Innovative IofT Communities


photo-1428677361686-f9d23be145c9In following up on an earlier blog I wrote on Growing the North & the Internet of Things (IofT), I have had an opportunity to venture further into how SMART(the IofT) Communities, People and Ideas can play an increasing role influencing and driving community economic development.  Communities like St Albert and others across the province are advancing SMART strategies and seeing concrete success stories unfold on a number of new technology-based companies that are growing in their region.

Almost everywhere you read or hear the word ‘ innovation’ being a factor in addressing a problem or exploring a new opportunity and how people may wish to learn more about it: for example, this fall the Economic Developers of Alberta are sponsoring a course in Calgary on Technology-Led Economic Development.  Are we starting to see IofT transforming itself from a product or service offering under other industry sectors to being an industry sector to itself?

It is an interesting world we live in: we strive for stability, are reluctant to change and yet, we see chaos and change whirling around us.  We know that with change brings opportunities.  And the ‘Death Valley’ gap between a person having a wonderful idea and getting it to the marketplace successfully is daunting.  The Conference Board of Canada explains how we are good at new ideas and knowledge but suffer with commercializing ideas and products to the marketplace.

What I like about the strength of SMART communities is their potential abilities to influence the right innovation successes by representing taxpayer’s interests in IofT innovations.  Their internal buying power can encourage citizens to explore and solve problems and provide that market pull for the right solutions to come into the marketplace.  The challenge will be ensuring the IofT innovation has value to the taxpayers as customers.

SMART Communities, People & Ideas operate well within some basic economic development principles. The best innovative ideas come from those that work in that industry: they often know what the customer wants.    And most new jobs in a community come from the businesses in that community: local people with innovative ideas and resources to invest in their community.

photo-1423768164017-3f27c066407fHow much time or resources should someone allocate to innovation?  For business and communities, I would suggest that if you allocated 4% to innovation, you will be ahead of the pack.  That would leave 96% of your resources to operating an efficient and effective organization. That would give you opportunity to manage challenges and change in new ways (that the old solutions are not satisfactorily doing) while optimizing your operations (meeting & exceeding customer needs while managing your cost of doing business).

Innovations for the most part are going to occur: and the real question might be are your organizations being welcoming, aggressive and purposeful in doing innovation?  By being an active leader and participant in innovation, one should get maximum return and value from being engaged in innovation activities.

Bob at College
Bob Hall, Technology Development Advisor, AITF

Innovation is a process that can be learned and this can be especially fruitful in SMART IofT Communities.  As a side note, April 12 &13 is Alberta Smart Cities Symposium  it will be an exciting opportunity for me to meet leaders in IofT and Smart Communities and learn more about where the industry is headed.


Interested in Research & Innovation? Learn more at Alberta Innovates Tech Futures and GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation .

Growing the North is Moving Innovation Forward

Randy Vanderveen Photography

Growing the North, northwest Alberta’s prime industry development conference is just around the corner.  Starting with a Taste of the Peace showing local food industry producers and chefs, the Growing the North Conference is all about exploring, much like an adventure.

Being exposed to new ideas is only half the adventure, the other half is delegates working the conference to network with a range of experts on industry topics and community leadership.

Most delegates at this conference will do very well with their personal and operational (internal workplace responsibilities) networking opportunities (see Harvard Business Review table below).  It’s like see old friends and get re-acquainted.


A much more difficult form of networking is at a strategic level.  This targets industry developments and trends at 20,000 feet, putting them into a context of a future scenario, and seeing what it all means today at the community level.  The experienced GTN Conference knows that and in doing so, uses the conference to (1) understand how what is happening in an industry can lead to future likelihoods and (2) building a strategic network from the pool of conference delegates, can help form an action team to do  actionable items today.

“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another”. It’s about building of strategic leadership to set a course for action.  Once the leadership network  gets a direction, then the personal and operational networks come into play.

“The word ‘work’ is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves reaching outside the borders of a person’s comfort zone.”

Growing the North is an event where networking is encouraged.

How to get the most of industry trends and future opportunities?  When most groups undertake planning exercises, for example strategic plans, they often focus their attention on the short-term with a view to seeking improvements to the present situation: improvements like achieving efficiency, reducing costs, solving an issue and exploring opportunities, all very much in the present day.  GTN encourages its’ attendees to look at major trends and extrapolate a number of scenarios of the future.  Having positive and negative scenarios side-by-side, helps business or community leaders see how their decisions could lead to positive and negative outcomes.  It can help answer the question,

“How do the decisions I make today, support what I want to see or achieve in the future?”

GTN provides outlooks into possible futures.  Couple that, with people who share those outlooks and also more importantly want to do something about the future, and you have the ingredients to form a strategic network on an action item of mutual interest.

internet of thingsFor example, the topic on the Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS will showcase what tomorrow could look like in respect to technology. Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And their future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring their future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

If you are attending Growing the North, let’s meet and share ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities in your business and community: it’s about moving ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

The Internet of Things



“The Internet of Things is far bigger than anyone realizes” according to Daniel Burris in Wired .


As business or community leaders, you will be seeing more situations where machines talk to machines?  Is it important?  I think so.   And so does Growing the North:   the 7th annual Growing the North Conference is back February 17-18 with another impressive lineup of expert speakers including an Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS.

Machine-to-machine communications is about accessing and using data to make more informed decisions and that is where business is headed.   IofT is about networks of data-gathering sensors that measure and evaluate.  And where it plays out is when machines and sensors are connected to do something smarter, more efficient and effective than has been done before.

The TELUS IofT presentation will include examples of the hospital of tomorrow, just like the new regional hospital being currently constructed in Grande Prairie.


Advances in IofT are encouraging innovators to look at new innovative ideas in their businesses about what and how machines can communicate with each other.  What is interesting about this is, when the innovator presents such a new concept it is easy to understand why it is such a great idea and how the idea will reduce the costs of doing business for potential buyers.  It just makes sense.

I thought that the Internet of Things was leading edge stuff and it is and isn’t.  My favorite starting point for exploring a new subject matter is Wikipedia, it explains IofT’s early history back to 1982 when a modified Coke machine at Carnegie Mellon University reported its inventory and whether newly loaded drinks were cold.  It has been around for over 30 years and today we are thinking it’s new.  That is how innovations often work.  It has been there but we don’t see it until WHAM: it is being estimated that the IoT will consist of almost 50 billion objects by 2020.

So what is it and why should you consider hearing about it at Growing the North?


The Internet of Things allows objects to be sensed and controlled remotely across existing networks.  These Smart Devices are expected to usher in automation in nearly all fields.  It can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, bio-chip transponders on farm animals, automobiles with built-in sensors, field operation devices that assist firefighters and inventory control.

Where they are now?  Look around your home, could be a smart thermostat.

A key component to advancing the IofT has been the development of minuscule identifying devices or machine-readable identifiers or chips.  Add a reader or sensor and relay the data to a software program, hit engage and out pops this intelligence that helps the reader make better decisions.  Wear one on your wrist and immediately know how your heart is doing.

IofT products can be classified broadly into five different categories: smart wearable, smart home, smart city, smart environment, and smart enterprise.

What is the value?  Attend the conference on February 17-18 and learn.


IofT is and will continue to accelerate innovation in the region.  We are working with a group of municipalities and small business service providers to explore such emerging opportunities under a regional innovation network concept.  The concept builds on Centre for Research & Innovation at GPRC as a champion and facilitator of applied research and innovation in the region.  More about the evolution of innovation in the Peace Country, in one of my next blogs.

Whether it is regional innovation networks, IofT or Growing the North, it is about change.  It is about moving innovative ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

What does innovation success look like?

Innovative Technology

Does winning the Innovator of the Year Award mean success in the innovation eco-system?  I think it does.

Congratulations to Integrity Technologies’ owner Lindsay Wadsworth on winning the Grande Prairie Chamber’s 2015 Innovator Award.

Lindsay (left) accepts award from GPRC CRI Director, Bruce Rutley

Lindsay like many innovators has a passion for solving problems.  He is successful because he saves companies time and money.

Lindsay recognized that real-time communications coupled with GIS mapping was needed by industry and government managers for potentially dangerous situations such as remote construction sites and fighting forest fires.

He built an innovative technology-based system called Sight Surveillance, a real-time personnel, asset tracking and logistics solution.  It is used in situations where decisions require communications and transfer of data are seriously limited because of location and geography. Sight Surveillance removes those barriers and helps field operators communicate and share intelligence to make better and quicker decisions in the field.

By solving the problem of accessing real-time communications in remote and isolated locales, Lindsay’s system provided clients with the potential to dramatically improve workplace safety and reduce costs by knowing where the assets were operating and at what level they were operating at.

How is Success Measured?

Success can be measured from many viewpoints and stages of development.  From viewpoints it could be financial, the bottom-line question are we making money or being able to successfully forecast and bid future jobs.  Improvements to workplace safety can be another form of success that is shared by both the private and public sectors. For governments, encouraging industry to be more competitive and resilient to change and thereby increase business growth opportunities is another way to measure success.

For an innovator or SME measuring success is about advancing an idea through the innovation process.  Milestones in Lindsay’s case included:

  • understanding and solving a customer’s problem
  • developing a concept drawing of how something should work
  • having it engineered and a proto-type built
  • and having it third-party tested in field conditions.

Lindsay accomplished those and more, he has successfully got his innovative product being used by clients.

Lindsay attributes part of his success to being able to access GPRCs Centre for Research & Innovation, a regionally based innovation service provider in his community and AITF (Alberta Innovates Technology Futures).

The Importance of an innovation Ecosystem

How important is having access to an innovation ecosystem? In some cases it is critical.  Most communities know the value of having strategies and resources for research, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

Dan Herman and David Fransen in a recent Globe & Mail article talk about successful approaches to innovation including: expanding the focus beyond start-ups to scale-ups; recruiting & developing high-tech management talent; building effective research-and-development support systems; better enabling & supporting industry-academic partnerships; and my favorite, pursuing disruption – “such as Peter Diamandis’s X-Prize Foundation is an example of how the world’s best and brightest can be induced to take on seemingly impossible challenges”.

Success can look like initiatives that inspire innovators and entrepreneurs with just the right leadership to show the way forward.

A Strategic Plan

For businesses like Lindsay’s, successful innovation has to be strategic.  Businesses and people fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea. A person needs to be energetic and purposeful in moving their innovation forward.  Being successful at innovation usually means having a process that is mapped out ahead of time and where possible having innovation process incorporated into how the business operates.

So success can be many things from a whole array of perspectives.  One of the biggest showcase of success for me is seeing that smile of a young entrepreneur’s face when he is on stage being applauded by his peers and knowing that he is successfully moving innovations forward.

Looking for Help with your Research & Development?

Visit our innovation blog siteIf you are into innovation in Canada, consider adding the next two ladies and their programs to your team and list of resources respectively: Irene Mikawoz with NSERC and Marlene Huerta with AITF.

Marlene Huerta & Irene Mikawoz
Marlene Huerta & Irene Mikawoz

We (GPRC CRI & AITF) were fortunate to have a very in-depth meeting with Irene and Marlene on how to access the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the Alberta-Ontario Innovation Program: their programs help companies and researchers work together to solve problems through research that could lead to new ideas, solutions and products.  Almost all new innovative ideas will require some research.  These programs provide funds to companies and colleges to engage professional scientists and engineers to tackle problems and opportunities.

An example of NSERC grants is Engage:  college researchers can launch a new research partnership with a company on R&D that applies their expertise to address the company’s challenge. Companies gain by having added expertise focused on their R&D issues and by discovering what the researchers and the students working with them have to offer.

The Alberta-Ontario Innovation Program (AOIP) focuses on collaboration with researchers:  companies can access funds to address research and problem solving projects with colleges in both provinces.  In addition to getting top-notch research, this provides an Alberta company with a relationship in Ontario that could lead to market development in that province and surrounding regions.

Both programs could have immediate impact on some of our projects, including the Evergreen Centre for Resource Excellence & Innovation on solving questions and issues for low-impact techniques and practices on sensitive lands.  The Centre is a demonstration site built by companies to showcase their innovative ideas, research, products and solutions.

We know that the health of our business and industry depends on strengthening its research and innovation capacity through supporting more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses.  This is another way a region can further diversify by adding value in the form of new knowledge and learning.

Doing R&D on an innovative idea? Checkout NSERC and AOIP .    

Canadian SMEs Going Global – Is this you?

trade commission hi res
Every now and again we run across some very wonderful things to share that our Canadian Government is doing to help our Canadian SMEs.  This is one of them.

If you are looking to do business beyond the border then it is time to investigate the Government of Canada’s CTA program.

Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA) provides Canadian technology SMEs with access to entrepreneurial resources and global business opportunities in key global markets through competitive 4-6 month programs delivered by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

At first glance you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  I suggest you take another look.  Ask yourself these questions:

Are you a small to midsized Canadian Company from the (ICT) Information Communication Technologies, Life Sciences or Sustainable Technologies industry?

(If yes, keep reading and answer these 3 questions):


Initial traction in the market?

Differentiated technology?

Potential to scale the business?

If this sounds like your company begin to realize the added benefits of participating in these programs; such as:

Introductions to experienced mentors and advisers

Access to industry leaders, venture capitalists and other key resources

Networking events with potential partners and investors

A soft landing address in key markets, reducing go-to-market risk

Office space among inspired and like-minded global entrepreneurs

The CTA programs offered are individually tailored to your specific local market and industry conditions. Each CTA has flexible capacities, models and application requirements.

There are 2 program models to choose:

In-market: Offer 3 to 6 month in-market experience and an accelerator office space for soft-landing.

Virtual: Offer short term in-market exposure (1-2 weeks) and provide companies access to webinars, mentorship and industry experts to help companies engage in local markets.

Of course, there is an application process. And for further information look to the Government of Canada website, Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. If you are interested you must complete and submit an online application form which are available on the TCS website.

Want to explore a bit further before applying?

Check out these fantastic resources and dig deeper with EDC’s (Export Development Canada) online magazine “Exportwise” and; scan  “CanadaExport” the official magazine of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Services. This online digital offering is teaming with great information ranging from in depth feature articles to ‘Ask the CTS’.

If you are looking outside of Canada to expand your company then the CTA is an excellent opportunity.

Questions?  The Centre for Research & Innovation can be a part of your resource team in growing your business. We can help navigate the government services to connect you to the most appropriate provincial and federal trade officer and export organizations.


Moving Your Idea Along

The process for commercialization of an innovation/invention is not linear but there is a definite order within the process with occasional cross over and revisits. There are also some GO – NO GO instances where decisions need to be made.  For instance the CRI prefers to model the commercialization process based on 4 themes; Innovation & Ideas, Technical Feasibility, Market Feasibility and Financial Viability. So far I have stayed within the theme of Innovation & Ideas (So You Have a Great Idea) and briefly discussed Technical Feasibility.

Now it’s time to visit Market Feasibility.

Who exactly is going to buy your innovation/invention? Not just who would use it – that could be misleading.

There are no short cuts here and lots of guessing but the internet makes this a whole lot easier than it was before. A good look at your competitors may help you with this. Be aware that your competition is anything that people will spend that same dollar on. The first automobile’s competition was not another vehicle but a horse or anything else that people used to get from point A to point B.

Even if your goal is to sell your idea to someone else to manufacture and market you still need to understand who is going to buy your innovation/invention. How can you convince someone to buy your idea if you have no idea who will buy it from them?

In So You Have a Great Idea I used a picture hanging tool as an example. Let’s use that same tool to illustrate this. Anyone that wants to hang a picture is our potential customer. But our picture hanging tool comes with a self-leveling mechanism that makes the cost a bit much for only hanging one picture. At this point we need to identify customers that would be willing to pay more than the usual cost of a conventional picture hanging tool (hammer & nails). This could be an art gallery. Then we need to ask the question are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with our idea? And just as important what is so good about our tool that they would be willing to give up what they currently use to buy ours?

These are all questions that can be researched and enough information gathered to know if it is still worth pursuing and all before any significant time or money is spent. The key here is to be honest and realistic. This is not an excuse to get bogged down in the research but meant to be one of those checks to see if it is indeed worth the effort. According to in their article Get Your Product to Market in Six Steps ‘Finding out how to get your product to market is often more relevant to your success than the features and benefits of your invention.’

The CRI and our partners have a wealth of experience to draw on and once you have done the basic work of clarifying your idea and the marketplace for that idea it’s a great idea to give us a call or send us an email.

We can help with everything we have talked about here as well as the next steps.