How Does the Innovation Compass Reconcile with Rainforest?
The Innovation Compass was a community study commissioned the EEDC (Edmonton Economic Development Corp). In this article, we will take a look at how the Compass Recommendations fit within the context of the Rainforest Pillars.
What is the Compass?
The purpose of the Compass Report and the engagement activities is described as to “Engage with Edmonton’s tech-enabled innovation community to develop a series of recommendations and directions around how to support and grow Edmonton’s innovation ecosystem.” You can read more about the Compass on the Innovation Compass website.
The complete list of recommendations is below. They generally focus on identifying gaps in current programs and services in the Edmonton ecosystem. For the most part, the recommendations are a list of things that should be or could be done for the benefit of entrepreneurs and represent new program opportunities.
The report was launched in December 2018 and published in August 2019. The report and activities were paid for by EEDC in a non-public procurement process which did not go to public tender.
The Compass Recommendations
The Innovation Compass concludes with 14 recommendations that their efforts determined would support tech-based entrepreneurs in Edmonton:
- Encourage pools of private investors from all sectors to move off the sidelines and start investing in local tech
- Find ways to deploy government funding and support of the ecosystem in ways that better align to the needs of entrepreneurs.
- Make it extremely easy for innovators to benefit from and build on the IP they develop at post-secondary institutions.
- Facilitate more direct mentoring by entrepreneurs who have recent experience successfully founding and building tech companies.
- Invest in the establishment of a tech accelerator with a model proven in other jurisdictions.
- Reshape the mandates and governance models of service providers to be as agile as possible with the goal of meeting the evolving needs of the ecosystem.
- Foster an environment where companies can launch easily and fail fast.
- Develop a single window to communicate the entirety of services, programs and supports within the ecosystem available to entrepreneurs.
- Persistently communicate the ecosystem’s success stories – small or large – to both external and internal audiences.
- Establish funding and initiatives that encourage a predominantly relationship-based culture between entrepreneurs across the ecosystem.
- Facilitate opportunities for entrepreneurs at every stage to build applicable skills in practical areas (e.g., coding) and business skills (e.g., customer development).
- Shift the service provider focus to securing local, national and international customers for entrepreneurs.
- Formalize, fund and strengthen a mandate for an entrepreneur-led tech industry association.
- Focus the ecosystem around supporting identified pillars of strength, rather than diluting
Thoughts and Considerations
The report states that the "engagement consultant [has] no major interests or attachments within the innovation ecosystem and that they act as a neutral third party throughout the process." However, it is relevant to note:
- The consultant in the process, ZGM (formerly Calder Bateman) has been engaged by EEDC for previous studies; and
- Since the Innovation Compass was released, the project lead and feedback session facilitator, Chris Henderson has been retained by EEDC for a series of other engagements or projects. As of this writing, little information has been released relating to this that we are aware of.
Also, given that the project was privately tendered and the scope of work in the contract has not been publicly disclosed (to the knowledge of the author), the project may have had an additional scope of work or desired outcomes beyond that above.
The report was to be impartial and focus on recommendations for those who support the tech-enabled ecosystem. A detailed commentary was provided about specific service providers in the ecosystem, including:
- Advanced Technology Centre (ATC);
- Alberta Innovates (AI);
- Startup Edmonton;
- TEC Edmonton; and
- The University of Alberta's Venture Mentoring Services (VMS).
How Does This Align with Rainforest?
The Rainforest Pillars detail the aspects of an innovation ecosystem that support innovation.
The Scorecard Assessment provides two key elements:
- An overall score; and
- A radar graph of the relative pillar scores.
In general, a higher score indicates a higher-performance ecosystem, i.e. an ecosystem that better supports entrepreneurs to:
- Test their ideas quickly;
- Fail fast and iterate; or
- Commit to their concept, grow and ultimately scale their company.
Past scorecard results show an evolving ecosystem.
In September 2017, the score was just above a passing grade but the shape of the graph indicated a traditional ecosystem. The graph is stretched slightly towards Leadership but is somewhat balanced overall.
In March 2018, the score took a slight step backward, but it was much more concerning that the shape was losing balance. Specifically, scores for Activities & Engagement and the Resources Pillar were suppressed. During this point in time, some notable proposals were made in the ecosystem and entrepreneurs expressed a feeling of frustration that decisions were being made on their behalf, without their involvement.
Fortunately, this frustration turned to positive engagements and a stronger desire to engage with entrepreneurs. Although the score did not increase drastically, the November 2018 scorecard results show a much more balanced and supportive ecosystem. The scores generally hover around 65% in each category, so there is certainly a significant amount of work to be done, however it is vital that the ecosystem remain conscious about all 6 Pillars and take intentional actions to invest in initiatives (or support existing initiatives that are well-regarded) to ensure that balanced growth occurs. In particular, it is vital that the ecosystem not encourage or support Leadership initiatives over and above other initiatives as this would be considered a backward step towards a more traditional and less innovation-focused top-down model. As a grassroots organization led by entrepreneurs, Rainforest Edmonton is highly supportive of bottom-up leadership and the development of new initiatives.
Mapping Compass to the Pillars
Although there may some room for interpretation, it is fairly easy to roughly map the Compass Recommendations to the Rainforest Pillars. Below, we will briefly look at the Recommendations in the context of each Pillar, and where appropriate, comment on expected results for the upcoming Scorecard Assessment.