How can Canada’s technology innovation ecosystem support technology companies (and vice versa)?
That was the general question posed to roughly 100 delegates representing the energy industry, from entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government, at an “inspired conversations” event hosted by the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp. (CCEMC), Carbon Management Canada (CMC) and Tessellate Inc. as part of the program at the Canadian Energy Supply Chain Forum and Canada 3.0 conference held in Calgary.
Inspired conversations are brief discussions designed to seek input on the key question from a diverse group of participants in an effort to determine the appropriate next steps required to continue the conversation and turn it into action.
They are held under “Chatham House Rule” so participants can voice their opinions and ideas freely, secure in the knowledge that they are not for attribution.
CCEMC managing director Kirk Andries set the context for the discussions by noting that environmental sustainability and environmental technology innovation are a shared responsibility across all segments of the Canadian energy supply chain.
Customers, technology developers and integrators, financiers and funders, government and NGO representatives, and academia all play a role in moving ideas from concept to commercial product.
This ecosystem of participants must work effectively together to: (a) define and prioritize key challenges; and (b) develop technology to solve those challenges.
Candid discussions identified a number of consistent themes and tangible ways of improving the innovation ecosystem to better support Canadian technology companies, innovators and entrepreneurs.
The main themes that emerged from the conversation were:
- Fill the innovation funnel by publicizing challenges—innovators and entrepreneurs would welcome a “demand-pull” approach with industry’s challenges and the market opportunities associated with delivering solutions clearly defined.
- Build test facilities to reduce risk—developing and integrating innovations are risky endeavours. Test facilities reduce risk for both entrepreneurs and industry and will likely increase commercialization rates of new technologies.
- Procurement and innovation are at odds—operations groups like procurement remain risk-averse without direct intervention by senior management to validate that innovation leads to greater profitability. New collaborative approaches are needed.
- The innovation ecosystem is incoherent and ineffective—system fragmentation is hampering effectiveness. Collaboration is challenging given that the components of the ecosystem are ill-defined and some elements of the system are in competition with one another. How best to enter or leverage the system remains unclear for many.
- Enhanced mentoring is needed—there is a shortage of qualified, sophisticated management teams available to mentor and guide innovators through both the financing and the commercialization process. The innovation ecosystem needs to embrace collaboration through open innovation, crowd sourcing and crowd funding to progress.
- Balancing investment and innovation needs—ideas cannot accelerate fast enough without funding and traditional financial institutions are generally not willing to take investment risks outside of their comfort zone. Innovation in the funding/investment/financing system is necessary to change the way that innovator support occurs.
The event brought together interested and engaged conference participants who shared many common challenges and impressions.
Several specific proposals were mentioned by participants of the Supply Chain Forum and Canada 3.0, with many expressing a strong desire to advance the dialogue.
It is likely that over the course of 2015 a series of further inspired conversations based on the key themes of challenge definition, collaboration and innovation system enhancements will occur in an effort to define a series of actions that could be undertaken to address these challenges.
Dale Austin is the principal and co-founder of Tessellate Inc.