Edmonton wants to tap into local creativity with labs

The City of Edmonton is hoping to tap into the creative ideas and energy of Edmontonians with two new lab initiatives. Open Lab aims to “create unique technological solutions for municipal challenges” while CITYlab will “advance conversations around urban planning.” Both initiatives, if successful, will change the way the City does business. The hope is that a healthy dose of innovation will be injected into the organization to ultimately result in better, more efficient outcomes for citizens.

Open Lab

The program room at Startup Edmonton was packed yesterday for the launch of Open Lab. Mayor Don Iveson, Startup Edmonton’s Ken Bautista, a few other speakers shared an overview of what the program is and what they’re hoping to achieve with it.

Open Lab Launch

So, what is Open Lab?

“A physical and virtual space where City employees and Startup communities can work together to create innovative solutions to municipal challenges. It is a unique continuous innovation program that combines local government, open data, smart creatives, and lean startup culture to build new products that improve the citizen experience.”

Open Lab is part of the Open City Initiative, which launched back in June. It’s also a partnership with Startup Edmonton, and that’s what makes it different from previous attempts at this same idea.

Startup Edmonton believes there are three main ingredients for a thriving entrepreneurial community: people & innovation, community & collision, and leadership & growth. They believe in the importance of thinking bigger, valuing community, and building to scale.

  • “Smart creatives solve big problems.”
  • “Entrepreneurship is a team sport.”
  • “Entrepreneurial leaders grow & scale companies.”

One of the ways Startup tries to implement these principles is via the lean startup approach. The goal with Open Lab is to add some of that lean startup culture into the City. There are three main components to the initiative:

  • Collision Days – Deep dive events where startups and SMEs discuss technologies, tools, and issues impacting a particular industry or community.
  • Open Lab Accelerator – Helping teams learn how to use lean startup methodologies, customer development, and validate what products to build in the first place.
  • Leadership Program – Developing product managers and leaders inside the city who build and test ideas like startups, using prototyping, behaviour science, and design thinking.

The Open Lab Accelerator is not unlike Preflight, the successful Startup Edmonton program that has helped local success stories like Poppy Barley.

Open Lab Launch

Michael Strong, a planner with the City of Edmonton, was one of the speakers at yesterday’s launch events. He was sort of the guinea pig for Open Lab, and he described how the approach helped his team think about new ways of achieving one of their objectives, which is to get people using and thinking about LRT in a different way. They have mocked up an app that would combine the “get me from A to B” and “what’s around me” approaches to help people more effectively use the LRT.

As I indicated above, this isn’t the first time the City has tried to tap into the local startup community. I am reminded somewhat of the lackluster Leveraging Technical Expertise Locally program, for instance. I think what’s different this time is that everyone involved recognizes the biggest hurdle is culture. And certainly Startup Edmonton has demonstrated success with getting people to think differently in a way that gets results.

Another big difference from the past is that the City has continue to embrace open data and there’s a lot more to work with now than there was six years ago. There’s a greater understanding of what open data is, what the benefits are, and how the City can work together with citizens to get things done. Indeed the news release highlights the recently launched 311 Explorer as one example of “how City data can be useful to everyone.”

So I am optimistic about Open Lab. If you want to find out more in person, Startup Edmonton is hosting a series of Open Lab Meetups on the last Thursday of the month from 2pm to 5pm. Open Lab representatives will be there to hear your ideas and visions and to help guide you.


I have been hearing about CITYlab for months now, but no one could give me a clear description of what it was. In retrospect, that’s probably because no one knew! They had an idea but weren’t sure where to take it. Now CITYlab has found an anchor, in the Open City Initiative, and the City is ready to start experimenting with a new approach to placemaking.


From the news release:

“CITYlab will partner with groups and individuals on projects and events that test or support the City’s urban planning goals. CityLab will serve as a resource for Edmontonians with creative and new urban planning ideas.”

The aim is to be a “laboratory to support and create small, temporary projects, activities and events to advance conversations around urban planning.” They want to make urban planning fun, as difficult as that might sound!

You might expect a project like this to rely heavily on techology, but CITYlab’s first experiment is decidedly analog. Starting on March 7, CITYlab will be distributing self-addressed stamped postcards across the city. If you get one, they want you to write down your urban planning ideas or projects and send it back. All of the returned postcards will be used to make a temporary art installation, and CITYlab is committing to undertaking at least one of the ideas or projects suggested. If you’re so inclined, you can also submit a project idea online.


One of the folks behind CITYlab is Jeff Chase, a senior planner who you might know from Edmonton’s NextGen or #yegsnowfight. He is a big supporter of Make Something Edmonton and understands the value of a different way to engage citizens on urban planning. “These creative new approaches to planning will help us meet the challenges that our city faces as it grows,” he said in the news release.

CITYlab still feels a little nebulous to me, but at least it’s out in the open now. If citizens are willing to get involved, it feels like there’s an opportunity to help shape and define the initiative further.

You can follow @PlanEdmonton on Twitter for updates, or check out the #yegcitylab hashtag. You can also email citylab@edmonton.ca if you want more information or two request a postcard.

Taking steps to become an Open City

Here’s what I wrote about the Open City Initiative back in June:

“I like the direction outlined in the Open City Initiative, unfortunately I just don’t have much confidence that it’ll go beyond a report and lots of talk.”

I questioned whether the report would sit on a shelf or if its goals and objectives would be resourced and actioned. With the launch of Open Lab and CITYlab, I’m now a bit more confident that the Open City Initiative will have a real impact. These are tangible projects that I think will make a difference.

I’m excited to see how this unfolds!

Recap: TEDxEdmonton 2011

More than 200 people attended the second TEDxEdmonton which took place on Saturday in the intimate Rice Theatre at The Citadel in downtown Edmonton. TEDxEdmonton is an “independently organized TED event” (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.” It’s pretty likely that you’ve seen a TED talk at some point – more than 900 have been made freely available on the TED site. The idea behind TEDx is simple: stimulate dialogue at the local level by adopting the 18-minutes-or-less format and creating a TED-like experience.

The theme for this year’s event was “seeds of innovation”:

We’re in the midst of an exciting era. We’re living in an interconnected knowledge economy shaped by the creative industries, information technology, and globalization. And we’re seeing a new generation of connected artists, scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs emerging who can transform seeds of new ideas into bold new works, companies and products. At TEDxEdmonton 2011, we’ll meet some of these remarkable people, some from abroad, others from right here in our hometown. We promise you another dizzying day of inspiration, wonder and curious delight, as we experience the stories, visions, and passions of these bold individuals through the art of live presentation.

After last year’s edition, I’d say the bar for TEDxEdmonton was set extremely high. The production quality, the excellent speakers, and the time built-in for discussions were just a few of the reasons that so many people thought last year’s event was superb. Matching or exceeding that success was a tall order for the organizing committee this year, but I think it’s safe to say they nailed it.

First impressions are everything, and TEDxEdmonton did not disappoint. Upon registering, attendees were given a lanyard with a nice big nametag that had space on it for a photo. The next step was to have a mini-Polaroid photo taken that could be taped onto the nametag. It’s kind of strange to have a photo of yourself on your nametag (I mean, you can see my face, can’t you?) but the nametags were indeed a great keepsake from the event. More importantly, it was an opportunity for people to have some fun and to get creative. And they did!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Last year’s stage was created by the University of Alberta’s Student Design Association and it was, in a word, remarkable. It was colorful and visually interesting, and was going to be difficult to top this year. Once again the SDA was tasked with creating the stage for TEDxEdmonton, and the design they came up with was just as impressive as last year’s. Less colorful but more vertical, the stage provided the perfect backdrop for the day’s presentations. It sounded complex too – they took inspiration from Edmonton itself and used light to plot points of interest from around the city on the design. You can see some work-in-progress photos of both stages at the SDA’s Flickr page. You can also follow them on Twitter!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

The day’s presentations were broken up into three sessions: Transformation, Unstoppable, and Provocative. There were ten presentations in all, plus three TEDTalks, one for each session. Local power-couple Ryan Jespersen and Kari Skelton were our hosts for the day, and they did a wonderful job of keeping things moving.

Ryan Jespersen & Kari Skelton

TEDxEdmonton 2011Vik Maraj, co-creator of Unstoppable Conversations, kicked things off with the first presentation. His talk centered around the idea that we need to be game-changing. He used the metaphor of a child learning to walk to make his point, saying that we need to “start trying to walk, and stop trying not to fall” if we want to be successful. His talk was full of great one-liners, like this one: “The future derives from creation, not from surviving it.” He was a great speaker, and was the right choice to lead off the day.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our second speaker was Jessie Radies, founder of Live Local Alberta and owner of The Blue Pear restaurant. She talked about the importance of the local economy, through of mix of statistics and personal anecdotes. Her talk touched on the challenges of being a farmer in Alberta, noting that the average farm has experienced a net loss for the last 20 years. She also talked about her belief that a rising tide would lift all boats and her dedication to sourcing things locally. She issued a sort of challenge to the audience, saying that “by shifting a portion of our spending we can significantly change what our community looks like.”

TEDxEdmonton 2011Todd Babiak of the Edmonton Journal was up next to talk about the importance of story. Without question his talk was my favorite of the day, a sentiment echoed by many in the audience. His talk was the right mix of serious, funny, and thought-provoking. He talked about his kids, noting that children instinctively understand what a story is. We unlearn that knowledge as we get older, without even realizing it. Todd stressed the importance of having a story: “If you haven’t built your story, the most you can hope to achieve is mediocrity.” He also poked fun at cliches and jargon as he touched on authenticity, a section of his presentation that made everyone laugh. “You have to find the higher spiritual truth of your story in order for it to be effective,” he said. Finally, he got everyone thinking about writing their story by reminding us that “the longer you wait to tell your story, the more difficult it becomes.”

Our first TEDTalk of the day came next. We watched Steven Johnson’s talk titled Where good ideas come from. It was filmed in July 2010, and introduced the intriguing concept of the “liquid networks” found in London’s coffee houses. The key idea was that connecting ideas is more important than protecting them, because “chance favors the connected mind.”

Colleen Brown closed out the first session with an awesome musical performance. She’s a fantastic singer/songwriter and more than a few people in the audience proudly proclaimed that they were new fans as a result! It was a great way to end the morning.

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Lunch was next on the schedule and as with the rest of TEDxEdmonton it was anything but ordinary. Instead of individual lunches, groups of five or six people were given a wooden box filled with sandwiches, salads, drinks, and treats and were encouraged to eat together. Most groups ended up outside where the sun was shining and the streets were packed for the Edmonton Pride Parade. It was great to see discussions happening all over the place. Kudos to Elm Café and Duchess Bake Shop for the delicious food and the creative presentation!

TEDxEdmonton 2011 TEDxEdmonton 2011

The second session of the day began with another TEDTalk, Adora Svitak’s presentation rom February 2010 titled What adults can learn from kids. Her message is a powerful one, and I think everyone really enjoyed the talk. It’s definitely worth watching!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our fifth speaker was Laura McIlveen, a chemical engineer at Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. She started out with a provocative statement – “You probably think that engineers aren’t sexy” – then proceeded to explain why engineers are in fact, sexy. Laura encouraged everyone to “think about the possibilities that don’t seem possible, because that’s what engineers do.” She outlined four key steps: ask questions, dream big, build a team, and make it happen. To help illustrate her point, Laura talked about natural fibers like straw and said “we can spin straw into almost anything!” She then showed of a longboard, made of hemp!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Veer Gidwaney, a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of DailyFeats.com, was our next speaker. He said “we need to change how we live” and talked about some of the major challenges we face, such as “Mr. Couch and Mrs. Potato Chip”. Veer’s key message was that small acts make a movement, and he encouraged the audience to “go do good”. He also shared a big idea: “What if we as a nation were to commit ourselves in ten years to match our national debt in positive actions done?” Veer was a really strong speaker, clear and powerful.

After another “conversation and refreshment” break, we were back for session three. Anthony Atala’s TEDTalk titled Printing a human kidney kicked things off. It was filmed just a few months ago, and documents some of the incredible advancements that have been made in bio-engineering. Truly fascinating.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our next speaker was Sheetal Mehta Walsh, a champion of microfinance and founder of Kuuja.com. She talked about entrepreneurship through the lens of her experiences in the slums of India. For her, entrepreneurship has become a way of life, and she had some very intriguing ideas. One of them was that she wants to be known simply as an “entrepreneur” rather than a “social entrepreneur”. She explained, “we should all be socially conscious.” Sheetal also talked about the importance of networking, saying “I often call my network my intellectual property.” She also had one of the unintentionally funny moments of the day, when she asked if everyone in the audience starts their day with Tim Horton’s coffee and no hands went up. I guess we were a Credo/Transcend/Starbucks crowd!

TEDxEdmonton 2011Meagan Kelly, a journalist and filmmaker, was our eighth speaker of the day. She gave an abbreviated talk on her debut film, a documentary that examines a young girl’s struggle to escape poverty on a garbage dump in the Philippines. The sights and sounds she shared were striking. One memorable moment was when Grace, the young girl featured in the film, started singing Justin Bieber’s hit “Baby”.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Our next speaker was Aaryn Flynn, the Studio General Manager of local game developer BioWare. He used the opportunity to discuss BioWare’s approach to innovation. “Innovation relies on diversity,” he said as he talked about the cultural diversity at the company. Another key tactic utilized by BioWare is to “decide at the last responsible moment.” The most memorable mantra from Aaryn’s talk was definitely “no play, no say”. Basically if you don’t play the game, you don’t get a say in its development. It’s easy to see how this might be applied to elsewhere too. Aaryn finished with a brief demo of Kinect support in the upcoming game Mass Effect 3, noting that it opens the door to a wide range gameplay and accessibility possibilities.

TEDxEdmonton 2011Last but not least, Minister Faust (Malcolm Azania) was the final speaker of the day. His talk was titled “The Cure for Death by Small-Talk”, the same name as his upcoming book. He was a great speaker to end on, as he got the crowd laughing, thinking, and probably doing some serious self-reflection all at the same time. Instead of asking “what do you do for a living” at a party, Minister Faust suggests asking “what do you do for fun?” He touched on the etymology of “conversation”, explaining that is all about “living together” and the way you treat people. He told the audience to “ask people questions that will connect you for life.” Minister Faust’s talk ran slightly over time, and after he left the stage our hosts had to skip through another thirty slides or so that he didn’t get to – he could have talked all afternoon!


While some of the day’s presentations were definitely better than others, all succeeded at inspiring and sparking a dialogue. The entire day was streamed online for free, and while some technical glitches made it difficult to watch during session one, many people tuned in for the rest of the day. Twitter was active all day long using the hashtag #TEDxEdmonton and the discussions are still ongoing!

TEDxEdmonton 2011

Before the day was finished, Ken Bautista took the stage to make some announcements:

  • TEDxEdmonton 2012 will take place next spring. The larger Maclab Theatre, which seats 500-600 people, has already been booked as the venue. Tickets will go on sale for 2011 attendees in the next few weeks.
  • The TEDxEdmonton Salon Series will be launching in 2012, a series of smaller scale TED-like events.
  • A new event is being planned for fall 2012 – TEDxEdmonton Education, focused on building and inspiring a learning revolution.

Stay tuned to the TEDxEdmonton website and Twitter for updates.

I think it’s safe to say that TEDxEdmonton 2011 was a big success. The organizing committee deserves a ton of credit for making such a world-class event happen here in Edmonton. Well done everyone!

TEDxEdmonton 2011 TEDxEdmonton 2011 Organizing Committee

You can see the rest of my photos from TEDxEdmonton here. Watch for video and other updates to be posted on the TEDxEdmonton website over the next few weeks.

City of Champions 2.0: The Edmonton Champions Project

Last night we held a launch event for The Edmonton Champions Project in the wonderful Tucker Amphitheatre at the The Citadel downtown. Over 150 community & business leaders, entrepreneurs, creatives, and other friends attended to find out more about the project. Our goal is to invest in 500 creative entrepreneurs over the next 5 years, with a focus on amplifying creative innovation in Edmonton, to help our amazing young creatives, innovators and entrepreneurs connect, do, and win in the new economy.

Edmonton Champions LaunchEdmonton Champions Launch

The reaction to last night’s presentation was everything we could have hoped for. Inspiring, exciting, necessary, motivational – those were some of the words people used when I asked them what they thought. It was a great opportunity to share some of the things we’ve been working on. Here are a few of the things Ken Bautista talked about.

Creative Entrepreneurs: The Future of Edmonton

Edmonton needs entrepreneurs. Tech entrepreneurs. Creative entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs bring vision, create solutions to problems, and transform new ideas into bold new companies, new approaches in established organizations, new products, and new jobs in every industry, in every sector, profit and non-profit.

This is about building an ecosystem that attracts and empowers creative entrepreneurs. Edmonton has most of the pieces, but to date, our ecosystem has been fragmented. We need a bottom-up approach to cultivating this ecosystem, fueled by entrepreneurs who will create the kind of competitive deal flow that attracts investment and capital.

He showed a great diagram of some of the things this ecosystem needs to thrive:

Our initial strike is focused on four of those things: networks, spaces, accelerators, and seed funds.

Four Initial Strategies

  1. Networks: Connecting young creatives, innovators and entrepreneurs with experienced mentors.
  2. Accelerators: Intensive development programs where ideas are transformed into market-ready products.
  3. Spaces: Creative/entrepreneurial hubs where the collision between great ideas and people can happen.
  4. Seed Funds: Pooled, leveraged funding invested at the earliest seed stage of creative development.

There are some exciting things happening here. We have been very successful at cultivating networks, with Startup Edmonton and artsScene Edmonton, and that will continue. We’re close to securing our space downtown, a creative hub for Edmonton entrepreneurs that will enable the collision between great ideas and people. And later this year, Edmonton’s first startup accelerator will officially launch – we call it Flightpath. Created by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs, Flightpath will invest in 30 startups in the software and digital media space over three years at a cost of $1 million. An important part of that funding will come from private investors.

Edmonton Champions Launch

Edmonton Champions Launch

We’re really excited to have Chris LaBossiere and Don Riep from Yardstick Software on board as our first vision sponsors and investors. Additionally, Mayor Stephen Mandel announced last night that he too will join us as an initial investor in Flightpath!

City of Champions 2.0

This is about mobilizing our best – a new community of champions who are visionary, relentless, and unstoppable, and who together, will define Edmonton’s place in the new global economy.

  • More entrepreneurs in Edmonton: Amplifying creative innovation and empowering more Edmontonians to create and build, anchored by a central creative/tech hub located in the downtown core.
  • Job creation across new industries: Startups generate job creation that will build the new industries of the 21st century and solve some of our toughest global challenges.
  • Improved deal flow: We collaborate with existing Angel/VC networks to ensure investor readiness for companies coming out of the accelerator. Private equity is then deployed more effectively into stronger startups in order to grow and scale.
  • Stronger entrepreneurial culture: The wider community is invited to participate in larger events, creating further opportunities for high-impact entrepreneurship education.

Another thing Ken said really resonated with me. One of the first slides he showed said: “Go. Win. And stay connected. Edmonton is homebase.” It’s important to see what’s out there, to get connected with other creative, entrepeneurial people. But let’s connect that back to Edmonton.

We Need Your Help!

Tegan Martin-Drysdale, the new community co-chair of Edmonton Next Gen, spoke for a few minutes in support of the initiative. It was important to have her there because obviously we’re not the only ones pushing this transformation forward. Next Gen, interVivos, JCI, and dozens of other organizations are helping to make our vision a reality. And that’s really important, because we need to work together. There are four key ways you can help us take The Edmonton Champions Project forward:

  1. Champion: Help us share this vision!
  2. Sponsor: We’re volunteers and we need resources to keep moving. Thanks to Yardstick and Capital Power for making the launch event a success.
  3. Invest: We’re seeking investors for our first Flightpath fund. Help us get in front of the right people and consider investing yourself.
  4. Start Something: Everything we’re doing will be for naught if you aren’t out there starting companies and acting on your ideas!

Edmonton Champions Launch

Thank you to everyone who attended the launch event last night. As I wrote back in November when we first introduced The Edmonton Champions Project, I’m very excited about the direction we’re heading and consider myself lucky to be a part of it! Stay tuned to our website for more information.

You can see more photos from the launch event here. We’ll have video up at some point too.

Recap: TEDxEdmonton

On Saturday I spent the day with about 100 other creative Edmontonians at the TransAlta Arts Barns in Old Strathcona. We were there for TEDxEdmonton, the local edition of TED’s popular independently organized event series. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated by volunteers in each community, but all feature TEDTalks videos, and TED’s celebrated format:

A suite of short, carefully prepared talks, demonstrations and performances on a wide range of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder — and to provoke conversations that matter.

That’s what TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is all about. Inspiring conversations. If you’ve never seen a TED video, I encourage you to take some time at the TED site. There are tons of “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.”

The theme for the first ever TEDxEdmonton was “Cultivating the Creative Economy”:

Creative Entrepreneurship – At the intersection of creativity and innovation is opportunity. Where there is opportunity, there are entrepreneurs building companies and working towards social change.

Creative Sustainability – Sustainability has become part of every industry from design to green technologies. We’ll explore concepts and emerging practices that are reducing negative impact on the environment.

Creative Technologies – Creative technologies are shaping the future of the global creative economy. We’ll explore emerging technologies that are impacting successful creative economy growth.

The organizers did a great job of selecting local talent for the event. In total, nine influential people with ties to Edmonton shared their ideas, entertained us, and participated. They also did a good job of picking a diverse group of attendees (you had to apply to attend). I can safely say that my $99 ticket was well worth it.

Here’s how it all went down.


It became immediately clear to me upon arriving at the venue around 9:15am that the day was going to be memorable. Already lots of conversations were taking place, and despite the lack of coffee, I couldn’t help but notice the attention to detail. Each attendee received a lanyard and name badge, which, I realize, is standard fare. Except that these name badges featured the TEDxEdmonton design in addition to our names, on both sides, so that when it inevitably got flipped around, you could still read the name. Such a nice touch. Same goes for the tables that were setup – each had a little “idea tree” on it, with words like “Create” or “Inspire” on cards.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone was pretty blown away by the stage after entering the actual theatre. Designed and created by the University of Alberta Student Design Association, it was colorful, interesting, and impressive. It really “set the stage” for the day!


The day was broken up into four sessions. The first was “Creativity & Innovation”, hosted by Michael Brechtel. In addition to the speakers for each session, we also watched one TEDTalk, picked by the host. Michael chose Rory Sutherland’s Life lessons from an ad man, filmed in July 2009. Very entertaining!

Tim AntoniukThe first speaker of the day was Tim Antoniuk, Associate Professor in the Industrial Design Program at the University of Alberta. He talked about Creative Economic Emergence, and shared a number of statistics about creative economics around the world (mostly from the UN’s Creative Economy Report 2008). He highlighted China as the fastest growing creative economy, noting the shift from “Made in China” to “Created in China”. Tim also spent some time talking about epistemology, “social shapers”, chaos, the rise of Richard Flordia’s creative class, and waste. He noted that 60-80% of environmental impact is determined at the design stage. Tim finished by saying we need to foster emergence, and shared this Peter Drucker quote: “The basic economic resource is no longer capital, nor natural resources, nor labor. It is and will be knowledge.”

Shawna PandyaOur second speaker was Shawna Pandya, an Edmonton-born entrepreneur working at NASA-Ames in Silicon Valley. She began with a song, stating that fostering innovation requires “thinking and acting differently.” Shawna encouraged everyone to share their ideas, saying that “life is too short to be proprietary” with them. She also talked about entrepreneurship, and noted that “anywhere you have stasis and stability, you are not going to have startups.” Perhaps her most tweeted remark was that “a crisis is not a tragedy, but an opportunity.” Shawna finished with a call to action – to shift from linear thinking to exponential thinking – and a really creative exercise called Innovation Mad-Libs. Essentially: think of a problem that is unique to Edmonton, come up with one crazy and daring way to approach it, and then ask someone for their thoughts on it.

Andrew HesselAndrew Hessel, a genomic scientist who founded the Pink Army Cooperative, was our third speaker. He focused on the rise of do-it-yourself biology, and compared bacterial networks to computer networks. Andrew delighted us with lots of interesting ideas, like word processors for DNA, cancer-fighting beer, DNA hacking kits, DNA printers, and “fields of chairs being grown in the future”. He said that one day we’ll be able to print new hearts and that we can already cure blindness from vitamin deficiency with goldren rice, but noted that current GMO standards scare people. Andrew also talked about 23andme, PatientsLikeMe, and discussed the sorry state of the pharmaceutical industry (it takes 10-15 years to bring a new drug to market). He closed with some thoughts on biomanufacturing, and a little bit on Pink Army, which aims to make individually-tailored cancer drugs based on an individual’s genetic makeup.

Stephani Carter hosted the second session, on “Creative Sustainability.” The TEDTalk she picked was Cameron Sinclair on open source architecture, filmed in February 2006.

Shafraaz KabaThe fourth speaker of the day was Shafraaz Kaba, architect and partner at Manasc Isaac. He talked about the importance of materials, and said that what you get from combining wood magnents and glass depends on the designer! His firm recently redesigned the old Dell call centre building in the Edmonton Research Park, because the original design was horribly energy inefficient. Shafraaz showed a great heat loss visualization of the building, and pointed out the lack of natural light, both problems they were able to solve. Through his examples, Shafraaz demonstrated that great ideas almost always come from somewhere unexpected, and said we should embrace that!

Theresa HowlandTheresa Howland, Vice President for the Western Region at Bullfrog Power, was our fifth speaker. She started by saying that 80% of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, the result of decisions based on the lowest cost. She then shifted into wind power, noting that Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta currently produce the most wind power in Canada (about 1,000,000 homes can be powered by wind power across the country). Theresa noted that wind power is not new, but that until economic incentives exist, it will not be fully developed. Wind power works with the natural environment, and in conjunction with existing land use (oh and it doesn’t kill birds!). She closed by encouraging us to make decisions that have a positive impact, stating that individuals really can make a difference!

After a break for lunch (featuring some yummy lasagna) Cam Linke hosted the session on “Creative Entrepreneurship”, and showed us the TEDTalk by Seth Godin on standing out (purple cows), filmed in February 2003.

Grant SkinnerOur first speaker after lunch was Grant Skinner, a local Flash guru and “tech rockstar”. He walked us through cultivating the creative economy on a personal level, sharing some anecdotes from his own work in a very reflective talk. Grant defines success through challenge, contribution, novelty, diversity, and the people he interacts with. He encouraged us to celebrate “play” and said that passionate procrastination is a good thing. Seek inspiration outside your area of expertise, explore limits, cultivate relationships, avoid extremes, and create new things, however minor, were a few of the other thoughts Grant shared. He closed by demoing some of the really interesting projects he has worked on over the years.

Cameron HeroldNext up was Cameron Herold, a successful business leader who created 1-800-GOT-JUNK. His topic was teaching entrepreneurship to kids. He said we should be raising kids to be entrepreneurs instead of lawyers, not because he hates lawyers, but because he feels we should treat entrepreneurship with the same level of distinction. Cameron thinks that we focus too much on teaching what they not do, and that we should do better at helping cultivate the things they are good at. A couple of Cameron’s most emphasized points were that allowances teach kids to expect a paycheck, and that we should not medicate them for attention deficit disorder (except in the most extreme medical cases). Cameron finished by sharing the fantastic video, entrepreneurs can change the world.

The driving force behind TEDxEdmonton, Ken Bautista, hosted the last session on “Creative Content”. The TEDTalk he shared was a really eclectic one from John Hodgman on aliens and love.

Sean StewartThe last speaker of the day was Sean Stewart, an award-winning science fiction novelist and influential writer of Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). He talked about the evolution of storytelling, and said that any way humans have invented to lie to one another should be part of your storytelling kit! The latest iteration of storytelling is transmedia, interactive, and social, according to Sean. He talked about fanfiction.net, and noted that the vast majority of words ever written about Harry Potter were not written by JK Rowling. He closed with perhaps my favorite remark of the day: “Art at this point is not about dictating to another person, it’s a dance. Hold out your hand and ask, do you want to play?”

To close out the show, award-winning soul and jazz singer-songwriter Krystle Dos Santos performed, with some help from Mitch Holtby. She sang a number of songs, and Mitch wowed the audience by playing at least four different instruments throughout the set, including a really interesting drum machine. It was a fantastic way to end the day!

Krystle Dos SantosKrystle Dos Santos

Well, the formal part of the day anyway! Many people headed over to Suite 69 for drinks and appetizers, and then back to the TransAlta Arts Barns for the official TEDxEdmonton After Party. Conversations continued with drinks, music, slideshows of the day, and a photo booth. It seemed fitting to end such a great day with a party, even though I think many people were intellectually drained.


TEDxEdmonton was webcast for free online, with dozens of people watching. Twitter also played a big role in the event – we were the #1 topic in Canada for much of the day, thanks to the more than 900 tweets posted by Edmontonians during the event.

I think Ken said it nicely in his recap post:

Everyone needs to know that Edmontonians are working here and beyond, changing the world in their own ways – in science, technology, entertainment, design and more. We wanted TEDx Edmonton to be a spark that would ignite and connect the entrepreneurial and creative energy we’ve always had in our community.

It worked. TEDxEdmonton was a huge success, and I think everyone who participated in person or online felt a positive lift. I suspect there are more than a few Edmontonians with an extra jump in their step this week! Congratulations to Ken, Cam, Michael, Cindy, and everyone else who worked so hard to bring Edmonton such an incredible experience. I can’t wait until the next one!


You can see more photos here and here (some by me, and some by Jason Everitt, Aaron Pederson, and Dallas Whitley), and you can read the liveblog archive here (written by Doug van Spronsen and myself, incorporating tweets). Stay tuned to the TEDxEdmonton site and Twitter for updates, and links to the videos when they are posted.