, essentially providing the same information he shared with me last week. He stressed that this is a pilot program, and that it’s okay to fail. The City of Edmonton is hoping to learn from the experience, and will be reporting back to Executive Committee with the results. David highlighted the intent of LTEL:

  • To communicate the services that the City of Edmonton provides.
  • To build bridges with the local community, to enable small tech companies to use the City of Edmonton as a sandbox.

Next up was Bruce, who provided some information on the challenge – creating a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s Lost & Found system. The current database was built with Access 97, and the IT branch is keen to replace it with something more modern. A few details on the system:

  • Roughly 1700 items are tracked per month
  • Items are stored for 30 days, and if not retrieved are then donated, auctioned, or otherwise disposed of. Passports, for example, are returned to the government, and cell phones are returned to the carrier.
  • Items are stored tagged in bins in a storage room that is roughly 20 feet x 20 feet.
  • Most wallets, cell phones, backpacks, and purses are collected within 2 days.

The basic business processes are:

  1. Enter articles – start tracking lost items
  2. Search articles – when someone calls with a description
  3. Claim articles – individual signs the tag upon retrieving the item
  4. Purge articles – items removed from database after retrieval or 30 days

Some of the opportunities identified include:

  • Improved security and access control
  • Multiple item search (currently you can only search one item at a time)
  • Track people inquiring about items
  • Enhance reporting
  • Potentially something generic enough that other CoE departments could use it

Kamren was up next, to provide the preliminary market assessment. He talked about the “lost and found” industry, and highlighted solutions at TransLink and the New York transit authority as best-of-breed. There are four existing types of lost and found systems:

  1. Public – transit, etc.
  2. Private – hotels, etc.
  3. Return service – you pay for tags or some incentive to return
  4. Online classifieds – lost and found posters, basically

He went on to talk about market segments, and highlighted some of the market drivers, opportunities, and challenges.

The challenge was eventually described as:

Use technology to reduce costs for the customer (City of Edmonton) and increase recovery rates for users (people who have lost things).

All of this information will be made available on the LTEL page. The only other pertinent detail is that the upper limit for the budget is $75,000. Technical requirements and other details will also be posted on the website.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

My Thoughts

I talked with a number of people after the session to get their perspective. Most folks seemed excited about the idea. Andrew from dub5, in particular, said he was impressed that the City of Edmonton took the time to get this pilot started, and suggested that it was a big step in the right direction. Bruce Winter echoed that sentiment, but like me, was hoping for something a little more visual.

Here are my thoughts on the open house:

  • The City needs to do a much better job of spreading the word. I realize they wanted to manage expectations, but I don’t think enough people knew about last night’s event.
  • I would have loved to have seen the format of the event mimic DemoCamp. Instead of slides full of bullet points, why not demo what they currently have?
  • I get that a lost and found database isn’t particularly exciting, but that doesn’t mean that the presentation can’t be. Instead of telling us there’s a 20×20 room packed with items, why not show a photo?
  • This is going to sound harsh, but Kamren’s presentation wasn’t much more than a Google search. Very basic business concepts (competition, market segments, opportunities, challenges) and nothing more than the names of some other lost and found systems. I’m still wondering what exactly TEC Edmonton and EEDC bring to the table, besides a couple more names?

My biggest concern however, is related to the very first question I asked. I wanted to know if there were any technical requirements, and specifically, if the application had to be on-premise (meaning the City of Edmonton hosts and manages it). Keith answered yes, tech requirements would be provided, and that yes, the solution needs to run in the City of Edmonton’s existing infrastructure. One of the stated goals of LTEL is to expose the City of Edmonton to some of the innovative ideas of the local tech community, so this seems like a big step in the wrong direction. Maybe there’s a good reason for this particular solution, but if so it was not made clear. I think putting up big restrictions like that right from the start limits the potential solutions the City could learn about. (Also, I was under the impression the City wanted to get out of the tech business, by not doing custom development and reducing the burden of hosting and managing systems.)

This criticism is meant to be constructive. Overall I think LTEL is a good thing, and I want to see it succeed. I look forward to the rest of the process!

Stay tuned to the website for updates and an application form. Companies interested in developing a solution have until December 15 to express interest.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally – Open House on November 17

As you may have heard by now, the City of Edmonton is hosting an open house on Tuesday, November 17 (on ShareEdmonton) at City Hall to present a pilot project to interested members of the local tech community. The initiative is known as Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (LTEL), and the open house follows on the report that was presented to Executive Committee back in August. I’ll get to some of the event details in a second, but first I want to offer some background.

I heard about the open house late on Monday afternoon, and immediately posted a tweet. You might think that the City’s IT department would be behind it, but many of them only learned about it because of my tweet! And that’s where things get interesting.

I had the opportunity this week to sit down with David Faber, one of the folks making this initiative happen. David is the Executive Director of Enterprise Strategic Management in the Deputy City Managers Office. His involvement means that this initiative is happening at a level slightly above IT, as David is (along with his team) charged with strategy, direction, accountability, and stewardship for the entire City of Edmonton, not just IT. David’s job is to bring the City’s Vision and Strategic Plan to life, and LTEL is just one of the ways in which he’s doing that.

As you might expect, David oozes passion for Edmonton. He’s been with the City of Edmonton for 12 years now, and even spent some time working in IT, so he has some experience in the field. For David, the LTEL initiative is about innovation and economic development, as well as the opportunity to simply connect with startups and other small tech firms in Edmonton. He outlined a few key goals of the initiative:

  • To bring the community together with the City, and to open the door at CoE for smaller companies.
  • To build shared learning by using the City as a sandbox and by not being afraid to fail.
  • To be supportive of the City Vision, which is to say that the LTEL pilot must be repeatable and sustainable.

I agree with Chris LaBossiere – this sounds like we’re on the right track.

I did explain to David that I was highly critical of the original report, and that I along with others in the tech community are concerned about EEDC and TEC Edmonton’s involvement. Unfortunately, David didn’t say much to alleviate my concerns when I asked how specifically those organizations would be involved, suggesting only that they would provide resources. I’m willing to wait and see how things turn out, because it certainly sounds like TEC Edmonton is less central to the pilot than was suggested in the original report.

We’ll learn more about the project at Tuesday’s event, but here’s what we know already:

  • The problem is to come up with a replacement for Edmonton Transit’s current electronic Lost and Found system.
  • Prospective participants must be incorporated companies by February 3, 2010, must have annual revenue of $2 million or less, and must be located within the City of Edmonton’s boundaries.
  • Prospective participants have until December 15, 2009 to express interest.
  • Potential solutions will be presented on January 28, 2010.
  • A selection announcement will occur on February 3, 2010 with the pilot project starting March 1, 2010.

The Lost and Found system was selected for two important reasons: it’s tangible, and already has funding attached. Representatives from IT, DCMO, ETS, and TEC Edmonton will be on hand to provide more information.

I’ll be there on Tuesday to learn more about it, and I hope you’ll consider attending as well.

ENTS Grand Opening

Tonight was the grand opening of ENTS, the Edmonton New Technology Society. Located just a short walk from downtown at 10575 114 Street, ENTS is “a group of people from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada sharing a collaborative space in Edmonton to teach, learn and work on projects together.” Don’t be confused – ENTS is both a society and a physical space. It’s a place for members of the local tech community (by members of the local tech community) to go to work, socialize, and learn.

ENTS Grand OpeningENTS Grand Opening

The space has come a long way since I last saw it over the summer! Vice-President Rob Davy was our host for the evening. He started in “the middle space” by thanking everyone for coming (over 40 people were there at 7pm, with more coming and going throughout the evening) and gave a brief introduction to ENTS. He then led us to “the orange space” for a virtual ribbon cutting using the Microsoft Surface! The ribbon app was developed by ENTS member Grant Bowering.

ENTS Grand Opening

Bruce, the landlord of the building, cooked free hotdogs for everyone downstairs. I chatted with him a bit, and asked what the most interesting part of the journey with ENTS had been thus far. His reply? “The stuff they bring in…there’s always something else interesting coming in!” Tonight was no exception – about a dozen ENTS members helped move a giant (and very heavy) rack server enclosure up to the space. It was a good team building experience! There was also a “punch-bag revolution”, Rock Band, a sound board, various robots, a Roomba with a netbook strapped to it, and lots of other cool stuff on hand.

ENTS Grand OpeningENTS Grand Opening

The rack server and all of its components came from local social networking company Nexopia. What is ENTS going to do with it? No one is really sure. Like the rest of the tech stuff they have acquired, it’s there for members to learn about and use, if they are creative enough to come up with something. “Think about the potential, and let’s make it happen” is what Rob told everyone.

Congrats to ENTS for a great event and on making the vision a reality! I know there is still work to be done, but they’re now ready for regular use by members (you can become one here). It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

You can see the rest of my photos from the evening here. Follow ENTS on Twitter or search #ents for updates!

Taking Edmonton’s Technology Community to the Next Level

I’m always thinking about the technology community in Edmonton. Some very positive things have happened in recent years, and I want to see that trend continue and even accelerate. To take our tech community to the next level however, we’re going to need everyone to bring their unique strengths and abilities to the table. Community organizers, researchers, investors, public policy makers, educational institutions, small and large enterprises, and most importantly, entrepreneurs, all have a role to play.

For a while now I’ve felt that something is holding us back, something that we can change. That’s what this post is about.

Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally

There were two interesting items at the top of the City of Edmonton Executive Committee meeting yesterday. The first was the TEC Edmonton 2008 Annual Report (PDF). The second was a report entitled Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally (Word).

I read the second report with great interest. It is based on a consultation with TEC Edmonton, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), and City Administration and is in response to the following motion from the May 6, 2009 Executive Committee meeting:

That Administration consult with TEC Edmonton, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and the general technical community on opportunities to facilitate and better capitalize on incorporating work and research done via the City’s purchasing, standards and business practices, and report back to Executive Committee.

The report is relatively short at just two and a half pages, so I encourage you to read it for yourself. Here’s my summary:

  • One of the four principles of the City of Edmonton Strategic Plan is innovation, loosely defined as “exploration in the adoption of new techniques, technologies, products and ways of operating in order to improve results and lead progressive change.”
  • With that in mind, EEDC, TEC Edmonton, and City Administration want to challenge the status quo with a pilot project that connects them with one another and the “general technical community”.
  • The pilot project would provide benefits to local technology firms (such as opportunities to use the City as a reference customer) and to City Administration (including exposure and access to technologies that previously had not been realized).
  • The pilot project would leverage concepts similar to “the University of Alberta Idea-Fest or local technology Demo Camps” and would consist of two sessions.

It’s nice to see DemoCamp and IDEAfest both get mentioned. Kudos to Cam Linke, Michael Janz, and everyone else who makes those and other events successful.

The above points seem logical enough and if that’s all I had read, I’d happily support the recommended pilot project (which sounds like a couple of events). Unfortunately I kept reading, and as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

First, the scope of the pilot project is defined as:

  • Small entrepreneurial organizations
  • Prototype the approach – keep it simple
  • TEC Edmonton would identify potential attendees and review with Administration
  • Products must be usable and available for testing

If by “small entrepreneurial organizations” they mean “startups” then I think the first point is spot on. There are so many local startups that could use a leg up with the City. The second point makes sense also – simplicity and iteration are key. The fourth point is similar to the rules of DemoCamp – we’d like to see action rather than talk. I’ll come back to the third point.

Next, the two sessions are defined as follows:

The first session, held in Q3 of 2009, would focus on the City of Edmonton identifying business problems and communication of priorities to TEC Edmonton associated companies.

A second session would be held approximately four weeks later with TEC Edmonton members presenting possible solutions to opportunities identified.

Can you spot the pattern? It continues in the report’s final remarks:

This pilot also supports the concept of the knowledge economy and leverages the capability of local educational institutions.

It focuses on retaining and accelerating the success of high-impact innovation-based start up companies in the Edmonton area by strengthening the partnership between TEC Edmonton and the City of Edmonton. This in turn promotes the development of an entrepreneurial culture and the infrastructure to nurture and sustain scientific and technology-based enterprises.

What started out as a promising attempt by the City to leverage and work with the wonderful technology community we have here in Edmonton quickly became all about TEC Edmonton. According to the recommendation, TEC Edmonton would be responsible for picking the attendees and for driving the dialogue.

This is bad for two reasons:

  1. TEC Edmonton does not represent the whole of the technology community in Edmonton.
  2. TEC Edmonton has a very poor track record when it comes to “promoting the development of an entrepreneurial culture” in Edmonton.

TEC Edmonton Background

Formed in 2000 and ratified in 2006, TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between the University of Alberta and EEDC. It’s mandate is to “help navigate the commercialization process – transitioning science solutions into business opportunities” in the greater Edmonton region. A few highlights from the annual report I mentioned above:

  • TEC Edmonton received 98 reports of inventions in 2008. A total of 77 patent applications were filed and 48 patents were granted. A total of 23 technologies were licensed.
  • TEC Source provided free business advice to 70 entrepreneurs in 2008.
  • A total of 160 entrepreneurs participated in TEC VenturePrize in 2008.
  • The TEC Centre is home to 22 tenants.

TEC Edmonton represents the Information and Communications Technology, Physical Sciences, Life Sciences and Agri-Value industry sectors. There’s absolutely a need for an organization to facilitate the commercialization of research coming out of the University of Alberta. TEC Edmonton needs to continue that work – they’re good at it and they’ve proven they can get results.

The Problem With TEC Edmonton

TEC Edmonton automatically gets a seat at the technology table in Edmonton, whether it deserves one or not. The City of Edmonton and EEDC cannot pursue their objectives in the technology space without involving TEC Edmonton, which is a problem because TEC Edmonton isn’t interested in much of what it would take for those organizations to achieve their objectives.

Startups have little to no interaction with TEC Edmonton and are very rarely impacted by TEC Edmonton programs. Software-based startups are even further removed from TEC Edmonton’s activities. The organization is completely geared toward monetizing expensive high tech research from the University of Alberta, not helping local startups.

  • Patents are meaningless in the world of software, but are at the heart of nearly every deal that TEC Edmonton does. The very first question mentioned on the TEC Source page is: “Do you have intellectual property or a business plan?”
  • The TEC Centre is an incubation facility for TEC Edmonton companies, not technology companies in general. You can’t just drop in.
  • Alberta Deal Generator doesn’t help startup companies prepare for investment, it helps later stage companies. And the private sector does a better job of that anyway.

Quite simply, TEC Edmonton has been ignoring software startups for nearly a decade now. Why does this matter? If we want to move beyond our current energy-based economy to nurture and capitalize on the incredibly smart and talented people we have in Edmonton and Alberta, we need to start paying more attention to software. That’s where innovation is happening and value is being created.

What We Really Need

We don’t need two events to talk about business and communication problems for TEC Edmonton associated companies, nor do we need an organization filtering communication between the City and the technology community. What we really need is for TEC Edmonton or an organization like it to help software startups by doing the things the community can’t.

Easy exchange of knowledge and ideas is something the community has proven it can do well with events like DemoCamp and BarCamp. The ability to get started without a lot of initial investment is another thing the community is addressing through initiatives such as ENTS (you can read more about ENTS here).

Something the community can’t do is provide smart seed funding. I’m talking about YCombinator and TechStars. Tiny amounts of money to get entrepreneurs going, with ongoing mentorship and other networking opportunities. These programs likely aren’t going to make anyone rich, but that’s not the point anyway. The point is to invest in people, to encourage entrepreneurship. TEC Edmonton could do this right away if they really wanted to by scrapping Alberta Deal Generator and taking a fraction of the money spent on that program and putting it into a local YCombinator. I’ve heard about some members of the community working towards this, but I think it would be a great opportunity for TEC Edmonton.

Final Thoughts

If we want to take the technology community in Edmonton to the next level, we need the City of Edmonton and EEDC to recognize that as it currently exists, TEC Edmonton is holding the community back, not helping it move forward. TEC Edmonton certainly has a role to play, but it’s not the catch-all they’ve been given. We need to focus more attention and energy on software startups, an area that TEC Edmonton has historically ignored.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend or listen to the meeting yesterday, so I’m not sure what the Executive Committee did with the report. I’m hopeful that the right people will read this however, so that we can start down the path to positive change.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who provided me with context and thoughts on this topic over the last few months – you know who you are.

artsScene Edmonton Summer Party – August 20th

Back in May I attended the launch party for artsScene Edmonton – a fantastic event at Planet Ze Design Centre in Old Strathcona. I had a great time, and suggested that artsScene events could become “must attend” events for local creatives. The first test of that is coming up next week:

On August 20, we’re ready to bring you our second party – a “Jekyll & Hyde” themed summer party that promises to be bigger and better, with two venues, more featured artists, DJs, and live music acts!

They have since announced the performers, and they include: Kerri-Lenn Zwicker, Jay Sparrow, Field + Stream, The Outdoor Miners, and guest DJs The Cake Eaters and Roland Pemberton III.

The “Jekyll” part of the event starts at 6pm at Latitude 53 (10248 106th Street), while the “Hyde” part gets underway at 9pm at Prohibition (11026 Jasper Avenue). Tickets are just $15 online or $20 at the door and include access to both venues. You can pickup your tickets here.

Don’t forget artsScene Edmonton is on Twitter, Facebook, and they have a mailing list. They also recently joined LinkedIn, so get connected!

Hope to see you on the 20th!

Collaboration & Community: Edmonton New Technology Society (ENTS)

Nearly a year ago while in Vancouver I took some time to check out WorkSpace, a shared workspace located in the historic Gastown neighbourhood. I had been reading about the concept for quite a while and after seeing one in action, I knew that I’d get use out of a collaborative workspace (they’re also known as hackerspaces or innovation commons). The ability to have an office without having an office, and to meet and network with other local creatives is just so appealing. I’ve been wishing for one here in Edmonton ever since.

Now, it looks like I’m going to get my wish!

The Edmonton New Technology Society, or ENTS, is a new non-profit organization that is working to bring a collaborative workspace to our city. They’ve come together incredibly quickly over the last couple of months, and while they don’t officially have a space yet, they’re incredibly close. I’ve been quite impressed with the progress they’ve made in such a short amount of time.

The society has seven directors currently: Stephen Olesen (President), Rob Davy (Vice-President), Eric Warnke, Graham Batty, Matt Mercer, Jeff O’Toole, and Don Egliniski. Roughly 55 people have joined the society so far, paying a nominal $20 membership fee. As Graham told me, “this project will be nothing without people engaged and interested,” so that’s been a big focus for the group. They’ve made use of both social media and face-to-face gatherings to spur interest. Stephen says that “Twitter has certainly been one of the largest driving factors in informing people and getting to know the majority of members.” Early discussions used the hashtag #yegspace, but they’ve since switched to #ents. You can follow ENTS on Twitter here.

ENTS held its first AGM on June 7th, and has hosted a number of informal gatherings since. Rob and a few of the other directors presented ENTS at BarCamp last month, and Wings Nights have been popular. The most recent took place on Tuesday at the Elephant & Castle downtown which about 30 people attended.

ENTS Wings NightFree beer! London Pride

Another focus has been finding a space. It is on this task that the group’s commitment to allowing the members to drive things is most evident. They polled their members and quickly found that office space wouldn’t be enough – members wanted a “dirty” place to work too, so that they could experiment with hardware, robotics, etc. The space they’ve found fits both needs perfectly. Located at 10575 114th street, it is already nicely separated. Here’s the office space:

And here’s the dirty space:

You can see more photos of the space here. They’ve done a few tours already, so a number of the members have already seen it. If all goes well, ENTS should be moving in by the end of the month (and will need help with that so feel free to volunteer).

Both Eric and Stephen agreed that financing the project has been one of the biggest challenges. In addition to collecting membership fees, ENTS has been actively seeking projects and partners to help raise money. They found a powerful ally in the City of Edmonton IT branch recently:

The City of Edmonton is looking to have ENTS host some exciting events within the Edmonton technical community. The City of Edmonton is committed to supporting us in our core goals of social collaboration and innovation within Edmonton, and we’re very glad to have the support of the city in our endeavours.

I’d say that’s more proof that the City’s IT branch is transforming for the better. I’m excited to see what ENTS can accomplish with the events, and I’ve offered to help where I can.

Finally, I asked the directors what they hoped to accomplish with ENTS. I like what Eric had to say:

We’re all about collaboration, it’s in our mission. We want to foster the tech community in Edmonton and give people the opportunity to learn something new while teaching others what they already know. We’re about making Edmonton a better place through technology.

If you’d like to join ENTS, fill out the membership application online. For the latest news and updates, check out their blog and Twitter feed. They’ve also got forums and a wiki.

Congratulations to ENTS on everything they’ve been able to accomplish thus far! I’m really looking forward to seeing the society grow and evolve, and to being able to use the space of course.

Recap: Next Gen Community Challenge

Last night the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues (EFCL) and Edmonton Next Gen co-hosted an event called the Community Challenge at Orange Hall in Old Strathcona. The goal of the event was to bring together interested members of the next generation (roughly 18-40 years old) to share ideas on how to improve and better work with community leagues.

Upon arriving, attendees were given a name tag and were asked to place a dot on the map to show where they live. Additionally, everyone had a polaroid taken that was pinned up on the giant map of community leagues in Edmonton. As you can see, most people were from the core:

Next Gen / EFCL Community Challenge

The program kicked off at 7:30pm with some introductions from EFCL and Edmonton Next Gen representatives. The first activity of the evening was for each table to discuss two primary questions:

  • What can community leagues to do better engage the next generation?
  • What kinds of projects would you like to work on with your community league?

Every single group mentioned “Twitter” and “Facebook” among the answers to the first question. Other ways of getting young people engaged included ensuring website information is accurate and up-to-date, aligning community league benefits with the demographic, and making information available at more locations in the community. Projects included community gardens, car sharing programs, community health plans, block parties, and many more.

The second activity was to work as a group to get the ball rolling for one project. It seemed less effective than the first activity, but I liked the intent. Afterward many people stayed to mingle and consume the large amount of leftover food and wine!

Next Gen / EFCL Community ChallengeNext Gen / EFCL Community Challenge

Back in April I wrote about EFCL’s push to adopt social media as part of a larger strategy to attract a younger demographic. I think the Community Challenge event was a smart way to make progress on that. Social media is a powerful thing, but nothing beats face-to-face conversations in a room of passionate, enthusiastic people.

I asked Michael Janz, EFCL’s Marketing Director and co-host for the evening (along with Next Gen’s Angela Hobson), what he thought about the event. He told me he was “thrilled with the turnout” and that he thought “many people were inspired to participate further in their communities.” Michael said the results of the “collective brainstorming” will be typed up and posted to the EFCL site soon.

If you couldn’t make it out last night, don’t worry: you can still get involved. You can head over to the EFCL website to purchase a community league membership, or you can volunteer for your community league. Be sure to check out EFCL on Facebook and Twitter, and Edmonton Next Gen on Facebook and Twitter. You might also want to sign up for the Edmonton Next Gen weekly newsletter. Finally, keep an eye out for a similar event in August.

Recap: BarCampEdmonton2

Yesterday was the first really beautiful day of the summer here in Edmonton, with temperatures near 30 degrees and sun all day long. It was also the day we held BarCampEdmonton2, at the World Trade Centre downtown. The weather probably had an impact on the attendance, because we had less people than anticipated (around 80). Despite that however, I’d say the event was still a big success! It was another demonstration of the fantastic tech community we have in Edmonton.

Reg setting up the scheduleBarCampEdmonton2

We had three tracks each with 20 minute timeslots for sessions followed by 10 minute breaks. In true unconference-style, we started by having everyone who wanted to lead a discussion or deliver a presentation put their topic and name on a sticky note. Reg then arranged them all on the schedule.

I ended up with two timeslots. First thing in the morning, where I talked for a bit about Foundations for an Open Edmonton and led an interesting discussion about open cities, and second at 2pm, where I talked about Edmonton Transit’s recent Data for Developers announcement. Some of the other sessions included: The Perfect User Experience by Peter, New Interfaces in Visual Search Refinement by Reg, How To Not Raise VC $ by Shaun, VOIP+SIP: A Primer by Slepp, Chocolate Monkey Heads by Chris, and Licensing Tech from Universities by Brant. Of course, lunch time and the many breaks throughout the day provided lots of opportunities for ad hoc discussion, and that’s really what BarCamp is all about!

Perhaps the session I was most looking forward to was the one by Rob Davy and his colleagues from ENTS, the Edmonton New Technology Society. They’re working to create a “collaborative and social technology workspace” here in the city, akin to hackerspaces and collaborative workspaces in other cities. I wrote about Workspace in Vancouver last fall, and wondered why Edmonton didn’t have something similar. Now we will! I’m really excited about it. You can visit ENTS tonight from 6-7pm at 10575 114th Street for an open house.

Pizza time!BarCampEdmonton2

Maybe we’ll do the next BarCamp in the winter, when it’s cold outside and everyone will want to come inside! Before that however, is a new event called UX Camp, taking place on July 18th from 9am to 5pm at MacEwan.

Thanks again to sponsors TEC Edmonton, iNovia Capital, and Smibs, and to everyone who came out to BarCamp yesterday! You can see the rest of my photos here.