According to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, almost 95 per cent of all Calgary businesses are made up of small- to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and the city has the largest concentration in Canada of small businesses on a per capita basis (38.8 per 1,000 population).
Q. What are the major problems facing Calgary — and other Canadian cities — for which entrepreneurs and innovators can provide solutions?
A: Our cities are growing, aging and becoming more complex and costly places to operate. Infrastructure is getting old, new capacity is needed, increasing and more diverse populations are moving to our cities — these are all complex, expensive issues for cities to manage. And the traditional models of paying for them are increasingly failing to deliver. We need to be more creative in the ways we finance and pay for our cities – something that creative entrepreneurs have already figured out in other parts of the world — and hopefully can here as well.
Our cities must be focused on fostering innovation in order for us to remain competitive globally. We need to do a better job of unleashing entrepreneurial thinking by taking the challenges that cities face to the market, and entrepreneurs, and asking them to create solutions to those challenges. We need to consider more things like incentive prizes/X prize kinds of processes that get people coming up with creative solutions in ways traditional methods couldn't deliver. There are solutions that local innovators can deliver — they just don’t get the chance under traditional models of government procurement and engagement. That needs to change.
We need to also take the necessary steps to better engage in world markets through trade and expanding into new markets.
Q: What can entrepreneurs do to ensure the city remains financially vibrant, given the disruption currently underway in the oil industry?
A: The thing that entrepreneurs do really well is prototype, test and refine — the iterative process. And they do it rapidly. This breeds constant innovation. We need to do a better job of this as a broad-based corporate culture.
In the downturn, we worry that many companies are afraid to innovate due to a lack of funds, experience or processes. We hope that through collaboration with Innovate Calgary and other leaders in the innovation and startup space, we can provide some of those basic tools to companies in need.
Q: What technologies and social and cultural factors can be influenced through entrepreneurialism and innovation that are essential for Calgary’s future?
A: There is massive change happening in technology that is going to make the world a very different place. Sensors, AI, robotics, 3-D printing, energy and food, for example, are all technologies that are changing exponentially and will alter our current ways of life.
I believe that Calgary companies need to be part of these technological changes and that we should be creating research and commercial capacity to ensure we don’t get left behind.
Given our traditional resource economies, our strengths are in areas such as energy, agriculture, sensors and imaging. Let’s build off those, incorporating technological advances and the explosion of data as the asset, to ensure we stay part of the change.
Q: How can entrepreneurs benefit from Innovate Calgary, given the Chamber's partnership with the University of Calgary and the City of Calgary?
A: Innovate Calgary works with companies from the spark of an innovative idea, through to its development, company formation and eventual public launch.
Innovate is a key part of our innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem, enabling people with ideas to begin to get them moving from a business standpoint. Without Innovate Calgary, many companies would not have that runway towards commercialization.
As an organization that works to help established businesses grow, our partnership with Innovate Calgary is quite unique and we value it very much. We work primarily with growth-focused entrepreneurs and mature, established companies, so it’s a perfect partnership. As participants graduate from the incubator/start-up phase at Innovate, they are ready to get integrated into the larger community through the Chamber.
The Calgary Chamber helped to actually start Innovate Calgary and (become) one of the three shareholders.