Shift by Alberta Innovates

Exploring Inventures 2024 with Gail Powley from Technology Alberta

March 25, 2024 Shift Season 5 Episode 2
Shift by Alberta Innovates
Exploring Inventures 2024 with Gail Powley from Technology Alberta
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On this episode  sit down with Gail Powley to tease some of the fascinating stories that have woven the fabric of Alberta's innovation landscape, from the Nobel Prize laureates who trace their roots to small towns like Medicine Hat to the cutting-edge developments that have shaped industries far and wide. As we explore the pivotal contributions of the Regional Innovation Networks, we uncover how these cornerstones of progress ensure that Alberta's entire expanse shares in the success of technological evolution.

Gail is the president of Technology Alberta and the executive director the ASTech Awards—Alberta's award of innovation recognition—celebrating 35 years of scientific and technological advancement.

This episode gives you some insights on the power of networking within Alberta's entrepreneurial scene. We talk about how the importance of having a compelling pitch and showing up with a giving spirit are essential currencies in our tech ecosystem, and we further explore the magic that happens at a technology and business convergence point like Inventures where you can pack 20 meetings into a day that would normally take you much longer. 

We hope you come away with an appreciation for the strong bonds that form the backbone of the tech community in Alberta, and the profound impact a culture of support and collaboration has on driving innovation to new heights. 

Welcome to Shift!

Shift by Alberta Innovates focuses on the people, businesses and organizations that are contributing to Alberta's strong tech ecosystem.

Speaker 1:

Greetings, friends. In keeping with our theme of Adventures 2024 and showcasing a small handful of those who will be appearing on site, my next guest and I are chatting about 35 years of the innovation in Alberta. Of course, innovation in our province goes back much farther than that, but there's a specific reason we focus on 35 years. Tune in and find out why. Welcome to SHIFT Today, on SHIFT by Alberta Innovates, we have Gail Powell, president of technology Alberta. Gail, how are you doing? Very good.

Speaker 2:

Thanks. How are you, John?

Speaker 1:

Well, I'm great and I'm so happy that we could get you on the podcast. I bump into you at so many different events and you are one of those people. That's just. You're such a proponent of Alberta, innovation writ large and all these different sectors, and you're so active in the space. It's just really cool to feature you here and talk a little bit about that. Now. I know at Inventures you've got a panel and it's called the best of the Aztec Awards 35 years of outstanding Alberta science and technology leaders. So why don't you tell us a little bit about what people can expect to witness at this session at Inventures?

Speaker 2:

So, yes, I've attended the Aztec Awards about six or more times over the last 35 years that it has been the Academy Awards of Innovation in the province and it's lovely to see the recognition of the great contribution of Alberta, scientists and entrepreneurs and the ecosystem around it. You know, the shared success best of all worlds is the theme since we've taken it over, because everyone recognizes that the people at the podium didn't get there on their own. They got there because of community, because of this thriving ecosystem, and so with that it's love to share their stories of really the strength of Alberta from post-secondary, from government, industry, entrepreneur, academia perspectives. So they're full stories for sure.

Speaker 1:

And this covers the province right Like this is from every corner of Alberta, so there's no focus on just the big cities or anything. It's the movers and shakers and the leaders in the innovation ecosystem, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

That's right and, in fact, quite the opposite. In fact, one of my favorite stories and we're featuring 35 years in 35 weeks on our social media Excellent, yeah. And one of the favorite stories is the fact that a Nobel Prize winner grew up in Medicine Hat and went to university at University of Alberta, went on to, you know, obviously win the Nobel Prize so, and the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize in physics. So that's just a sample of some of the strength we have here.

Speaker 1:

Now, I should know that physicist's name, because I believe he's got a chair at the University of Alberta, or did.

Speaker 2:

Richard Taylor.

Speaker 1:

Yes, no, you're right. You know. I remember a while back, just as quick a side I was writing, I wanted to write stories about Nobel laureates and I started off with Richard Taylor and I got the man on the phone and we started chatting and it was fascinating. And I'm so glad that you know that you're touching on that as well, because that's pretty cool. You know we've got a couple of Nobel laureates in the province, but that's right.

Speaker 2:

Sir Michael Haughton, currently yes.

Speaker 1:

But Richard Bourne here, yeah, in Medicine Hat.

Speaker 2:

Right smack dab in the middle. Yeah well, medicine has not in the middle, but it's in a corner.

Speaker 1:

Oh, darn Geography.

Speaker 2:

There you go.

Speaker 1:

So my geography is a little lacking. So now the best of 35 years. So what? Now we've only got limited time in this session, so how are you going to cover that what's?

Speaker 2:

are you going to look at it and focus on different verticals, or it's about all of Alberta and all of our strengths, so so we'll certainly cover some highlights, but yes, it, it, it. I have to admit that's a hard story to follow, but it is a nice bookend actually, because 35 years ago started with Richard Taylor and here we are with Michael Houghton, so we have a nice Nobel Prize.

Speaker 1:

Well, that's kind of yeah, that's actually really cool. So Richard Taylor was the first Aztec Award winner, Canadian.

Speaker 2:

Oh, so he was the first Canadian Nobel Prize winner.

Speaker 1:

Oh, yeah, okay.

Speaker 2:

The Aztec Award in 1992. His. Nobel Prize was in 1990 and the Aztec Awards was founded in 1989.

Speaker 1:

Oh, okay, okay, Wow.

Speaker 2:

So this really goes back and and so you've recently, well recently, last few years, taken over the Aztec Awards and are now managing that and curating it into the future, because With our advisory board, with our advisory board, which has leaders like like Justin Riemer of Emissions Reduction Alberta, doug Holt of Alberta Innovates, entrepreneurs that have been past award winners, jeff LaFrance of this Works, and more so with community, we've we've relaunched the Aztec Awards in a way that also is so inclusive of rural innovation because, to your point, innovation is in every corner of the province. And so last year, as an example, three RINs were presenters of awards. So the Medicine Hat RIN, apex, presented the Aerospace Award and, as you know, they've been champions on drones, on autopilot, automated vehicles. And also Red Deer Polytechnic and the Central Alberta RIN were on stage, as well as the Olds College, with Agriculture Innovation, also on stage.

Speaker 2:

So the RINs and the RINs for those who don't know what the regional innovation networks are is a framework that Alberta Innovates has put in place so that information goes, goes. It's a hub and spoke right, it's an entire wheel that information goes out, information comes in and it keeps, keeps the innovation system in motion and keeps everyone connected. And in fact, yes, there's another Aztec Award winner that I look forward to having join us, which is Kinetisense, and that's a Medicine Hat company that has you may even have interviewed them already the motion, the markerless motion, detection.

Speaker 1:

I'm familiar with Kinetisense. Yeah, another one from from Medicine Hat.

Speaker 2:

By the way they NASA uses their technology.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, we, we often think of, of innovations in Alberta innovations. Well, maybe it's not fair to say we often think this, but we don't always think of Alberta Innovations and bread innovations as having that global, you know, implication and it's, it's quite common.

Speaker 2:

That's right, and so we just need to remind people of the stories but also create new ones. Of course, right, but but that gives entrepreneurs the confidence. There's highs and lows in being an entrepreneur, and especially when you're in the emerging technology space, where you're creating a market, you're proving on technology and you're forming new relationships. So to know that it's we have a proud history of being, of accomplishments in that space really can help the resilience of entrepreneurs and you know we are stronger together and so and that's what inventors gives us the opportunity for is to actually culminate that, as well as the Aztec awards, in a different way.

Speaker 1:

I love that, gail. I think that's a really important message. You know, when it's a great thing that Alberta has going for it through the RINs and through the partnerships and and working, that we have those, those warm handoffs to all sorts of different organizations, whether that's, you know, the RIN, like the Calgary Innovation Coalition, or the GP Regional Innovation Network, you know, at places like Edmonton, unlimited, and you know, innovate Calgary at the, at the post secondary level.

Speaker 2:

It's fantastic platform Calgary and RINSA.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, it's a. It's a massive list and most a lot of these people will be on-site at inventors for people to learn more and this isn't all just for startups.

Speaker 1:

There's lots of resources out there for scale ups and companies that are, you know, potentially looking to export to other countries, and it's there's a really good framework here. Now it's interesting, though I was having a conversation with a gentleman on the last episode from Canary Now there are a federal organization that looks to help entrepreneurs and we're just talking about sense making and way finding. You know, in that, in that sense of when inventors are going to be able to do something, when an entrepreneur comes out, he or she has to look at their jurisdiction, you know, whether that's a rural town or one of the bigger cities. Then they have to look at provincial support, then federal support, and it can be daunting. They can almost be too much.

Speaker 1:

He said, he put it best he goes. It's almost like you need to have a side hustle to figure out where you need to go with your business. But you know, I think and I'll put in another plug for inventors but it's a great opportunity for people to come and start sense making and way finding, talking to people like yourself, you know, talking to people like Tonya Wolf at Redgear Polytechnic and our regional innovation network leaders, so it's pretty exciting. So, from your perspective, what? What are you most looking forward to the inventors this year, and what would you say to entrepreneurs that we haven't already said about why they should come?

Speaker 2:

I wrote this in my newsletter recently.

Speaker 2:

It's not only who you know but, who knows you Right, and so the fact that people know that there's these amazing entrepreneurs from all corners of the province and that they have this cool technology and great team and and supportive community that gives them the sustainability that investors and customers want to see In any company moving forward. So to actually and to feel that support, that's fail. Fail when they go to inventors is that they'll see so many people they know and they will see other people that are willing to introduce them. That's just someone they should meet, and inventors is an international, has an international audience, so it will save entrepreneurs a lot of time, entrepreneurial tech companies a lot of time, but going there because they will meet people that In a short period of time right, it will probably one day, if they're seeking to meet Twenty meaningful connections, they can. The amount of time it would take you to fly or even to meet someone in the same city Twenty separate meetings one day that's not something you're going to do

Speaker 2:

and and and. In a way, when you meet with someone, you don't necessarily need A whole hour or a whole half hour, whatever these occasional meetings, to have that nugget. So have your elevator pitch there, but have you know how can they help you because they want to, right, so have that, ask their. Don't ask people. You know good weather, don't, don't comment on the weather. They can comment on your shoes, john, because you have good shoes, but but how have ready how people can help you because they want to?

Speaker 2:

that's what inventors is all about.

Speaker 1:

Let me add something, and I think that's that was fantastically well said, but let me add something to that. So when you go to inventors, think, have your pitch ready and what's you know, because people are going to want to know, but also, how can you help other people? That's right, so there's an opportunity.

Speaker 2:

So how can I help you? What do you need and how? Can they help you too, and I always think entrepreneurs, scale-ups and startups. My instinct is to help them, but you are right, john, it should be both ways. And how can you help others?

Speaker 2:

A lovely example is technology Alberta. Through our talent programs funded by the government of Alberta and PrairiesCan, We've been able to find so many people jobs in these entrepreneurial tech companies and the companies take well, they'll take one person, and then they'll want to take multiple and then at some point you know they can't take any more, but they want to help people get jobs in there. So they actually say you know what? I'd like to make introductions to you for company X, company Y, company Z, so that you are right, they're always thinking of how they can help others too, help people get their start with jobs, how to grow their own company, but how to grow their neighbor's companies. And so, yes, tell others what you need and ask them what they need, because we can do this together.

Speaker 1:

I love it. Now, gail, give me a little bit of your background. Where do you? How did you start? What is your? What's your area of interest like when it comes to technology?

Speaker 2:

I grew up in Alberta. I saw the highs and lows of the economy because, it's you know, we ride a certain commodity that we are very good at and so recognized. I want to diversify the economy, I want to be part of the solution, and so we have great resources. Technology is the future. So I decided to become an engineer in the process automation space and thus graduated from the University of Alberta and then worked for entrepreneurial tech companies ever since. Even though I did go, I did try. I did try Proctor and Gamble, to learn the how to grow a business. And then I did live in Toronto working for a company of five that grew to 25 in the artificial intelligence space.

Speaker 2:

at that time, that that grew to be a world leader with 25 people. So I decided in Toronto.

Speaker 2:

They certainly aren't as modest as many Canadians, and so perhaps it shows that with when you have a good product and you have and you care about your customer, it's not about size, it's about focus and it's about confidence and it's about caring. So, with that wanting to bring that back to Alberta, which I have through companies like NatureCon that has a employee number 100. It grew to 618 offices around the world and then, and then I also went to I actually Alberta Research Council. I really enjoyed that.

Speaker 1:

That's a precursor to Alberta Innovates.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and then also also wisest. I was a woman in scholarship, engineering, science, technology and research, so and help create groups that brought academia together with entrepreneurs and industry to create technologies that can help further our economy, whether it's exporting directly or helping our resource industries and helping employ our people. And then are helping our researchers understand the problems are in industry so that they can actually help solve the problems together.

Speaker 1:

Wow See, and we started off by me saying you've got all this, this wealth of experience in the ecosystem, in the innovation ecosystem, and folks, make sure, when you're in ventures, look up Gail Powley and come and have a chat with her and make sure you check out her session as well, gail, I think this was fantastic. It was really an honor to catch up with you like this and finally get something kind of down on tape, so to speak, because we always have such good conversations and I always learn a little bit more from you. So thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.

Speaker 2:

A pleasure, and I've learned a lot from you too, john, so thank you.

Speaker 1:

I should have asked now if people want more information about Technology, alberta or the Aztec Awards, where should they go?

Speaker 2:

Our website, technologyalbertacom or aztecca, and we have free newsletters, so please sign up. And, of course, linkedin's a good spot for all of us, right?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely yeah, okay, right on Gail. Thank you so much.

Speaker 2:

Always a pleasure, John Bye now.

Speaker 1:

Shift can be found online at shiftalbertainnovatesca, where you can reach us via email at shift at albertainnovatesca. We can also be found on your favorite streaming service. So dive in and enjoy Until next time. I'm John.

Celebrating Alberta's Innovation Leaders
Inventors Community