Written By Sebastien Gittens, Bruce Hibbard and Peter Ciechanowski
On April 12, 2022, the Government of Alberta released its Alberta Technology and Innovation Strategy (ATIS) that adds further details in fulfilling Alberta's Recovery Plan announced in June 2020, and complements the Government's Investment and Growth Strategy released in September 2020.
The vision of the ATIS is to diversify Alberta's economy by establishing Alberta as an international leader in the technology and innovation sector that attracts talent, business and investment. In that regard, the Government sets the ambitious goal by 2030 of creating 20,000 new jobs and technology companies generating $5 billion more in annual revenue in Alberta. In addition to the Government's 2022 Alberta Budget allocating $73 million over three years to the ATIS, there are five goals identified to support its vision.
Deepening the Technology and Innovation Pool
The first goal recognizes the need to advance an ecosystem that encourages the development of a future-ready workforce and employment opportunities in the technology and innovation sector. This objective is currently underway by strengthening industry and academic partnerships as proposed by the Government's Alberta 2030: building skills for jobs (10-year strategy for post-secondary education), released on April 29, 2021, and the Budget allocating $600 million in funding for the Alberta at Work Initiative.
The ATIS states several initiatives to further increase the depth of Alberta's technology and innovation pool, such as:
- building on discoveries at Alberta universities by enhancing entrepreneurship programs that provide mentorship, networks and seed-funding for start-up technology companies;
- developing micro-credential programs to meet the need for high-demand jobs in the technology and innovation sector;
- expanding the Major Innovation Fund that aligns with Alberta's research priorities and are market-oriented;
- introducing an accelerated technology pathway under the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program; and
- establishing a public sector artificial intelligence (AI) lab for developing talent, producing new AI solutions for the government and for creating commercialization opportunities.
Private Capital and Public Investments
The second goal is to attract and leverage both private and public investments for supporting companies in their start-up and growth stages. This objective is currently being pursued through the Government's $175 million recapitalization of Alberta Enterprise Corporation for investing in venture capital funds that have a track record of success, strong global networks and a demonstrated commitment to Alberta.
The ATIS sets the following initiatives for increasing access to private capital and public investments in Alberta's technology and innovation sector:
- Further exploring ways to address gaps in venture capital funding;
- Advocating for Alberta's fair share of federal research and development funding; and
- Continuing to invest the Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction proceeds in emission-reducing technologies that create jobs and increase Alberta's natural resource value.
Commercialization of Research and Innovation
The third goal is to provide the necessary supports for advancing research from Alberta's universities to the commercialization phase. Through its Research Commercialization Working Group, the Government has identified the key sectors to drive commercialization: (i) energy, minerals and clean-tech; (ii) agriculture; (iii) health and disease prevention; and (iv) emerging technologies.
The ATIS details various initiatives for advancing a system that facilitates commercialization of research and innovation from post-secondary institutions, such as:
- introducing business accelerators to grow the technology start-up sector through Alberta Innovates;
- supporting implementation of an intellectual property framework for incentivizing faculty of post-secondary institutions to pursue entrepreneurial activities;
- investing in technologies that have significant potential for commercial applications, such as quantum science and AI;
- establishing a clean hydrogen centre to establish Alberta as a global leader in hydrogen innovation; and
- establishing an Alberta Cybersecurity Community of Interest to strengthen Alberta's overall cybersecurity and encourage development of Alberta-based talent and solutions.
Optimize the Technology and Innovation System
The fourth goal is to further develop Alberta's technology and innovation ecosystem by improving system efficiency and ensuring available supports are responsive and robust to entrepreneurial needs. To achieve this goal, the ATIS sets the following initiatives:
- Working with Alberta's innovation agencies to ensure entrepreneurs and innovators are receiving "targeted and timely" support;
- Maintaining collaboration and communication mechanisms between innovation agencies and the business community to enable seamless service delivery; and
- Monitoring the ecosystem to identify gaps and opportunities for supporting success of Alberta's entrepreneurs.
Enhance Alberta's Reputation as a Technology and Innovation Leader
The last goal of the ATIS is to ensure global awareness that Alberta is open for business and has the foundation in place for technology and innovation companies to thrive. From global awareness as a technology and innovation hub, the Government intends to attract more innovators, technology companies and investment with the following initiatives:
- Working with industry and ecosystem partners to build Alberta's international reputation as a place to innovate, invest and grow;
- Improving investor awareness and attracting investment from global technology firms through the Invest Alberta Corporation;
- Undertaking a marketing campaign to attract technology and innovation talent; and
- Exploring new investment incentives to attract anchor companies to further develop Alberta's technology and innovation ecosystem.
In its 2021 Alberta Technology Deal Flow Study, the Alberta Enterprise Corporation reported (i) that more than 3,000 technology companies are based in Alberta; as well as (ii) a 66 percent increase from 2018 of Alberta start-ups with more than $1 million in annual revenue, a number of which have previously completed a Series A or later stage of financing. In its 2021 Year in Review, the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association reported the highest level of venture capital investment in Alberta on record of $561 million.
It appears that the Government intends to build on this momentum. The ATIS sets out the framework through which the Government seeks to diversify Alberta's economy by establishing a mandate to further develop its technology and innovation sector, including attracting further investment. As the ATIS "will remain a living document," it remains to be seen what, if any, further policies and programs the Government will establish to further develop Alberta's technology and innovation sector.
Bennett Jones will continue to monitor new developments in the Government's initiatives for developing Alberta's technology and innovation sector and attracting investment. Please reach out to any member of the Bennett Jones Capital Markets or Technology Law groups if you have any questions about this article.