Nov 2019 Summit Recap

November 29, 2019 12:29 By Aaron
A sold-out crowd of 90 attendees made up of entrepreneurs, connectors and senior service provider management met on November 26 in Edmonton assess the state of the Edmonton Innovation Ecosystem. As a group we came together to find impactful ways to address needs as well as building upon and supporting the various initiatives that are underway.

The entire day was high-energy - a positive vibe was generated from the collective wisdom of the committed individuals gathered in the entrepreneurial venue of Polar Park Brewing. We will follow this post with more in-depth looks at both the results from the scorecard assessment and the findings from our working groups.

Morning Sessions

Background and Context

We started the day by providing some background and context about the 'new reality', as our keynote presenter Jim Gibson called it. Jim joins us form Calgary, and is one of the entrepreneurs who brought the Rainforest concept to Alberta in 2016.

This new reality is based on the world moving from an 'innovation of things' (i.e. making things better, faster, cheaper) toward an 'innovation of ways' (i.e. changing how we work, where we work, and what we work on). 

As many people brought up during the day, Alberta needs to be aware of how the world is changing. As a resource-based economy, these fundamental changes could affect all of us in monumental ways. Therefore, it's crucial to take steps toward a more diverse, innovation-focused economy today. This new reality will likely require close cooperation between Edmonton and Calgary, to balance our relative strengths with our complementary needs. On the global stage, we are much stronger together than if we go it alone.

The crowd was very engaged, chiming in throughout the morning to share their thoughts about the current state of the city, and discus opportunities for how we can work together to find common opportunities.

Scorecard Results

The morning ended with an overview of the most recent Rainforest Scorecard Assessment, which saw an all-time high of 96 responses submitted. We have been using the tool since September 2016 to get a pulse check on the perceptions of the community at that point in time. After constant progress over the last three assessments, this year's Scorecard saw different results, with all scores receding to near their lowest yet, with the sole exception of culture, which rose slightly. This assessment also marked the first time that Edmonton scored was lower than Calgary. Most of the individual pillar scores closely matched Calgary's assessment results from September. 

For context, the Edmonton score at this assessment was 601 based on 96 responses. Past scores have been:
  1. In September 2017 we measured the initial score at 573
  2. In March 2018 we measured the score at 557
  3. In November 2018 we measured the score at 643

Culture, along with the identification of many more leaders from outside of government, suggest that we have grown from ‘a leader-follower’ or 'top-down' mindset to a more advanced (and less hierarchical) collaborative culture where we all have the opportunity to lead and no longer wait on others to do so. It is incumbent on all of us to seize this opportunity to step up, work together with others, and demonstrate the change we want to see. An entrepreneurial culture doesn’t wait for leaders to lead - we find ways to do it ourselves and lend a hand to others to bring all forward at the same time.

Although the Leadership score took a drop (~12% year over year) it was very positive to see that the number of identified unique leaders in the ecosystem grew by ~50% over last year, and a lot more diversity in the roles of leaders identified. No innovation ecosystem is complete without people who build innovative companies - the entrepreneurs - and it was exciting that respondents did not just look at service providers (government-funded entrepreneur support organizations) and government representatives this time around: 44% of the leaders named were entrepreneurs. This is a very positive sign of the ecosystem seeing and feeling that the builders are taking a more active role in helping to construct a system that works for them and all entrepreneurs. It was also suggested that for future scorecards, there may be value in breaking the Leadership Ratings into parts – Internal and External – Since External (Provincial and Federal Government Leadership); are beyond the scope of the Innovation Ecosystem to address, as it is decided by the greater population.

The Scorecard is not a scientific study, it's a measurement of the perception of the community at a point in time which makes it a very useful tool to gauge where we are at any given moment. From this information, we can seek opportunities to get to where we want to go, which is what the afternoon sessions were all about. More details from the scorecard assessments will follow in separate post. 

Afternoon Working Sessions

After lunch, attendees broke into groups to seek actionable opportunities to address three objectives, which come from the recent EACOS (Edmonton Advisory Council on Startups) Position Paper, namely:

  1. Build a Strong Community
  2. Increase Service Provider Alignment
  3. Improve Entrepreneur Readiness and Access to Capital 

The sessions focused on building upon previous work done by the Innovation Compass and EACOS. The Compass Report maps quite nicely to the EACOS Priority Areas, with the exception of the Compass recommendation about the U of A's IP policy. EACOS also focused on items broader than the Compass, which largely looks at what can be done by building resources, changing policies or building infrastructure. These are all important items, but EACOS included calls to action about how and why they believe that entrepreneurs should be engaging in the ecosystem that is built for them. 

We challenged the attendees to take a positive, forward-thinking attitude on these sessions, rather than focusing on negative perceptions. Each of the three working groups focused on one of the three priority areas mentioned above and the individual tables took the lens of a particular pillar and identify either existing community initiatives that could be supported to seek improvement or identify gaps in the ecosystem where action could be taken.

We collected a lot of feedback was collected from these sessions by the volunteer reporters which are now compiling into a separate post that will dig more deeply into the suggestions and comments. 

Final Comments

The day ended with inspiring words from the chair of Edmonton's Rainforest Steering Committee, James Keirstead, who noted that "what you know is nice, it’s what you do that counts." James challenged attendees to "pick one thing today that you personally or a group of you can take action on to help improve the ecosystem and get out there and do it."

Attendee Takeaways

In the post-event survey, we asked attendees "Is there anything YOU will do differently after this summit to improve our ecosystem?" Some answers included:

  • "As a Service Provider I really just want to be more of a connector, make sure our program is known and provide help to anyone that requires while connecting those I cannot assist."
  • "I want to make sure that my voice is positive and constructive. There has been a lot of complaining and vitriol and has been for the last year across the community... Change is slow. It's easy to complain. Harder to suggest ideas and possible solutions."
  • "I will continue to speak loudly about the great things happening in Edmonton!"
  • "Collaborate more with other service providers"
  • "Try to be more positive and let go of past offences"