The need to innovate has become so common a goal in government it has become a motherhood statement. However, the need to innovate is a real imperative that Alberta is making a priority, not only for its Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education, but for the province as a whole. Recognizing that sustainable prosperity is linked to a strong innovation and entrepreneurial culture, Alberta is planning to build on its existing mechanisms, across research and educational organizations, to facilitate an innovation-driven economy.
Alberta was an early adopter of innovation long before the phrase “early adopter” existed. As the home of Canada’s first provincial research council, Alberta began promoting innovation fueled by research as an important role government could play in building the overall economy, as well as nurturing specific sectors.
The first provincial research council, the Alberta Research Council, grew to be Canada’s largest. Among many important research programs that helped Alberta grow into an economic powerhouse, the most well known is, of course, the techniques for oil sands extraction developed by Dr. Karl Clark. In addition to petroleum research, Alberta has also been at the forefront in other areas of importance including agriculture, water, human health and the environment.
In 2010, the government consolidated 10 research-focused programs around broader themes, and so the Alberta Innovates system was created.
Four Alberta Innovates corporations – Alberta Innovates Technology Futures, Health, Energy and Environment, and Bio – were created to achieve better alignment and coordination. Providing strategic direction for research and innovation in Alberta is ARIA, the Alberta Research and Innovation Authority. ARIA is a volunteer board made up of experienced researchers, entrepreneurs, academics and industry representatives.
The Alberta Innovates corporations helped develop an innovation system more aligned with provincial priorities and provided greater coordination across the innovation system, the Campus Alberta post-secondary institutions and innovation service delivery organizations.
An example of better alignment includes Alberta’s single-point-of-contact for researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs seeking to commercialize their innovative technologies. The Alberta Innovates Connector Service provides access to business and technology services to move ideas from the lab or the workbench to the marketplace. Some specialized technology services include facilities for basic and applied research, testing and validation and pilot-scale manufacturing. These include the latest areas of a broad range of technology disciplines, such as biomaterials and nanotechnology.
As a system, Alberta Innovates has been successful in enhancing collaboration across public and private sector organizations, establishing agreements between Alberta and other jurisdictions as well as some of the world’s most respected research foundations.
The next phase of its innovation system will facilitate greater learning, technology development, investment and collaboration.
The proposed “institute” for applied research and technology commercialization is a change in system governance, rather than another layer. It will leverage policies, programs and existing organizations’ basic and applied research capabilities with a focus on technology development to move promising, leading-edge knowledge and technologies into the marketplace. The overarching message to innovators, from entrepreneurs to multinationals, is that Alberta has the world-class talent, some of the best facilities and research infrastructure, and is ready to find solutions for the world.
Alberta’s economic strength and past investments in research and innovation have positioned the province to build innovation as a core component of the province’s economy. With approximately $650 million invested annually in research by the Alberta government, the proposed institute will ensure this investment is focused on solutions to grow and diversify the Alberta economy and expand markets for the province’s critical natural resources, such as petroleum products, agriculture and forest products.